The games industry might be obsessed with franchise building, but it’s important to remember that not every worthy game gets a sequel. There’s little wrong with the craft behind Vanquish, Enslaved and Alan Wake, but fans expecting further adventures will probably be disappointed. Commercial game development is competitive, expensive and extremely difficult. But if that’s the reality, how do we explain the existence of Two Worlds II?
The first game felt like the product of a tumultuous development cycle, so fundamental were its problems. Some of the reviews were scathing, some were written by colleagues of mine, and the only reason I could see to play the thing was to find out of it was as bad as its harshest critics claimed. In fact, in preparation for this review I decided to finally take a look, buying a used Xbox 360 copy for a pleasingly small sum and basking in its stilted, buggy glory for a few hours. I’m told it gets better as it goes along. Based on the opening, it had a mountain to climb.
Reality Pump may not have reached the summit with this most inexplicable of sequels, but the difference in the way the game looks, sounds and feels is striking. Games of this scale and sweep are prone to minor technical problems and Two Worlds II is no exception, but improvements in voice-acting, lip-synching and character models make it far easier to become engrossed in the fiction – which, to be fair, is variable.
Nothing here approaches the best moments of, say, Dragon Age: Origins, but then Bioware didn’t write any missions involving infestations of demonically possessed umbrellas. Two Worlds II is a largely derivative, but sporadically bizarre experience. Technically, that isn’t a compliment, but if we’re going to be asked to exist on a diet of sequels, finding one with a distinct personality is no bad thing. To be clear, I’m not suggesting Two Worlds II’s Tolkien-esque fantasy land does anything to break the mould, but in addition to its infrequently surreal side-missions the gameplay is under-pinned by a fascinating take on item progression and crafting.
The potion system allows you to create your own recipes from the dozens of plants, meats and mystical tit-bits scattered around the world – just chuck them in the cauldron and then give your creation a name. Clothing, armour and weaponry can be improved on-the-fly with wood, metal, fabric and powerful gemstones. Best of all is spell crafting, which lets you layer different elements, delivery methods and modifiers over each other to create an entirely unique arsenal of magic.
Two Worlds II can be lamentably poor at explaining some of its inner-workings, but it offers intelligent solutions to a handful of problems that hamper many high-end RPGs. That won’t be enough for everyone, of course, but the target audience for a game like this are dedicated RPG players who fancy scratching the itch before Dragon Age II arrives. I should know; I’m one of them, and people like me have learned to live with weak dialogue, suspect voice actors and fetch quests.
Two Worlds II does enough to keep things interesting, to keep you interested in what lies in wait for your generic, vacant hero. I’ve played this game for many hours, more than enough to write a fair review, and as soon as I’m done I know exactly what I’m going to do: go back to the couch, back to Two Worlds II and its endearing mix of craziness and competence. I won’t rest until every last possessed umbrella is dead.
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