I like to pride myself as somewhat of an RPG expert. I’ve played more than my fair share of them over the years and even written short stories around the characters I have created. So when I realised I had not looked at Two Worlds II, I had to go back and try it. Beware: Tolkien, Feist and Skyrim references included.
Prologue: Long long ago…
It wasn’t that long ago that I decided to stop the never-ending time sink that was Skyrim and pursue pastures new. I had to rewind the clock a little and go back and visit some titles I missed, Rage, Kingdoms of Amalur, Of Orcs and Men (review coming soon here on ThisisXbox) all blended together with some healthy servings of FIFA13 thrown into the mix. But then I discovered Two Worlds II. It’s not like I didn’t know of the title, but based on the first in the series and the uhm… mess that game was, TWII just didn’t register as a purchase title. That was until I spotted the Royal Edition on Amazon for a bargain £19.99. It all started because some colleagues thought the online cooperative mode looked quite decent. I guess as the resident RPG expert, it was down to me test the game.
TWII was released back in March 2011 in the EU, but the launch wasn’t a pretty one. Not only did the game hit our shelves the same weekend as the Blockbuster Dead Space 2 but the games Publisher; Topware Interactive, was in the spotlight surrounding allegations of review score fixing. With complaints coming from big named sites like Destructoid and GameReactor claiming that Topware threatened to blacklist them unless scores were 8.5/10 and above, Two Worlds II was not off to be best start.
And with that introduction, so begins our adventure in Antaloor…
Chapter 1: Yuck!
If your first title in a series was technically weak in most aspects of game development and final release polish, the first thing you need to do is ensure player’s first impressions are as good as possible. Unfortunately for Reality Pump, this isn’t the case. My first impression should have been enough to turn me away and have me running for the picturesque mountain ranges of Windhelm in Tamriel.
It all starts with a daring escape through the dungeons of Castle Vahkmaar as our hero is rescued by a band of motley men in green, and no not Robin Hood and his merry men. Orcs. The party members of the Orc rescue team resembled the usual assortment of character skills and traits normally found in a Raymond E. Feist or Tolkien novel. There was the Warrior, the Rogue, the Ranger and a Mage. The escape and setting of the scene would have been quite exciting had it not been so scripted and restrictive. Blended together with a control system that leaves me feeling like I am steering some abstract object around the game in a jumpy mirage of not quite rendered backdrops and terrains.
None of this of course is helped by the fact the controls seem to be a shrunk down, not so perfect port from keyboard to 360 controller. I read somewhere else that it almost feels like the left trigger is left doing all the work and responsible for a plethora of actions and commands. I couldn’t agree more.
Chapter 2: From the ashes of ruin is raised a (semi) worthy hero!
OK. So the game has some serious issues in terms of controllability and graphical glitches / slow weak rendering. But don’t write it off. Not yet anyway. There is a clear focus on practical abilities within this title, one that is fairly straightforward as well as being fairly comprehensive all at the same time. Skill points are invested in tangible, real-time moves – kicking a rival duelist to the floor, for example, or firing multiple arrows at once – that promote the here and now over the statistical calculations whirring within. Stealth, for one, feels far more viable than in similar open world RPG’s. The right point allocation lets archers creep round encampments, marking multiple foes like Sam Fisher in burlap pantaloons. Improbable as it is, it’s a step beyond Oblivion’s and Skyrim’s sneaking options.
One of greater strengths of the game is that experimentation is richly rewarded and an essential life line when exploring those dark, dank abandoned dungeons around Antaloor. Alchemy, magic and loot systems in Two Worlds II is definitely one of the better systems I have seen in an RPG game… and let’s be honest, I have played a lot of RPG’s. Let’s take collected loot for example; any item can be broken down into raw materials which can then in turn be used to reinforce other items you already have. So that sword you have become quite fond and attached too can be continually upgraded and improved. The same goes for shields, armor items and all other weapons in your inventory. By upgrading your items in this fashion you can also open up additional slots for crystals to be placed granting additional skills and stat bonuses.
Likewise all herb combinations guarantee a potion of some sort. From potions that replenish your health to elixirs granting the ability to walk on water, the notion that a barmy concoction is but a bush rummage away led me to spending countless hours wandering the vast countryside of Antaloor in search of new weird and wonderful herbs. The only down side to the countryside hikes were the bizarre collections of wild beasts roaming the prairie. Antaloor is home to Baboons, Ostriches, Panthers, Warthogs and Rhino’s amongst the other humanoid based hostiles.
Reality Pump’s most rewarding ideas are found in TWII’s magic system. Spells are syntactically constructed from verbs (shield, summon, shoot), nouns (fire, ice, zombie) and adjectives (bouncing, homing, detecting), allowing for an incredible wealth of tailor made chaos. Fireballs can be programmed to bounce, split and home – or all at once. Rocks will rain down and tornadoes are whipped up. Cast in succession and the tornado can sling rocks into a swirling battering ram. A more confident game could be built on magic alone. Here, however, the fun is delayed by a steep difficulty curve that favors close-combat early on.
And I kid you not my friends, the learning curve on Two World II is steep, hazardous and incredibly tough. Throughout the daring dungeon rescue through the first 2-3 hours you need to be prepared to get your hands dirty. Save often. Don’t expect to start leveling yourself towards a ranger/rogue spec and definitely don’t expect to head off into the field as Mage that would make Gandalf quake in his white breeches. Instead head out with sword and shield and put points into you’re the warrior skills tree. Then when you get to level 10+ visit the Mage Guild HQ and spend some gold to relearn and reinvest your skill points in your chosen path. Trust me, from experience; this is your best option.
Chapter 3: Taking the journey online.
Multiplayer in Two Worlds II is unfortunately an area of the game I have not been able to delve into as much as I may have liked… there is just no one online. Empty game lobbies with the occasional new player popping up but leaving ever so quickly afterwards.
The online content is entirely separate from the single player campaign, meaning that the players, you and I, need to create a new character upon first entering online play. This character is for online play only and will need leveling from scratch. There is a nice addition to this though, and that is the simple fact players can choose the race and gender of their character. So unlike the single player campaign you are not restricted to the human race only.
The main multiplayer component is the Adventure mode; seven unique maps for up to eight players to accomplish given objectives cooperatively. Like in single player, characters can gain experience and skill points to improve their attributes and skills. After the player has accumulated 10,000 auras (in-game currency), they can participate in Village mode, which allocates them a portion of land in a separate map, in which they can build and upgrade various structures to create a functioning village that can further generate more currency for use in both the Village and Adventure modes. Unfortunately, with no online players, I got a 60 second taster of Adventure mode and nothing more.
The other multiplayer modes are based on various player versus player objectives, in which a player’s character can be brought into a wide range of maps and game types to compete against other human players online. These include; one on one duels in a small arena, team death matches where two teams of players must reach a certain kill count to win, and “crystal capture” where two team of players must collect a certain number of blue crystal that appear across the chosen map, along with other pickups that can remove or add crystals.
Chapter 4: And so our story comes to an end…
Two Worlds II can be summarized with the statement: fun concepts brought low by crummy execution. But I said it can be summarized like that and I choose not to. Instead it is worth going into Two Worlds II with your eyes wide open. Yes the game has some flaws, but there are some genuinely unique and well thought out ideas. Yes I agree hand-to-hand combat can benefit from skill-based flourishes, but rarely goes beyond crude whomping and large plains hide crannies galore, though you navigate them atop a horse with the handling of a bus. But with a uniquely simplistic yet well thought out crafting system, interesting story line seeing you cross different islands and making some rather morally questionable decisions, the game manages to redeem itself, if not entirely, at least enough to warrant £10-20 of your hard earned hard cash. Lest not forget an online mode that could have been something special, something close to the World of Warcraft online cooperative RPG game play that console fans are screaming out for.
If you don’t have £20 for the Royal Edition, but fancy looking at the game, which I do recommend, then take a look on Amazon for the standard edition which should only set you back £8-12 Inc. delivery.