Two Worlds II Review
European game developers can be a strange lot sometimes. Known for their fascinating games with rich atmospheres and deep, hardcore combat and RPG systems, these titles often also come with a lack of accessibility as well as a truckload of bugs. And gamers across the pond are eager to play anyway, as almost every European RPG is released earlier over there, often with an overwhelming amount of issues and problems, and the eventual US release comes only after a big round of bugfixing - and often to lukewarm sales to only the most hardcore of PC gamers. The very awkwardly-named Two Worlds II follows this pedigree fairly closely - it’s ambitious beyond its own means, it’s more problematic than it probably should be, and it hides innovative gameplay behind a confusing interface and hours of (often needless) mucking about. It’s exciting to play and really very inventive, but you wouldn’t know that from the first several hours you spend with it.
In Two Worlds II from Polish developer Reality Pump, you’ll play as the same nameless hero as in the first, now on a quest to rescue his sister and stop the big bad villain from using her life energy to channel some kind of evil god. Or something like that - the game’s story melts away early on, as the whole thing seems impossibly far away from your grasp as you fight to get off the introductory island. It seems even further away when you hit the mainland, as the landmass is huge and you’ll be doing a huge range of quests that are the furthest thing away from the supposed urgency with which your character was going on about with the main quest. From menial tasks to some rather bizarre things that you probably wouldn’t expect out of a fantasy RPG, the range of tasks you’ll complete is diverse, but it’s also often unfocused and sprawling.
The biggest and best features that this game offers is its crafting and creation systems, wherein you can dismantle looted gear into component pieces (iron, wood, leather, and the like) and then use them to improve your current gear. Upgrade your gear enough and you’ll unlock slots to install crystals and give your items even more power. There’s a deep and robust alchemy system, and even a spell creation system, much like what we saw in Oblivion, but with an interesting interface where you have to buy or loot cards to create specific damage types and even modifiers to how your spells are unleashed. Unfortunately, the interface is completely ridiculous and difficult to understand, with pretty much zero help from the game as far as figuring out how to create a spell. If you’re going to get into this game, you’ll have to decipher how this system works and use it to its fullest, especially if you’re a mage, because the game is much harder than it probably needs to be if you’re the spell-flinging type. Luckily, you can decide that being mage is essentially “hard” mode and quit without having to start over, as you can pay a fee to respec your character’s stats and skills entirely.
The engine powering Two Worlds 2 has been much improved over what we saw last time, and while it rarely shows us finely detailed environments on a small scale, the wide-open vistas you’ll often see can do a lot to make up for it. Frankly, the introductory dungeon shows us that the game is perfectly capable of detailed small spaces, but it seems the developers simply didn’t have the time to put this level of charm and sophistication into every little hut and village. I think that both newcomers to the franchise, as well as Two Worlds veterans, will find themselves pleasantly surprised at the visuals presented here.
The epic single player mode does seem to go on forever, as the progress is slow, completion of quests can feel very dull sometimes, and the story isn’t really designed with those hooks that entice you to keep playing. And hey, it’s an action-RPG made in Europe, so this style is par for the course with these games - from Gothic 3 to Risen, The Witcher to even something like STALKER, it’s exactly what these developers go for: a wild disregard for quality assurance, unique atmosphere, hardcore gameplay, and a late-game payoff that comes at the cost of the instant gratification that American game developers are always striving for.
And speaking of America, the stateside release of Two Worlds 2 has had a couple extra months of bugfix passes. My PC copy was patched to “Gold Edition”, and it was rife with little bugs and annoyances, but the only serious one was was a tendency to crash to desktop with the DirectX 9 executable. (There’s a DX10 version that runs just as well and looks better, so if you’ve got the hardware, there’s nothing to worry about.) On the 360, Two Worlds II is surprisingly good-looking, with solid frame rates often hitting the mid-40s - which is a nice change, as almost every action-RPG developer tries to lock the frame rate to 30 and then struggles to meet even that at points. Sure, the texture resolution and overall detail in the 360 version are much lower than you’d get with even a half-decent gaming PC, but it’s impressive to see a 360 port of one of these hardcore Euro RPGs that actually works right. (I’m looking at you, awful console port of the otherwise brilliant Risen.)
What I found myself most surprised to enjoy in Two Worlds II was the game’s online modes. There’s a cooperative campaign that takes you on a linear journey, one quest at a time, through impressive outdoor lands and deep into dungeons, giving up to eight (!) players a fast-paced adventure together - and all the creation, skill, and leveling systems are intact, too. You get a couple of competitive multiplayer modes that use the characters you’ve built in other portions of multiplayer, and there’s the Village mode for higher-level players to build their own little stronghold in a sort of instanced world. All of these modes will add quite a bit of time to your Two Worlds II experience, and while they all have the same moderate lack of polish that the regular game has, once you figure out how it wants you to play, there are dozens of hours of fun here.
What I’d love to see in the coming months from Reality Pump is a renewed focus on interface and on making their complicated RPG systems more intuitive. These guys are hard at work on bringing more love to the game - they’re not all rushing off to make a sequel immediately. Thing is, I don’t think the issue with Two Worlds II right now has anything to do with a lack of content - what they should be focusing on is making that content more accessible. Still, this is a damn fun title if you’re interested in a deep action-RPG, especially if you expected very little after the wildly strange, often severely disappointing first game. And if you can get past the rough parts, it’s exciting and addictive in all the ways you probably expect out of a good European RPG.