Reality Pump had perhaps one of the most enviably easy jobs in videogame history -- create a game that was better than Two Worlds. When Naughty Dog needs to make an Uncharted sequel, it has an increasingly tough act to follow -- all Reality Pump needed to do was to be better than the worst roleplaying game created this generation.
Without further ado, it is my privilege and honor to confirm to you that yes ... Two Worlds II is better than Two Worlds!
I know ... that doesn't tell you anything.
Two Worlds II (Xbox 360 [reviewed], PlayStation 3, PC)
Two Worlds II is not the best made game in the world, and if you have even a modicum of intuition, you'd have already guessed that. Two Worlds II knows it's never going to be an Elder Scrolls or a Diablo, but it does its thing regardless, without apology and without remorse. This plucky, heartfelt, can-do attitude permeates the game experience to create something that, truth be told, is pretty damn great.
Yes, you read that correctly. Two Worlds II is a great game. Its animations are awful, its combat loose, its voice acting ludicrous and its story inane. Yet somehow, it manages to become a rewarding, engrossing, absorbing experience at the same time, and the most amazing part is that you'll never see it coming.
The first hour or so of Two Worlds II is downright terrible. The game starts with a tawdry prison breakout mission, as your nameless Hero escapes from the clutches of Gandohar, the series' sister-kidnapping, stereotypically tyrannical villain. The game is slow, the Hero is weak, and the enemies feel imbalanced. Not to mention, the combat is a dire case of random button-mashing with a targeting system that only works when it wants to.
Once the prologue is over, however, something happens. The game slowly, surely, starts to get interesting. Then it becomes quietly enjoyable. Then it's downright fun. Eventually, and without the player even realizing, it has become buried in the mind like a vicious little parasite.
It is rare for a game to start out terribly and then become great -- it usually happens the other way around. Two Worlds II bucks this common trend and only becomes more delightful as it opens up. Once the player learns a few fighting skills, the combat becomes a lot more involved, and the variety of eccentric missions, while still relying on fetch-quests and backtracking, each carry their own strange and often humorous narratives.
The game's sense of humor is one of its most endearing traits, with Two Worlds II never quite taking itself seriously. While some of the voice acting can be genuinely bad, a vast majority of the performances are almost knowingly silly and over the top. The game is full of strange in-jokes and dry wit, and the overall story is lighthearted, despite being about a kidnapped sister and a quest to save the world. Two Worlds II has a very strong sense of individuality about itself, and that's more than can be said for many games with twice the production values.
Customization makes up a huge part of the experience. There's a limited character creation option, although all roads lead to ugly, and you can even paint your armor to give everything a personalized flavor. You can sink skill points into ranged combat, melee prowess or magic, and you're free to combine your skills in whichever way you see fit. There's an incredibly robust magic creation system, in which you mix various cards together to create new and deadly spells. Unfortunately, Two Worlds II suffers from a problem most Western RPGs have -- a magic character is useless. Enemies close distances too quickly, and spells just aren't powerful enough to put them down. Plus, since you need to switch to a staff to use spells, you're defenseless without constantly changing equipment. Ranged or close-quarter combat is the way to go, so if you're hoping to be a powerful mage, you might want to look elsewhere.
Reality Pump has put an impressive amount of effort into making sure you get to play Two Worlds II in your own particular style, provided you don't want to be a pure sorcerer. If you've spent a number of skill points on something you later regret purchasing, you can always visit a "Soul Patcher" to re-spec your character. Once I realized Necromancy was an awful skill to possess, my appreciation for a re-spec option was palpable. There's a lot of scope for character progression, with a huge range of weapons, bows and abilities to choose from, and if you ever get bored, you can always get your points back and start again.
This sense of personal progression is extended to your Hero's inventory as well. Weapons and armor can be stripped down to component parts and used to upgrade others. There's also a pleasantly simple alchemy system in which you combine thousands of ingredients picked up from enemies and plants to create all manner of potions, ranging from standard health items to more exotic creations, such as an elixir that lets you jump 500% higher than normal, or one allows you to walk on water. You're encouraged to just randomly throw items into the pot and see what you get, and you're never punished for playing around, nor do you have to spend hundreds of precious skill points to jump into it.
One major issue, however, is the rather awful inventory menu. Items are thrown into your inventory screen seemingly at random, and there's no way to sort through it. This issue becomes readily apparent once you factor in the propensity to collect dozens of alchemy ingredients and looted weaponry from just a single quest. Once you offload your loot at a vendor, it's easy to sell the wrong thing or forget what you're looking for, as you'll be absolutely swamped with inscrutable garbage. As the hours tick by, you'll get used to navigating through a veritable sea of inconspicuous swag, but it never quite stops being irritating.
Two Worlds II does get points, however, for being one of the very few games on Earth with a fun, simple and efficient lockpicking feature. I actually enjoyed picking locks, which is great because they're everywhere. It's helped by the fact that picking locks is mostly based upon a player's skill as opposed to pumping points into stats and building a dedicated thief character (that said, it's highly recommended you invest a little in upgrading your lockpick skills).
Once you strip away the customization and the quirky humor, you're still left with a game that's quite good. I barely encountered any notable glitches, and it's easily less buggy than a "Triple A" title like The Elder Scrolls IV. Its focus on loot, leveling up and simple hack n' slash combat is fairly standard for the genre, and it performs no worse in these areas than any other decent RPG. Most of the ways in which the game falters seem to come with the territory -- fetch quests, weak mage characters, and button smashing combat are issues that can be found in even the very best Western roleplayers, and it would be incredibly unfair to criticize Two Worlds II for committing these sins when bigger games get a free pass.
There are some larger flaws, of course. Navigating the world of Antaloor would have been more fun with a decently detailed map and markers that tell you how to get to places, rather than just point in a vague direction. There are random difficulty spikes that can make the game a cakewalk one second, and an overwhelming "three hits and you're dead" battle the next, which is absolutely aggravating when you become so confident that you forget to save. The character animations are almost distractingly terrible at times, and the console version has some rather miserable screen tearing.
While we're talking about graphics, I have no idea why the game is too big for a television screen, requiring the player to dive into the menu and locate an ambiguously named "Use Safe Area In Interface" option that'll re-fit the image. For the first thirty minutes I played the game with bits of the HUD and menu chopped off, until someone told me which hoops to jump through in order to get what should have been the default view.
None of these problems, however, hamper the overall sense of enjoyment and involvement that Two Worlds II spawns, and that is a testament to just how right Reality Pump gets it in the areas that truly matter.
I played using a console version, and I have to remark upon the rather decent Xbox 360 controls. Using skills in battle is quick and efficient, easily accessed with face buttons and triggers. The only major complaint is that it seems impossible to un-map something once it's been assigned to a button. I had buttons randomly giving me different potions, usually when they weren't needed, and I'm yet to figure out a way to stop it. I am certain one exists, but the game itself doesn't give you any information on how it's done.
In addition to a lengthy single-player quest, the game offers a fairly substantial multiplayer section. The online mode is treated as a separate entity, so you'll need to create a brand new character. You get a bit more freedom with this character creator, able to choose from a variety of stereotypical fantasy races and gaining the ability to play as a female. The various modes range from standard Player vs. Player matches to a series of co-op chapters that have their own storylines.
The co-op is where the online section really shines, as players can join a team of eight to tackle all manner of neat little sidequests. Matchmaking is fairly sluggish, however, and I found myself getting kicked from a lot of games as there's no player balancing and nobody wanted to play with a Level 1 Elf. If you can get into a game -- and there are quite a few people playing it -- you might find it just as absorbing as the story mode, if not more so.
The competitive modes suffer from the same issues as the co-op -- chiefly poor matchmaking and imbalanced opposition. My first match was against a ranger who could one-hit-kill me from a distance the moment I spawned. The combat is also exactly the same as the rest of the game, which means that most melee battles become rough, messy button-mashing that degenerate into a war of attrition. I can't say I recommend the PvP, as it's just not interesting or refined enough to be worth getting into.
If you can earn enough cash, you can also buy and maintain your own Antaloorian village. I'll confess now that I have not been able to loot enough in the multiplayer to check this feature out, but I'm looking forward to it. It makes for a very nice overall aim in the otherwise unstructured multiplayer.
Two Worlds II requires patience and forgiveness, and many won't give it the chance it deserves. One cannot deny the lack of polish and the archaic, old fashioned interface and features, yet one also must acknowledge the powerful pull that this game has. There's an appeal to this game that far outshines the ancient husk that it is presented in -- a truly rewarding, rich and amusing experience that takes hold of a player and never lets go until it's over.
I hated my first hour or so of Two Worlds II. I believed I was in for a boring, dreary, aggravating eighty hours of wasted life that I'd never be able to get back. I was wrong. Two Worlds II is the perfect gaming equivalent to a diamond in the rough. It's ugly, it's coarse, and it's got one foot in the past, but it's just too damn lovable to be thrown into the trash.
Two Worlds II is better than Two Worlds. By several thousand miles.
THE VERDICT - Two Worlds II
Reviewed by Jim Sterling