Posted by Eric Schwarz at 9:41 pm on 08.2.2012 (10 months ago)
Two Worlds II was released in 2011. Created by Reality Pump, a Polish developer previously known for the Earth 2100 series of games, Two Worlds II offers a similar open world experience. Two Worlds II is, in some respects, literally a game of two worlds. On the one hand, it has some of the best visuals I've seen in an open world RPG, it has a fantastic soundtrack, it's mechanically quite sound, and when the game tries for it, there are some surprisingly involving sub-plots and quests. On the other hand, the lack of polish and several design flaws become evident immediately, and never let up throughout the entire game.
At its heart, Two Worlds II is an enjoyable open-world RPG that has several good ideas and entertaining sequences; whether it's worth putting up with the game's many shortcomings and frustrations, however, will come down to personal preference more than anything else.
Clichés Upon Clichés
Two Worlds II is a direct sequel to the original game, but doesn't require much in the way of background to understand what's going on. As the unnamed hero of the first game, your protagonist is imprisoned in the dungeons of the dark lord Gandohar, along with his scantily-clad sister Kyra. A rescue attempt by some orc rebels leads to the hero's freedom, but Kyra is left in Gandohar's clutches. Naturally, this is a bad thing, especially as Gandohar wants to use Kyra as a vessel to summon the imprisoned god of fire, Aziraal, and use his power to (what else?) take over the world. Working with the orc rebels, the hero travels throughout the "central" continents of Antaloor to research Gandohar's history and put a stop to his reign of terror.
If this is sounding like the most generic setup imaginable for a story, that's because it is. Two Worlds II is hardly original, but unlike some games that take their fantasy worlds completely seriously, it's clear Reality Pump intend Two Worlds to be at least a little tongue-in-cheek. Despite the satire, as the story goes on, it becomes surprisingly self-serious, and there are a lot of late-game twists and turns that managed to maintain my interest. It's a pretty odd mix, and it's hard not to feel like there were two different stories being written at the same time, then were mashed together at the last minute.
I was also taken aback by some of the game's moral ambiguity. While some other RPGs bill their moral choices as a big selling point, Two Worlds II actually has quite a few situations without ideal solutions, or parties that are happy to manipulate you to their own ends. One section of the game, for instance, revolves around a string of murders committed by rebels to Gandohar's regime - is it right to support the rebels, even if they're violent criminals, or is order brought by the guards more important? While there's little in the way of consequence, these choices are still often quite interesting. The writing itself is not always great, having been translated from Polish from what I can tell, but it's generally good enough to get the characters and plot events across clearly.
Still, Two Worlds II's story is more a framing device for its huge selection of quests and content, and save for the bizarre, self-. The entertaining parts of the game come in the smaller moments, and much of the game's satirical bent comes out in these moments, ranging from simple tasks like saving a saleswoman's clients from killer umbrellas, to a full-on parody of Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade's final sequence (complete with arbitrary Monty Python references). At times, it breaks the fourth wall, but this is also when the game is at its most enjoyable.
Open World, Linear Story & Cut Corners
Unfortunately, the story highlights one of Two Worlds II's biggest internal contradictions: that while it's billed as an open-ended game with freedom to explore, the reality is that the game is actually quite linear. Part of this is due to the focus on telling its story, but that only tends to highlight that the open world gameplay itself is rather wasted. It might be tempting to compare Two Worlds II to other popular games featuring open-world gameplay, but truth be told it has far more in common with The Witcher and other more structured RPGs.
This might sound like a good thing at first - a compelling story, but freedom to explore - yet it becomes clear that this is actually a hindrance. Open-world games revolve around sandbox-type gameplay, exploration and a player-driven sort of experience. However, Two Worlds II doesn't really reward exploration. Almost every cave or dungeon to explore is locked until its associated quest is provided, and thanks to map markers, you'll rarely be lost on where to go or how to get there. This means that, rather than strike out on your own in search of adventure, you'll need to rigidly follow the quests provided.
Another issue that reveals itself after a while is that Two Worlds II is simply too big for its own good. Like many sandbox-style games, it provides a massive world and hundreds of quests. The bad part is that this world is mostly empty of anything but enemies to kill and randomly generated loot to grab, and despite the inclusion of teleport pads to zip between, travel, especially early on, can sometimes take a very long time. There are horses to ride and boats to use, but the horses in particular don't control very well, and it's easy to lose them if you go wandering off, so I stuck to going on foot most of the time.
This also becomes a problem with the quest design. Two Worlds II is stuffed full of dozens, if not hundreds of fetch and kill quests, and most of them aren't at all interesting. Many of them seem purposely built to make you run into remote territory, back and forth, just to waste time. While other "hiking simulators" like Skyrim can be criticized for being mostly devoted to traveling the world, the key difference is that Two Worlds II largely lacks any interesting locations to stumble across, random encounters to take part in, and so on. The point of these simple travel-based quests in open-world titles is to give incentive for exploration, and Two Worlds II pretty much has none to make doing those quests worthwhile except for the experience and loot.
Last, Two Worlds II is quite clearly rushed. The first continent you visit, Erimos, is a massive savannah-type location that's bigger than the entirety of many open-world games - I spent about 25 hours in it. The second continent, Eollas, isn't even half the size, features more corridor-like areas, and has significantly more filler combat, especially in the Swallows area. The massive final continent, Eikronas, is teased on the map, but you only visit a tiny fraction during the endgame, where the open-ended gameplay changes to a short and linear (albeit well-executed) story sequence, which is marred by even more filler combat around every corner. There's also various elements that are introduced halfway through and abandoned, like boats the player can sail, which have literally no use in the game at all. While Two Worlds II is not lacking for content, it's clear that a lot of corners were cut and they become more and more apparent as the game goes on.