The Dungeon Master concept was an enormous success because it brought fantasy exploration shockingly to life, by replacing the text-adventure which needed to be told how to operate. Not surprisingly, software houses have found it hard to expand upon this initial design. We've seen science fiction variants and many twists on the fantasy theme, the upshot of which is that it's becoming more and more difficult to approach the genre from a new angle. So, you may ask, what's so good about Abandoned Places 2?
Stakes through the art
Abandoned Places 2 is an attractive sequel, proving that when we whined about the original's questionable artwork (AF31 - 82 per cent), the Hungarian designers were listening. A massive arena of exploration is still at the core of the game's appeal, but the graphics have been updated to a standard which rivals Eye of the Beholder 1 and 2.
A competent intro sequence introduces the bizarre storyline: apparently an evil force known as Pendugmalhe is going all out for world domination, yet remains vulnerable so long as an ancient magical shield is intact.
The shield can be destroyed by a sword called Kuhalk; the problem is that both items are hidden, so surprisingly enough it's your job to find Kuhalk and keep it from falling into the wrong hands. After that, there's the simple chore of annihilating Pendugmalhe himself to round-off your adventure.
In fact, it would all be rather easy, if it wasn't for a veritable hoard of the living dead patrolling over 32 levels between you and your ultimate goal. If you've played the original, then Abandoned Places 2 should prove an ideal challenge form the word go.
Illusionary walls are everywhere in the first level, a classic dungeon setting, making the most efficient system of exploration a process of charging the party headlong into the stonework. Later levels vary incredibly, requiring you to trek through forests and many other types of terrain.
Accompanying you into the depths of Kuhalk's resting place are four characters, available for selection from a parade of 25 hardened adventurers. Strangely these hirelings only come in two flavours: fighters, the loadbearers who carry the group's belongings as well as cutting hostile denizens of the underworld into ribbons, and magic-users, who are the flame-throwers of the party, vital for the completion of certain puzzles and for healing the wounded after bloody combat.
Mighty sword of Dobber
It's a pity that Abandoned Places 2 has kept this rigid class structure which made the characters so limited in Eye of the Beholder, because the ability to learn others' skills through practice in Dungeon Master gave adventuring a lot more scope.
Nevertheless, playing with attributes and a broad selection of faces add variation to the otherwise mundane procedure of character generation with which any role-playing game must begin.
In the game itself, the two branches of your party can be conveniently called into play thanks to some friendly icons which are quick and easy to access. The backpacks of fighters are available when their faces are highlighted, but magic-users have a collective menu with which spells can be activated, so their support is always at hand should you want an enemy charcoal-grilled for tea.
Performing operations such as this during the game is very easy thanks to an accessible control panel. Everything which needs fast access can be operated quickly and my only real criticism of the control icons is that movement is awkward because the directional icons are far too small to use at speed. Movement is possible via the numeric keypad, but we haven't all got those nowadays, have we?
Deeper and deeper
Dungeon-delving in the first game was far from straightforward because of sub-quests and puzzles, which provided clues during each level. These proved a great occasional interlude from the main quest and they have been continued in Abandoned Places 2.
Above the 32 underworld regions of the game, there are wilderness areas to explore. A peculiar, but regular occurrence on the first level are the floor tiles that rapidly spin or teleport the party around, often when there are nasty pools of flame or stake-traps nearby.
The terrains have been nicely sculpted, from the dancing flames to the dragon motifs which appear frequently on the dungeon walls. On top of this accessible and interactive elements of the game, there has also been a dramatic sound enhancement form the original. Whispers and footsteps echo ominously around the dungeons. You can hear the enemy advancing through the darkness, although when the party comes to blows, the sounds of combat are an anticlimax.
More interesting sounds take a while to identify - the pleas for food from your own party often mislead you into someone has been attacked as they howl with hunger!
Live to tell
Overall, Abandoned Places 2 compares favourably with Eye of the Beholder 2, which was an outstanding sequel itself. It's a massive improvement on the first game and another huge adventure which promises days, and days of frantic exploration.
However, there is that awkward movement system for the mouse to handle, and another major disappointment is the inability to throw objects by dragging them to the viewing window.
But these are only tiny flaws in an otherwise excellent expansion of a worthy game. Other members of the Dungeon Master genre should beware: Abandoned Places 2 is fast approaching the top spot.