Publisher: Southpeak Games
Developer: Topware Interactive
ESRB rating: Mature
Release date: Available now
One cent. That’s how much a copy of the original Two Worlds would’ve set you back from one online games retailer a few months ago. I know, ’cause that’s where I got my copy of the PC version. It wasn’t all that bad, at least in the first few hours that I played before I started in on the sequel, Two Worlds II. I was unfortunate enough to get a Playstation 3 version instead of one for the PC (more about that later), but I went in hoping that the new adventure would be worth more than its predecessor.
Two Worlds II picks up five years after the first game ended, but it’s not really necessary to have played the original to get the gist of the story. You play an unnamed warrior who has been captured, along with his sister, by the evil emperor Gandohar. The sister is harboring the spirit of one of the land’s ancestral gods, and Gandohar is trying to wring it out of her. You are rescued by a group of orcs, which is odd considering they were your sworn enemies in the first game, but you’re forced to leave your sister behind. During the next 40+ hours of gameplay, your job is to find a way to rescue your sister and defeat Gandohar and his dark minions.
Standard RPG controls are in play here. One stick moves the character, the other the camera angle. The on-screen hotkey bar is limited to slots allocated to the PS3 controller’s face buttons and shoulder buttons, which forces you to consider which five or six items you think you’ll need most often (changes can be made at any time using the inventory screens, which are accessed by the select button). The HUD is thankfully minimal, with a minimap in the lower left corner of the screen and your character’s health, stamina and mana indicators on the right, leaving a generous amount of uncluttered landscape.
Design-wise, Two Worlds II is feature-heavy. You don’t choose a specialty for your character, but you can play as a warrior or a mage, most likely a combination of the two. Magic-users find a spell-creation system based on cards, the combinations of which create your own customized incantations. If alchemy is your thing, you can create your own potions using items that you pick up from the ground or from the bodies of dead enemies (human and otherwise) and save the recipes for future use. And the game also features a very useful inventory management system—instead of dropping items to make room in your inventory, you can break them down into their constituent parts and use them to upgrade your weapons and armor. This makes dealing with the game’s ever-present merchants practically unnecessary, and makes being stuck in the middle of nowhere with a full inventory much less painful.
Most of the time, Two Worlds II looks and plays very well. The quests are varied and interesting, most being multi-part affairs that have you visiting several spots before completion. A system of teleports helps you go quickly from one place to another in the vast gameworld, although you can’t take your horse with you through the teleports, so you’ll be hoofing it most of the time. It’s practically impossible to get lost—every time you visit a new area, take on a new quest or find a new teleport, a pin appears on the minimap to help you find your way (tooltips on the pins match the titles of the quests, so just place a waypoint on the map and you’re off). And the music score is the best I’ve heard since Infogrames’ 1999 PC RPG Outcast (which gets my vote for best game score of all time). But the limitations of the hardware end up ruining the visual appearance of the game. Framerate hiccups occur at regular intervals, and clipping anomalies are everywhere (dead animals suspended in mid-air with their heads buried in walls, weapons penetrating doors before they are opened, NPCs walking through doors instead of opening them). The controls can be tricky; it’s hard to move your character in a straight line, they take an extra step or two when they land after a jump (even the short ones), and you can’t mount a horse until you position yourself in just the right spot, which is difficult when you’re being chased by angry enemies. And then there are the lazy mistakes, such as typos in the subtitles and lip animations that don’t match the conversations. And the voice acting is almost universally horrendous, with the writing not far behind; merchants in every location in the world say the same half-dozen silly sales pitches, sometimes in the same voices, as if each of them has a clone of themselves in every town and city.
But, despite all of it’s faults, I found myself seriously getting into the Two Worlds II story, even though I had almost forgotten the main objective of the game. The quests are interesting enough to keep you playing long after you decide you’re going to quit. The PC version no doubt looks and plays much smoother than the PS3 version (which I hope to verify one day), but the game looks and plays well enough to keep you engaged, despite its marathon length (it took me slightly more than 20 hours to finish just the first of its four chapters). Have some patience, forgive its technical faults, and you’ll see it as I did—2011′s first guilty pleasure.