Previously known for strategy games Earth 2140, 2150, and 2160, Polish developer Reality Pump is attempting its most ambitious project yet with Two Worlds. It's a role-playing game set in a huge open fantasy environment containing a staggering number of side quests, and it's set for release on the Xbox 360 and PC. While that description will sound familiar to players of Oblivion, the sense of ambition in Two Worlds is no less pronounced than in Bethesda's modern classic. In fact, at 35 square kilometres, the world that Reality Pump has crafted is even bigger than Oblivion's world. We managed to spend some time with Two Worlds ahead of its release in May to see if it's set to deliver on its lofty promises.
The main quest will take about 20 hours to complete, but those who want to engage in side quests and proper exploration can easily expect that number to triple. Like in many recent RPGs, the overriding idea is a genuine sense of freedom, although the difference in Two Worlds is that you're limited to playing as a human male in the single-player game. While you can still customise your protagonist's appearance, the decision to restrict the main character is the result of the story, which is very focussed on putting you right at the centre of events. The basic plot is pretty generic, but there's definitely an emphasis on giving your character a backstory and a place in the grander scheme of things. Your immediate concern is to find your missing sister, who has been kidnapped by a group called the Dark Brotherhood. As they try to resurrect the dark god of war, Aziraal, you are inevitably led into this plot, travelling around completing quests for them.
While the story isn't particularly new or engaging, it does lead up to a more epic decision that will set the tone for the rest of the game. After finding your sister, you'll be forced to choose whether or not to resurrect this god, which will affect the appearance of the world thereafter. It's also clear that small decisions will have an effect along the way. For example, if you choose not to follow a particular quest to save local villagers from attack, that village may well end up burned to the ground.
We had the chance to play the first couple of hours of Two Worlds during our visit to Germany, and it does a good job of drawing you in while helping you get accommodated in this new home. While the environment offers little that's new, it still has a striking level of beauty on both the PC and Xbox 360. The game manages to mix the grand with the subtle: You can stand at the top of a hill and the view of the landscape stretches for miles, while snakes slither along the ground and foliage gently sways in the breeze. The animation is also well executed, with motion capture used to attain a realistic sense of movement during fighting and general exploration.
While you'll have to wander around this world on foot to begin with, the game offers two other methods of travel for intrepid explorers. The first is on horseback, which is a much better option for seeing the terrain at a quicker pace. The control system is based on real horse riding, so you move your player to make subtle adjustments to the horse's navigation while altering the speed by pushing forward and backward. It's a little like driving the warthog in Halo, where you look where you want to go and accelerate while the vehicle follows. It takes some getting used to, and we're told that the control system will continue to be tweaked, but it's a fairly intuitive method. The second mode of transport available is the use of derelict transformers that are scattered around the map. While these can't be used without being activated, they're by far the quickest way of travelling long distances across the expansive map. We used both methods within the first hour of gameplay, so you're not restricted to on-foot exploration for long.
Creating a game as large as this is no mean feat, but a team of 50 people built it from the ground up in only about a year and a half. What's even more impressive is that there are virtually no loading times, with only momentary pauses in the PC version and a couple of seconds on the Xbox 360 version. With such a large world and a cast taken from so many villages, the developers needed to hire more than 200 different actors to voice all of the roles. In addition, the main character responds vocally during conversations, and you are sometimes given a choice of different responses, rather than just stock answers. Also of interest for trivia fans is the music, which was composed by Harold Faltermeyer, the man responsible for the classic Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop theme tunes.
The character development interface is built around classic RPG skills, such as brutality, dexterity, strength, and willpower. If you want to build a great warrior, then you will need to focus on developing your strength, whereas a mage will build up on willpower. There's no class system, but you can specialise as a warrior, mage, or thief by focussing on the relevant skills. Minor skills include horse riding, swimming, and lock-picking. Again, you can distribute points among them as you progress. The magic system is based on the elemental forces of earth, wind, fire, and water. You can build up projectile attacks and the ability to heal yourself using your supply of mana.
The inventory system itself is initially limited by a 35 kilogram weight limit, but if you choose to level up your strength, you will be able to carry more items. You can drop and sell items if you want, as well as combine weapons and armour to make them stronger or more effective. On the combat side, you can add trick skills to your traditional attacking and defensive capabilities. You can use a torch as a weapon, swing your sword above your head to take out multiple enemies, or simply kick dirt in their eyes to temporarily blind them. On the other hand, enemies can also employ the exact same skills as you, plus they will be able to defend against them.
The fighting system is fairly simple: You tap the mouse once for a single strike or twice for a combo strike. The fighting style changes if you're carrying a shield because it slows your movement even though it may give you protection. You can have up to three active weapons, and you can choose to map these to the face buttons on the Xbox 360 pad for quick access. A nice touch is being able to use your sword while riding the horse. During our play test, we managed to graduate to using a bow and arrow to take out enemies from afar.
The build that we saw was more or less in a finished state, with only tweaking taking place during the final month before release. While it's looking impressive, we're hoping the Polish developer is working overtime to iron out the numerous bugs that we encountered. The horse is intelligent enough to not gallop off a cliff, but the animation still needs to be polished to make it more intuitive and enjoyable. Likewise, swimming and blood effects are still placeholders, but Reality Pump promises they're issues that are being tweaked right now. Although we weren't treated to a look at the multiplayer game, we were promised a choice of customisable races, plus the ability to group together with up to eight players to take part in joint quests. The developer also says that new quests can be added very quickly, hinting at the possibility of downloadable content being added for both the PC and Xbox 360 versions.
Two Worlds clearly aims to capitalise on the success of such recent free-roaming RPGs as Oblivion, and while it will have a hard time competing with that particular masterpiece, it has clearly set its sights high. The world itself is a place that we could gladly spend hours at a time, and the combat system is satisfying, whether you're slaying orcs or bullying rabbits. Two Worlds is set to launch simultaneously on the PC and Xbox 360 in May 2007, so check back soon for GameSpot's full review of the finished game.