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Two Worlds II

"If Two Worlds II was any less imaginative, it'd be plagiarism."

I never played the infamous original Two Worlds, but improvement upon predecessors has little weight in a critical assessment anyway. After all, no matter how much polish you slap on a piece of feculence, it remains a piece of feculence. And, this is largely the case with Two Worlds II. Reality Pump may have made a playable game this time, but nothing approaching a respectable level of quality.

Two Worlds II has a few core problems: lack of originality, tedium, and sloppy control. On the surface, the latter two cause the most headaches, yet it is the first which I find most unpalatable. If Two Worlds II was any less imaginative, it'd be plagiarism. Everything in the game from fluff to gameplay has been done before, better, and earlier. From weapon and monster design to world building to combat mechanics, the developers looted from the world around them to create the most anonymous RPG ever made. As a microcosm of its anonymity, one of the swords in the game looks exactly like the sword hanging on my wall three feet from my television. Egyptian hieroglyphs, Old Germanic runes, Japanese architecture, among other things are pillaged from the real world without a hint of transformation. These are not merely inspired by; they are copied from. The lack of imagination covers everything from combat mechanics to dialogue and story.

Although Two Worlds II continues the story started in the original, that game is not required playing to understand the plot. Nothing could properly prepare you to make sense of the story. Told through inept cutscenes and childish dialogue, the plot meanders about, concerning a vague prophecy, your sister as a god's vessel, and an evil lord with a name straight from a teenager's first D&D campaign. It's a good thing the plot's minutiae don't matter because they don't make sense. Video games aren't usually great at communicating the details of a plot, and this one is no exception. No one will play Two Worlds II for high drama, however, but unfortunately, the developers seem to think one might. The game is full of dialogue. The main quest is about half dialogue as the player runs about from one NPC to another and back yet again. No one helps the protagonist without first asking a favor or two or three or who cares anymore? It isn't entertaining and it isn't pleasant. The complete absence of a story would have been a mercy.

Aside from the cipher of a plot, Two Worlds II features forgettable characters made slightly more memorable by their awful dialogue. The only character with an attempted personality is the protagonist, but his sarcasm and man-of-action traits are neither fully developed nor unique. The dialogue could have been ripped from an amateur fantasy novel (probably was, considering), full of illogical responses and nonsense. These even spill over into player choices. An NPC says, "The payment?" and my choices are "Of course" and "No, I haven't." Combined with unenthusiastic voice acting, the script made me want to skip every word of it. The game did part of that for me, however. Dialogue is constantly clipped at the end and interrupted by the next line. Evidently Antaloor's denizens enjoy being rude.

Some may cite the game's self-deprecating, light-hearted approach in defense of these criticisms. While I applaud Reality Pump's partial awareness of its own past shortcomings and the stereotypes of its genre, I found little to laugh about while playing and more to laugh at. One is left to wonder where the self-parody ends and where the genuinely bad content begins. That I have to ponder this at all indicates something amiss. Ultimately, however, a parody is no excuse for garbage gameplay.

Two Worlds II plays like an open world hack-n-slash RPG with plenty of exploration, combat, and character building while also offering a slight sandboxy feel. Side quests and optional distractions make up the bulk of the content, as the main quest is surprisingly short. Players explore, slaughter cute animals alongside strange beasts, pick up a dozen rusty swords, and level up to grow in strength. Anyone who has played the Elder Scrolls series knows what to expect on a fundamental level.

Combat and control need to be entertaining and tight in a hack-n-slash game. I didn't think that needed saying, but evidently it does. Two Worlds II offers armies of monsters to fight, and although many can be run through and evaded easily, what fun is that? Turns out it isn't much fun either way. Combat runs on the ubiquitous melee-ranged-magic triptych and switching between various methods comes easily. Most players will likely focus on one, however, and I chose melee. Initially, combat offers few thrills. In fact, the game as a whole begins terribly and improves slightly from there. After gathering some special skills and better equipment, combat becomes fun. I actually looked forward to getting out of town to kill something with a silly name. This lasted for a couple hours, at which point I realized the game had nothing more to offer.

Combat just isn't fun enough to be a means and an end in itself, which ends up being a fatal blow to Two Worlds II. Without the element of strategy or skill, one might expect flamboyant special skills and over-the-top action, but none of those are present. Skills change little as the game proceeds, and those present aren't exciting enough. Groups of enemies are difficult to take down, especially without certain skills. Combat is boring. Enemies also generally take too many hits to kill. The fickle difficulty level tends to make the few bosses easily dispatched, while making random monsters in the field almost unbeatable without quaffing every potion on the adventurer's belt. The worst instance of this must be the final boss, which I found impossible to defeat with my character build and number of potions. After spending close to an hour trying to defeat the damned thing, I quit out of frustration. Enough life wasted. Aside from balance issues, combat doesn't look good, and it doesn't feel good.

Loose and floaty control lands another crushing blow to Two Worlds II. General movement feels far too imprecise and unstable, particularly when sprinting. This makes passing through doorways and the like tedious, and I found myself ignoring some open doors, even when treasure sat beyond. Combat just doesn't feel right either. Striking an enemy feels no differently than swinging at imaginary air-beasts. The insufferable menus and interface made me want to die. On the up side, Two Worlds II can surely be played while intoxicated, and I'm sure a species of gamer will laud the game for that "ability." Then again, they might have the right idea.

Perhaps Reality Pump should have spent more time developing combat and honing control mechanics and less time with fluff. One might think a game like this would focus on combat and character building, but the amount of dialogue is astounding. Clearly the developers overestimate their intelligence. Loads of the aforementioned high-school-creative-writing-class dialogue muck up even the most insignificant side quests, as if anyone needed a reason for a fetch quest. Not all side quests are equally bland; some attempt to be interesting, but the dialogue fails to communicate the necessary details for players to make sense of the side stories. Many quests – even those related to the main story – follow typical quest design. One quest had my character slaughtering a "pack" of ostriches to extract mint roots they had eaten to aid in digestion from their stomachs, which could then be made into medicine for a horse. Again, who knows where the parody begins and ends? Other quests just weren't worth the time or energy required to complete them. As a reward for a somewhat involved side quest, my character received a few coins and a sword. A sword I just looted from 15 skeletons while completing the very same quest.

A few things function surprisingly well. Character progression is fast and decently satisfying. After less than ten hours of play, my character could slaughter early-game enemies in one hit. Skill points can be applied not only to combat abilities, but crafting and assassination skills as well. Although crafting and alchemy are now far too common in RPGs, Two Worlds II's systems are more pleasurable and useful than most. The game also implements the best lockpicking mini-game I've ever seen. I usually enjoy minor diversions like that in other RPGs, but I think even the most cynical gamer would find joy in picking Antaloor's locks, as silly as that may sound.

Aesthetically, Two Worlds II exhibits little artistry. Some environments differ notably from the typical medieval fantasy fare, such as an area modeled after the African Savannah, complete with indigenous wildlife like baboons and cheetahs that you can kill horribly. I never beat Two Worlds II to see if Art Direction is missing from the credits roll, but I'm betting it is. As mentioned before, imagination is a no-no at Reality Pump studios. Aside from a complete lack of art direction, the actual graphical quality is low, with frequent frame-rate cuts and lag and various glitches. Animation could hardly be worse (jump in place for a laugh), and character models look five years old at least. The environments look fine at times, but motion is blurry, and any kind of camera movement makes the world unfocused. The terrain is difficult to enjoy while on the move, and stopping would only prolong the suffering.

No doubt Two Worlds II already has a rabid fanbase ready to lay siege to any naysayers that happen to ask more from their RPGs. Let them come. Two Worlds II isn't quite unplayable, however, and I admit it might actually work on some levels for those who like open world and hack-n-slash RPGs. Character progression and management along with the subpar, but occasionally enjoyable combat may be enough to hook players not concerned with seeking meaningful experiences in their hobbies. Multiplayer modes might also entice the easily-amused. Even those vulnerable to the cheap addictive tactics employed by games like Two Worlds II should only try it after exhausting the entire catalog of similar RPGs from the past five years, for that's how old Two Worlds II feels. Most of us, however, will find Two Worlds II boring, mindless, and dull, requiring (and consisting of) such little thought that it should have a warning label. The only novel aspect of Two Worlds II is its utter disregard for the powers of human imagination. I expected some stupid fun when I picked up Two Worlds II, but instead I just got some stupid.


© 2011 Topware Interactive, Reality Pump. All rights reserved.




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