"... amusing dialogues and witty references scattered throughout"
Graphic adventure games have come a long way since the inception of Mystery House and King's Quest in 1980. As someone who grew up on such games, I have with a soft spot for fantasy settings and The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 reads like a fairy tale. Following the happy ending of the prior adventure, BoUT2 explores the "regular" lives of the protagonists.
Princess Ivo, an elf whose mother deems her of marrying age, tries to escape the suffocating clutches of the helicopter queen, seeking the excitement and danger she once experienced. Nate and the Critter end up captured by the Red Pirate and must escape. Wilbur Weathervane becomes the first gnome teacher of the reopened School for Wizardry and Witchcraft, even though gnomes are hardly known for magical feats. While they pursue their diverse goals, an evil creeps across the land and they will likely end up banding together once again.
Although I didn't play the first iteration of the series, the lack of back story factored little — aside from missing a few wink wink, nudge nudge references — everything relevant to the current plot is provided. If anything, my foray into BoUT2 has only piqued my desire to play the first game.
Exquisite artwork and vibrant colors fill the landscape, from Ivo's isolated elven lands to the magical Seastone, each location boasts detailed textures and superb shading. While the animations emote exceptionally well, some body movements lack fluidity and speeches can feel stilted, though this may change as the developers progress. Just as the delightful background tunes enhance every area, the fantastic voice acting helps the player to embrace the characters and inhabit their world.
Like many other graphical adventures, BoUT2's controls are driven by point-and-click. A quick mouseover shows a symbol determining if a description, action, or speech is available with an object or person. Often, actions and conversations are unlocked after looking at an object. A backpack inventory system allows storage of items for later use or combinations. The controls feel slightly sluggish, with minor delays between an animation ending and the ability to activate a new one, but since time is rarely critical, I would've barely noticed were it not for my impatience to proceed.
My eagerness to move forward stems from the amusing dialogues and witty references scattered throughout. Not only does the game make numerous self-aware nods towards video games and fantasy books, it also provides much commentary on political, societal, and racial issues. At its heart (or at least for now), BoUT2 tells the tale of a group of people with both admirable and reprehensible qualities trying to make the world "right" — however they may wish to define it.
With engaging puzzles that occasionally require some mind-bending, the game is certainly far from a random combine-fest. I felt that some solutions necessitated leaps in logic that boggled my mind, but perhaps since the early release still has a few bugs and subtitle translations to sort out — including a game-breaking bug I encountered — I may have simply missed some key clues in the process. Naturally, the developers have dedicated forums for reporting and fixing bugs with consistent game updates, so these concerns will likely be gone by the full launch in 2015.
Having played two of the five chapters, I almost wish the The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 were already complete so I could finish it! Since the game met its $145,000 Kickstarter stretch goal, it also included side-quests and outfits, which, though they didn't contribute to the plot, are delightfully crafted. If you're like me and can't wait for the game to arrive in 2015, early access is available on Steam for PC, Mac, or Linux.