Two Worlds II Review

03 Aug 2012

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:TopWare Interactive
Developer:Reality Pump Studios
Release Date:2011-02-04
Genre:
  • Role-Playing,Action
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person,First-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Presentation & Technical

If you're going to be spending a long time with a game, a good presentation makes it a lot easier. Fortunately, Two Worlds II is visually stunning. It has some of the more impressive open-world landscapes I've seen, with tall grass blowing in the wind off into the distance, animals grazing, and just about every technical bell and whistle available today. The game runs very smoothly on my slightly aging gaming PC, and doesn't suffer from any hitches, stutters, low-resolution textures and effects or any other compromises you'll often see in open-world RPGs, and there are few load times, all of them fast. Some of the character models leave a bit to be desired, and animation during cutscenes can be a bit poor, but otherwise there are few complaints to make. Two Worlds II doesn't really have a unique art style, but the technical proficiency and variety in settings add up to great results.  I encountered almost no major bugs while playing, and the game only crashed once or twice, and only then after it had been running for many hours.

The soundtrack is also fantastic, and is probably one of the reasons I kept playing the game for longer sessions. Composed by Glorian' MusicMarks, the same company behind Knights of Honor, Gothic 3 and Crysis 2, it's suitably orchestral, with a folkish and worldly bent. Unlike some soundtracks, there are actually quite a few themes, many of which vary from area to area, and never get old. Voice acting, perhaps the thorn in the side of the first game, is of mixed quality. The protagonist's gravelly voice is a bit monotone for my tastes, and many minor characters are either over-acted or outright bad, but most of the lead characters are handled well, especially the orc rebels. Sound effects are pretty much stock standard, though there are some nice atmospheric effects like reverb and echo when in dungeons and caves.

There are two big downsides that hinder the game's presentation. The first is the user interface. Frankly, it's just not very good. Even though it was designed for gamepads, it's still a bit cumbersome when played with one, and with a mouse and keyboard, I had a lot of trouble navigating things until I completely changed the key layout to more conventional standards. Even then, it suffers from a number of flaws - overly large inventory icons that take up far too much space (though there are mods that fix this), ugly and hard-to-read fonts, poor color choices, extremely cumbersome alchemy and crafting screens that require dozens of clicks to sort through, and other similar problems.  Additionally, I found the default over-the-shoulder camera nauseating, and had to use console commands to center it - once I did, the game became much more playable for me.

Second, DRM. I bought the Steam version of the game, and despite this, the first thing I saw upon starting the game was a request to enter a serial number. Two Worlds II has just three activations per user, and there is no automated way to get that limit reset, not even by uninstalling the game. I suffered unrelated computer problems as I reviewed it, and with only three activations, I might have to jump through hoops to get the game working in the future. While I don't think Two Worlds II should be judged on its DRM, it's unfortunate it doesn't feature a more user-friendly method of activation and renewal.

Conclusion

Two Worlds II is a very hard game to give a definite opinion on. It has good ideas, but the execution can be sloppy or even outright bad. The story is both banal and entertaining, serious and satirical, often all at once. It's got tons of lore to read, but the universe isn't interesting enough to make those books worth reading.  The environments look great, but the world is probably too big for its own good, and many areas are empty and devoid of interesting content.  For every moment I had fun, there was another where I found myself frustrated, usually due to simple design oversights.

It's a shame, because I think Two Worlds II could have been up there with the likes of Risen and Divinity II as my favorite open-ended RPGs from the last couple of years, if it had simply had a bit more time in development for Reality Pump to clean up the rough edges.

In the end, I can give my recommendation for Two Worlds II - on the condition that you're willing to overlook a lot of problems. Although it's not a game I'd personally buy at full price, if you're able to find it on sale, especially the Velvet Edition that includes the expansion pack, it will give you more than enough value for your money. Either way, I'm eagerly awaiting Two Worlds III, as I'd like to see the good ideas explored in Two Worlds II come to a more refined, developed, and polished form.
 
 

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