Wow a proper review. Makes for a change huh? We were huge fans of the first game and although it didn't set the world on fire sales-wise it has a dedicated following.
The second game is an improvement on the first in every way. The first game was a very relaxed adventure, leaving the player with relative freedom to explore the fictional region of Manauri, discovering various oceanic animals, photographing them and guiding visitors around the ocean. There was a very loose story driving the game but fittingly, the game was endless. You could (and we did) just keep playing forever with the goal of collecting all the species information and salvaging treasure. Each species has three bits of information, unlocked by finding an animal and then tickling, feeding or drawing for it. However, some of the creatures were a bit too crytpic and very hard to find once let alone three times (our playtime is up to well over 100 hours and there are still four species we've yet to see). Salvaging treasure items was also slightly "too" random, nobody is yet to find all of the items scattered in the ocean.
Endless Ocean 2 takes the adventure away from one fixed fictionalised region (necessary in the first game allowing a bit of creative freedom with the distribution of species which are found globally dispersed in real life) and has you join up a diving company that travels the world. You can go diving in locations from the bright tropical waters of the Aegean Sea, to river diving in the Amazon and even navigating the chilly ice flows of Canada and Antarctica. The environments are more varied than the contiguous region of the first. The icy regions let you explore a narrow vertical band just below the ice and in the Mediterranean you explore sunken castles and shipwrecks. You can venture onto land in most regions and you get to see more semi-aquatic and terrestrial animals in their natural environment. In the previous game, terrestrial animals would show up albeit unprobably as guests on the deck of your ship).
In stark contrast to the original, from the off you are bombarded with things to do; discover new species of animals, salvage treasure, explore new areas, heal animals, solve quests for totem poles, dogs and bluebirds find "legendary" creatures, get achievements, unlock titles, collect coins, customise your character, build your own private reef, open an aquarium and upgrade your equipment. The whole concept has been gameified more and at the same time much less is left up to chance as with the salvageable treasures in the previous game. If a complaint of the first game was that there wasn't enough to do, there may be too much to take in in the second. More often than not your dive time will run out whilst you are trying to multitask treasure hunting, general exploration, cartography, special quests and animal photo requests.
Early on in the game you visit an aquarium, which becomes the base of operations for an RTSLite, you are charged with rotating the animals on display (from the pool of animals you have spotted in the wild) in the aquarium according to popular trends in order to keep visitors coming in. You also get a cut of the profits and occasionally undertake observations of behaviour in the wild for big research displays. Nineball Island, your base of operations starts off as a little more than an island shack but as you progress you upgrade the island, attracting more staff to your diving company and different kinds of quests and you can purchase items which let you speed up in game time, lead to one off special quests or spot legendary creatures. Also much like the original there is plenty of scope for just relaxing, be it playing the guitar or lazing in a deckchair or hammock.
One of our favourite features from the first game was the option to play your own music in game. Unfortunately, this option has now gone but a significant improvement is that you can now save any photos you take to an SD card (hence all the images in this post).
It is a great game and a marked improvement on the first one. The pace is very relaxed, there are some wonderful sights to be seen and chances are you will learn something about marine life on almost every dive. The different species really are the stars and Endless Ocean 2 boasts a more biodiverse cast than the original including some fairly cryptic and curious beasts. With the disappointing Afrika and Aquanaut's Holiday looking unlikely to ever reach Europe, Endless Ocean (and Everblue 1+2 before it) has really managed to corner the niche in virtual natural history games. Sure, its not for everyone but when gaming seems to have become shorthand for manshooters it is nice to be able to point to a game that is doing something different, educational, fun and a game you don't have to be embarrassed about.