Saying that Andrew Spencer's latest creation for isn't a masterpiece of programming would be inaccurate, to say the least. With its smooth SVGA rendering, lifelike character animations, and spine-tingling environments, Ecstatica II irresistibly draws you into its medieval backdrop. If it weren't for a couple of somewhat bothersome gameplay elements, this one could easily top the list of action-adventure games that have recently appeared.
In the game, your quest begins with the hero and his girlfriend Ecstatica, both sporting their brand-new SVGA tunics, astride a horse bound for their hometown. A spirit comes to visit them, informing them that their erstwhile ruler has tampered with some ancient arcane texts, and faster than could forget the word "Nicto," the whole town and surrounding lands have been overrun by evil spawns. The couple ends up running into of few of said demons at the foot of the town. Ecstatica is swept away, and our hero is tossed into a ditch.
From there on, the game takes place within the haunted environs of the village. Your character is rendered entirely with ellipsoids, which create a much smoother appearance than traditional polygons. As he winds around the 3-D cobblestones, camera-angles shift perspectives with each area entered. This system makes combat difficult and is frustrating at times, especially when a particular angle is so oblique that an important door will become obscured. Still, there are moments when shifting perspectives only add to the game's continuing drama.
The game is chock full of puzzles, most of which involve finding items in order to access other areas of the map. Standing between you, your sword, and these items, is a horde of creepy cretins, and there are a lot of them. Gangling orcs, floating squids, towering goons, drooling hunchbacks et al, are all randomly generated throughout the map, so that most of your combat encounters come unexpectedly. Some might find this system of enemy regeneration a tad tedious and frustrating at times because it makes it difficult to progress normally through many sections of the game - after a tough battle, just when you would like to think that the score has been settled in a particular room, the game stretches the laws of probability just enough to replenish the area with another phalanx of creatures.
This is not to say that fighting the bad guys in Ecstatica II isn't fun. Your character can pull off a number of combat moves, such as side-rolls, backflips, and a variety of sword swipes. Strangely enough, with the variety of moves you can execute, there are many points in Ecstatica II where the game succeeds in blurring the line between arcade fighting-games and RPG-adventures. There is definitely something satisfying in delivering the finishing blow to a group of orcs with a single, flying round-house kick.
Other bonuses in Ecstatica II include magic potions that restore health, and others that make your character invisible to other creatures. Magic wands - scepters that allow you to fire off deadly bolts - are another new addition.
There's no doubt about the fact that the square footage of Ecstatica II far surpasses that of its predecessor. The game takes much longer to finish than the original did, despite the fact that much of its playtime consists of pausing to hack-and-slash at the continual influx of monsters. True, the repetitiveness of the random combat situations, the tedium of the puzzles, and the confusing camera angles are faults of the game that should be noted. But conventions like these endured in oldie-but-goodie games of the same ilk such as Bioforge and Alone in the Dark. What's important is that, because it's so graphically rich and varied in its gameplay, Ecstatica II is a game you can really get lost in. Whether this entails wandering around a remote parapet, or just letting yourself become absorbed in the fantasy being drawn for you, you can easily put Ecstatica II's gameplay flaws behind and continue on your quest.