Redemption is a ubiquitous theme in role-playing games; countless titles have chronicled the journey of a misguided young adventurer who transforms mind and body in an effort to vanquish adversity. With the release of their latest title, Polish developer Reality Pump has followed a remarkably similar trajectory. In 2007, the studio drew scorn for the Xbox 360 release of Two Worlds, an open-world fantasy RPG whose ambitions were sullied by a multitude of exasperating glitches, awkward Old English dialog, and a sputtering game engine. With sequel Two Worlds II, the development team has demonstrated their determination by offering the first real challenger to BioWare/Bethesda’s foothold on the Western fantasy genre.
Mirroring the game’s transformation in quality, Two World II‘s storyline displays a similarly radical inversion. The title commences as the game’s protagonist and his twin sister, Kyra, are imprisoned by the land’s new reigning emperor, who is wringing out metaphysical energy from the siblings. Assistance arrives in the unlikeliest of forms, as a band of traditionally antagonistic orcs comes to the player’s aid, staging an escape that serves as part of the game’s lengthy tutorial. Smartly, a knowledge of the first game’s plot isn’t essential to enjoying Two World II‘s lengthy expedition, although players who braved the toils of the predecessor may savor some of the game’s references.
Following your escape, players are introduced to the title’s range of combat options, equipment enhancements, alchemy, horse-back riding and even given a quick lesson in lock picking. Once thrust into the game’s campaign, players will find that they’re not restricted to the conventional classes of most fantasy titles; I was able to cultivate a competent swordsman who could down a distant foe with a single well-placed poison arrow. With a press of the directional pad, players are able to instantly switch load-outs, an ability which is indispensable when charged by a powerful foe. Shrewdly, investments in any skill tree can even be rescinded, embedding gamers with a pleasing degree of flexibility.
Even Two World II‘s most elementary offensive method- melee combat, is filled with a myriad of options. Players may choose one of seven basic loadouts, from duel-wielding, carrying two handed weapons, or carrying a lightweight arm in conjunction with a torch or shield. Beyond a fundamental strike and block, players may also learn a number of devastating or defensive skills which can be mapped to any of the controller’s face buttons. Each supplemental ability is accompanied by a cool-down period, prohibiting players from stunning or disarming a large horde of foes.
Those with an propensity for bows may plumb the game’s ranged -combat nuances or keep things simple. Although the game defaults to an auto-lock on perceived environmental threats, a press of the left trigger enters into precision mode, allowing gamers to select their own targets. Borrowing from Sam Fisher’s playbook, budding rangers can even mark multiple targets, sending a volley of arrows in separate directions. Two Worlds II‘s elaborate magic system is as complicated as it is gratifying- tasking mages with assembling spells by mixing carrier, effect, and modifier cards. While many outcomes are predictable- mixing a fire element card with a homing element will produce a enemy-seeking fireball, others are more elusive, rewarding gamers who take the time to experiment with the system.
Likewise, the game’s inventory management is gratifyingly robust. As player’s scavenge dungeons, lairs, and fallen antagonists, they’ll find a satisfying amount and variety of loot. Unlike most games which require players to transport the plunder to their local shopkeeper, Two Worlds II allows adventurers to instantly dismantle items, gaining the necessary metal, leather, or fabric to augment their current weapons or armor. Additionally, items have slots to allow gemstones to be placed, increasing the potential of each device. Of course, hopeful herbalists can spend hours collecting ingredients from the game’s flora and fauna, combining components to make a myriad of concoctions.
While deciding what vocations and skills to master can be overwhelming, players will have plenty of time to scrutinize their decisions. Beyond a lengthy main quest that should take at least thirty-five hours to complete, there’s a profusion of side missions to tempt players. These excursions help to mask the linearity of Two World II‘s campaign- despite giving players an immensely large multi-continental realms to explore, gamers follow a moderately scripted path. Luckily, the game sporadically gives the player multiple ways to accomplish specific duties and even examines alliances with factions to open up or prune whole mission branches. Beyond the single-player campaign, the title is bolstered by five multiplayer and co-operative modes; the one misgiving is that items are not transferable between solo and mutiplayer diversions.
Despite a healthy amount of accomplishments, Two Worlds II‘s still exhibits the occasional blemish. Immediately, I noticed the bulk of the game’s HUD was on the fringes of my screen; fortunately, a buried menu option allows players to mend this. As expected for a game of monumental scale, irregular glitches are common- it’s not unlikely to see NPCs walk through solid structures, or have the hero get stuck on part of the landscape. Yet, the title’s greatest offense maybe its long-winded dialog. Far too often, conversations feel longer than the need to be. Certainly, some of the energy of chatter is weakened by the redundancy of selecting full-text responses, rather than listening to the articulation of broad stances (ala Dragon Age and Mass Effect). Inexplicably, symbols on both map screens and in the in-game menus can be difficult to decipher, obliging gamers to keep the game’s manual nearby.
Little disparagement can be leveled at the Two Worlds II GRACE engine, which renders each of the game’s environments with a impressive draw distance and a typically steady framerate. From dank dungeon’s illuminated by a flickering torch, sunny beaches awash with a grow, to gentle rivers flanked by fields of wild vegetation, the title offers consistently impressive scenery, considering the game’s impressive scope. Similarly, the games character and creature models are well drawn; I was pleasantly surprised by the animation of some monsters.
Inevitably, Two Worlds II is going to evoke the memory of its lackluster predecessor- which is a shame, because the sequel conscientiously corrects almost all of the first game’s failings. Ideally, the title should be judged for its inspiring accomplishments- giving players what will be one of the most replete games experiences they’ll likely encounter this generation. Despite a few hitches, only the most fastidious fantasy fans won’t be mesmerized by Two World II‘s captivating spell.