In a world that includes the likes of the Elder Scrolls series, and more modern cousins like Fallout 3, a role-playing game can’t really get away with being average if it wants to pull in the crowds. The original Two Worlds was just that - average, and as such it failed to ignite the passion of most role-playing connoisseurs. Still, there were a couple of innovative ideas which showed potential, so no one is going to blame developer Reality Pump for giving it another go with Two Worlds II. This time around the Polish team have delivered a more solid fantasy role-playing experience, although once again it is in dire need of a serious polish.
Following on more or less directly from where Two Worlds left off, the story picks up as if it never ended - there is hardly an explanation of the who and the why, let alone the where, so those new to the series may feel a little lost. Cut scenes and early character interactions gloss over the bones of the current situation somewhat, but be prepared to hit the ground running. To boil it down to the bare essentials, we have the Sauron-esque dark lord Gandohar who is holding our hero and his sister, Kyra, captive. His dark and evil plan? To siphon an ancient power which lurks within Kyra, even if it means tearing her apart in the process. As you could expect, our gravel-voiced protagonist breaks free, with the help of a band of orcs, and sets about finding a way to save his beloved sibling and rid the world of the darkness brought on by Gandohar’s evil rule.
Yes, all the pieces are in place for a traditional fantasy adventure: an evil sorcerer bent on destruction; a mysterious prophet who claims our hero is the key to saving the world; an ensemble cast of fantasy stereotypes; and enough spells and swords and oddly-named enchanted artifacts to set your beard alight. It's a pity though that the story and the events which unfold along the way never really push the envelope, happy to do just enough to keep the gamer mildly entertained along the way. The seemingly endless list of side quests are filled with all the RPG cliches you can think of, but at least there are a lot of them to plow through. It’s one of those RPGs where you pop open your journal and are buried in incomplete quests which you don’t even remember signing up for.
While the core story is worth dipping into once in a while, it’s the massive number of side quests that prove most compelling. Before long your map is so heavily laden with markers and waypoints and other points of interest that you will be spoilt for choice. At times it becomes quite overwhelming - at one point I had spent an hour running some pointless errands for a silly man with pointy ears before I realised it had nothing to do with the actual quest I was meant to be busy with.
Distractions are everywhere, but really that’s part of the charm. When you aren’t too busy saving the world or kicking rhinoceros’ heads in (yes, you fight rino’s in Antaloor. Big, snorting bloody things), there are enough random activities to keep your hero occupied for ages. I quickly became quite addicted to the dice-based poker game, and soon found myself heading out for loot just so that I had more money to lose at the dice tables. Being able to blow a few bucks on the gambling tables, or bust out a tune on your harp or lute for the crowds, makes for a more immersive role-playing experience.
Less random, and more directly impacting your adventuring, are the innovative potion brewing and item customizing features. Potions can be invented on the fly by blending any of the multitude of ingredients scavenged while exploring, and weapons and other items can be broken down into their raw materials which are then used to modify and improve other items. These creation systems, along with the detailed skill development system and spell creation process, add depth and a level of strategy to proceedings.
So many quests and characters to interact with along the way demand for a hefty bit of landscape to explore, and the realm of Antaloor doesn’t disappoint. Well, not in terms of scale at least. As massive as the game world may be, there are far too many dead areas - expanses of bland territory which are pretty much wasted. The towns and villages are quaint though, and provide your hero with some much needed company after trudging through the wilderness for hours. The various districts of Antaloor all have their own style and atmosphere, from the sun-bleached savannas to the daunting spires of a gothic castle or sprawling university, making for a pleasantly diverse world.
Having plenty to do and a monstrous world to do it in should bode well for any role-playing game, but sadly Two Worlds II isn’t quite the fantasy land of milk and honey it should have been. The first thing that will trouble you during your adventures is the terribly fidgety control system. The basic act of successfully climbing a flight of stairs or mounting your horse is a test of your resolve and will to live. This spills over into the combat, taking what could have been a sleek blend of swordplay and sorcery and making a random mess of it. Just navigating through the different user interface menus and inventories feels cumbersome and uncomfortable. Some of these control issues can be attributed to the sheer volume of inputs required compared to the physical limitations of the gamepad, but there has to be a more streamlined solution to what's on offer.
The overall look of Two Worlds II is of a game which needed a few more hours in the hands of a loving art director, as there are also a number of issues in the visuals department. Characters are badly articulated and move in a disconcertingly jerky fashion, while the various creatures which threaten your existence in the wild seem unnatural and mechanical. Clipping is a constant issue, whether in the form of chronic distance pop-up, or characters disappearing through walls. Presentation is below par too, with cluttered user interface screens. If you want to last more than an hour in Antaloor you will first have to make peace with the fact that Two Worlds II has its fair share of troubles. It’s worth the effort for devout fans of the genre though, because the clumsy controls and unpolished presentation hide a solid if unremarkable adventure.
Reality Pump have also catered for those who insist on a multiplayer component even when it doesn't necessarily suit the game. If you absolutely have to take Two Worlds II online, a couple of rudimentary player vs player modes await, accentuating the clumsy controls and uncomfortable combat which trouble the standard campaign. These control issues may cause some embarrassing moments in the face of an IA controlled demon, but when you are dealing with human opponents it can be terribly frustrating. Things get considerably better with the co-operative campaign, spanning seven sizable campaigns playable with up to eight adventurers, as well as the intriguing village mode where gamers band together to build and manage a working village. Get a few friends together and these non-competitive elements can provide a few entertaining moments, but there are far better ways to experience the joys of online gaming. Two Worlds II is clearly aimed squarely at the lone wolf hero, and as such the multiplayer component comes across as an afterthought.
Ultimately, if you step into the world of Antaloor with the right expectations you may find yourself thoroughly enchanted by its traditional fantasy role-playing charms. It's not particularly good looking when compared to its peers, and there isn't much in the way of innovation as far as the narrative is concerned, but at the same time there is an old fashioned approach here that I found appealing. Admittedly, first impressions aren't great - thanks mainly to the unpolished presentation and awkward controls - but once you've come to terms with these shortcomings there is a lot to like about Two Worlds II.
- A seemingly endless list of quests that lead you far off of the beaten track
- Impressive character development and customisation elements
- Absorbing game world that begs to be explored
- Controls need an overhaul
- Sub par graphics and voice acting
- Underwhelming multiplayer modes