Some games like to hold your hand, slowly introducing you to the interface and the options and the story. A subset of these games go far past the hand-holding-during-training phase, they tell you quite specifically that you need to head from point A to point B and then on to point C, making the path obvious, the deviations minimal, and that set of goals the only ones worth your time. Two Worlds II isn’t one of those titles. Not even close.
A truly massive open world RPG, Two Worlds II does have a basic introductory mission that it sends you on so that you get a feel for the title, but it barely scratches the surface in terms of what’s available and how the game will actually unfold. As you run through this intro mission you’ll be picking up book after book after book which you then have to read so that you know how to manage your skill your tree; craft weapons, spells, armor, and clothes; and handle all the other various elements in the game.
Starting from the top, this sequel picks up immediately after the events of 2007’s Two Worlds, with you (as “The Hero”) and your sister being held by the Dark Lord Gandohar who still kind of wants to rule all of creation and have ultimate control over the dark powers. Gandohar would be, to use Buffy parlance, the Big Bad. The game opens with some nice Orcs (whom you as The Hero didn’t really like in the last title) rescuing you from Gandohar’s clutches, but not freeing your sister. So, your overarching goals in this game are to get back your sister, find Gandohar’s weak spot, and bring an end to Dark Lord.
It is a pretty generic and not completely impressive story, but it quickly falls by the wayside once you finish the prologue and get sent off on your own. At that moment, the sheer size of the world you’re in becomes apparent (the original also featured a massive world) and the number of sidequests and diversions proves staggering. As you wander around the world you can quickly lose the main narrative thread (which is made all the easier by the fact that it really isn’t that great to begin with) and join guilds, battle bad guys, invest in the economy, find secrets, slay wild animals, and do just about anything else you might want (but don’t swim too far out to see, because even if you think you’re getting close to the next landmass you still might drown…. trust me).
One of the things that makes the game great is the fact that these sidequests can be quite intricate, and as you embark on one you find yourself picking up more and more in your attempt to finish the first one (just because they’re there). TWII keeps track of all the things you’ve agreed to do in a log for you, so there’s no need to write it all down yourself, and once you’ve begun a sidequest you can just ignore it for hours on end before going back to pick it up again.
The title certainly intends for some of these sidequests and tasks to be accomplished later rather than earlier as they pit you against foes that you ought to have no prayer whatsoever of beating until you’ve leveled-up significantly. And it is here, with this “you ought to have no prayer” that the game sports its first real weakness – the monsters tend to be stupid. For instance, progress far enough in one sidequest and you’ll have to enter a cave that has a huge number of Giant Scorpions. Without loads of HP, the right armor, and good weapons, a Giant Scorpion can take you out with two swings. But, that’s only if you’re dumb enough to get up close. The cave has stalagmites which you can stand behind and which the scorpion will try and swing at you through without ever thinking that if it took two steps to the right it could hit you without the stalagmites getting in the way. If that wasn’t bad enough, other Giant Scorpions in the same cave will give chase after you fire at them with arrows, but all too soon hit what seems to be a programmed point which they refuse to move past. Once you’re past that magic invisible spot, all you have to do is stand there and fire away as the scorpion gets frustrated and then heads back to its patrol area (you can then repeat the cycle and after a few go rounds kill him without ever taking any damage).
Perhaps the reason that the first Giant Scorpion mentioned above is baffled by the stalagmites is that his claw can in fact swing straight through them without seeming to touch the protrusions. The claw can’t hurt you as the physics of what is taking place suggest that it has been stopped by the stalagmites, but the claw certainly appears to go through them.
This is to say, the game has some graphics issues. While the level of detail is great, things like the claw appearing to go through the stalagmite happen on rare occasions. What happens far more frequently is the appearance of an object in the background during the middle of a shot in a cutscene. The background objects that randomly appear are things that probably should have always been there (be it landscapes in the distance or things in the room), and they play no role in the cutscene, but their random popping into existence adds an unnecessary—and presumably unintended—Douglas Adams quality to the title.
Then there are the sound issues, and there are most definitely sound issues. At the push of a button you can end whatever current line of dialogue is being spoken and advance to the next one, but sometimes the game chooses to cut the dialogue short in the middle of a sentence with no input from you. Additionally, when characters talk they have a tendency to stand still (you can move The Hero a little, but never in realistic fashion) and repeat the same arm gestures no matter what it is that they’re saying (okay, that’s back to graphics, but the point remains). Plus, we encountered one instance where the guy we were talking to—the guy who was giving us crucial information for the main quest—had the volume of his voice drop to almost zero as he was speaking. He wasn’t trying to not be overheard, he certainly thought he was speaking at an appropriate level and The Hero did as well, but his voice just didn’t make it to the speakers.
Would it be too much to now mention that during combat there are severe camera issues? The enemies you’re fighting have an incredible knack for heading to a spot where they are off screen in the default camera position despite their being close enough to hit you with a hand-to-hand weapon. You can swing the camera around, but then you’re trying to control the camera at the same time that you’re fighting off a half-dozen baddies. It becomes far easier to simply hack-and-slash the off screen enemies and keep an eye on your health to make sure that you’re doing okay.
The honest truth of the matter however is that the depth and breadth of Two Worlds II makes up for all of those shortcomings. There is so much to do, so much to tweak, so much to see, and so many people—both good and bad—that you can interact with that any visual and audio gaffs are easy to overlook. The gaffs are disappointing because they give the game an unfinished feel, but they’re not going to take away from your enjoyment all that much.
It is going to take you a long time to work out exactly how to best tailor Two Worlds II for the style of player you are. Are you a mage? You’re going to love having to create the spells you cast. Do you prefer to melee or take guys out with a bow and arrow? If you take the melee route, do you like two-handed weapons or would you rather a single-handed weapon and shield or two single-handed weapons? Do you want to learn to play music in the game so as to get money? How closely do you want to monitor the cost of goods in towns and villages so as to ensure that you’re not overpaying? The options really are seemingly endless.
Two Worlds II isn’t the only game to go down this route of offering you numerous ways to play through the title, but it is still an exceptionally good experience. Any fan of open world RPGs will find much to enjoy here. No, things aren’t laid out in an obvious fashion, you have to do far more than simply connect the dots to beat the game, but the sense of accomplishment that goes along with figuring it all out is tremendous.
Just remember – don’t try to swim from island to island, you will drown.
Two Worlds II is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence. This game can also be found on: PC, Mac, and Xbox 360.