Ecstatica II

Posted by Philip Jong.
First posted on 09 December 1997. Last updated on 13 August 2009.
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Ecstatica II
Battle of the sexes! To the death!
Ecstatica II
Stylish camera angles greatly enhance the atmosphere of the game.
Ecstatica II
Invisibility is definitely an asset in a world where the danger of ambush is everywhere.

In this sequel to the well received Ecstatica, the developer has expanded in a grandiose fashion on all the elements which have made its predecessor a success. In the tradition of the series, Ecstatica II uses a film style approach to create an eerie game atmosphere. It also uses an unique character animation technique that has since become the trademark of Ecstatica. All these bring together an action adventure title with a hefty dose of violence.

After the daring rescue of Princess Ecstatica, you return to your homeland in triumph. As you ride towards your castle, you notice multiple bodies lay died along the roads. A sense of impending doom immediately filters down your spine. Suddenly, a winged gargoyle flies down from the sky and grabs your love Ecstatica away, while you are flown into and locked up in a pillory. With the help of the Wise Priestess, you escape, now determined to find out the truth. It seems that the land's chief sorcerer has been dabbling in black magic, and a miscast spell has shattered the holy seal that guards your homeland against evil. With the Elder Sign broken, the village has come under the influence of the dark spirits. The only chance to save the land and your princess is to recover all the pieces of the broken seal and rejoin them before the forces of darkness permanently create their own evil version of existence. Meanwhile, demons roaming all around town have just declared open hunting season on you!

As with Ecstatica, the world of Ecstatica II is drawn on screen using an unique graphic engine based on Ellipsoid Technology. This engine allows the creation of lifelike creatures in a 3D environment. Each character, be it human or monster, is made of strings of ellipsoids that are interconnected in an anatomically correct fashion. Aside from the somewhat exaggerated rendering of the female upper body (the breasts), all the creatures are remarkably accurate in both their static and animated displays. The environments, such as the trees and the shrubs, are also constructed in ellipsoids. This not only brings an uniform look to the game, but sports an overall appearance that is far superior to that based on 2D polygons.

Ecstatica II spawns numerous improvements in design compared to Ecstatica. While based on the game graphic engine, Ecstatica II now supports 256 color SVGA graphics. It allows for the creation of a 3D environment that can be freely explored—a luxury rarely seen in adventure games whereby most titles use pre-rendered 2D backdrops. Over 1,100 different camera views are used to highlight the beautiful environment inside which the character can explore. Each perspective is carefully chosen to create a movie like atmosphere during gameplay, though sometimes at the expense of practicality in character control. The majority of exploration takes place within the huge castle, which then extends to the forest, the village, and finally the tower. Over 60 different breeds of creature are fully animated. The world of Ecstatica II is also much larger than that of the original. Following the tradition of Ecstatica, the use of ellipsoids makes for the construction of colorful characters that are not only lifelike but are also correct in their anatomy, complete with movable joints and accentuated body parts such as the breasts or the buttocks. Even the monsters sport a strange combination of cuteness and menace. The biophysics modeling the characters' animations are decent. All the creatures move and act in a very lifelike fashion. In addition, facial expressions such as blinking eyelids are now implemented in Ecstatica II to make the characters even more realistic. Finally, a larger repertoire of moves have been added or improved, with the ability for the character to roll, flip, swim, dodge, kick, punch, and even backhand swipes! Smoother animation now makes hand-to-hand combat more tolerable.

Simple keystrokes provide control of all the character's actions. Inventory items may include weapons, such as swords which can be used in combat. Most of the minor puzzles involve overcoming obstacles which prevent the player's exploration, such as pulling various levers or activating various switches to open up key areas previously hidden. The major puzzle is a treasure hunt for the broken pieces of the Elder Sign which has scattered around the world of Ecstatica. This game also boasts a hefty dose of action, whereby the player can suddenly be ambushed by a group of monsters. These monsters can include goblins, knights, Amazons, spiders, fish, and other humans. Each foe has its own unique behavior and attack style. There are five big bosses which the player must defeat. Each holds either a broken piece of the Elder Sign or an item vital for the game. Survival often means choosing the right time to fight or fright for your life! Help appears through a crystal ball from which the priestess gives clues in the form of cryptic messages.

The puzzles progress in both the level of difficulty and complexity. All are well integrated into the game. Action fans will be delighted with the incorporation of real-time combat into gameplay. In fact, the constant threat of attack from monsters lurking around every corner will keep even the most diligent gamers on their toes. The atmosphere is simply intense. Cut scenes are non-intrusive and add to the storytelling. Various camera angles and film style cuts enhance the cinematic feel of the game. The gruesome graphics and the macabre music and sound effects further reinforce the eerie ambience.

An interesting element in the gameplay is that the monsters are not immune to each other's attack. That is, bombs or spells cast by one monster can kill its neighbor! Even doors, chests, or cabinets can be smashed physically. Numerous weapons (eight close range weapons and two wands), scrolls, potions are available at the player's disposal for combat. Range weapons have also been incorporated in the form of magic wands and spells. Armors, protective shoes, or potions will lessen the damage from the monsters' hits. Unlike Ecstatica, a health bar is now displayed onscreen to indicate how much damage the player has sustained, rather than relying on watching how badly the character is limping. All the enemies are randomly generated and can spontaneously re-spawn even after they are killed.

The value of real-time arcade combat in an adventure game has always been dubious. This title will certainly only further this debate. The endless number of tough combat sequences severely detracts the adventure spirit of this game. There are many times whereby the player is simply outnumbered and underpowered to fight the enemies. Knowing when to run away is half of the battle! Even with a cautious attitude, death is not an uncommon outcome. The constant threat of painful death can get very trying. In fact, it is annoying to have to repeatedly reload a saved game after one's demise during a surprise attack. Frequent saving is a must!

While the use of ellipsoids provides better lifelike animations than 2D polygons, choppy animations can be a big problem during combat. The constantly changing camera angles, of which the player has no control, adds to the disorientation during action play. Jumping in a straight line to a ledge in this 3D environment is a challenge. Having the camera angles suddenly change during a combat sequence can temporarily stunt the player's reflex, resulting in instant death.

An improved graphic engine gives Ecstatica II an overall richer look than its predcessor. As with the original Ecstatica, the violence and vulgarity in this sequel is quite explicit. The buxom female body figures portrayed by the ellipsoids may offend female gamers. Some of the puzzle items can be difficult to find (skulls) and frequent backtracking may be necessary in order to search every corner of each location for clues. Action fans should be pleased with the smoother animation and a larger repertoire of moves during combat. Adventure fans, on the other hand, can also look forward to more difficult puzzles and deeper gameplay.

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