The original Two Worlds was pretty broken, but it wasn't the worst RPG. Horses wanted to vertically scale all mountains, there was an awful learning curve, the magic was overpowered, and the dialogue was trashy, but there was a functional role-playing game underneath it all. Character development options weren't bad, the world was big enough for exploration, and you could get away with almost anything.
It has also taken on a mythic status as the Gollum of RPGs, so when the sequel was announced, a lot of people asked, "Why?!" Polish developer Reality Pump has taken the lessons learned from the original game to heart because Two Worlds II is not bad.
I had played the original Two Worlds on the PC; after learning about its reputation, I wanted to patch it and see if it was more playable. It helped — mostly. This time around, I tried the Xbox 360 version to see the differences. The short answer is that the game can be completed, and it can be fun.
So It Begins ... Again
First of all, the manual is a misprinted wreck. There's no information about pickpocketing in it. Page numbers are scattered, and entire sections are repeated. It's not the best start.
Beginning the main campaign brings you to the character modification screen. You can't change your race or gender — the story requires that you play the role of a brother — though you can tweak things enough to be as bizarre or as innocuous as you want to be. You can also stick with the defaults and get on with the adventure.
Two Worlds II sort of pretends that the original game didn't exist, aside from borrowing a name or two along with a few themes. The story revolves around you and your sister being held captive by Emperor Gandohar, who has apparently returned from the pummeling he received in the first game to build an empire.
After escaping with the help of orcish allies and swearing to return to rescue your sister, you're brought to "the Prophet" and are railroaded into a series of tutorials. Forcing the player down this path was probably overkill considering the criticisms about the first game, which dumped you into the wide, open world and told you nothing so that you could wander a few yards in the wrong direction and be murdered. This time, you're stuck in a series of tutorials and "safe areas" until you are strong enough to face the challenges. It might not feel as "open world" as the prior title, but the trade-off is that it's also not as frustrating for new players.
Navigating the character screens was easier on a PC because using the control pad is a bit of a bear. The analog stick is used to move around your inventory, but you intuitively want to use the d-pad, which controls something else.
On the first island, you're given a teleporter stone to quickly zap back here as long as you're above ground. There's also a handy chest for you to dump loot. After finishing the tutorials, you can wander off the beaten path and find tougher monsters that can kill you in seconds, or you can move on to the next available area and hopefully kill enough monsters to stand a chance of coming back and finishing what you had started.
This is also a solo adventure like the first game, so don't expect people to join you on the journey. The main arc progressively opens up new areas as you complete certain quests, and each one is large enough to bring back the "open world" feeling by allowing you to ignore saving the world and seeing what is out there, such as locked chests in someone else's home or a dungeon.
Statistics, Learning and You
TW2 tries not to weigh down the player with too much when it comes to regular maintenance. Your inventory might be limited by weight, but everything else — such as alchemy ingredients or the steel you can harvest by taking apart swords on the fly — isn't. You won't need to eat or sleep, either, and you regenerate hit points when you're not in a fighting stance. You don't even need to visit a forge when you strip armor and weapons into raw materials; it's really convenient, if not a blatant, shortcut favoring expediency. That's TW2 in a nutshell: a world of shortcuts.
The game is played from third-person, and melee combat is often handled by mashing on the right trigger or, if you're a mage, holding it down to charge the selected spell. Archery is controlled the same way, though it requires you to hold the right trigger long enough to draw back the bow for maximum effect. Your character is also a cipher; he can be anything you want him to be as long as he has the right skill and attribute points.
The mechanics behind improving your character are extensive, so if you love poring over a character sheet of abilities and skills, this is the game for you. There are also people called Soulpatchers, who can even reset all of your point contributions to start over again — for a price, of course. If that archer build isn't working out, you can try something different for a very modest fee. Min/maxers will probably fall in love with this option.
Experience is earned with every kill and quest completed, and this eventually translates into levels. These give you a number of attribute points to power up traits such as strength, willpower (magic) and precision (archery). Skill points are also awarded, allowing you to improve your character's proficiency with certain abilities. Adding more skill points to "Retribution," for example, raises your chance of inflicting critical damage on enemies. However, unlike attributes, not all of your skills are available from the outset. Books must be found or purchased to unlock some desired skills.
Most of magic's disciplines are also locked until you find the right tomes, so saving skill points — or visiting a Soulpatcher — is very useful in this regard. The system also requires you to build your own spells using the card system, which was introduced in the first game. Discovering different cards and then combining them for effect lets you create a repertoire of spells. It's also not quite as overpowered as it had been in the first game, though it can still be quite effective with enough skill and the right cards. Magic also draws from a well of regenerating mana, regenerative rate of which can also be improved with enough skill points.
The controls make it easy to drink potions on the fly, but configuring them is a lot trickier. You can't reassign everything, and there are apparently a number of tiers. The manual wasn't much help, and it's not clearly explained in the game.
For example, your character wanders around with the map, quest log and a torch assigned to the X, Y and B buttons, respectively. I tried to change the assignment of the torch button to use the teleporter stone, but I couldn't figure out how to make that happen. I managed to assign it to another tier of quick keys that appeared when I was sneaking around. The problem is that I automatically pull out an equipped knife on the side when sneaking because it's also the same stance used for behind-the-back assassinations, leading to amusing incidents where guards would yell at me to "put it away" when I tried to teleport.
Have at Thee!
Combat is pretty straightforward, but the AI can often make it embarrassingly easy. I'll give the game credit, though, in giving creatures a nice array of animated reactions for getting smashed in the face. Juggling them against a wall or a corner and then whittling them down to death was one of the easiest ways to wipe out bad guys. Of course, this tactic doesn't work all the time, and particularly nasty or large monsters won't simply be backed into wall or flinch with every hit, so combat isn't a cakewalk.
TW2 also uses leveled equipment, which may or may not aggravate players, depending on how they feel about MMO-led design philosophy. It has a place in certain games (like MMOs) and keeps players from overpowering lower-level characters in multiplayer scenarios, but its implementation in TW2 often gave the impression that the character's arsenal is confined to a specific place within the game's difficulty curve. There's low-level crap on one end and, on the other, high-level toys are arbitrarily barred from use because of a number. This felt like another shortcut to explain the "experience gap" of proficiency with weapons.
Monsters are often limited by the range of their inhabited area. After chasing you awhile, they can give up and simply slink away, but sometimes they'll stay at a certain spot as if stopped by an invisible wall, and you can pick them off from a distance with archery or magic. This occurred often enough that it's a good tactic to deal with particularly troublesome monsters.
Exploring for Fun, Profit and Boredom on the High Seas
The world is huge. You start on a small island but as the game progresses, you move on to larger land masses, each filled with a number of side-quests that often ask you to kill or deliver something. Most of those are standard RPG fare. There are no "big decisions" to make, other than a few that might alter the outcome of what happens within their own quests, such as mistaking a band of robbers of someone else. TW2 is about as straightforward an RPG as they come where the story and quests are concerned. If you're hoping for the kind of consequential storytelling found in games such as Bioware's Dragon Age or Obsidian's New Vegas, it's not here.
Exploration in TW2 can be fun, and it provides several methods with which to plunder the land. Teleport locations are liberally spread all over the world of Antaloor, allowing quick travel between locations. Horse behavior has improved slightly from the original game, but the controls still leave a lot to be desired when it comes to the sluggish turning or getting them up to speed.
After the smooth horse controls in Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption, TW2's feel clunky in comparison. You can't even jump off of your horse before it has come to a complete stop, as if it were a train on four legs. You'll most likely leave behind the horse and just teleport. You can use the horse as an extra pack mule for supplies, but you could also teleport back home and use the personal chest. It's no great loss if you leave your horse somewhere and forget where it was.
The speed at which you can actually travel via sailboat makes the massive distances as exciting as watching snow melt in Antarctica. After setting sail toward a huge landmass to the north, I left to make myself something to eat, and when I returned, I still hadn't made landfall. In this case, a quick travel option or an automated "sailing" command could have been useful, since there was nothing to do aside from stare at the screen and wait … and wait … and wait some more.
When I discovered how tough it was to sail back south because the wind direction never changed, I teleported back to civilization and left my boat in the world for future adventurers to find. There's no magical way to call it back to port, so it's lost, but it's difficult to care.
You can improve your equipment on the fly as long as you have the right ingredients. It sounds interesting, but you must invest the time and skill points to forge a crappy sword, and it feels like a wasted effort when you find a much more powerful weapon later on. Upgrading your old weapon by tiny increments simply doesn't beat the damage of your new toy can do from the start.
Although special stones can be slotted into weapons to give them a unique advantage, they weren't so powerful to make this option a game-changer. Unlike other RPGs, such as Risen, in which you have the potential to forge exceptional and unique weapons, upgrading and creating weapons in TW2 doesn't feel that rewarding. Alchemy, on the other hand, is far more useful.
It's Always Sunny in Antaloor
For all of its shortcomings, TW2 is actually fun. The combat engine makes monster-slaying entertaining enough to keep at it for hours, side-quests provide experience, and plenty of statistics are available to fortify your peon. At its most basic level, it fulfills its place as a role-playing game in which you can participate in a variety of tasks to become a heroic mystery man. It also introduces a number of neat tricks usually only seen on PCs, such as being able to save anywhere at any time, except for the final battle.
Aside from the manual, production values are pretty decent: Antaloor's world looks good, interior homes and buildings are lavishly decorated, and underground areas and caves elicit a moment's pause for their beauty (and light bloom). Areas like the magic-ravaged ruins of the Swallows or the city of Cheznadar feel handcrafted. People go about their business, and houses are tempting targets for quick-fingered thieves. However, the mishmash of Oriental scenery and Western, frat-party dialogue felt as if China had accidentally crashed into an American party college.
The minigames, such as picking locks or playing a musical instrument, are hit-and-miss. Picking locks was the most entertaining one, requiring you to pull the right trigger to have your spinning pick latch on to a grooved wheel and then do it again with the next layer. The more advanced the lock, the more wheels you had to do, and it was also timed.
Picking pockets, on the other hand, relied mostly on random luck and timing to line up your hand to grab the prize. Playing music turned you into a "Medieval Hero" by matching falling notes with the right bumper and trigger buttons. The easiest instrument was the drum, and the violin only made things progressively less intuitive. The game may suggest that playing music and playing dice can earn you easy cash, but the easiest way is to kill people and sell their gear.
The high fantasy fare of the soundtrack is filled with soaring notes and awe-inspiring tracks that range from Middle Eastern-flavored city themes to Oriental strings, though the end credits roll with an '80s-inspired rock soundtrack. As for the voice acting, it's passable but dull and long-winded. I eventually turned on subtitles because I could get to the point faster than the characters.
The multiplayer portion also had a few welcome changes. Though you can't bring your single-player character and must make a new one based on a number of classes, the online portion plays out like a mini-MMO. A new series of adventures set in unique maps allow up to eight players to cooperate in taking down monsters for experience. It's basically the single-player game with live people and a much more limited scope, but it works. There's also deathmatching if you simply want to fight, and your character can earn experience and gear.
Unfortunately for those looking for adventure on the console version, getting started with a nice crowd of players was quite difficult. I didn't see too many people playing in the early areas, and you can't jump into the later maps until you have completed them. Unless you have friends who are also playing this game and want to do some online adventuring, you'll be stuck with the few random strangers who may or may not be on a map that you can actually access.
A village is also open for business, though only if you have already earned 10,000 auras online. Once you do, this mode gives you something to do with your online cash and provide a convenient home for storing interesting things from multiplayer. Not only is it like your "home base" for multi, but you're the boss in how it develops by purchasing buildings and keeping the villagers happy. A well-developed and upgraded village can generate cash while you're journeying.
Two Worlds 2 does what few sequels ever do: make us forget about its predecessor. Despite the issues, enough worked to keep grinding to the next dungeon and forgive the incredibly lackluster ending. This RPG appeals mostly to trigger-happy, action-oriented adventurers who want to mash enemies and don't care about the story, but it also has enough to draw in those who want to do their own share of exploring. It's not a perfect sequel, but for those who remember the original Two Worlds, it's an adventure that is finally worth most of its weight in loot.
More articles about Two Worlds II