Two Worlds II Review
Is it possible to talk about an open-world fantasy RPG without mentioning The Elder Scrolls series, particularly Oblivion? Ideally, Oblivion wouldn't come up once in this review, but one of the primary goals of Two Worlds II is to brazenly dethrone Oblivion as the king of the genre, and as such the comparisons are openly invited. Two Worlds II simply isn't as good as Oblivion. Despite a slightly different combat style and a third-person perspective, it's virtually the same game but less polished; not very impressive considering Oblivion is nearly five years old.
After creating your character (male only, sorry girls, and guys who like to play as girls), the story begins with your character in prison (comparisons to Oblivion begin in earnest). Your sister has a Demon within her, and Gandohar, dark lord of the realm, is sapping this power while using your life energy to keep your sister alive through the process. Without notice, you're sprung from prison by a small band of Orcs on a quest to defeat Gandohar and liberate the world. Not entirely original, though there are some neat twists and turns along the way.
Unlike Oblivion, the world doesn't scale to your skill level. The storyline becomes fractured as you're forced to take large breaks to level up your character to keep up with the enemies, making the optional side-quests wholly mandatory. The quest system is built on a very standard model. You can carry multiple quests at a time and complete them in the order of your choosing, while small quest-lines link together to form small stories and inject life into the world. Veteran RPG players will be pleased to know that there is a classic 'clear monsters out of some poor soul's basement' quest near the beginning of the game. Unfortunately, many quests promise far more than they deliver. There is very little in the way of intrigue and variety. There's the odd stealth quest, but they quickly become more annoying than anything.
The world of Antaloor is a well-realized place. Cities are filled with citizens and guards, and the frequently stunning landscapes contain plenty of wildlife. What is lacking is a sense that life would go on without you. NPC characters don't feel like they have lives of their own. The problem is that the programming is not transparent. We can see the world and the characters that populate it, and we can see the processes whereby we interact with the world and cause effects. It's a problem that all RPGs face, but most do a better job of covering it up, allowing you to feel more immersed in the world as a result. Two Worlds II is so rigid in its use of RPG traditions, every process so visible, that I was never able to suspend my disbelief.
The combat is repetitive and typically requires little more than spamming your primary attack, possibly sprinkled with an occasional block or counter-attack if you really need it, and perhaps a special skill now and then. It's not the worst combat system around, but it lacks the responsive controls and strategic combos of modern action games. And, since enemies don't automatically level with you, some of the earliest fights are the toughest; not the best way to welcome players to your game. Magic is fun, especially with the ability to combine cards to create your own spells, but magic doesn't feel particularly powerful. At least using magic you'll get to experience some of the game's best graphical effects.
Two Worlds II can be visually inspiring with beautiful landscapes and some very good textures, but the poor and clunky animations effectively ruin the whole package. It really is an old game spiced up with some new colors. Even the interface is thoroughly archaic, with bulky icons, boring menus, unresponsive cursors, and no bulk-purchasing at vendors. At least the voice-acting isn't terrible this time around, or rather, not consistently terrible. Dialogue is usually mediocre and tolerable, but when it dips, the results are appalling.
Two Worlds II is an interesting beast. As a lower budget, quirkier version of Oblivion, the game does hold its own, and were it left at that its flaws would be much more understandable, possibly even virtuous in a strange way. Everyone loves the underdog, and people love it when enthusiasm outshines quality. Unfortunately, in aiming to dethrone Oblivion, Reality Pump have shot themselves in the foot. Every little quirk in the game becomes a major flaw highlighting the fact that it just isn't as good as Bethesda's effort. By turns engrossing and frustrating, the game will appeal much more to those willing to look beyond the obvious flaws and those who enjoy B-movies because of their charm. For everyone else, Two Worlds II will comfortably fill the RPG gap until Dragon Age II, providing plenty of hours of saving damsels, assisting smiths and slaying interesting beasts.
[Reviewed on PC]