Well, it's been a while, hasn't it? Two and a half years have passed since I was delightfully surprised by Lowlander [$1.99], the cool Ultima 2 homage from developer Flat Black Films. The game did a great job of capturing many of the things that made the early Ultima games fun while simultaneously sanding off a few rough edges in consideration of the platform and the passage of time. While players might have expected a sequel to the game to look to Ultima 3 for inspiration, the game's developer instead opted to deliver a slightly more refined, much larger adventure in a similar mold to the first game. That left me hemming and hawing a bit about doing a review, as it feels a bit like reviewing a foot-long meatball sub after I already reviewed the six-inch. Did you like the six-inch sub? Do you want a lot more of it? If so, here you go.

While Lowlander 2 [$2.99] doesn't do a lot to distinguish itself mechanically from the first game, there's nothing particularly wrong with that. In as far as this series attempts to deliver an experience with a vintage feel on a modern mobile device, there's not really much more to do than what the first game already accomplished. Half of me would have liked to have seen Ultima 3-style parties, but the other half thinks it would needlessly complicate a game whose straightforward nature is such a big part of its appeal. What issues existed with the first game were largely tied up in things like difficulty balancing and its fundamentally niche appeal, and you don't need to rewrite the basic mechanics to address those things.

Lowlander 2 still has some problems with its difficulty curve, but it's certainly kinder up-front than the first game was. It's exceedingly unlikely you will starve in the first few minutes, for one thing. In making the opening parts of the game gentler, it makes the game more welcoming on the whole. You aren't wandering around on an overworld map trying to find someone to sell you food before you die. Instead, you start in a town filled to the brim with useful gameplay advice. It cleverly and unobtrusively walks you through the basics by giving you some quests to complete in-town, so that when you finally hit your first death, you'll have really earned it. The game builds some initial goodwill as far as difficulty is concerned, though it soon squanders it with a poorly-conceived stealth section that is both mandatory and the only one of its kind in the whole game. Things get a lot better after that, however.

For those who aren't familiar with the first game, I suppose I should explain what kind of beastie this is. Lowlander 2 is a throwback to the CRPGs of the early 1980s. Specifically, Ultima 2. You control a single character who has to save the world by defeating a big bad. As you might expect, the path to doing so is not exactly a straight line. You'll need to explore the overworld by land and sea, poke your head into a variety of towns, plumb the depths of a bunch of dungeons, and power-up your character by declaring a one-person war on any and all wildlife. It's a turn-based game, and enemies will appear right on the map for you to fight. When you start the game, fighting isn't much more complicated than pointing in the right direction and swinging, but as you play you'll open up some new avenues of attack and defense. There isn't a ton of strategy to the battles even in the best cases, though. It's mostly about having a high enough level, decent enough equipment, and not doing anything stupid like letting multiple enemies make a hero pinata out of you.

As the first game was, Lowlander 2 is a relatively non-linear game. You can explore a wide variety of locations right from the start, tackling the bulk of the quests more or less in your preferred order. Many of the quests are optional, but you are required to do some of them to move the story forward. Speaking of the story, Lowlander 2 manages to plant its tongue more firmly in its cheek than even the original Ultima 2. Pop culture references, memes, and callbacks to 1980s sitcoms abound, and the game's script in general spends more time being jokey than not. That's not going to be to everyone's tastes, but I personally can appreciate an RPG that isn't overly self-serious. Ultima 2 was also full of that kind of silliness, but it at times clashed badly with the game's desire to have its more earnest sections taken at face value. Lowlander 2 is more consistent. You're never more than a few dialogue boxes away from an obscure reference or dopey pun. I'd say a majority of the jokes don't land all that well, but there are so many of them that I found myself smiling pretty often throughout the quest.

It's a much longer game this time around, too. While the first game hit that sweet spot of being short enough to replay but long enough to mostly satisfy, Lowlander 2 almost doubles up on it. You can expect to spend about fifteen hours or more on this one. I don't know that replaying it is as easy a swallow as the first game is, but the initial playthrough manages to maintain the same quick pace as Lowlander. In spite of the added length, it never feels like you're getting bogged down or being made to jump through unnecessary hoops. Outside of that stealth section, anyway. The gameplay mechanics are simple enough that you probably won't want to blast this game out in one or two sessions for fear of it becoming repetitive. I'd recommend approaching it as you did the first game in terms of individual sessions. You'll just need more of them.

As before, the game is played in portrait mode and is easy to play with one hand. The high-res menus and UI clash a little with the retro presentation, but you get used to it quickly enough. It's a fairly silent affair outside of a few sound effects and the occasional piece of music, though, so you'll probably want to provide some tunes of your own. The visuals are a bit more colorful than those found in the first game, and you can customize your character's icon a little. I'm not sure how well its look works for people without a fondness for Ultima or its contemporaries, but there's something about buildings with their names written on them in giant text that gets my heart going a-flutter.

Honestly, I can't really say that Lowlander 2 is much better than the first game. It's bigger, longer, and more confident, to be sure. But where Lord British was spurred on by his competition to make the sequel to Ultima 2 a real game changer, Flat Black seems to have been content with making Lowlander 2 the very best Lowlander it could be.  This certainly isn't a worse game than the original either, mind you. It's of very similar quality all-around, which means Lowlander 2 should be of interest to anyone looking for a great RPG to play on their mobile device. Like its predecessor it's deliberately trying to evoke an RPG of the early 80s, but if you can deal with that, Lowlander 2 is a great way to spend your money and your time.

TouchArcade Rating

  • chuckfinley

    Has first Lowlander been updated to 64 bit?

    • Matthew

      It's showing as being 64 bit. That is, it's not showing under the Settings --> General --> Applications as being incompatible with iOS 11. Coldfire Keep on the other hand... 🙁

    • Shaun Musgrave

      Hey, Chuck. I can't remember if I told you or not already, but since I know this is a concern for you, you can do a quick check that will tell you whether most games are 64-bit or not without having to wait for replies. Check the game's update history, and if the game has been updated since July 2015, it is 64-bit. Lowlander's last update was Oct 2016, so it's all set.

      • Matthew

        That's good to know as well. I wondered about a few games that I didn't want to redownload just to check compatibility.

  • Justin Kehoe

    I've played through all of Lowlander II and it was Amazing. One of the best mobile games I've played. Once I started I couldn't put it down!! Very well made!

  • bob sabiston

    Hey Shaun and TouchArcade -- dev here, thanks so much for reviewing Lowerlander!

    I just wanted to note for people that I have realized the error of my ways and made the castle stealth section much easier, in that you can now evade the guards. The dopey puns remain however.

    • Far_Out

      Well done! I can't imagine making a game like this by myself, with all the balancing you must go through with all the gear and stats. Great job

  • David Pomerleau

    This looks similar to Gurk III which I loved. Is that a fair comparison or is this more complicated? I never played Ultima. Love the old school simplicity of Gurk and the first two Dragon Quests (Warriors)

    • Matthew

      It's not quite the same. It's both simpler and more complicated. ULTIMAtely (heh, see what I did there) the game is an excellent RPG, just not the same as Gurk, Final Fantasy or Dragon Warriors.

      I'll focus mostly on the combat differences. Obviously, you know how combat works in Gurk/DW, so I'll skip the recap.

      With Lowlander/Ultima the battles take place on the main map and you see the enemies before you ever have to encounter them; the number of enemies you see on the map is the exact number you'll fight. Since it's on the open field, when you're battling one monster others can come up and gank you if you're not paying attention. You can also reposition yourself or try and run at any time.

      Oh, and you have to watch your food. ALWAYS watch your food.

  • Lickzy

    I'm picking this up because I download all premium RPGs at 4.5 stars or better.

    @Shaun, what would this game have needs to get that last half star?

    • korossyl

      Lookimg at the first review, my guess would be "nothing" -- it's just a very specific type of game, and it's not going to appeal to all players.

      • Lickzy

        Thanks. After playing the game, you're correct, this is kind of a niche game. Some may give it 2 stars, I however give it a 5 out of 5 because it is totally up my alley.

  • korossyl

    I think the game that best achieved a balance between silliness/pop-cultureness and absolute earnestness is the Lunar SSSC. But that game was a 40+ hour epic; for something in the 15 hour range, I think I'd want the balance to be more towards the silly side.

  • Magellan

    Great game!

  • Matthew

    Bob, let me just thank you for making another excellent RPG. I loved the first Lowlander and was thrilled to see this come out.

    And it might make me a wimp, but thank you for turning down the difficulty when the game first starts. Dying before I even found the first objective in Lowlander was so depressing (before the update, obviously).

    Keep up the great work.

  • kreylix

    Just purchased. 😀

Lowlander II: Lowerlander Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 4.5