Game: Two Worlds 2
Developed by: Reality Pump
Published by: Topware Interactive
Release date: February 28, 2011
Two Worlds 2 is your bread and butter 3rd person RPG. Created by Polish developer Reality Pump and published by Topware, it stands as the sequel to the first foray into role playing games by a developer who’s meal ticket has previously been real time strategy. According to the official website it offers “A perfect mix of story, atmosphere and technology promises a fascinating new RPG experience.” Ambitious.
I came into this one with pretty high hopes. I’d been in the market for a juicy 3rd person RPG for a time now and though I hadn’t played the first installment in the Two Worlds saga, games aren’t a medium that should require the experience of a prequel to be enjoyed. The screenies I’d seen looked entirely edible, the action looked crisp and exciting and my Steam client reliably informs me that the video game cognoscenti gave the game a solid rating of 76 on metacritic. Differences of opinions are the fuel that keep the world spinning, but surely the collective opinions of such a large body of experts couldn’t steer me very far from the mark could they? Could they?
Before I go on I’d like to make a point about narrative. I’m not a prissy dickless mangirl that won’t touch a game unless it explores the never-ending story of life, love and the human condition. I don’t spend my time on Bioware forums writing fanfic dreaming up what a threesome between Alistair, Leliana and Morrigan would be like. A game without a prominent story is perfectly fine. Quake 3 would be among my all time favorite games and there wasn’t an iota of story there. That opinion extends to RPGs too. Diablo 2 worked fine with a threadbare narrative. The PvE content was about character progression and enjoyable combat, with the rudimentary storyline serving merely as a frame of reference for said combat. It didn’t need or even want excessive depth. You were there to kick the teeth out of demons, undead and other nasties. End of.
The above shouldn’t serve to confuse threadbare or lack of narrative, and terrible storytelling. Two Worlds 2 leads far towards the latter to the extent that it actually challenged my suspension of disbelief.
I load up the game and I’m greeted with a reasonably impressive piece of CGI depicting a war between a race of bald impressive looking yellow-green skinned creatures I find out later are the Orcs of this world. They war for a time with some well armored humans, with the humans appearing to emerge victorious. I’m assuming this depicts the goings on on the first game, but am no more clued in to why this genocidal conflict occurred or what role my soon to be adopted protagonist took in all of this. No words are spoken to give me cue.
This sensation of drowning in a sea of ignorance continues without pause. I don’t know what this world is, who the thoroughly evil looking guy is, (though my spidey senses tell me he doesn’t like me or much of anything) who I am, why these green skinned giants are looking to rescue me, but at least I know this lady with the pronounced mammaries is my sister. Great work game, you just had me perving on my sister’s womanly attributes. My character seems pretty clear on all of these minuscule details, and that’s the first of many deviances between his disposition and my own.
The nature of the “tutorial” gets me on edge as well. The initial scripted escape from your hapless jailors is of passable believability, though the NPC battle between boss Orc man and some arrogant human lieutenant is best described as hilarious, but the island you get teleported to afterwards takes you further and further from the world you’re supposed to be connecting with. The game spends a lot of effort attempting to convey a sense of urgency, but my first foray with my new found Orcish associates involves my companion sending me alone down a path to dispatch some supposedly dangerous enemies while he wanders behind me giving me combat tips AFTER I’ve defeated them. He then does the same thing again. You’re welcome! I’m told that these gremlin like creatures I’m killing are a real thorn in side of our intrepid friends, and I keep getting told I’m pretty important to whatever overarching struggle we’re going to be engaged in, yet the casual manner in which I’m flung into these battles with them renders this premise entirely unbelievable.
But it doesn’t stop there. I’m sent to meet with some prophet these Orcs revere. Of course, the only bridge to the living quarters of the entire city just happens to be in disrepair, and to put it back together I’ll have to be ported somewhere to fight some skeletal folk. Would it be trite to suggest that this is why these folk consider me so important? Help us get home great warrior. Still there are some shambling corpses shambling towards me, and the game is telling me to kill them. Best way to do that is to take a staff and blast them into burny oblivion apparently. I’ll translate what the game is telling me at this point “Now I know you’ve been hacking at creatures with a sword and axe but did I mention you’re also a Mage? Oh yeah, you’re also a Mage. Here’s a staff.”
So I wander along and char these unsuspecting necromantic animations, when my Orcish companion advises me that he’s off and I’ll be fine to find my own way out. He jumps through some conjured teleport and I’m stuck in yet another dungeon. Thanks dickhead! Of course, the teleport I get to utilize to get back to the surface is guarded by some big lumbering beast, but for some inexplicable reason it won’t open until he goes down, even though I’m able to walk around him to the teleport with relative ease. (This is actually the tutorial for one of Two Worlds best features, but I’ll leave that for later. I’m lampooning storyline here.) I’m yet again, painfully aware that I’m not in a vibrant fantasy world, but rather stuck in my room, playing a video game that doesn’t even haven’t the courtesy to disguise itself as such.
And so it continues. A town is eating their own horses despite the fact I’m able to walk for a couple of minutes and wade through hordes (and I mean hordes) of succulent looking boar, delicious sounding ostritch and even plump baboons (of course they fling feces. Seriously). So their family is starving, yet they’re too lazy to wander outside the walls and pick themselves up some Pork Ribs? I guess slaughtering your only mode of transport IS more convenient, and a pleasant breeze over the savannah can make the best of us not want to pop down to the butcher to pick up a tasty morsel. The steeds in this town suffer a terrible case of instantaneous death when they lay a hoof into the gently lapping ocean though, (as in my horse keeled over when his hooves touched salt water) so maybe a food source is how they are best utilised.
A woman cries bitterly that an inkwell is responsible for the deterioration of her marriage. I can’t help but feel that anyone with a severe enough case of emotional transference (I wanted to say clinical insanity) that would lead them to blame an inanimate object for the failure of a relationship should probably be looking at their own bewildering dinner table conversation before striking out at writing tools. Oh, and who could forget the guard dropping the F bomb like he’s a South Central hip hop artist? You can almost hear the game trying to coax you into checking out the size of it’s metaphorical phallus.
The disconnection I feel with the world isn’t helped by the roughness of the game’s edges. Firstly the voice acting is abominable. Think the monotone drone of Microsoft Sam and cross it with the forced overgruffness of Geralt and you’re starting to get an idea of what the game’s protagonist sounds like. My connection to this world is tenuous enough without the interpersonal relations feeling like they went through a computerized dictation device before being shoved rudely into my eardrums. The prose is terribly written too, (see forced F bomb above) and character animations don’t synch with the nature of the conversation. A character will shrug when making a forcefully delivered statement of intent, while another will point vigorously when politely asking a question. Even then, the senseless storyline and painful voice acting is compounded by a quest interface that’s best described as unintuitive. Very little information is given on what you’re supposed to do, so you really do need listen and absorb your way through the outright worst features of the game. Fortunately the map is a saving grace, being clear on where the quest objectives you’re tracking are located. Which ones should you be tracking? The quest journal can’t and won’t help you with that.
Have I mentioned that the world is poorly constructed? I’ll elaborate. I should point out the undeniably positive fact that at least it’s a reasonably big world. There are loading screens for the major areas, but for the most part you’re free to roam and explore large open volumes of land. The problem, as always, comes in the details. There’s plenty of model clipping, part of your protagonists frame regularly disappearing into walls or doors. Oftentimes corpse models will get caught on seemingly innocuous pieces of terrain. In the first town you spend time in the guards appear programmed to literally spin around on the spot rather than looking to catch evil dooers in nefarious deeds. The roads are populated with enemies that quite conveniently stand facing away from your point of approach allowing you to sneak up behind them. You can see the developers sloppy hand running through so much, sending you back to that unmistakable feeling of being in a game, not a living digital world.
If you’re wondering how this game ever got off the cutting room floor (as I was at one point) then I should point out it’s not all unbearably terrible. In particular the crafting stands out as a strong feature. I say crafting but that also includes the custom creation of spells. Every spell in the game is editable, from the damage type, to the nature of the targeting system to special effects that can be appended. Want a meteor shower that applies a healing mist? Want a debuff spell that forks out to 3 enemies? Want an ice blast that bounces between hapless foes? It’s all doable. You can name them yourself allowing you to easily keep track of your arcane arsenal. It really is a great system allowing Magey types to come up with a truly unique magical arsenal limited mostly by imagination. The alchemical side of the crafting equation is very similarly structured. Herbs are found all throughout the world, and different combinations mixed in different ways create potions with different effects. You can find recipes to teach you to create a specific effect, or you can throw whatever you have into a pot and see what you get. Everything you discover is able to be renamed and saved to your recipe book for later use. Both systems are fun and allow for great creativity.
There is also a reasonable amount of variety possible in the area of character customization, with a skill point system that allows you to specialize in one particular area of combat, or build a more adaptable character with strengths in multiple areas. You can even forgo combat specialties and pour points into points that improve your crafting, in both alchemical and more traditional equipment creation.
The combat seems to vary in quality depending on the path you take. As you might expect given the praise I’ve heaped on the magical side of this game, a mage character is great fun. Combining and using different effects to conquer different challenges feeds back into the interesting nature of spell customization and keeps the combat portion of the game fresh as a result. I didn’t get a very long look at archery, but it seemed to be an interesting, if slightly jarring combination of 3rd and 1st person mechanics. The melee combat felt sloppy though, and once again much of this comes down to details. My protagonists animations were reasonably fluid, even if combat movement felt somewhat like it was on ice skates, but NPC animations were poor at best, downright broken at worst. Enemies would often block while hands were at their sides with their backs turned, attacks would come a moment before the animations triggered. In a game eschewing the virtues of an interactive combat system this is pure death for enjoyment. How am I supposed to react and block an incoming attack when I get the visual cue to do so a moment after the attack has happened? What I saw from the AI seemed pretty poor too, with enemies often running away haplessly at the start of the battle, before blocking with their backs turned for a bit, then running in circles while I chopped them down. Riveting.
Two Worlds 2 gets marks for looking to push the envelope in some areas, but in the end it’s impossible to look past the glaring flaws that literally protrude from every pore of the game. The world that I was thrust into wasn’t one I was able to lose myself in, not even momentarily. It was given a more than respectable diagnosis from the gaming media fraternity, but I find it impossible to recommend this game to anyone. With plenty of great action RPGs out there, spending your time trying to wade through the poorly implemented, occasionally cringe worthy experience on offer here is not a good application of that precious precious resource.
They’ve fallen down abjectly in atmosphere and story, while deserving of merely a pass mark for technology. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.