A fun but confused RPG.
Game: Two Worlds 2 (TW2)
What is This: A Player's 'Review'
Developer: Reality Pump
Publisher: SouthPeak Games
Format: PC DVD (Collector's Edition)
Version: 1.2 (last few hours played using 1.3)
Time Played: 40 Hours
Play Status: Finished the Main Quest
My Score: 6.5 out of 10.0
Metacritic: 76 out of 100
A COMMENT ON THE MARKETING OF TWO WORLDS 2
I've been gaming since the mid 70s (which qualifies me as an old fart) and I have never witnessed such a bizarre release of a game as TW2. Even finding a PC copy of Ultima 3 was easier. For those of you who were gaming when all computer stores were 'mom and pop' outfits, you know such endeavors required lengthy bike rides to far and away places and typically resulted in the anti-climax that the 'store' didn't even have an extra copy you could buy. Announcements hit the net that TW2 was out. Then it wasn't out. Then it was out. Then not out. Out, not out, on and on – it was dizzying and nauseating for those of anxious to stuff our hard-earned dollars into the pockets of an apparently unwilling SouthPeak Games.
THE COLLECTOR'S EDITION
I liked the game enough to go ahead and buy the Collector's Edition. I also bought it to support Reality Pump because I think they have real potential to create much better 'sandbox' style RPGs in the future. The box and packaging are fun. The content is pretty good but didn't include a printed game manual – which is the one thing it really should have included.
TW2 STRATEGY GUIDE
I buy strategy guides for my favorite games. I do so not because I like to be led by the nose from A to Z while I play. I buy them because I am a game collector and strategy guides are a great compliment to my core collection. I really like the idea that the developers provided most of the content for the Strategy Guide for TW2. But there is one glaring omission in the guide – there is no section at all that discusses armor. Strategy guides should include information about this and all other equip-able/usable inventory items found in the game. Also, since the game does not come with a printed manual, it would have been a nice touch if the Strategy guide included the full text of the game's PDF manual.
Overall, I enjoyed playing TW2. It is one of those rare gems that occasionally and oftentimes unexpectedly emerge from the endless fog of shallow RPGs and first person shooters with so-called 'RPG elements.' TW2 is not only a substantial improvement over the first game, if not in terms of breadth, then definitely in terms of content, but it is also a game that is clearly a product of intimate craftsmanship on the part of the developers.
THE USER INTERFACE (UI)
Regrettably, the UI for TW2 isn't the greatest. Although, once you get the hang of the UI, it isn't terrible and gets the job done. Still, I can't help but feel that it should have been 'cooked' a bit longer to give it the polish the game deserves. Further exasperating the UI is poor documentation and outright omissions of functions that should be in the manual but aren't.
I'm the first to be suspicious about any CRPG that looks too pretty. Typically, pretty graphics are a telltale sign of shallow gameplay (see Arcania: Gothic 4). But since this isn't the case with TW2, I offer my kudos with the visual and overall art direction. The game world is beautiful and the character models are above average (a tad stiff but still very good). I enjoy the lush look of the world – even running through tall grass is amazing to look at.
My singular criticism is the blur-effect for geography that is in the distance. It's not even that I don't like that from an artistic standpoint – it's just that it's VERY hard on my eyes. My eyes perceive the blur effect as not seeing clearly and leads to eye strain and headaches if I play long enough. I'm unsure what the technical jargon is for this blur effect, but it would be nice if it was something one could turn on and off on the PC.
The music is very good although more tracks would have been better. If you linger in a particular region for a long time, the music tends to get a little stale. Though when you discover a new region the new musical tracks associated with that region stick out and are quite good.
Sound effects are excellent – it seems wherever you are you hear what you would be hearing if you were actually there - buzzing insects in the savanna, dripping of water in caves, the roar of a cheetah that has just leapt toward you from out of the tall grass. All good stuff.
I'm somewhat ambivalent about voice-overs for NPCs in CRPGs. Poor voice acting will not detract from my enjoyment of a CRPG when other aspects of the game are fun. That said, voices in TW2 are not so good. Lines are delivered very dry and lack personality. My character is also excessively sarcastic and oftentimes rude when I'd rather him be appreciative or at least neutral.
TW2's story sits somewhere between typical and unique. It starts out as fairly standard-fair but as you progress through the storyline, there are quite a few interesting twists and turns. If you think the story setup is sort of 'ho hum' at the beginning of the game, you will probably find yourself appreciating it a lot more by the end of the game.
EXPERIENCE (CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT)
As you kill enemies and complete quests you earn experience points. When you earn enough experience points you go up a level. Each time you gain a level, you earn Attribute and Skill points. Fairly standard RPG stuff.
ATTRIBUTES (CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT)
Attributes are fairly standard in TW2 and include Strength, Endurance, Willpower, & Accuracy. Depending on how you want to play is what attributes you should 'feed' the most. In short, Strength affects the power of your melee attacks, Endurance affects your hit point pool, Willpower affects your mana pool, and Accuracy applies to ranged combat with bows. Some attributes have other subtle affects, such as how much weight you can carry.
SKILLS (CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT)
Skills are where character development in TW2 really shines. Skills are grouped into sensible categories that help you understand the type of character that would use a particular skill though you are never barred from feeding any skill you choose. As your character levels up, you earn skill points that you can allocate to skills that will better them in some way. But before you can use your skill points, you first have to find a skill book for each skill to learn the basics of the skill. Skill books seem to be a compromise between those who like the idea of skill trainers and those who do not. Once you have either found or purchased a skill book you can 'use' it to 'activate' that skill. After that, you can add skill points to that skill at any time (as long as you have unused skill points).
For me, exploration, discovery, and interactivity are three aspects of 'sandbox' style RPG gaming that are very important to me. Nothing is worse than a static game world with little in the way of anything interesting about it other than perhaps pretty graphics.
TW2 is average in this area. When I finished the main quest, I couldn't escape the feeling that this aspect of gameplay seemed somewhat neglected. One thing I love in a game such as TW2 are really interesting underground areas filled with puzzles and to a lesser extent, traps. The puzzles I'm talking about are the kind where you interact in interesting ways with the environment to change its state, ultimately allowing you access to hidden areas and perhaps your quest objective. Without this, underground areas oftentimes feel like 'monster closets' (a game world area populated by monsters you must kill to reach a singular objective). There are several underground areas in TW2 that contain interesting puzzles, but a large majority of underground areas are merely 'monster closets' which is unfortunate.
TW2's world and underground maps get the job done. I liked the zoom-in-zoom-out nature of the world map and although most underground areas in TW2 are fairly linear, I felt underground maps had a good level of detail to make them useful. Only one odd thing to point out here, not really a complaint or a compliment, is that some underground areas do not have a map at all. It was fine with me because I love discovery but felt this was a bit inconsistent.
Admittedly, I'm a bit of a 'Seinfield' when it comes to alchemy in RPGs. While I love the idea of alchemy in an RPG, just about any 'niggle' I might have with its implementation causes me to ignore it entirely (much like Seinfield finds the smallest of flaws in a girlfriend and uses that as a reason to break up with her).
TW2 lost me pretty quickly in the alchemy department because the UI does not organize ingredients at all. It just displays all ingredients in a single window. I just don't have the patience anymore to scour through all the different flowers and plants to find the right ingredients to make whatever potion I'm trying to make. If ingredients were further sub-categorized by property, I may have engaged the Alchemy system.
But then I had another problem with Alchemy in TW2. I just never really felt the need for potions above and beyond health and mana potions. And those are readily available for purchase at vendors throughout the game world.
Melee combat feels visceral and has 'weight' to it but is also a bit simplistic after a while. You can get up to 3 skills that must be tactically activated by you during combat. All the rest of the melee skills are passive. It's fun to see how each of the 3 active skills increase in power as you add points to them, but given that there are only 3 active skills, it just doesn't seem like enough.
Finishing moves seems to be all the rage these days. I'm not a big fan of this and find it to be both distracting and disorienting. I understand that this is another form of visual 'flash' needed by marketing departments so they can sleep at night, but I hope developers will put toggles in their gameplay menus that allow players to turn this type of feature on or off as desired.
TW2 has a real problem with crowded combat which goes something like this – you're fighting 3 or more enemies in a tight area, they all start attacking, bumping you back into a wall or corner and before you know it the keyboard becomes totally unresponsive – you can't quaff a health potion, you can't execute a spell cast or melee combat skill – you're just a sitting duck waiting for the first opportunity to perform the inevitable reload. I died a good number of times like this. In the latter part of the game I learned to kite enemies to bigger locations when their spawn point was in a small room or whatnot, but it was an aggravating lesson to learn.
I read more about TW2's magic system than what I actually used. From what I read and from the little I tinkered with in-game, it seems to be one of the most interesting magic systems I've ever experienced. But like many RPGs, TW2 puts off the use of effective combat magic for too long and by the time you become rich enough to buy magic-related necessities (skill books, cards and whatnot) or find them by progressing through quests or exploring the world, you may end up like me, namely, stuck in your melee combat ways. But TW2 has a lot of replay value and I intend to play a pure mage during some future play through of the game.
Beyond the tutorial portion of the game, I did not use ranged weaponry at all. This is not an indictment of ranged implementation found in TW2 – just simply that I typically do not play ranged non-magic combat characters.
Crafting in TW2 is a lot of fun. You find a lot of the same kinds of weapons and armor and they can be broken down into raw materials and then used to buff up your currently equipped weapons and armor. Add to this that you can socket your gear with gems makes customization interesting. However, I do have a few gripes
One is the time it takes to break down weapons and armor into raw materials. It's something you do throughout the entire game and it gets very cumbersome after a while. If the developers had made the UI so that you could select multiple items the tedium would be largely removed.
Another problem I had with crafting is that I routinely broke down weapons and armor that I was currently using. This is easy to do because the game lets you preset up to 3 different outfits. For the sake of this explanation, let's say Set 1 is a melee combat outfit with a single handed sword and shield. Set 2 is ranged with a bow. Set 3 is a staff for use with magic. Now say you are going to craft and you are currently wearing Set 3. If you try to dismantle your Staff you will get a warning dialog box which helps to stop you from dismantling something you are using. But if you go to dismantle your sword and shield (Set 1) or bow (Set 2), there is no warning message whatsoever. The game should take into account all your equipped gear across all 3 sets and simply not allow you to dismantle anything you are wearing.
I really didn't like the end game. I spent about 40 hours carefully augmenting certain attributes and skills in order to foster a certain style of play only to have all that largely discarded for the final boss. I don't mind using means outside of my character to help spice up a boss battle but I still want the developers to value my time and effort by creating a boss fight where I can use the character I've just spent many hours developing to defeat the boss. Risen was a huge clue that players largely don't like boss fights that veer drastically from the core gameplay.
I haven't and don't intend to play TW2 multiplayer. I didn't play TW1 multiplayer either. The inclusion of a separate multiplayer scenario in the TW series is a bit odd to me. I'd rather the developers forego the time and effort it takes to implement multiplayer the way they have and create more content and polish for the single player campaign. There are dedicated MMOs that implement multiplayer much better anyway. However, if multiplayer remains a fascination with the developers, then I would suggest co-op multiplayer in the 'single player' campaign. But again, I'd be happiest if the developers put all their time and energy into a single player RPG 'sandbox' game.