In no uncertain terms, the original Lowlander was a massive success in providing a specific kind of tribute to the CRPGs of old it set out to emulate whilst simultaneously refining their control for a new age. Now, Flat Black Films brings us a sequel in Lowlander II: Lowerlander.
A disclaimer before we begin, My Boxed Universe staff played the beta and were a part of the feedback group for this title in the months prior to its launch. We have attempted to keep any sense of bias entirely away from this review, but we are disclosing this information now because we didn’t want the following adoration and praise to be considered suspect later. Lowlander II is a great game, possibly the most enjoyable, largest and best produced game of its type available that’s not got the Ultima name attached to it. If you enjoy that particular brand of retro gaming, stop reading this review and buy Lowlander II now. For those still on the fence, please continue.
Graphically the game uses the same base engine and graphics as its predecessor, though they have had a slight face lift in the application of more colours to the screen. In the original title all sprites were white, whilst here they are given a lick of colour to bring things into a more modern feel. It’s still modelled after gaming on early DOS PCs and the Apple II, so don’t expect this title to be a powerhouse, but the sprite and tileset design for this title is quite imaginative in clearly demarcating what something is at a glance whilst having relatively little to work with. Layout is almost more important in a game like this than its graphical quality, and in the case of world design there’s a lot to love. Dungeons are well planned, towns are interesting and the world map is expansive to a degree rarely seen in a mobile title. The screen is halved neatly in portrait mode, with the bottom half containing the interface and the top showing the action. This works very well for one handed play and buttons are the right size to allow for precise input with a thumb whilst walking.
Sound effects are similarly retro and a little grating over longer sessions, but well-pitched in that they are suitably ‘of the era’ whilst being punchy. Damage sounds like you’ve been hit and causes the necessary reaction in you when you’re hearing it on a loop across several successive turns, similarly making you excited when you score a hit. Musically the title has some interesting compositions that work well with its fantasy world and the variety of locations you’ll visit without bringing the games file size up too high. The audio package doesn’t set the world alight, but it does work well and makes for a solid foundation to the feel of the world.
The story is set several generations after the original title and in the same world, though it has moved on considerably since then and the landscape is different. You play an innocent enough youth who starts out exploring a few local caverns and helping deliver flowers to a grandparent before being slowly discovering that an evil force has taken the king hostage, infiltrated his castle, bust open the Lowlander’s tomb and stolen his mighty sword. You’ll have to undertake a variety of quests to help stop them, and along the way perhaps even learn more about the world, its history and your place in it. Whilst the writing is decidedly sarcastic in tone and enjoys playing on a series of puns and pop culture references (not unlike 90% of CRPGs back in the day) the story is handled in a suitably epic manner and doled out in a fashion that feels organic and if anything, quite quick despite the duration you’ll be playing. It’s a strength of the game that it’s hard to lose track of where you are and what you’re doing at any point because the game is structured exceedingly well.
Gameplay sees you exploring the turn based (with the exception of some objects in dungeons that move independently) world. You’re given the tools initially for movement in the four basic directions, and once you’ve completed some basic quests you’ll gain the ability to fire off spells from an ever-growing list that you acquire through levelling (and the equipping of a wand) and to attack into the immediate spaces around you using a sword. With these basic tools you’ll explore a massive environment, revealing maps as you have them on-screen and solving puzzles as you go. There are a few items hidden around that you can discover, but most loot comes from killing monsters (which drop chests) and using gold won through battle to buy items in towns. Towns usually have an armour and weapon shop in addition to a restaurant and hospital. The game puts an early emphasis on survival and exploration, meaning that you will need to keep an eye on your health and food levels, with food depleting with every action you take. Initially this will take some surmounting and a lot of rations in your limited inventory, but as you explore you’ll grow to withstand longer periods and ultimately cease to notice this mechanic unless you’ve been playing for a serious amount of time. Whilst the flow of dungeon to town is relatively unbroken, there is a wealth to do in every location and a wild variety of tasks to undertake. There’s also a great deal of fun to be had in grinding, with monsters on the overworld spawning based on your level, meaning that you always have something to be fighting that’s going to provide a decent amount of experience. Levelling asks you to upgrade attack, magical power, health or accuracy, and in all honesty accuracy is vital to survival in this game as other stats can be augmented or accounted for with gear. The title throws a number of environments and unlocks mounts in the form of a boat, ship and even crocodile that all feel very different to use and unlock the game in different ways. Spells too are varied in their effects and always useful for a number of different reasons.
Overall, everyone with even a passing interest in RPGs should be grabbing a copy of Lowlander II. It’s got a large and expansive world to explore full of different environments and showcasing excellent design in addition to a wealth of missions (from sneaking around a castle avoiding Ice Giants to collecting flowers for your nan!) and a genuinely simple but fun combat system. It’s also a relatively small app that hardly takes up and phone space and doesn’t produce much of a drain on your battery life. Given that the game has no hidden pay walls or in app purchases, and sells at a relatively healthy pocket-money price, we recommend that you purchase this title immediately. In sheer volume of content it’s worth every penny!