Summary: Vandy tears into RPG title Two Worlds II from the Polish developer Reality Pump. Is it worth the $50 price tag or something to pass over? By the time he gets through the review you definitely know what to expect.
Two Worlds II is the second game in a series of open world RPGs from Polish developer Reality Pump, which was previously known for their work on lesser-known real-time strategy games. It continues the story of a struggle for power in the land of Antaloor, and a nameless heroís quest to save his sister from an evil emperor in time to prevent the destruction of the planet, or some such. The first game was released on PC and Xbox 360, while the second brings the improvements in graphics, combat, and questing to the PlayStation 3, as well.
The game starts out a little slow, with an extended tutorial segment that insists not only on teaching you the basics of movement and interaction, but also providing in-depth lessons on how to use each of the three distinct styles of combat: melee, ranged, and magic. Instead of choosing one of three classes, you develop your character by choosing which of the four basic attributes and appropriate skill sets you want to invest in. Armor and weapons also come in the three general varieties and should be chosen accordingly.
As it turns out, fighting in Two Worlds II is a bit dicey. I found both archery and spell-slinging to be rather awkward, so I opted for melee. Unfortunately, that boils down to alternating clicks and space bar taps, which is the only reliable way to get your warrior to attack at a consistent pace. Youíre supposed to be able chain combinations together by appropriately spacing out your clicks, but thereís no clear indication as to how to do that and the timing varies depending on the type of weapon, how youíre using it (one-handed, two-handed, dual-wielding), and whether you are in an offensive or defensive stance. Yet more illusion of tactical depth is provided by the ability to block and parry, which really only serve to slow you down, especially when the majority of enemies use them as an excuse to just stand there and defend 80% of the time, preventing all damage except that from a special penetrating attack skillÖ
But wait, youíre still not finished with the prologue! By the time itís through trying your patience, youíll realize that the story makes very little sense, the writing is terrible, and the actors have less talent for reading a line than a bunch of tenth grade students forced to put on a production of Julius Caesar for their English class. Fortunately, things get a lot more interesting once you arrive in the first small town and are allowed the freedom to wander around and do as you please. As with most other open-world RPGs, Two Worlds II presents you with a whole boat load of side quests on your journey between locations critical to the main storyline. There are at least a couple hundred of these odd jobs throughout the game, and will constitute the majority of the time you spend playing.
A lot of the quests represent little more than standard RPG grunt work -- package delivery, beast slaying, item retrieval, dungeon diving, etc. Many of them are offered on behalf of various organizations, such as the Merchants Guild, Society of Mages, and Brotherhood of Fighters. Completing such tasks will increase your reputation amongst their ranks, sometimes bringing rewards and benefits such as unique loot and discounts at their merchants. Some of the most interesting quests are those that you stumble upon out in the world and have more than one way of completing them. The most memorable for me involved a carpenter being robbed by bandits on the construction site: when I strolled up, the bandits posed as workers and the victim, who appears to be the foreman, tells me about some baboons in a nearby valley that stole his tools. I went to slay the baboons, but found no tools, and returned to see the poor bastard alone and bereft of all his valuables. He started yelling at me, asking how I didnít notice the ďworkersĒ were armed with swords and axes, nor realize that his bizarre request was a hint as to his predicament!
Fast travel is made possible by the dozens of teleportation shrines that are scattered about the world, which you must discover and activate before accessing. You can also ride horses, but for some reason it was decided that they wonít move a single hoof without repeated mouse clicks to propel themÖ Needless to say, itís the stupidest idea ever to be borne of equestrian involvement in a video game, and defeats the purpose of providing a more convenient way to cover ground. Not to mention, you canít take your steed with you when you teleport, and without a magic whistle to call it to your side, you will need to ensure you park it next to a teleporter if you ever want to find it again. Itís possible to procure a sailboat and take to the seas, but sadly there isnít anything to find out there.
The gameís difficulty level is highly variable at first, which is equal parts refreshing and frustrating; generally animals and the Anubis-looking variant on goblins you encounter on the surface will present a mild threat, while venturing into the wrong cave can bring you to a swift, untimely death. However, if you spend the time completing every task youíre offered, itís possible to overlevel yourself and take the challenge out of everything. Amassing so much loot that you can upgrade your stuff to uber status is also an issue there, but that takes a while and can actually be considered a reward for progressing so far. Similarly, you will slowly work your way up the different types/ranks of armor, which definitely makes it more fulfilling when you finally get that badass metal armor or fancy wizard robe.
Two Worlds II has a unique crafting system that is great for getting some use out of so-called vendor trash, or loot that is so crappy you might not even bother lugging back to town to sell. It allows you to break down weapons and armor into base materials like iron, wood, and leather, and then use those to upgrade the equipment you actually use. You can also set special gems that bestow bonuses to skills, attributes, resistances, or damage. Being able to do all of this from within your inventory is awesome because it cuts down on how many trips you take back to a merchant to sell stuff while youíre out and about, leaving you more time for adventuring. Alchemy works in much the same way; you combine up to 10 ingredients and create various potions within the inventory. They can range from standard health/mana regen pots, attribute boosters, or poison cures to more interesting effects like invisibility, water-walking, and self-resurrection!
If you decide to go the mage route, youíll spend a lot of time experimenting with the quite revolutionary custom magic system. Throughout your travels, youíll find or purchase different magic cards, which represent separate elemental effects and characteristics such as delivery system (projectile, AOE, etc.). You start out with an empty spell container (amulet), then mix and match cards to create your own spells. Like the crafting and alchemy systems, the number of unique combinations is potentially vast, though I didnít experiment much beyond the basic things like fireballs and lightning bolts. The majority of the gameís most dynamic and visually stimulating combat will result from casting magic, provided you have the patience and discipline to master it.
The most visually pleasing element of Two Worlds II might be its excellent lighting, although the use of HDR is more than a little overbearing. Dynamic shadows are cast by everything from lanterns and campfires to handheld torches and flashy spells, adding to the atmosphere of night-time raids in enemy territory and spelunking in dank caverns. About half of the game is spent in an area called the Savannah, which is unsurprisingly modeled after dry African plains and might leave you wanting a change of scenery after a while. Luckily, you eventually make the transition to a much more pleasant landscape on another island that is mostly lush jungle paradise featuring oriental architecture.
Models and textures are mostly acceptable, but I wish the draw distance was farther; even with it turned all the way up in the options, a lot of objects will be popping up within view. Also, one of the first things I noticed when I started playing is that the animations are atrocious. Theyíre very poorly-crafted and are repeated quite often during conversations with NPCs. It seems odd to me how the developers could feel content with such jerky and mechanical character movements in normal gameplay, yet spend what must have been hours on carefully crafting unnecessarily intricate sword-fighting sequences for cutscenes. I suppose they might have motion-captured those, but then why wouldnít they do that for everything else?
A DirectX 10 rendering mode is available, which is supposed to offer a performance boost and slightly better visuals, but I didnít notice much of a difference in either of them. I found it to be highly unstable, to boot, even more so than the standard DX9 mode. Both produced the occasional strange graphical glitches and crashes. Apparently these problems are more common with NVIDIA GPUs, which is unfortunate for me, as I use GTX 460s in SLI. I also had trouble with the hardware cursor option turned on, which resulted in something going wrong and the mouse pointer disappearing. Itís definitely more responsive than using the software cursor, but itís pretty difficult to play when itís invisibleÖ
Plus, your character, the guy with the majority of the lines in the whole game, is the worst of them all! Whoever cut those lines must be the president of the publishing company or something, because thereís no possible way anybody on the dev team could have listened to that appalling delivery -- a muted monotone that makes saving the world seem as boring as tying your shoes -- and thought it was appropriate for the main character. Other than that, the sound effects are average. The music is surprisingly good, and the only reason to listen to this game at all.
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