Two Worlds II – Full Review
by Mark R
It was a time of unrest, with distant mutterings being whispered from brother to brother, each word twisting and turning until none could remember what was truth and what was merely fabrication. While some spoke of a shadow on the horizon lumbering towards them at a slow yet unrelenting pace, rising from once forgotten ashes, others dismissed the tales out of hand as nothing more than rumour. Believers who stood on corners preaching of this second coming, forever ridiculed as each day passed without incident now stand tall as news of the beast’s approach is confirmed by sightings from all over.
The beast of which I speak is not some fabled mythical creature but rather Two Worlds II. Originally touted as an add-on called “The Temptation” back in November 2007 with a release date of the first half of 2008, but which never happened. As time went on, The Temptation became less likely and was ultimately shelved by Reality Pump in favour of a full sequel which, itself, became plagued by constant delays to the point where the UK will finally see Two Worlds II made available almost two years on from the original expected release date of March 27th, 2009. After more than three years of hype for those who waited for the sequel with bated breath, shying away from the hordes of naysayers who found no redeemable qualities in Reality Pump’s original release, will Two Worlds II have what it takes to live up to such sustained anticipation? Fans of the original certainly won’t be disappointed.
Whilst you step once again into the shoes worn in Two Worlds, your character has been out of commission for the past five years and, as such, has grown weak over this time so you are effectively starting over with no skills or abilities. Although this does seem a little odd, as I can’t imagine anyone would forget every skill they’d learned after a five year hiatus, it does mean that you get to immerse yourself in what is ultimately the life force of any good role playing game: character building and levelling. During the obligatory tutorial level, involving your breaking out of Castle Vahkmaar after being imprisoned by Gandohar, various cut scenes and quick time events tell of the Orcs siding with the humans in an attempt to overthrow Gandohar as he rules his empire by fear. It becomes clear very early on that the back bone of Two Worlds II is a much stronger storyline than that of its predecessor, being heavily rooted in politics and steeped in choices which will shape the way the story unfolds and, although the theme of the previous game still exists where you are ultimately trying to free your sister from Gandohar’s clutches, the political subtext is actually much stronger than that of your plight to reunite with your troubled sibling.
By the time you grab your first mace to stave off Guardians that are hell bent on preventing you from leaving Castle Vahkmaar, for fear of being torn limb from limb by Gandohar and his Jedi mind tricks, it’s already clear that this is not going to be a rehash of the original game. This is obviously a good thing, but also has the potential for being quite a negative if there is too much change happening all at once. As someone who genuinely enjoyed Two Worlds, despite originally turning off the demo after thirty minutes and not going back to it for months, I was hoping that enough of the quirky charm of the original would be retained but everything that could be improved upon would be improved upon and it doesn’t take long for those hopes to be confirmed.
The voice acting in Two Worlds was much maligned and, while I do admit that it was ropey at times and had some pretty dreadful dialogue in places, there was also a great deal of humour in the main character and his interactions with those that were met on his travels. Unfortunately, most people couldn’t see the humour for what it was and took the stance that it was just poorly written dialogue, such as the hero singing “It’s raining, it’s pouring” to himself whenever the skies turn dark with storms, regular one liners whenever beasts were slain and frequent blurts of “Forsooth” and “Thouest” as well as other ‘olde worlde’ phrases. To me, that was part of the charm of the original and I was overjoyed to hear “Gotta be brave to enter a cave” on entering my first underground location and “Gentlemen… and or monsters” as I ran up to take out a rhinoceros on the Savannah. While the hokey one liners are still there, the medieval dialogue has been kicked to the curb in favour of plain English and the voice acting of the main character is, in my opinion, superb. With a throaty timbre like a vibrator thrust into a bucket of granite chips, the lead character sounds very much like Christian Bale in his portrayal of Batman and I was convinced at one point that I was listening to Terence Stamp voicing another but have it on good authority that it wasn’t really him… but that shows the quality of the voice acting compared with the original. There are times, however, where they probably spent a little too much of the budget on take away pizza whilst burning the midnight oil and had to cut back on the voiceover budget for some characters but, overall, it’s a vast improvement and that trademark humour is still present.
There are areas within the game which are very self referential and not only poke fun at the whole role playing genre, but also at Two Worlds itself. Going in to too much detail would obviously spoil the gameplay for anyone who decides to embark on their own journey through Antaloor but there is one occasion where you happen upon a character in the “Under The Influence Inn” who immediately starts rabbling in the traditional Two Worlds speak of “forsooth”, “doth”, “thou”, “spaketh” and is met by derision by your character, asking if he needs his head examined. Other areas where the fourth wall is broken include retorts such as “Chance of death, little pay, no respect… I’ll do it” and “You could have told me this before I came from that very place to deliver this here” when being asked to return to pick something else up in the typical errand boy mode so often associated with the role playing genre. I am, of course, paraphrasing in these examples as I was too busy laughing to take verbatim notes and I’d rather you discovered them for yourself but my point is that if you’re wanting serious or depressing dialogue then you’re barking up the wrong enchanted tree. Other gems such as turning a corner in the middle of nowhere and finding someone urinating up against a tree, or bent over to vomit their entire stomach contents are the little touches that separate this from others.
There are, as far as I’m concerned, three huge features introduced to Two Worlds II in the shape of the CRAFT system, the ability to sail the oceans, and the Oculus. Tackling them in order, the CRAFT system (Complete Reshaping And Forging Technology) builds upon the previous method of stacking similar items to make much more powerful versions, but takes this to an entirely new level of customisation and control which begins with disassembling existing weapons and armour in to component parts. Holding the left bumper and pushing the ‘Y’ button on the XBox whilst selecting an item in the inventory screen will break that particular item down in to separate elements, so a shield may be composed of only two units of wood whereas a sword may provide iron and steel and a helmet is likely to produce iron, leather and even chainmail.
Whenever you have enough raw materials at your disposal, any applicable items will immediately display an animated hammer to let you know that this item can be upgraded with whatever elements you have available. Upgrading weapons and armour will also unlock slots for enchanting your items with crystals, and the number of crystals you can use depends on the level of the item you’re upgrading, so to use two crystals on a sword you would have to upgrade six times, three requires twelve upgrades, four crystal spaces would take twenty upgrades and so forth. Not all items can be upgraded to the same degree, however, as a dagger will only have space for two crystals regardless of however many times you upgrade the equipment. While the damage will continue to increase with every upgrade, the number of crystals would remain at the imposed limit. It’s also important to note that, as with the previous game, you can’t mix elemental damage on one weapon so if you’ve already placed a crystal with fire damage then it’s impossible to compliment that by adding frost, poison or shock, limiting you to either swapping one type for another or adding further skill crystals such as strength, stamina, thrust or anything else that adjusts your attributes.
With the Antaloor map consisting mainly of water with various islands dotted around, it was only a matter of time before sailing was introduced to the Two Worlds universe. Purchasing a boat from the docks at New Ashos allows the player to explore the open seas in search of even more enemies to kill… and parrots. I found the sailing to be a very steep learning curve, starting off in a relatively small fenced off area where it was nigh on impossible to manoeuvre the boat and the sail into a position where the wind could actually catch the sail and allow me to turn the vessel around. After tinkering around for an age, passing the controller over to someone else and watching them struggle until finally the wind changed direction, we were finally tearing through the waves at a relatively high speed. From that point on, with plenty of open sea in which to manoeuvre, sailing became as intuitive as walking or riding a horse… but far more poetic and idyllic. If you’re not careful enough to alter the position of the sails on your approach to land, the speed at which you hit the shore can be such that you find your boat wedged on the bank and it’s difficult to get enough traction to push it back in to the water. For the most part though, you’ll either slow down enough to jump out and leave the boat in the water (it doesn’t drift off, thankfully) or you’ll run aground to the point where you can still easily push the boat out and sail off on yet another adventure.
As pleasant as it is to while away the hours in quiet contemplation as the waves lap up against the side of your boat, the developers seem to have overlooked something so trivial which, ultimately, is a game breaker for those of us with a greater sense of adventure. Your boat is not marked on the map and so, unless you have the foresight to place your own map marker or drop a personal teleport platform on the beach where you’ve decied to moor, there is no way for you to head directly to the point where you left it. To most, this wouldn’t present much of a problem as I imagine the majority of players would take a very systematic approach to the gameplay and wouldn’t allow exploration to get in the way of their current quests. If, like me, you enjoy exploring the open world then it’s very easy to moor your vessel and head off into the jungle, uncovering the map to the point where the landing point is no longer easily discernible, leaving you unable to find the boat. A simple map marker would solve this issue, rather than leaving you without a boat for the rest of the game.
They say that the best defence is a good offense, and an Oculus will give you this in spades. Available from standard corpse and chest lootings, the Oculus is a disembodied eye that has been enchanted to allow the holder to control it as a means to scout the location without putting themselves in danger. Those with the highest speed and longest range will prove to be more useful in the long run as they can very easily give you a visual on the next three or four minutes of combat so you know in advance what you’re getting yourself in to, but there are other more powerful devices which come with an array of damage options from magical missiles to explosives that can effectively take down several enemies from the blast. The more powerful the Oculus, however, the shorter the range and the more obscure the view so it’s best to reserve these for those moments where there are three or four enemies around a corner and you don’t have the necessary weaponry to take them out. With the Oculus not being part of the previous game, it’s very easy to forget about them but once you get used to thinking ahead then you’ll find them invaluable and it makes for a fantastic addition to the gameplay and a powerful Oculus can easily save your skin.
Even in later stages of the game with a high level character, coming up against four Turoks or a half dozen Myrmidons with them all attacking at once will leave even the strongest players struggling for survival or performing the oft-used “hit and run” approach to attacking. With an arsenal of high powered 8000 damage Oculus Infernus at your disposal, however, these beasts can be destroyed from afar and your own stash of health potions can be saved for later. In my experience, as many as eight are required to take down a single enemy during chapter four, so it’d be prudent to hang on to these rather than wasting them on lesser foes.
The introduction of the GRACE engine by Reality Pump means that they have effectively built Two Worlds II from the ground up, starting from a blank canvas and writing their own game engine to be able to cope with everything that they wanted to achieve, such as the Oculus, and it shows. Gone are the badly ported inventory systems from Two Worlds, which had little or no effort put in to allow them to be easily managed on a console, and in their place are a series of easily legible and intuitive screens with a keen attention to detail at every turn.
Levelling up is handled by splitting the various skills into six separate sections: Warrior, Ranger, Mage, Assassin, Crafting and General. Each of these sections has twelve individual skills which can be built upon by spending skill points earned through either moving to a new level or completing one of the in-game challenges such as picking a certain number of locks.
The skills themselves consist of a wheel made up of ten segments, allowing you to vary the emphasis from one skill to the next to take your character in a particular direction.
Attribute points are earned only through levelling up and can be spent on Endurance, Strength, Accuracy and Willpower depending on how you want to progress your character, so someone wanting to concentrate more on archery over spell casting would spend more points on Accuracy than Willpower. To further explore the possibilities of expansion, certain skills can’t be enhanced until one of the attributes has reached a certain level and no skill can be developed until a skill book has been read, which means completing quests to obtain such books or paying exorbitant prices to vendors… as much as 13,000 Auras (the unit of currency in Antaloor) depending on the vendor.
Buying and selling across Antaloor is a skill in itself in Two Worlds II as every vendor has their own price for every individual item, so while an Executioner blade may cost 9000 Auras from one vendor, it may cost as little as 6000 from another or as much as 12,000 from the trader across the street and the amount they’re willing to pay for items is reflected in their greed. Unlike the previous game, commerce in Two Worlds II is dictated by the laws of supply and demand. If a vendor buys a shield from you for 500 Auras then the next shield you try to sell them will be worth considerably less because, naturally, they have less demand for the item as they now have it in stock. As you sell more of the same item, or item type, the amount offered to you by the vendor will reduce until the base price is reached. This leaves you with yet another choice: whether to sell one of each item type to one vendor and then move on to the next trader or save time and take a hit financially by selling everything you can to a single merchant. In the earlier stages of the game it’s wise to shop around and trade with as many vendors as possible but when you reach the point where you have more Auras than you realistically need, it’s simpler and quicker to sell to whichever merchant you’re currently dealing with. That said, I’ve found that perhaps eighty percent of the items I find or loot are being broken down to upgrade other items and I rarely hold on to anything long enough to sell.
For those of us who prefer to exercise our grey matter during gameplay, Two Worlds II offers a level of environmental interaction that’s not often found within the role playing genre and is generally reserved for games in the Tombraider mould: puzzle solving. Rather than providing nothing more than background decoration, barrels and crates within Antaloor have a degree of interactivity where they can be moved around, lifted and even thrown at attackers… but there’s more to them than that. Arranging crates by pushing them around or lifting one on top of the other means that you can effectively create stairs to get to hard to reach areas, or sift through a pile to find a hidden chest. I’m told there are also occasions where throwing a barrel at an out of reach lever will open up another route for the character, although I’ve yet to come across any such situation myself. Either way, the developers have created a world where you have the ability to wander off the beaten track in any direction at any time, and can use the environment to your benefit and that is what an open world game should be all about: freedom.
There is an incredibly steep difficulty curve in Two Worlds II and so the earlier stages of the game generally involve downing a considerable amount of potions after a fight or, in some cases, mid fight. With no option to sleep or wait, you are relying on potions and alchemy to regenerate health until such times as you have enough skill points to work on building up the health regeneration perk within the General skill set. Once you start to develop that particular skill, putting away any weapons immediately throws you in to a cool down mode where your character replenishes health until you again produce your weapon. As most RPG gamers are generally very exploratory by nature, it’s very easy to ignore quests in favour of discovering new locations and, in turn, new enemies… which can be great for accruing XP but detrimental to your health if you do as I did and start to fight Giant Scorpions with nothing more than a tinfoil Short Sword or end up trying to kill a level 25 Cyclops with a level 3 character.
Another high degree of difficulty comes with the lock picking mode which, when faced with a Master Lock and not much in the way of lock picking skill, can mean going through an insane number of lock picks in a short space of time. Unlike other western role playing games, the lock picking aspect of Two Worlds II is not simply a case of timing individual tumblers without breaking the lock pick; there is a specific time in which you have to successfully break the lock otherwise the lockpick snaps and you have to start again and the level of detail is such that you can move the camera position to see inside the barrel of the lock from various angles. It is, however, entirely possible for the player to develop a true skill whereby they become so accustomed to the process that it becomes second nature to think “left, then right, right, then left, left and clear” as soon as the lock picking screen presents itself, but you still have that limited period in which to do it.
There is an option to go with the “Auto Lockpick” which shows the success probability as a percentage before you make that choice, but it tends to be on the low side and so it’s best to at least attempt to pick the lock properly as you’re more likely to break a couple of picks and unlock the chest or door within a few attempts (especially if you plan the directions in advance) whereas you could easily lose twenty picks by relying on the Auto option. Approaching a locked chest with your weapon drawn will provide you with the option to break the lock using your weapons, but can sometimes result in damaging your weapons if you fail an attempt when the damage probability is beyond the zero percent mark.
While the game boasts the opportunity to pick pockets of unsuspecting NPCs, they have to be preoccupied with something else before you are even provided with the option to steal, so unless someone is enthralled by the performance of a musician or deep in thought pondering over whether or not to buy something from a local trader, there’s no way for you to pick their pocket. The process itself certainly has a degree of skill but it’s also quite reliant on chance as you have to find a gap between three snakes moving in concentric circles. The snakes all rotate at different speeds so there’s every possibility that you may attempt to pick someone’s pocket and fail through no fault of your own and, in most cases, the reward doesn’t justify the risk as you’re not presented with their inventory and, instead, automatically receive a random amount of currency. It is, however, a very easy way to meet certain in-game challenges if you’re looking to increase your skill points without relying on picking up actual XP from completing quests or killing enemies.
The d-pad in Two Worlds II takes on an entirely different role than you’d normally expect and, rather than assigning a different weapon or item to the various points of the d-pad, the up, left and right positions switch between “Weapon Sets” and the down position is used to draw and sheath weapons. There are obvious disadvantages to this method of game mechanics in that you’re first of all limited to only three different choices of item, and you can’t assign anything other than weapons or armour to each set, so the option of having all bases covered by perhaps a sharp quiver, blunt quiver, long ranged bow, short ranged bow, blunt weapons, swords and maybe even different enchanted weapons is no longer a possibility. What you get in exchange, however, is actually a pretty ingenious mechanism that can be used to immediately switch between entire armour, weapon and even jewellery sets… so if you’ve assigned the left position to being your archery set, you can have all your rings and amulets swap over to those which enhance your marksman abilities and have armour which increases accuracy. The same can be said for having a full weapon set geared specifically for close combat blunt weaponry, enhancing your strength and stamina and providing more protection without the worry of losing the much needed accuracy for the archery weapons. While this was very bewildering and disappointing at the start when I expected to be able to map eight weapons/items, it’s become an invaluable addition to the gameplay and I now wonder how I ever managed without it. Someone at Reality Pump needs a pay rise for that one.
The spell casting in Two Worlds II is something that I’ve actually ended up avoiding because it relies on having a staff rather than being able to cast regardless of whatever weaponry you’re currently using. The level of customisation within the Mage Skills section is quite incredible though, with every new card altering the outcome of the spell so you’re not limited to using whatever prebuilt spells were on offer in the first game, and are instead expected to toggle cards on and off to generate your own specific spell type. A quick flick of a save before spending an obscene amount of attribute and skills points allowed me to experiment with different spells and, although they were incredibly impressive, the thought of giving up one of only three weapon sets meant that I was having to either sacrifice my ranged weapon or blunt weapons in favour of a Mage staff… something that I couldn’t bring myself to do, and so I reloaded the save and went back to using regular weaponry. Had they gone with the stereotypical, and perhaps overused, method of casting using the hand rather than a staff then I would be championing the Mage skills more than I am currently, especially after watching others experiment with the Modifier cards to create all manner of custom spells.
The physics in the game are best utilised in the Mage skills, with the power to generate physics objects in real time to create a tornado shield which levitates whatever free objects are around you and uses them to encircle the character as a means of protection. Felled enemies are also whipped up from the ground and pulled in to the tornado, along with their weapons, adding strength and power to an already impressive spell. The real time physics calculations involved for this type of manoeuvre, as well as the collision arising from your enemies being smacked in the face by another of their kin, is something which I’ve not seen in any console game to date so either this is something made possible about by the GRACE engine or I just haven’t stumbled upon it elsewhere.
Graphically, the quality of the textures and characters are night and day when compared to Two Worlds but there is one major distraction for me which has taken me a considerable amount of time to become accustomed to, and that’s the enforced depth of field. In order to achieve a sense of realism, a lot of game designers are opting for an environment where foreground objects are in perfect focus and backgrounds are increasingly blurred depending on the distance from the camera’s point of view. While this does make for a more comfortable playing field, allowing enemies to be easily distinguishable from the surrounding environment, it does come at a price: shimmering edges. To differentiate between background and foreground, it would appear that the background is initially blurred and then the foreground objects are placed back in the environment as though they have a blurred version of themselves directly behind them, and this causes an odd shimmering effect. It’s not as noticeable in towns and cities, and certainly not in interior locations such as buildings or caves, but when out in the Savannah it’s very distracting to see trees shimmering even if you’re standing perfectly still. This problem may be limited to consoles and their limited graphic power, but I can’t help but think that a little antialiasing and some anisotropic filtering would have worked wonders and so I’m looking forward to playing through the game on the PC at a later date to take advantage of increased graphic power.
Having said that, every other visual aspect of the game is fantastic in terms of texture quality and I’ve found myself stopping to just take in the beautiful scenery or wander up to a door to admire the level of clarity in the wood work. Running through forests has foliage parting as you reach it and snapping back into position behind while enchanted weaponry illuminates the environment as you wade through the darkness towards enemies, the different colours of each enchantment reflecting on the walls and ground as you go. The amount of particle detail is quite staggering, with torches spitting fire as you run and casting very realistic shadows in real time along with dust particles swirling around behind you as you run through caves, dancing in the light being generated by the enchanted weaponry. While the character animations and lip synching don’t quite stand up to those of the almost five years old Oblivion, the level of detail in the landscapes and of the weaponry and armour leave Oblivion standing at the wayside with its Khajiit mouth hanging open in envy, and I find that baffling. Baffling that so much attention has been paid to the intricacies of the particles, weaponry, interiors, locations and beasts… yet the character animations which, let’s face it, are the vessels through which the story is told, are left wanting more often than not.
When all is said and done though, even the most seasoned graphics whore such as myself will only mumble now and again when something in particular stands out but, for the most part, the story itself and the various side quests therein are strong enough to balance out such graphical niggles. As you can see from the screen shots taken directly from the game, when the graphics are working to the game’s advantage they really are working hard to impress and succeed more often than they fail.
The meat and bones of the game are, as you’d expect, the paths that your character is led down by the storyline woven throughout the single player campaign. The first chapter is more about developing the character and the XP accumulates quickly to allow for a decent levelling pace – not too slow that it becomes a drag, but neither is it so quick that it becomes in any way effortless. Between all the guild quests, side quests and various stages of the main quest, the amount of time between starting off and eventually reaching the conclusion was, for me, just over 79 hours of total gameplay. While it’s not as long as Oblivion, it’s also not quite as tedious and there are less back and forth fetch quests than expected. That’s not to say that every second of the game is an adrenaline fuelled roller coaster ride, because that’s obviously not the case with any games these days, but there was always enough going on to satisfy.
Without giving away too much information about any of the chapters, you will undoubtedly find that certain enemies can’t be taken out without a degree of cunning and effective dodging. The end boss of chapter one, for example, holding vigil over Gandohar’s journal, wasn’t the easiest of foes to kill even though my dual sword wielding warrior was wearing the most powerful armour and had the highest level of weaponry available at the time. Even the various skills and attributes weren’t enough to save him from that typical one-hit-death scenario that we’re all too familiar with and so the last five minutes of chapter one involved me sitting bolt upright in the Pyramat trying to time the attacks so that the character could unleash some bladed fury… and then run for his life. It wasn’t a tough kill though, and after the first time my character died I was able to immediately see the pattern to take him out next time around.
Chapter two sees your character venturing to New Ashos for the first time, revisiting the familiar oriental stylings from the previous game but with a more laid back atmosphere than the charged hustle and bustle of the original Ashos. Here you’ll discover Veneficus University and meet with Professor Kaineth where the magic of the Two Worlds II story begins to change from the typical “brother saves sister from bad man” affair into a much more in depth, twisting and rather tormented tale of love, ambition, temptation and, ultimately, loss. The back story is told through a series of visions which your character is subjected to after completing a side quest within the sinister region of The Swallows where the power of a seer is bestowed upon you. The Swallows itself is a dark and feral environment, peppered with nightmarish insectoid creatures along with hulking demons that are hell bent on destroying you as soon as your presence becomes known to them, making the whole experience of The Swallows more uncomfortable than other areas within Antaloor.
The game takes an unexpected detour with chapter three as your character is immediately teleported to an area known as Tir Geal within the largest island of Eikronas. Before taking a single step, it is evident that Tir Geal is a departure from the colourful settings typically found in Antaloor and if the gnarled trees and murky swampland isn’t enough to serve as a marker that chapter three will end up being radically different, the sight of ravens picking flesh from the countless corpses strewn across the ground should be. Consider this next sentence a spoiler alert, even if there is no actual reveal, as some may not want to know this beforehand. Within minutes, it becomes clear that there is no way out of Tir Geal thanks to the various teleports being enchanted to the point where they only work within Tir Geal itself, so if you’ve arrived with a full inventory and were planning on selling it on and buying some new gear, you’re out of luck.
It is here that more details of the underlying subplot bubble to the surface through various visions, and I admit that I found myself pleasantly surprised at certain revelations and somewhat saddened at the same time. One of the most harsh criticisms of the original Two Worlds game was the lack of storyline beyond “Rescue your sister” and, while Two Worlds II does start off with exactly the same premise, the unfolding story makes it abundantly clear that there is considerably more going on than meets the eye. A true testament to the writing is that by the time I’d completed chapter two, I was intrigued enough to the point where I would easily have completed the game just to find out the full story of what had happened in the past. With the subsequent visions in chapter three, this need was further reinforced and it became more important that I follow the visions and construct a timeline of the past than actually saving my troublesome sister once again.
As a very quick aside, I think it’s important to mention that Tir Geal has another significant difference from the other areas of Antaloor in that, due to it being a land of the taint, the enemies re-spawn sporadically rather than cease to exist after being destroyed. Personally speaking, I like the realism of Two Worlds and Two Worlds II where enemies remain dead once they’ve been killed rather than the never-ending level grinding that can be done within other games of the genre, such as Oblivion, where returning to the same spot a few days later will find that your slain foes have returned. Having said that, however, Antaloor is a decent sized map and so it would perhaps be more realistic if camps ended up with different enemies a few days or weeks down the line so that a band of Varn would be replaced by bandits or even simple nomads. A mild annoyance, but Tir Geal allows for better level grinding thanks to the re-spawning and I thought it prudent to mention that fact for those who want to concentrate on building their characters.
The fourth and final chapter is, as I’d expected, much shorter than its predecessors but it’s not without its rewards. This time, on the southernmost tip of Eikronas, we have to make our way towards Castle Vahkmaar to finally free Kyra from Gandohar’s grip. The environment is akin to that of The Swallows, where everything is pulled directly from a typical nightmare and is as gnarled and twisted as possible whilst remaining in a perpetual state of darkness. The road to Castle Vahkmaar is littered with clutches of high level foes, typically working in packs to make it that much more difficult and there are more than one or two surprises in store when turning corners, so you need to be alert at all times… or die. As far as the story is concerned, I won’t say any more on it other than it does have a more rewarding outcome than the previous game and the end boss battle is both unexpected and difficult if, like me, you’ve resorted to melee combat throughout the game. Was it worth the 79 hours to get to the end? Absolutely. Had the main quest fallen flat at any point, the side quests would still have been entertaining enough to hold my attention throughout but, thankfully, the main storyline was more immersive than I’d originally expected.
As well as the single player campaign, Two Worlds II comes with a considerable multiplayer side which is split into various options, depending on how you prefer to spend your online time. Whether you prefer a story based co-op experience, or typical capture the flag style scenarios, most possible areas are covered and covered well. The multiplayer campaign is split into seven chapters, each one becoming progressively longer and more difficult than the previous and the chance for character advancement is what makes the Adventure mode the most entertaining, as you have the option to replay each chapter as often as you like, collecting more XP each time… albeit less XP as you level up, as the enemies remain at their original level so getting to chapter five and then replaying chapter one will mean that there is absolutely no effort necessary. Could this be classed as pointless? Perhaps… but what better way to upgrade your weaponry than quickly annihilate every enemy in chapter one to break down their shields and swords into component parts!
The Village Mode aspect of the online gameplay is somewhat distracting, to be honest, but distracting in a good way. It finds your character placed in the position of overseer, builder, deputy mayor and lackey as you use your own accrued wealth to build up a village from being nothing more than a large plot of land to a reasonable community of self sufficient locals relying on trade to get by while you protect them from various attacks by the local undead or giant spider population. The more attention you pay to costs and revenue streams, the more money your village will make and every six minutes the purse will increase by whatever the speculative profit is. This means that, with careful planning and a keen eye for change, you could easily be earning between 6000 and 9000 auras every six minutes without a great deal of effort, allowing you to recover the funds and add them to your own inventory to purchase weapon and armour upgrades for your character or, as I did, buy the overpriced skill books.
It may seem dull but, to someone who spent most of their childhood playing sim games and forever balancing in-game finances, it was a marriage of the old style financial management games with modern role playing techniques and I forgot entirely about the multiplayer campaign for a week while I played in this somewhat restricted sandbox. If you’re all about building up your character, crafting better weapons and fusing crystals together to forge more powerful enchantments then the Village Mode is a very welcomed departure. If it was possible to carry the wealth and inventory over to your single player character, it would make for some interesting gameplay but, in the process, the balance of power would be skewed too much in your favour.
Between the multiplayer campaign, the Village mode and the other aspects of online co-op play, Two Worlds II has given the RPG gamer a chance to dip their toe into the waters of the MMO without getting wet. Assuming the game ever manages to reach a release date in the UK, I imagine a fair few people in my circle will be giving the co-op modes a chance and it should make for some interesting evenings to say the least.
Fans of Gothic 3 may recognise Borislav “Glorian” Slavov as the composer of the Two Worlds II soundtrack, taking over from Harold Faltermeyer and Ambermoon to provide a less European sound and a score more suited to the various individual locations within Antaloor. As before, the player is provided with audible cues when the atmosphere becomes heavy as enemies near, before returning to a more tranquil and serene theme once our hero is left standing atop a mound of warm corpses. Although I was pleasantly surprised by the main theme of Two Worlds and the haunting melodies of Ambermoon, I had grown tired of it after a while and was glad to hear this fresh approach with the sequel and Slavov has done an outstanding job of capturing the essence of Antaloor.
As well as the game’s score itself, music has been introduced as a means to earn money for those more discerning players who would rather avoid breaking in to homes and robbing people of their few possessions. Instruments can be bought from vendors and musicians, along with the sheet music necessary for playing through a song. The player has the option to go solo and busk in the streets or ask another fellow musician for accompaniment so you can let them do all the hard work while you stand there banging your bongos in time. The instrument mini games are genuinely difficult, and moreso than any Guitar Hero or Rock Band game, especially if you opt for the violin or harp. During the mini games, the bumpers and triggers are assigned their own track of notes just like any other “play along” game but each instrument has its own level of difficulty with the drums being the simplest and using only the left and right triggers (someone clearly never heard of Mike Portnoy) and the violin being the most difficult as you not only have to control the notes with the left bumper and trigger but the right side has you performing prolonged bowing with the trigger and bumper. The longer the accuracy streak, the more money you’ll earn from your performance. Considering the instruments and sheet music are ridiculously inexpensive to buy at only a few Auras each, this is a fantastic way to earn money in the early stages of the game but, as someone who is terrible at any Guitar Hero type game, I’ve stuck to drums and only earned around 1600 Auras per performance.
Overall, Two Worlds II has been riddled with delays and severe setbacks for many years now, but these delays have allowed Reality Pump to step back from The Temptation and rebuild their world from the ground up, and it shows. The game itself is far from perfect, but what game is, and there are so many aspects where it could be improved upon… but there is nothing that had me immediately reaching for the XBox eject button. While I would have enjoyed another fifty or so hours added on to the single player campaign, the eighty hours that I did get from it were well spent and I didn’t find myself becoming bored at any stage.
The biggest problem I can foresee for this game is the stigma surrounding the previous release, and the media’s inherent inability to approach something with fresh eyes devoid of whatever has gone before. To say that Two Worlds II is an improvement over Two Worlds would be doing it a gross disservice as it is more of a reinvention than an evolution, and should be treated as such, but the stigma may prevent it from being accepted at its full potential. Had I to personify Two Worlds II, I would liken it to Tom Hanks… from laughable humble beginnings as a stooge in some pretty dreadful comedies, his career evolved to the point where he was quoted as being one of the most influential actors in Hollywood and has scored a series of Oscar nominations and wins. He’s still Tom Hanks, but I’m sure most people will remember him as Forrest Gump than Alex Keaton’s drunken uncle Ned in Family Ties and so hopefully the gaming world will be able to do the same with Two Worlds II and remember it for being a fantastic game in its own right rather than just the follow up to the globally hated Two Worlds.Pros
- Excellent sense of humour, and very self referential at times.
- Huge map with so many places to explore.
- Addition of sailing opens up a new side to the game.
- Graphics are a huge improvement on the previous game.
- Intuitive crafting and spell casting system.
- Entire weapon set and apparel changes from a single d-pad click.
- The shimmering and lack of antialising or anisotropic filtering.
- Having to forfeit a regular weapon slot for a staff to perform spell casting.
- Enemies can sometimes get preoccupied jumping up and down in a corner, albeit rarely.
- Steep difficulty curve at the beginning.
- Glitched quest with "The Ghost's Toll" which prevents maxing out the achievement - please fix!!
- Would have liked another twenty hours gameplay, and more random respawns considering there is no level cap
Two Worlds II is, in a nutshell, everything that Two Worlds could only ever have dreamed of being. It is less about running around as an errand boy and more an entertaining journey through Antaloor with side quests thrown in along the way to give you something to do on your travels. The voice acting and dialogue have enough cheese to remind you that it IS a Two Worlds game but are executed in such a way that you're not distracted by them at any point. As a lover of Two Worlds and someone who championed it when all around where throwing it on the funeral pyre, it was always at the back of my mind that Two Worlds II would be full of Molyneux hype and very little substance to back it up when it came to getting hands on... but that wasn't the case. Instead, I've been treated to almost eighty hours of enjoyable role playing action and an immersive and touching story line... and that's not counting the forty or so hours spent in various multiplayer modes. Two Worlds II is, in my opinion, well worth the wait and the best RPG I've played since Oblivion.
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