Review / Two Worlds II (Xbox 360)

Two Worlds II makes a lousy first impression. The main menu screen is your customizable character standing in a grand room. That’s it. Prepare for adventure! Yes, there’s a cinematic that plays if you don’t press anything, but still, that’s one boring menu screen. Plus, my settings had to be altered on my 720p HDTV to make the inventory not get cut off on the side of the screen (Settings>Graphics>”Use safe area in interface”). A bit of a bother. Then I was asked to customize my character with a limited selection of hair, skin and facial options, and other “in-depth” customizations that were indiscernible due to the zoom level being pulled too far back to truly notice. Oh, and you’re a human male. No matter what. No female Shepard or playing as a giant lizard in this one. You’re a dude, dude, and a rather bland looking one at that.

Then the game starts. Here we go. The intro cinematic explains that in the last game the hero (i.e. the player) tried to save his sister and got captured by this evil dude named Gandohar. He’s stealing your sister’s mojo so he can become even more Dr. Evil and take over the world of Antaloor. Luckily, the usually human-hating Orcs come and break you out of your chains and lead your escape, which starts your tutorial of sorts. Every five seconds of running down a corridor, the game stops, the music cuts and the camera pulls in close to go into “dialogue mode” where an NPC interacts with you. The game lets you pace back and forth (but I rather enjoy spinning endlessly in a circle) while your character spits out muffled, gravel-voiced dialogue (think JC Denton in Deus Ex, not in a good way) while flailing his arms around in a manner befitting Stan from Monkey Island. Then you’re running again, and you learn some other things, and you’re transported out of the dungeon to freedom! Hooray!

Here the orcs tell you that you need to do a bunch of stuff, and they continue your tutorial by teaching you some more skills like how to shoot ranged weapons, how to cast spells and use your map, inventory, etc. Only problem is, they leave out a whole bunch of details that only the manual can really explain, like how to level up (and when), what the weapon symbols mean (hint: the manual doesn’t tell you either, you have to deduce them yourself or change them to text under “Settings”) or how to set up different “inventory sets” which really come in handy later on. You essentially have to figure stuff out on your own, like how to dual-wield weapons, how to upgrade weapons, and how to learn new skills. For the curious, this should be fun. For someone trying to just play the game and not die, it’s annoying. Add to that some awful design choices (A is “use” and jump? That can’t go wrong), a laborious and dense quest log, and graphical bugs such as pop-in, blurry textures, and serious clipping, the game tries its best to push you away to avoid any long-term commitment right out the gate.

So why did I keep playing? Was it my masochistic tendencies? Or my obligation to strive forth in order to write a halfway decent review? Actually, first impressions aside, Two Worlds II really has a lot going for it. The game has a very robust and deep crafting system that allows you to break down any item or weapon and use its parts to rebuild your other more used weapons. Think Fallout: New Vegas, but less cumbersome, and you’ve got the idea. You can find items in the wilderness and combine them to make potions in your cauldron, and even name and save the recipes for future use. Very cool. You can also use a very rich magic system to create individual spells that have different attributes, like a room-clearing fire blast, or ice bolts, air and earth powers. Magic fans will love the options here, even if they don’t always work well in combat. Still, the options in the game are many in terms of how you play the game, which is good because you’ll be playing this game awhile. There’s a lot of stuff to do here, including a whole multitude of side quests that can really distract you from the main game (thanks in part to the confusing quest log). Sure there’s a lot of fetch quests going on, or the standard “go here and kill this person, or convince them to leave instead” and that’s to be expected in this genre, but it doesn’t hinder the experience. The map to get you to these quests works well enough (though I would have preferred a higher level of zoom), and you can use a teleport stone to easily jump from place to place. While you’re jumping from city to city, you can partake in other time wasters  that include gambling, playing music for money in a Guitar Hero-esque minigame, or joining up with a guild to go do guild stuff. Like I said, there’s a lot of stuff to do, so there is really no complaint on that front.

The graphics are good, but not great. Some of the effects (like water) look really great, and motion blur helps to alleviate some of the grainier textures you may find. Character models are ok, but animations are either too stiff (enemies especially) or way too loose (you running and fighting) and like I said before, during conversations characters can make odd gestures. Luckily, when you tire of looking at people, the world of Andaloor gives you a whole lot to look at, being so big and all. The setting is very “African” in its colors and landscapes, which is pretty cool, and is full of all sorts of baddies. Sure you get the usual “giant scorpion for some reason” and reanimated skeletons straight out of Jason and the Argonauts, but at least the developers got creative by adding dinosaurs, rhinos, walking dogs and even ostriches into the mix in a sort of Noah’s Ark approach to enemy design. Lighting effects are done well, like a torch in a dimly-lit lighthouse, and the changing of time during the day provides nice ambience.

Sound is superb, with appropriate sounds for weapons and animals etc. like weapons clanging, dogs barking, and fire crackling. The soundtrack is a nice orchestral theme that I found myself growing very fond of. It’s not Michael Giacchino memorable, but it sounds pretty. Apparently, the voice acting in the original was atrocious. Well, in Two Worlds II the voice acting is hit or miss, with your main character being the worst by a large margin, and others being rather charming and often interesting. I found myself skipping through the main character’s lines, because they are all delivered in that sort of smarmy under-the-breath growl of a man who’s trying way to hard to sound menacing and cool. Where’s your range, buddy? This ain’t Max Payne, clear your throat and speak up.

Am I a masochist? Maybe, just a little. There’s a whole lot of issues to be sure, and the returns may not be worth the effort for many players, but there is a certain charm to the game. There’s humor sprinkled throughout, which is refreshing. Some of it even pokes fun at how bad the first game was, but really, I don’t think you can get away with that sort of humor just yet Reality Pump. The combat is repetitive and has problems with hit detection, but it’s still fun to hack and slash your way through the world. I kept most of my playthrough as a shield and sword type of fighter at close, with a bow at distance. I loved sniping foes with muli-arrows from afar, or sneaking up behind oblivious baddies for assassin-type stealth kills. Sure, I cursed and yelled at the screen when I pressed block and it didn’t block. Or when I pressed to use a healing potion in the throngs of battle and it didn’t heal. Or when I tried to mount my horse, only to jump around it endlessly while enemies attacked me in droves. But it was still charming in its earnestness and it kept me playing, even when I wanted to curl up in a ball and die from frustration. The game boasts over 20 hours of gameplay in the main quest, and I’m sure you could find a way to fill that and then some with side quests too. I haven’t gotten nearly that far, but I’m looking forward to what lies ahead, which I think is a good sign. There’s also a multiplayer aspect where you can build a character and compete online in various quests and deathmatches. I created a dwarf and hopped into some ranked matches, where I proceeded to get my arse handed to me by level 60 characters that dwarfed (ha!) my level 1 character. So then I tried finding some custom matches more fitted to my novice character, but even when I miraculously did find one, it ended pretty quickly when people would get bored and leave. What I saw was ok, and could be a fun time waster between friends (or if the game gets immensely popular and more people join in) but it didn’t have me clamoring to waste my hours jumping into games.

If you had any interest in the original, you will be happy to know that many of the problems with the first were fixed, and much has been added to give Two Worlds II a fuller, richer experience. Yet the game still has problems that will frustrate the uninitiated. If you’re a fan of this genre already, you’re set. Go have yourself a ball with this game, there’s lots to love. If you’re new to the genre though, you might be overwhelmed by a somewhat steep learning curve, a host of technical issues that range from silly to debilitating, and a story that doesn’t exactly “wow” you. Who knows, if you stick with it long enough, you may grow to like it or even love it. To be honest, I don’t think this game was ever really meant to be a “best of the year” contender. Rather, this is a game to have fun with, to enjoy, and accept its limitations; it’s a “B movie”, in videogame form, and who doesn’t love a good “B movie” every now and then?

+ Huge open world with a ton of quests and things to do
+ Excellent crafting system to personalize your playthrough, with loads of options
+ Quirky sense of humor and charm that grows on you

– Lack of proper instruction makes menus and interface confusing for newcomers
– Graphical issues such as severe pop-in, clipping and chunky animations
– Buttons sometimes don’t register, or have dual assignments that are conflicting and frustrating

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