It’s way past redundant to say at this point, but I can’t help but feel a little jaded about the eighth generation of consoles, even almost a year after all have become present and accounted for. There’s promise, of course, but promise in the video game industry can ultimately amount to nothing, and does so quite often due to marketing over-compensation and, with sad frequency, flat out lies. Like, say, this one, for example:
When Two Worlds came out in August of 2007, I was a recent hire of a particularly misguided used game retail shop, and at that point I was still using my PS2 – rarely – and knew nothing of what the seventh gen offered. The only glimpses I had of Two Worlds were commercials promising of vast, unknown experiences and customers drooling on the cashwrap as they laid down pre-orders. Being an expansive, epic Western RPG experience that I had yet to play, I could only dream of what a game like this had to offer to gamers. It was a naive time for me; I hadn’t played video games regular in probably five or six years, so I knew nothing about Ultima or even Elder Scrolls. All of my RPGs came out of Japan, and that was pretty much it. So on release day, I looked on with envy as customers bustled into the shop that morning to pick their copies up, one guy telling me that he took the day off from work for an all-day gaming session. Two hours later, that guy came back with Two Worlds, telling me it was the ugliest, most broken game he had ever played, and demanded a refund.
The anger that customers displayed towards Two Worlds (and me for selling it to them as if I was intentionally misleading them) was palpable, and when I finally got myself an Xbox 360, I kept far away from Two Worlds and stuck to credible WRPGs. Years later, when conceiving this project, Two Worlds was one of the first games that came to mind. I had to know what exactly “Oblivion on steroids” looked like.
Hmm... it's not looking good.
This infamous bit of hype-bait was designed and measured to turn some heads. Releasing nearly a year and a half before Two Worlds would blight the gaming world, ESIV: Oblivion achieved incredible heights of immersion and collected a sickening amount of GOTY awards for Bethesda. So the temptation to believe that Reality Pump had reached those heights and beyond was far too tempting for RPG enthusiasts. Not only this, but being two years into the 360’s life cycle, it isn’t unreasonable to understand the belief that Two Worlds may have delivered advancement in Western RPG gaming.
But this was not the case; the game received a critical curb-stomping upon its release. One review from Game Almighty puts it out there with no subtlety: “I hate this game. It’s an embarrassment, a misfire in every respect.” Another from Game Spy says that Two Worlds is “cause for a sort of celebration, because every other game will seem better by comparison.” (Naughty Bear had yet to be released.) One of my favorite blurbs from Metacritic is from My Gamer’s review of Two Worlds, their reviewer declaring that Burger King’s advertisement-as-game Sneak King is a superior game. Damn.
But who could blame them when this is what the opening cutscene of the game that is supposed to put Oblivion to shame looks like?
GAH! THOSE TEETH! THE FUCK?
One may wonder “why not just make your character NOT ugly as sin? This is a Western RPG after all – the bedrock of character customization.” Well, Two Worlds gives you the ability to customize your character, but in the most generic and unimpressive ways that amount to nothing and barely change any physical features. Regardless, with a face like that you’ll want to stick a bucket on his head (his head, no gender or race choices) and leave it there for the rest of the game. Things don’t go much better from there, as that dialogue is basically what you have to look forward to for the next several hours or before you smash the disc. The Mercenary (the protagonist’s only name) is a brick-headed goober whose communication with other characters could only be improved if he abandoned the English language and spoke in a series of grunts he formed through punching himself in the groin. And everyone who talks to the Mercenary isn’t much better; the cast of Uwe Boll’s In the Name of the King is more convincing.
These unimpressive voice actors play out an equally unimpressive narrative. The Mercenary’s questionably busty sister Kyra is kidnapped by a nefarious group of Orcs, led by a man named Reist, bent on raising an Orc god-warrior utilizing a relic passed down through the Merc and Kyra’s family. The plot is insanely simple but difficult to follow because following it would require the player to give a shit about anything that’s happening, which you won’t because you’ll likely be mashing the skip button through every line so you won’t have to linger on the painful character models or painful conversation. I’m sad that I can’t really go into much more in-depth analysis than that, but Two Worlds defies you to get invested in the game’s events, which is an utter impossibility due to how forgettable the writing is. IMDB doesn’t even list a writing credit, which doesn’t surprise me because whoever wrote Two Worlds probably forgot they wrote it too. Mercifully, getting through the campaign took about ten hours, but really it would’ve taken even less time had the fast-travel system been better conceived.
This is another problem of Two Worlds – getting around is a pain in the adventurer’s ass. Instead of being able to fast travel directly to locations, Reality Pump implemented teleportation hubs that you can travel between. While there are many hubs, they are not always right where you need them to be, so traveling on foot is going to be essential for a lot of getting around. This was done perhaps to highlight one of the main features of Two Worlds, the horseback riding. The cover of the box even shows the Merc riding on a horse, so this was supposed to be a main selling point of the game. But horses can’t go through teleportation hubs, so unless you park a horse at every single hub in Antaloor, you’ll be working on your cardio for most of the game.
So we have a Western RPG meant to “Oblivion on steroids” with terrible acting, a terrible story, and a terrible fast travel system. What about the combat? Well, there is some variety. You could use a sword, a staff, an axe, a club, a shield, a bow, spells, summoned creatures, or traps. The problem is that you won’t use any of that. Why? Because a pole arm absolutely breaks almost every encounter you have with enemies. It’s got better reach than all other weapons, usually has high damage output, and can hit enemies in all directions, including ones behind you. And since most enemies are melee and will swarm you, you’ll be slapping them and their hilarious ragdoll physics all over the place with little effort. It is wise to keep another weapon that features a different sort of weapon damage (for example, swords have piercing damage, clubs have bludgeon damage, etc.) for when a random enemy type is weaker to that sort of damage, but most of the time I never found that a necessity. You’re best off making your Merc as much of a tank as you can and bash enemies to smithereens. I appreciate that the point of Western RPGs is experimentation, but why experiment when one character-build works so much better than anything else?
There’s also the choice to fight on horseback, but you won’t use this option either. For one, you can’t use a pole arm on a horse’s back, so that’s a big strike. Secondly, the horse controls are beyond loose, so most encounters on horseback will involve you running back and forth begging for a hit to connect. For the sake of efficiency you might as well jump off the fucker and just stab them in the face. Oddly enough, the horseback battle seems like it was meant to be a bigger part of the game. There is a perk that allows you to more easily dismount enemies on horseback. The biggest drawback to this perk? NO ENEMIES RIDE HORSES. They’d be too incompetent to do so anyway. So there you go; a completely useless perk that was supposed to enhance one of the main features of the game that Reality Pump completely left out. Impromptu jousting sessions would have been pretty awesome, but alas…
So Two Worlds is no “Oblivion on steroids.” It’s Oblivion, malnourished, suffering from brain damage, living only on Pop Rocks and drinking its own urine. There are things that I do enjoy about it more than Oblivion. Being able to allocate skill points to whatever you want and re-spec your character as you see fit is nice and can be helpful if you do something like sink a skill point into a useless perk that you can never use. You can also break down items such as armor and swords and use them to improve existing ones, making every item you pick up more than just something to sell later. But the rest of the package is such a cynical exercise in apathy that it might as well not even exist. As a sixty dollar game it more than deserved the flogging it received from critics and gamers alike. Seven years since its release, even being a $3 game, I have difficulty recommending it even for the so-good-it’s-bad enthusiast. If you’re going to play a Two Worlds game, its sequel is a much more engaging experience in that particular territory.
Two Worlds II is vastly more competent and well-intentioned in its presentation than its predecessor; dare I say, it’s Two Worlds on steroids (surely I'm the first to say that). It keeps what works – the skill re-specing, breaking down items – and improves on (almost) everything else. Travelling is much more enjoyable, mainly because the environments are much more realized and have quite a nice diversity. It puts exploration in more competent WRPGs like Dragon Age II to shame – there are forests, swamps, ravaged lands, savannahs, and jungles. It truly gives the world of Antaloor a much more epic scale, making you really feel like you’re intimately exploring what the landscape has to offer. There’s even a variety in cities you visit, one of my favorites being an Asian-inspired city dedicated to academics. Horseback riding is still a thing and, though I found getting around on foot was still just easier, it wasn’t nearly as unwieldy as the first game. Still no enemies on horseback, but you DO get to stab velociraptors, so that's a definite plus.
The narrative is still nothing to speak of – Kyra again becomes the focus for summoning a great evil – but Two Worlds II fairs much better by making the dialogue intentionally comical, like the voice-acting director basically told the cast to forget how to act. As such, conversations always feel like they got an awkward bit of cheese to go with them, making the characters all the more charming. The protagonist (this time just referred to as “Hero”) is played by Alden Adair, and he talks like he was trying to audition for the lead in Dead to Rights but his agent could only get him an audition for TWII and out of spite he refused to change his tone. As such, any time Hero speaks, it is beyond hilarious. This bit is my favorite:
Combat hasn’t really improved much – the pole arm still puts all other weapons to shame, and even though there are enemies who are resistant to the pole arm’s type of damage, you’ll rarely ever need anything else. It’s also a major issue to go between attack mode and stand-around mode, which is set with the d-pad. This system will consistently present problems as you advance on a giant spider, ready to stab it to smithereens, only to start kicking it in the shin as it shakes its head in embarrassment for you. But since the rest of the package of Two Worlds II is more competent and entertaining, it is much easier to forgive this oversight. If you’re a fan of hack-n’-slash RPGs who likes an extra bit of cheese in your narrative, you could do worse than Two Worlds II. Really, it’s a shame that this wasn’t the first game released, but perhaps if it had been, TWII wouldn’t be the game that it is.
If there’s any credence to the first Two Worlds, I suppose it had to exist as it is just so Two Worlds II could exist as it does: a love letter to its own shallow and deceptive beginnings, stripping away all the pretentiousness and giving gamers the cheesy goods. All of the adorable, hokey charm of TWII would have been lost if the original was a more straight-forward, mediocre WRPG. Ultimately, the Two Worlds franchise claim to gaming history is yet another reminder of the importance of responsible anticipation, to ignore the hype, and serves a staunch warning to publishers and developers that sometimes you at least have to try a little and lie less, because the game-buying public will eventually get wise to your deception. And thank goodness we learned our lesson then so that future atrocities such as this would never happen again…