Two Worlds II is like the Toronto Maple Leafs for me. I root for it every time, I genuinely want to see it succeed and I can see the heart and the good intentions of trying to please the fans but it falls seriously short in many key areas. I’m not sure if it was because I’m a sucker for fantasy RPGs but I was highly anticipating this game after watching videos of it in action and all the ways it improved on the not-so secret bomb of the first title. However I came away unimpressed and almost even frustrated because at its core is a deep and fun RPG that’s unfortunately plagued by problems, most of which have all been improved upon from the previous game but still not enough. It’s frustrating to see a game that for every positive that it has, there is a negative that counters it.
The story starts off with your character inexplicably strapped to a chair along with your sister by someone named Gandohar. Some orcs rescue you and take you to the Prophet (who of course is a half naked hot chick with horns) who then explains that your sister is the chosen vessel for Aziraal, fire lord of Antaloor. Gandohar is stealing power from her to boost his own as ruler of Antaloor and it’s up to you to rescue her and save Antaloor.
Admittedly, I’ve never played the first Two Worlds because of how shoddy it looked from the numerous videos and reviews I’ve seen but if the beginning of this tale ties into the story of the first game, it was not explained at all and I was left pretty confused for the first hour or so.
The game is an epic open-world action RPG with tons to do and see. An average player will probably spend 25-40 hours on the beefy single player alone if you take the time to explore and most likely even more than that if you are a completionist. There are tons of sidequests to discover from talking to random NPCs and five different guilds (Warrior, Mage, Thief, Merchant and Necromancer), each of which have their own lengthy questline. The quests in Two Worlds II involve a lot of “fetch this item”, “go and talk to this guy” or “go kill this monster for us” type of stuff. Nothing fancy in the majority of them but there are a few unique quests and some unexpected twists on genre norms that I don’t want to spoil for you.
One thing I should note while talking about quests though is that the enemies’ levels do not scale with you. That means that if you stumble into an area or try to take on a quest that has enemies that are too high of a level for your character to handle, you will die in a single hit and be forced to return to it later. Many times I thought I was on pace, doing a fair mix of main story quests, side quests, monster killing and exploring, only to have my ego crushed in one swift blow while I have to whack at the enemy a hundred times with my sword to even scratch it. My only choice was to abandon the quest for now, do something else and come back when I was a higher level. Old school RPGs were often like this so I guess I should be used to it by now but the sudden spikes of difficulty are pretty jarring and break the pacing. This was especially annoying in the first and last chapters. I highly recommend saving often, even on the default medium difficulty, because these difficulty spikes are unpredictable and you could potentially die in one or two hits any time you encounter a new enemy.
I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves a little here though. Let’s start from the beginning with the character creation. You can only choose a male human to be your main character but can customize the way he looks from hair to face and body structure. You don’t choose a class but can dynamically drop skill points into any skill or attribute to customize your character on the fly.
However, mages are restricted to staffs while warriors are restricted to conventional weapons so if you want to be a battlemage like I always am in my first playthrough of fantasy RPGs, you will need to carry both conventional weapons and a staff and can only cast spells when you have the staff equipped. While this isn’t ideal for a battlemage setup since you want to be able to cast spells and swing a sword at the same time, you can luckily make custom classes and hotkey them to the D-pad, making switching between the necessary equipment less cumbersome.
There is also a neat upgrade system for your weapons and equipment. You can break down most pieces of armor or weapons into their raw materials and use those to upgrade your existing equipment. Additionally, some items are socketed and you can insert gems and magical stones into them to give them some extra perks. There is also an alchemy system to mix ingredients and create your own potions.
As a battlemage, I spent a lot of time with both the melee and magic systems but not much with bows so I am going to focus on the two forms of combat I am most familiar with. With melee combat, you can choose between two-handed weapons, a one-handed weapon and a shield or duel-wielded one-handed weapons. You get special abilities that you can drop skill points into such as a block breaker and abilities that are specific to the type of weapon you are using. The one major issue with melee combat is that the blocks only register when you’re standing completely still. You can move around once you start the blocking animation but walking and then blocking a sudden attack is not a very efficient tactic and even still only protects you from 60% of the damage if you block successfully (although you can upgrade this). This made blocking pretty useless to be honest and I spent most of my time spamming the attack button and my abilities.
On the other hand, the magic system for the most part is great. You can create your own spells by finding or buying an effect card (ice, fire, necromancy, air, etc), combining it with a carrier-form card and then finally adding modifier cards in exchange for mana cost. For example, I could take a life-effect card and combine it with an area-effect carrier card to make a spell that heals everything around me. Then I can add a damage modifier card that now makes it damage everything around me. Creativity and experimentation is key here. The downside to this is that for a fairly complex system, no explanation was given to ease me into all of this and it took me a good chunk of time to figure it all out. That said, once I did get a hang of it I found it to be a great system and I had a lot of fun experimenting with different spell cards to make my own spells.
This lack of explanation also carries through to the menus and its confusing layout. For some odd reason, there is hardly any text in the menus by default. Everything is represented with symbols that are never explained in the game or in the manual and you’re somehow supposed to guess what everything is. Luckily there is an option in the settings menu to swap the symbols with actual words so that you can simply read what the stat is rather than guessing. Why they didn’t make the text the default option is beyond me.
Riding on horses was a major complaint about the first game so I feel I should talk about that a bit. It’s still not good to put it bluntly. You must tap the left trigger in a steady rhythm to get it to run. Once you’re in a gallop, it’s sort of like in Ocarina of Time with a meter that drains and eventually bucks you off but the problem lies when you’re trying to walk slowly. You have to tap the trigger to even trot or to simply turn around, making slower movements or maneuvering in tight spaces very difficult. Also, you can whistle for your horse but you have to be within 20 meters in order for your horse to hear you and come over. This is more realistic but what’s the point of calling for your horse within 20 meters when you can just as easily walk over to it but not be able to call for it when you’re miles away from anything and need quick transport? It seems backwards to me.
Even worse, you can’t teleport with your horse even on the same island. Since the world is so big, there are teleporters that you can use to quickly get from place to place and you are also given a personal teleporter at the beginning of the game that links to the ones scattered around Antaloor. I found myself using this fast travel system all game and never touched my horse again the moment I decided that it was more trouble than help.
The massive world and the different environments that make it up actually look really impressive at times. The map of Antaloor is absolutely huge and is a lot of fun to explore. You have your obligatory towns, dungeons and huge country-side consisting of mountainous regions, swamps and even a savanna. Surprisingly, all load times are much shorter than you’d expect from a world this large and detailed. The sacrifice here is that you’ll experience some texture and object pop-in and framerate drops. This slowdown doesn’t just occur in combat but also during exploration. At some points, like when exiting a building/ teleporter or when casting certain spells, the game will stop completely for a second or two, although I didn’t experience any outright crashes or permanent freezes.
I did encounter a few strange glitches although none were major or game-breaking. Some were visual bugs like corpses flying and bouncing around or a torch in the inventory of the first vendor I encountered being called “ART_TORCH_NPC”, which is obviously the filename and not the item name. In another case, a guard was continuously hostile to me even though my notoriety bar was at zero. This occurred in a town in the first chapter and so I avoided the town for two full chapters and he still tried to kill me when I returned to the town in the fourth. Funny thing is the rest of the guards were neutral to me unless if I hit the guard who was hostile so whenever I went to the town to trade, I had to continuously run away from the one aggro guard. It was not difficult to avoid him but is nevertheless an annoying glitch.
Unfortunately, while the environments look great for the most part, the character models and animations look much less impressive. To make matters worse, the lip synching is beyond terrible. It looks almost as if the game was originally in another language and then dubbed over in English because the mouth movement and words are so far off at times. It’s no deal-breaker but sure does ruin the immersion a little.
On the other hand, the writing and voice acting are decent for the most part. Gone is the cheesy Old English that dominated the script of the first game. It’s worthy to note that while the supporting voice actors are serviceable, the voice actor for your character is absolutely awful, which is really distracting because you hear him speak so much. There is no emotion in his gravelly voice at all and he sounds like a bad impression of Batman in The Dark Knight.
In addition to the lengthy single player campaign, Two Worlds II also includes multiplayer. When hopping online for the first time, you have to make a new character and unlike the single player campaign, you can choose to be either a male or a female and have the choice between several races such as human, elf, dark elf, half-elf, half-dwarf or half-orc. Also unlike the single player, you must choose a class from the outset and stick with it for that character. You cannot dynamically switch between a mage and a duel-wielding brawler like you can in the single player, although you can create multiple characters if you’d like.
There are some competitive modes like deathmatch and duels but they are highly forgettable. The real draws are the co-operative modes. There is an Adventure mode, which is basically another campaign set between the events of the first and second game and is much more action-heavy and combat focused than the single player. Additionally, there is a Village mode that is sort of a city building mini-game where your goal is to create a thriving economy and boost the villagers’ morale. Other players can hop in and do some shopping and can take any items with them into Adventure mode. Multiplayer should not be the sole reason you get this game but co-op, particularly the Adventure mode, is still a lot of fun to play.
All in all, Two Worlds II is definitely an improvement on its predecessor but it’s still not perfect. There are some glaring gameplay and technical issues and it’s fairly unpolished, as I ran across numerous bugs (although none were game-breaking). However if you can get past the wonky blocking, unintuitive menus and spell creation, a general lack of polish, and a few other annoying nuances, you actually have at its core a fun, enjoyable and lengthy RPG with deep customization mechanics and an absolutely huge world to explore. It’s frustrating that the game does so many things right yet is still pretty rough around its edges but I have to give it credit for improving on its predecessor. Two Worlds II definitely still has a long way to go before joining the upper echelon of Dragon Age and The Elder Scrolls but I think most RPG fans will find something they enjoy about this title if you can look past its shortcomings.
Check out our interview on the game here.
Two Worlds II was released in North America on January 25th, 2011.