Review: Two Worlds II

March 25, 2011, Author: Trent Pyro

Two Worlds was released from Polish developer Reality Pump in 2007 to mixed reception. While its ambition was praised, the graphics, gameplay and voice acting were all heavily criticised. I played it only briefly and felt it had so much unrealised potential. When I received its sequel to review, with a problematic release in the UK, I was apprehensive to say the least. The over-complexity and clunky mechanics of the first game were still etched in my mind, and being the cynical bugger I am I fully expected  this one to be more of the same. Was I right to be so jaded in my prediction? Hell no, and here’s why…

A true sequel
The plot of Two Worlds II is very familiar but at the same time immediately baffling. However impossible that may sound, it’s due to the reliance on having played the first game, maybe even to completion. The short back story essentially involves a long and bloody war between humans and orcs in the fantasy world of Antaloor, in which we come out on top. The remaining orcs flee to an island in the north to co-ordinate a resistance against the insidious human dictator, Gandohar. It’s this small band of green-skins that spring you, the hero, from an Imperial jail and drag you into their situation.

This is all well and good, but when they start going on about your sister and explaining why they need you specifically to come and help out, it all gets a bit confusing. Am I supposed to have played the first game, in which the plot again involves your sister? Is it a direct follow on, a rarity in today’s market? Does it have anything to do with the first game at all? All questions I asked myself in the first ten minutes, which was not a good sign. Once you get over the feeling you’ve missed something, the plot becomes a reasonably involving piece of entertainment. I’m not going to pen the entire thing here, that would be spoiling. what I will say though is that while it’s not the most epic or enchanted story I’ve ever played, it never gets boring and stays away from the adjectives ‘convoluted’ and ‘boorish’ for the most part. It’s split into chapters with each one informing the chief arc, and while it can at times feel like reading five books instead of one, it never feels too derivative or rushed.

Two Worlds II is a huge game. That’s probably an understatement actually. It packs so much into its lifespan, I doubt I’ll ever see it all. The enormous quantity of side-quests make it all too easy to get distracted from the main plot, and you can occasionally feel like you’ve got better things to do than save the world, or whatever. I’d even be so bold as to say that side-questing will take up the majority of you time, although that can be said of many RPGs these days. Many are little stories in their own right, with very few of the fetch quests and slaughter tasks that plague so many similar titles, although these do feature on occasion. It’s common to get lost in a sea of side-quests, neglecting the main plot for days at a time, such is the richness of many of them. Look out for a less-than-subtle homage to Indy and the Last Crusade, a few jibes at standard RPG quests and some very unusual outcomes.

An example of the many regions of Antaloor

Your hero is a mercenary of sorts, which could account for his bizarre personality. While you can make conversation choices to your preference, what exactly is said ranges from the expected to the downright weird. Flitting between caring, devil-may-care, vicious, dumb, smart, slow, witty and sleazy at a moments notice; you’re never quite sure who the hell this guy is. Your options are usually small, between agreeing with or supporting something and refusing to have anything to do with it as well as asking questions. Your decisions don’t hold as much gravitas as they do in other games of the genre, which can sometimes make it seem pointless. This wouldn’t be a problem if Reality Pump hadn’t seemingly already decided who your hero was going to be.

Sometimes he’s a caring, considerate character who seems to want to genuinely help. Other times he’s a callous asshole who only lends a hand for profit. I could deal with one or the other, but both together ruins his characterisation. Some of the stock lines uttered when darting about the world are laughable too; from the sickly victory laugh that conjures up images of Mr Hero bathing in the enemies blood, to quipping matter-of-factly when faced with a massive foe. They seem to hold little relevance to what is going on and I see no reason for them to be there.

Jack of all trades…
To compare the gameplay of Two Worlds II to anything else would be to describe but ten percent of what’s on offer. It encompasses combat, crafting, trading, alchemy, magic, counselling, horse-riding, spell crafting and smithing. It’s by far the most packed and varied game I’ve seen in a long time. This variety is very welcome but initially bewildering and can make it difficult to get into.

The first few hours are gruelling to say the least. Getting good with the combat system takes time and practice, and you aren’t given any training in the early stages. Even deviating from the plotline to level up isn’t as viable as first thought. While it allows you to get some practice in and earn a chunk of XP, it wastes countless expensive potions and can make the game feel like a tedious slog. There are so many nuances and elements to the game that aren’t explained at all. It’s very likely you’ll find yourself asking question after question; ‘why can’t I do this?’, ‘Where do I go now?’, ‘Why this so confusing?’, and you’ll be getting no answers from the game. Everything has to be figured out by yourself, which will be refreshing for some but I suspect a big struggle for many. Clocking in at just 30 pages and giving only brief instructions, the manual is little help.

Levelling up is more complex than it probably should be. Aside from putting points on Strength, Endurance, Accuracy and Willpower to govern your base effectiveness at, well, everything, you receive additional points to upgrade your myriad of skills. These skills are split into groups such as Warrior, Crafting and Assassin. You have to find or buy Skill books to unlock these skills and only then can you start to upgrade them. Which ones you choose to invest in will depend on what sort of character your playing; a solid warrior, a sneaky assassin, a ranger, a mage or a mix. It’s an interesting system and allows you to tailor your character to your play style, but having to get books to learn skills is tedious. Buying any is out of the question in the first section of the game due to a serious lack of moneymaking opportunities, and finding them is seemingly hit and miss. Having to contend with skill trees and level requirements in other games is enough without having to actually find a physical item and it’s frustrating to be denied useful skills simply because you can’t get hold of the book.

Many RPG and adventure games have pickpocketing. It’s not pretty or morally sound but it’s there, and Two Worlds II is no exception. Only it has by far the worst system I’ve ever seen. Initiate pickpocketing and you’ll see an item surrounded by three snakes. The snakes are slithering around the item but don’t quite touch head to tail, leaving small gaps. You have to move a hand around the outside of the snakes and wait until the gaps of the snakes line up, making a nice path to the item. The only problem is that you have no control; its pure luck. Sometimes I got lucky and they line up quickly, but most of the time they just don’t. The time runs out, I get a bounty on my head and have to run away. It’s an abysmal system and I fully expect to see no-one using it.

As I said, there’s so much to do in Two Worlds II it’s impossible for me to go into detail about it all. The general idea is you work out how you want to play and use the skills and weapons that suit that. While I’m going to touch on as much as I can, I’ll be focussing on my personal experience when I go more in-depth.

Combat is separated into three fields; melee, ranged and magic. Melee combat involves what you’d expect; hitting things. All the weapons cause either slashing or bludgeoning damage and some enemies are resistant against one type so it’s essential to be flexible. Despite having to use the triggers to fight, the system couldn’t be further away from that of Oblivion. Drawing your weapon locks you on to the nearest enemy and all your attacks are focussed on them. While you’ll initially just slash wildly and hope for the best, as you progress the system will come into its own and transform into a really satisfying mechanic.

Basic attacks are supplemented by random special moves and skills that can be used on command, as well as timed counters. Despite it being intuitive and mostly solid, blows sometimes don’t land properly and some of the time you feel more like you’re hacking at a scarecrow full of fake blood than an actual creature. Another minor niggle is having to press Down on the D-pad to draw your weapon. Just pressing the trigger will throw useless punches and kicks; they do no damage and there is never really a need to use them. Why the feature is included is beyond me but this is only a small problem and you’ll quickly get used to drawing and sheathing with ease.

You quickly get used to being outnumbered...

Ranged fighting involves a bow, quiver and infinite arrows, which is a blessing considering how many times you’ll miss. Two Worlds II is all about statistics and percentages and this shows when fighting from a distance. Unless you are within your allowed range you will miss, whether you use the basic lock-on or the more controllable Sniper Mode method. Take a couple of steps forward and you’re Robin bloody Hood. It almost completely negates the use of the bow until you hammer your Accuracy stat up a lot; if you don’t, you need to be at spitting distance to hit anything. Which begs the question, why not just wade in? Due to this misstep, I spent much of the game trolling about with a big sword, popping one or two points on the Accuracy stat each level until my bow was usable.

Even then it’s still not much good. Until you acquire a top-notch bow and quiver (which of course you don’t until near the end of the game) arrows don’t do enough damage to be useful. More often than not, before you can down a foe he’ll be upon you and you’ll have to switch to melee anyway. I found the bow to be only useful for downing animals and small critters from a distance until the very end of the game, where it is practically the only thing you can use if you want to stay alive. I won’t spoil it and tell you why, but regardless of whether you want to use a bow or not; don’t neglect the Accuracy skill or you’ll pay for it later.

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