Sunday, February 6, 2011

Two Worlds II

If you played the original Two Worlds, you might not be surprised to learn that its sequel does not represent the role-playing genre at its most refined. What may surprise you, however, is that Two Worlds II's clumsy features don't greatly diminish the impact of its big, busy world. Here is an expansive third-person RPG brimming with fearsome monsters to slay, colorful spells to cast, varied quests to perform, and murky swamps to explore. The game lacks the fine points that adorn the greatest role-playing adventures--distinctive characters, a compelling narrative, and beautiful panoramas. But this is an entertaining journey nonetheless, due in no small part to intriguing but accessible systems that allow you to create your own magic spells, concoct potions, and upgrade your favorite weapons and armor. If you've been looking to lose yourself in a fantastical kingdom, and don't mind some clumsy combat, graphical inconsistencies, and nagging interface issues, Two Worlds II is a fine way to escape the rigors of the real world.
As with its precursor, Two Worlds II takes place in the land of Antaloor, where (once again), your sister is in trouble, and where (once again), the evil wizard Gandohar is up to no good. It's a suitable framework, but the game fails to build on its foundations. Through a series of good-looking flashback sequences, you eventually learn more about Gandohar, but the personal touch is conspicuously absent. The game devotes little time to giving your sister a personality, making her a simple MacGuffin to help put the story in motion, but nothing more. Nor will you meet many memorable characters. While much of the voice acting isn't bad, some of it is lifeless (your own character), ridiculous (a drunken local), or stiff (a student in need). The tomes you collect contain some fascinating tales and tidbits, but much of the dialogue sounds forced and unnatural--like something an author would write, but not something an actual person would say.
That isn't to say that Two Worlds II's quests won't draw you in. Sometimes, it's the bits of humor that keep you interested. A one-armed man threatens you, but as it turns out, it's a two-handed weapon he hangs on his wall. The dialogue's little jests may put a grin on your face, but you might actually guffaw if you explore this abode later and discover that the treasure chests within all contain two-handed bludgeons. An encounter with a black knight recalls a memorable scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, while a character involved with the quest is a Sean Connery soundalike (a clear reference toIndiana Jones and the Last Crusade). If the humor doesn't inspire you, perhaps the chance to drive the outcome of the quest will. In multiple cases, you choose how to proceed. This kind of decision-making isn't unique to Two Worlds II, and you won't see the exciting flexibility you may in a game like Fallout: New Vegas or Dragon Age: Origins. Nevertheless, quests involving the element of choice stand out in Two Worlds II because there is not always a clear "bad" or "good" path. A witch accused of crimes against nature; a professor accused by a supposedly innocent student: these characters may or may not be who they appear to be, and choosing to follow one path may result in unforeseen and occasionally heartbreaking circumstances.

Of course, there's more to Two Worlds II than its narrative. There's a whole world to explore, made up of rolling green hills, decrepit universities, and dank dungeons filled with rattling skeletons and hulking beasts. The visuals aren't best in class, however, and suffer from some noticeable technical flaws. Colors and textures look washed out, and occasional frame rate hitches, screen tearing, and loading times interrupt your travels. You may also run into various visual glitches, like seeing your character warp ahead and then back again. Other quirks are apparent when the camera zooms in to give you a closer look at Antaloor's inhabitants, who gesticulate stiffly and exhibit little personality as they converse. Nevertheless, the art design aspires to more than simple "generic fantasyland." The Asian-inspired design that kicks off chapter two (of four) revels in attractive red trimmings and intricately adorned bookcases. Nearby, gnarled branches and grim darkness lend an air of mystery to a society of outsiders. You still set foot in some boring caverns and bland (if sunny) fields, but progressing through the story exposes a number of artistic delights.
When facing your menacing adversaries, you aren't stuck with just blades, or a bow, or magic spells: you can choose any of these, and easily switch between up to three equipment sets with the press of a button. Regardless of your weapon of choice, combat is appealing, if a bit ragged at times. If you wield a blade, crunchy sound effects give battles some oomph, as do melee moves that knock back nearby enemies. On the other hand, inconsistent collision detection means you don't always get that delightful sense of impact you might hope for when plunging an axe into an ostrich. Casting a spell results in windy noises (summon a giant spider!) and swirling visual effects (heal yourself!)--though the auto-targeting will have the camera occasionally whipping around in uncomfortable ways. If you enjoy ranged weapons and magic, you might find bows and spells better left to certain occasions, since it's often difficult to put space between you and that swarm of bees descending on you.

That's especially true in Two Worlds II's tight, dark dungeons, where many of the game's most obvious flaws come to light. Narrow caverns are often populated with monsters too large for them. Maneuvering into an effective position can be tricky in these cases, especially when the uncooperative camera makes it impossible to figure out exactly what's going on. The need to manually unsheathe your weapon--and the delay when switching between weapon sets--can also complicate these sticky moments. Fortunately, some slippery combat situations can be exploited to your advantage. Monsters and humanoids alike suffer from pathfinding and AI difficulties. A beast might get stuck running against a rock, allowing you to pelt it with arrows until it falls over dead. Or if you put enough distance between you and your target, it might not even react at all when your arrow finds its mark. You can see that some thought was given to how certain creatures behave. For example, big cats run towards you to attack, then scamper away at a quick clip to escape your blows. But when the same cat runs halfway up a crevasse and gets stuck, or slides across a rock formation at angles that defy gravity, the immersion is broken.


  1. You remind me of my girlfriend's brother. He loves these types of games.

  2. When I first heard about this game I thought it was going to be awesome. I have watched some live broadcasts and stuff, I still might want to rent it to check it out one day.

  3. Haven't played it but need to.

  4. If I start playing it I know I won't see the outside of my house for weeks.

  5. I played Two Worlds 1 before and it was really bad, the game case said it was "Oblivion on steroids", hell no.