European box art
Andrew Spencer Studios
Hack and slash
Ecstatica II is the direct sequel to Ecstatica, continuing the adventures of the hero of the original game. It was again developed by Andrew Spencer Studios and published by Psygnosis in 1997. Like in the original game ellipsoids were used to visualize almost all characters, objects and background elements. The gameplay and content, however, switched from survival horror to hack and slash.
Background Story Edit
Ecstatica II is set in the year 931 A.D. in medieval Saxony, according to the manual over a year after the events in the original game where the hero defeated the evil in Tirich and saved Ecstatica from the demon's clutches (although the original game stated that it was set in 928 A.D.). It is now established that the nameless hero is actually a prince and he is travelling with Ecstatica back to his ancestral castle, planning to marry her and thus make her a princess. Already days before he arrives it becomes clear that something is amiss and that a great evil has befallen the land. In a vision he learns from a priestess that the land's Chief Sorcerer accidentally unleashed all of this while delving into the occult, specifically while studying the secrets of the Old Ones. Some dark powers have taken control of his mind and made him shatter the Holy Seal of the Old Ones, also known as the Eldersign, the "fundamental power of all existence, all non-existence and everything in-between". Unless the fragments of the seal will be rejoined soon, the entire world will cease to exist. The corrupted Chief Sorcerer has plans to reassemble the fragments in a different manner which will make dark gods and their minions invade the world and enslave all of mankind for all eternity.
It is clear what the hero and Ecstatica have to do but before they manage to enter the castle the hero and Ecstatica are captured by monsters and separated. Now he has to free himself, rescue Ecstatica, reassemble the Eldersign and defeat the Chief Sorcerer if he is to save not only his realm but the entire world.
Like its predecessor Ecstatica II is officially based in medieval Europe, now specified as Saxony, but the overall design philosophy differs greatly from the original game's. Whereas Ecstatica was mainly based on myths and folklore, Ecstatica II's design is more reminiscent of other typical fantasy franchises. Enemy designs are usually generic in nature, often resembling designs found in many other fantasy video games.
Any historical or cultural references as they were found in the original game are absent. While its predecessor openly referenced Christianity and many famous real-world legends, Ecstatica II is set in its own fantasy world with an entirely fictional mythology and faith (some real religious symbols such as a holy cross in a chapel can be found but these references are kept to a minimum). The overall tone of the game has also changed hugely. Whereas Ecstatica did, despite all its violence and disturbing content, not take itself seriously and was riddled with comedic content, Ecstatica II focuses on telling its epic plot, only occasionally delivering some comic relief. The game tries to maintain a mostly dark tone and retains the original's violence, however. The streets are riddled with dead and mutilated bodies, including naked ones. The player does not witness any of these deaths himself, however, and generally Ecstatica II avoids horror elements in favor of its combat-oriented action. Also the hero, formerly an average traveller often depicted as easily-frightened and clumsy, bearing all characteristics of an unlikely hero, is now characterized as a courageous and highly skilled fighter of noble descent.
Overall Gameplay Edit
Ecstatica II largely builds upon the concept of the original game. The gameplay remains that of an action adventure where the player controls a single character via "tank controls" (the character's movement is relative to his own orientation instead of the camera) and the action is observed from static camera angles. The player is still able to pick up items, interact with various objects in the environment and also has to engage in fights. However, whereas the original Ecstatica was mostly a survival horror game about exploration and solving mysteries, Ecstatica II is a far more action-oriented title which mainly revolves around combat. While Ecstatica II also has a large world to explore, an even larger and more convoluted one than the original game, there are more clearly defined goals that need to be achieved in a specific order and the world opens up more in clearly defined portions, much like it is common in Metroidvania style games. Whereas in the original game the main goal and all steps necessary to achieve it were revealed through clues and dialogue with NPCs, Ecstatica II uses the priestess as a narrator who will provide the main character and thus the player with hints and warnings.
Ecstatica II handles enemies and other dangers very differently than the original game, largely using an approach more typical for action games. Whereas in Ecstatica there was a perfectly pre-defined amount of enemies whose death was permanent, Ecstatica II can spawn an infinite amount of common enemies. In most locations, even after defeating all enemies in the area and remaining in the same spot, additional enemies will be spawned nearby at random and continuously attack the player. Naturally corpses disappear now as the bodycount is huge and without an upper limit. There is only a small amount of special or unique enemies whose death is permanent, such as bosses.
Not only the hero's combat capabilities have been extended (as is described in great detail further below) but also the enemies are now more varied with some of them having unique attacks, such as throwing grenades or shooting magic projectiles. The manual states that Ecstatica II has more than 70 unique types of monsters. The different enemies require the player to use a wider array of moves and tactics to overcome them. Neither the hero nor the enemies regenerate anymore and the player replenishes health more traditionally by drinking healing potions and other means now. Since the number of enemies is unlimited, regular enemies will drop healing and other items at random.
While scripted events, which will lock the main character in a pre-defined animation, are still present, those are much more rare and generally interaction with the environment was limited in favour of combat.
Character Movement and Actions Edit
For a detailed description of the keyboard layout view Ecstatica II Controls.
While the character is still moved via tank controls like before, the controls have been notably expanded to support a wider range of basic moves, mostly related to combat. Whereas the original game used a comparably small set of keys with each key making the character perform a specific action, Ecstatica II uses two modifier keys which make the cursor keys trigger alternate actions, predominantly different kinds of attacks.
The combat system was vastly extended. The main character has by default the ability to execute eight different attacks, including punches as well as kicks, which deal differing amounts of damage, are performed in different directions, cover areas of different sizes and sometimes also make the character move and/or turn in a specific direction direction, making it easier to directly target enemies at different distances and angles. The player retains the ability to wield melee weapons which are always placed in his right hand, the left hand being reserved for other items. Those unlock an alternate set of attacks and deal different amounts of damage.
A large addition to the game is the introduction of magic, coming both in form of enchanted weapons and spells, and which introduces ranged combat to the series. Enchanted weapons have a limited amount of magic energy. While the weapon is charged it provides access to certain magic attacks, replacing some of the melee attacks until it is depleted. After a certain point in the game the player character also gains the ability to cast spells which, unlike magic weapons, use the character's own magic energy which can be replenished via pickups. These spells also replace some of the melee attacks as long as they can be cast.
Other additions to the player character's possible actions are rolling, jumping and swimming. The player character has the ability to perform dodge rolls in four different directions, which, just like attacks, are executed by pressing a modifier key along with the cursor keys. This is particularly useful during combat, mostly to evade enemy attacks and get into safety when surrounded. A jump is performed upon pressing a single key and always with the same strength to the front. The jump is comparably low and is mostly used to skip short gaps and small obstacles. Swimming is automatically initiated when the character enters deep water. While swimming, the character is unable to cast spells or use weapon magic but retains the ability to perform melee combat moves.
Picking up items works much like in the original Ecstatica but now a single key is used for pickups and the player is not able to specify which hand an item will be wielded in. Weapons will always be automatically picked up with and wielded in the right hand while the left hand is reserved for other items. The pick up action is also used for most consumables, some items are automatically acquired or consumed upon passing over them.
What has changed is the way how the player character interacts with environmental objects. In the original game there were many environmental objects and characters that the hero would automatically interact with upon standing in front of them, triggering a wide array of custom animations. Ecstatica II is simplified in this respect and adjusted to the combat-oriented gameplay. The more standardized interactive objects such as doors, switches and levers are now opened or activated via melee strikes. Other interactive objects, such as ladders, are used by pressing the same key that is also used for picking up items.
Finally the different movement modes, which were of little to no use in the original game (running being the optimal stance for virtually every situation), have been removed. The hero now always runs by default. Single careful steps are executed by tapping the cursor keys instead of holding them. Also the duck / block move from the original game was removed and the only way to avoid taking damage is by dodging incoming attacks via running or performing rolls.
Advanced Mechanics and Interface Edit
The original game was notable for neither displaying a HUD nor providing an inventory as well as omitting healing items and other goodies. Ecstatica II breaks with this philosophy and depends on more common solutions. There is now a health bar displayed at the top of the screen which does not replenish over time but is rather re-filled via healing potions and by several other means. As mentioned above, the introduction of magic has also added two more parameters which are as well displayed on the HUD: the magic charge of the weapon and the character's own magic energy which is also replenished by picking up the corresponding items. The game's manual refers to the hud as "icon bar".
Another new feature is the "icon page". This is a screen that can be opened at any point in the game and pauses it. It displays numerous values and states including the exploration percentage, the current amount of gold carried, the number of kills and most importantly which unique items and / or permanent upgrades have been obtained like armor or Eldersign parts.
The gold mentioned above is a new addition to the gameplay. There is a pre-defined amount of treasure items scattered throughout the game world in pre-defined locations which unlike other types of items or picked up automatically upon touching or running over them, adding varying amounts of gold to the hero's inventory. Rather than being a spendable resource, gold is another method of healing. At the cost of 30,000 gold pieces the player has the ability to fully heal his character at any point in the game by pressing a special button.
Ecstatica II continues to use the technology from the original game and expands upon it. Characters and the vast majority of the environment are still constructed exclusively out of ellipsoids, untextured but shaded polygons being used only for select details such as doors and cliffs. Most notably the amount of ellipsoids per character was increased and allows for much more advanced animation including more diverse and detailed facial expressions. Also the game simulates changing lighting conditions by swapping the entire color palette, additionally blobs shadows are drawn beneath characters.
The game continues to use static camera angles for reduced hardware requirements but still renders the environments during gameplay rather than using hand-drawn or pre-rendered sprites as is common for most other games in the genre before polygonal real-time environments became common. The screen resolution was hugely increased from the original game's 320x240 (VGA) to 640x480 (SVGA).
Ecstatica II also makes larger use of the third dimension. Whereas in the original game the characters were always perfectly aligned to the ground and were unable to fall off ledges, excluding specific scripted events, Ecstatica II has fully simulated gravity and allows free jumping and falling off ledges. The third dimension is to some degree also relevant to the combat and the player character automatically performs alternate attacks when fighting enemies below or notably smaller than him.
Ecstatica II had a mostly positive reception but did not achieve the almost universal critical acclaim of its predecessor. It holds a MobyRank of 79.
|Publication||Issue / Date||Rating||Quotation|
|PC Joker||04/97||77%||"If you can handle the difficulty, Ecstatica II will undoubtedly satisfy your needs for an atmospheric 3D action adventure."|
|GameSpot||07/97||7.9/10||"The square footage of Ecstatica II far surpasses that of its predecessor."|
|EDGE||?/97||7/10||"Can there really be a place for the statically viewed Ecstatica 2?"|
|PC Zone||?/97||91/100||"It's an immense, sprawling, beautifully animated piece of escapism which will grab you by the throat and attempt to entertain you to death."|
|Adventure Classic Gaming||12/97||3/5||"The endless number of tough combat sequences severely detracts the adventure spirit of this game."|
Despite the mostly positive reception Ecstatica II did not leave a mark and seems to have been almost completely forgotten soon after release. As PC Gamer's Richard Cobbett stated in his Ecstatica retrospective in August 2013: "Ecstatica was followed by a sequel which, and I've done the research on this, absolutely nobody remembers." He explains this with Ecstatica II sacrificing the "comedic weirdness" of the original game as well as becoming predominantly an action game and concludes: "It was dull as dirt even at the time."
It is not known how well the game fared commercially. It is known, however, that Urban Decay had been halted in favor of Ecstatica II and Andrew Spencer Studios' relationship to Psygnosis suffered soon-after, contributing to the ultimate cancellation of Urban Decay and the shutdown of Andrew Spencer Studios. It seems that Ecstatica II remains the last commercially released game to use ellipsoids for rendering 3D characters and environments.
Age Ratings Edit
Like in case of the original game, the British organization ELSPA gave the game an 18+ rating due to the violence and otherwise mature content. The North American rating board ESRB gave Ecstatica II an "M" ("Mature") rating, this time only listing "animated blood and gore" and "animated violence" as the reasons but again deeming the game as unsuitable for minors beneath the age of seventeen. The infamous German USK rated the uncensored game as unsuitable for minors beneath the age of sixteen this time (one category above the original game's USK rating) but again provided the lowest rating by any major rating agency despite normally being notorious for its strictness and enforcing self-censorship.
Unlike the original game Ecstatica II is both a native MS-DOS and Windows application with both versions always having been shipped together on a single CD-ROM. The Windows version uses DirectX 3 and usually fails to run on Windows versions past Windows XP by default. With the help of a community patch and a DirectDraw wrapper it is possible to play the game on Windows Vista and upwards, however. The DOS version can be run via DOSBox but suffers from audio stuttering and crashes which make the game unbeatable.
For detailed advice on playing the game on modern systems please read Playing Ecstatica II on Modern Systems.