The original Two Worlds didn’t stand much of a chance. Not only did it have the misfortune of being compared to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, having been released just over a year after Bethesda’s epic role-playing game, more importantly it shipped in a nearly unplayable state, with an unstable framerate and game crushing – and sometimes crashing – bugs. Patches were released and some issues addressed, but it was too little too late, the damage had been done. That’s what makes the release of Two Worlds II, three and a half years later, all the more surprising, or intriguing, take your pick. Is developer Reality Pump Studios seeking a little redemption? Is Two Worlds II the role-playing game Two Worlds should have been? Grab your sword and shield, and let’s find out.
New Rule: If you make a sequel that picks up immediately following the events of the first game, or shortly thereafter, you must provide a recap of the storyline so far. I don’t know, a cinematic or something. Anything. Two Worlds II isn’t the only culprit here – almost all sequels assume players remember everything that occurred in the original game – but this is the first time the franchise is making its appearance on the PlayStation 3, and like myself I imagine there are a number of gamers out there who gave up trying to finish the original Two Worlds on the Xbox 360 or PC out of pure frustration.
Surprise, surprise, Two Worlds II takes place shortly after the events of the first Two Worlds. You and your sister are prisoners of Gandohar. The Dark Lord is attempting to use your sister as a vessel to awake the slumbering powers of an old generation in order to dominate Antaloor while you waste away in the dungeons of Vahkmaar. Cue the often-used prison break hook as an unlikely ally, the orcs, help you to escape Gandohar’s palace. Free but relatively vulnerable, your quest to learn of Gandohar’s nefarious plans, regain your once-powerful form, defeat the wicked mage and rescue your twin sister Kyra is set in motion.
Two Worlds II comes out of the gate at a bit of a snail’s pace. What The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion accomplished in roughly 30-45 minutes, Two Worlds II takes several hours to do. I’m talking, of course, about the tutorial. Here’s the weird thing about that: when Two Worlds II finally let go of my hand, approximately four hours in, I still didn’t fully understand how some of the gameplay mechanics worked, like spellcrafting. For the amount of time it reserves, the tutorial doesn’t do a very good job explaining all the basics of the game. In its defense, like a good wedding cake, there are a lot of layers to Two Worlds II.
Sadly, a few of those layers are a little stale. The user interface is clunky. The quest log doesn’t do an adequate job of indicating which quests have been completed or not, and the world map uses colored straight pins to indicate significant locations and active quests, which wouldn’t be such a bad idea if the map didn’t become a bungling mess of pins after awhile. Each item in the game has a stat block. By default, the titles in the stat block are represented by icons. Nowhere in the game, or in the game’s manual, are these icons explained. If you want to gain any sense of what the numbers in the stat block mean, you’ll have to go into the menu options and change the icons to text. And when you visit a merchant, the stats of each item actually blocks off a good portion of what the merchant has to offer.
Another stale layer are the clumsy controls. Too many actions are mapped to the same button. For instance, the “A” button is used to jump or initiate prompted actions. If you want to talk to an NPC, you press the “A” button, but you better make sure your character comes to a complete stop before doing so or you’ll jump into that character instead. The same goes for opening doors. In the same action you can’t walk up to a door and press the “A” button to open it; you’ll jump into the door instead. You have to walk up to the door, wait until you come to a complete stop, than press the button to open it.
The left trigger gets even more crowded, with mapped actions such as entering sneak mode, sprinting and blocking. To enter sneak mode, your character has to be standing still. You can’t walk into sneak mode otherwise your character will begin to sprint. The same goes for blocking. You must have a weapon drawn and you must be standing still before you can block. If your character is moving even the slightest, you’ll start to sprint instead. The worst part is, there’s actually a slight delay when you press the left trigger to enter sneak mode or to block.
Unless you focus on spell casting, combat is a button-mashing affair with hit detection issues. There’s no distinction between swinging a heavy, two-handed axe versus a short sword; everything feels the same. Don’t even get me started on long-range combat. Early in the game you’re taught how to shoot arrows at multiple targets, what should be a valuable skill. To pull it off you have to press and hold the right trigger to draw your bow, then press the left trigger to enter sniper mode. After that you press the “Y” button to select multiple arrows, and then you use the left trigger again to target multiple enemies. Finally you release the right trigger and voila, multiple arrows are shot. If at any point during this process you get hit by a short- or long-range attack, you have to start it over from the beginning. In other words it’s only useful if you’ve snuck up on a group of enemies, otherwise you might as well put away that bow.
Two Worlds II does away with class selection. Instead, after you level up, you get to spend your points on skills that are separated into class-specific categories (assassin, mage, ranger and warrior), as well as crafting and general areas. This way you can mold your character into the class of your choice, or you can become a jack-of-all-trades. I would not recommend the latter, however, as you’ll likely reach the final act and realize you have little chance to win. I appreciate the idea, though. It gives players the opportunity to multi-class or at least become semi-efficient at skills their chosen class might not normally be good at. Choice is always a good thing.
What’s not a good thing is how underpowered the assassin or ranger is at the onset of the game. Do you know how frustrating it is to spend the time sneaking up to an enemy to perform a “death strike,” only to come to the realization that, for some reason, the game won’t allow you to? You can perform a death strike on one enemy, but not his identical buddy next to him. How does that make a lick of sense? Something is definitely buggered there. Picking locks is equally frustrating. There are locks all across Antaloor that you can’t pick for various reasons (sometimes because it’s related to a quest that hasn’t been activated yet, other times because…I have no idea). What’s the point in being a thief if you can’t steal what you want, when you want? Long story short, I quickly abandoned my desire to be a thief/assassin in favor of a battle mage.
From a presentation standpoint, Two Worlds II looks a little dated. The highlight is without question the range of environments in Antaloor, some not often explored in role-playing games like desert terrain. The level of detail in the environments is also a nice touch. On the other hand, the animations are lacking. Your character looks like a toddler when he runs, and I dare you to jump in this game with any kind of finesse. I like that your character slows down when climbing hills and mountains, but that gets exaggerated at times. There’s also something wrong with the character models. I can’t quite put my finger on it but something is just a little off about them. Audio is equally inconsistent. Your character is a chatterbox, constantly speaking aloud to himself. That gets annoying fast. The soundtrack is okay, if forgettable, but the voice acting is as corny as the dialogue. The worst part is there seems to be missing sound effects. If you throw a crate, does it make a sound? Not in Two Worlds II, apparently. A couple of times I even had to restart the game because the audio cut out entirely.
Let’s talk about the best part of Two Worlds II: the crafting systems. Bethesda, I really hope you’re taking notes here. There’s a strong alchemy component present, with dozens of ingredients spread throughout Antaloor that you can combine into powerful potions and poisons, and even save into parchment allowing you to skip a step if you already possess the proper ingredients. The game also features an impressive weapon crafting system within which you can break down unwanted weapons into their basic components, like wood and steel, and then use those components to reinforce and upgrade your preferred weapons. In addition you can fuse crystals to various items that grant skill bonuses, and you can even use paint dyes of various colors to customize the different pieces of your armor. It gives you the option of improving your equipment in a manner other than buying and selling from merchants or looting from enemies.
Last but not least is the spellcrafting system, which allows you to combine spell cards and amulets that you find throughout Antaloor into awe-inspiring magic. This is one part of the game I wish the tutorial addressed a little more in-depth because there’s definitely a learning curve to it. With five schools of magic and a wide selection of cards (carrier, effect and modifier), there’s no system more rewarding in Two Worlds II than that of spellcrafting.
I didn’t know what to expect from Two Worlds II in terms of multiplayer, and I came away pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately you can’t take your single player character into multiplayer, you’ll have to create a new character from scratch. The multiplayer adventure, which can be played co-operatively with up to 7 of your friends, bridges the gap between Two Worlds and Two Worlds II with a campaign that spans seven quests. There's also Village mode, Two Worlds II’s answer to Farmville. Here you’ll build a medieval village and take on mini-quests. There’s also a Deathmatch mode, but when you figure in the repetitive melee combat and the lack of any sort of matchmaking feature – meaning you’ll often find yourself pitted against opponents nowhere near your character's skill level – it’s really not worth enduring.
Time to wrap this up with a wacky analogy. Two Worlds II is a little like sea urchin. There are some tasty bits inside (crafting systems, portions of multiplayer), but you have to deal with a lot of rough edges (interface, controls, combat, presentation). Is Two Worlds II better than the original? Sure, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. It’s not as smartly written as Dragon Age or the world as steeped as The Elder Scrolls, but there is some appeal for those adventurers who enjoy their classic fantasy role-playing fare extra cheesy. The real litmus test is if after the initial half-dozen hours or so you still think the tasty bits are worth the trouble. That’s a big if.