Curse of the Azure Bonds
I couldn't resist the temptation, so I imported my winning Pool of Radiance party and Hillsfar character and ended up playing for a few hours over the last couple of days!
As a sequel to Pool, it's very good. For some reason I was under the impression that it was linear and story-focused, but it actually becomes very nonlinear after the first hour—in some ways even moreso than Pool! It's also a lot more challenging than Pool, much to my surprise.
Technically, it still uses EGA for graphics and PC speaker/Tandy sound for sound effects, but is actually a noticeable step above Pool, with much more detailed EGA graphics and somewhat impressive Tandy sound effects. All in all, a worthy sequel so far.
Once I complete this one, I'm going to put the direct sequel (Secret of the Silver Blades) on hold and continue the Gold Box series chronologically; that means I'll be starting out with a new party for Champions of Krynn, which has some interesting changes to the formula in terms of classes and theme. It's also one of the few Gold Box games that supports the MT-32, though I think it's just for the title screen music.
Might and Magic II: Gates to Another World
I finally was able to put a solid block of time into this after not playing it for what seems like months. I explored a good portion of the wilderness around the first couple of towns and gained a level or two and some better equipment, but didn't really make any real progress. Still, it's a joy just to explore in this game, and no series of games delivers such satisfying exploration as Might & Magic!
There's a lot I like about M&MII over the first game. It has some really great 16-color graphics (make sure to run the game in MCGA mode graphics mode; all the characters have purple skin if you select EGA for some reason!), and I really like all the random equipment you win in battle; it seems like nearly every battle you end up finding an upgrade of some sort. The towns and dungeons are also all really interesting to explore, even better than the already stellar dungeons in M&MI.
Some things are not as good, though.
First, encounters appear to be scaled to your level. This would not be such a big deal, since M&M is all about surviving individual encounters rather than stretching limited resources among multiple encounters (as in Wizardry)... however, the game also has increased the maximum number of enemies you can encounter in a single combat, up to (I think) a maximum of 255. This is tedious! Yes, it's satisfying to hold down CTRL+A and blast through enemy after enemy, but anything more than, say, 20 enemies is just too much imo.
Second, the design of the world map is not as enjoyable as in M&MI. I liked in M&MI how there were natural barriers you could never cross. It made you feel like you were actually exploring a world. In M&MII, you can very easily (and quickly) purchase skills to cross mountains and deep forests, so basically nothing stands in your way. It feels less like world to explore, and more like a lawn to mow.
Even so, it's an amazing game and it's absolutely full of stuff to find. No game does it better, and although I'm definitely taking my time with this one, I'm looking forward to the rest of the series. I've got a save deep into M&MIII waiting to resume, and then I'll probably do M&MIV and V separately rather than as a combined game.