Two Worlds Review

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Publisher: SouthPeak Games
Developer: Reality Pump Studios

Platforms: Xbox 360 and PC
Reviewed on Xbox 360

Antaloor is still recovering from a war that ended nearly 300 years ago. Elves have vanished from the land, leaving only a few towering spires and rune-encrusted rocks. The dwarves have retreated into mountain caves, leaving buried settlements filled with dwarven technology and artifacts. The orcs that prompted that centuries-old war in the name of their deity Aziraal have retreated to the south, but are mustering their forces for a renewed assault. Humanity, ever resilient, has crawled into the cracks and crumbling ruins of this continent to settle and tame the wilderness left behind by the simmering conflict.

A single mercenary finds himself at the center of this world. He is a laconic and world-weary traveler whose only family is held hostage by mysterious men whose eyes can barely be seen through their fully plated and armored forms. Human dynasties struggle for political supremacy, orthodox mages struggle against those who would push the boundaries of magic, and an otherworldly taint creeps into the world to create undead monstrosities. And all of this seems linked to that one, nameless mercenary and his sister, thanks to an ancient artifact and a curse on their bloodline. The fate of the world depends on his actions.

Kyle Ackerman

It's a really good thing that I reviewed Two Worlds. Sometimes, the responsibility of a review is a horrible burden, such as when I'm forced to plumb the fullest depths of awfulness, just to determine what level of hell the game has earned for itself. With Two Worlds, my need to be thorough was a blessing. Honestly, had I been simply playing Two Worlds for my own entertainment, I would have shelved the game within the first 30 minutes. If I had, I would have never gotten past the game's irksome quirks and enjoyed the hidden, epic role-playing game.

A Host of Orcs... and Problems

In a lot of ways, Two Worlds is a dreadful mess. It's certainly not The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. There is so much wrong with Two Worlds, that it's hard to find room to catalog it all. For example, I can't emphasize enough how awful the voice acting is. The game is entirely populated with that guy in your English class who hated reading Shakespeare aloud, except when it's that guy's foreign exchange student buddy who can't even pronounce the words. Two characters in the same conversation don't pronounce names the same way, and sometimes they can't even read the dialog.

The interface is less than optimal, with a quest management system that's so confusing I'd explored a large chunk of the continent before realizing I'd missed the intro quest. The spelling and grammar of the text approach the quality of the voice acting. There are constant collision problems (with characters, items and clothing overlapping), that nicely counterpoint those times when a monster took half my health away in a bloody swipe that never came within feet of my character. The graphics are uneven, with gorgeous landscapes providing a backdrop for merchants that pop in and out of view when I turn. The game is quirky, in that I set a town hunting me down when a slight tap of the joystick caused me to accidentally pick a lock on a cabinet behind an unlocked door I simply meant to enter.

Melee combat is awful and requires painful, repetitive trigger pulls, while the menus are so poorly designed and difficult to navigate that my tendons ache from endless taps of the analog stick to check out my items. As you wander the realm, the game regularly halts or crawls as it loads further areas, making exploration an exercise in "hurry-up-and-wait." To the extent I wanted to explore, the continent is populated by endless groups of monsters that stalk the landscape (in groups of three) that constantly waylaid my explorations. In fact, there were so many wolves and boars that it was quite difficult for me to reach the starting town at the beginning of the game.

Careful and Selective Play

But for all those problems, once I gained a few levels and could easily skewer all the forests' wildlife, and grew accustomed to the shortcomings of Two Worlds, I began to really enjoy myself – and even crave more. There are problems, but most can be surmounted, and the game became quite a ride once I did so. Melee combat sucked, so I focused on archery and the incredibly flexible magic system. The voice acting made my ears bleed, so I hurried past it, reading the text and ignoring the spelling errors. I learned to ignore the quest icons that didn't deactivate when completed or failed, and just to go with the game's flow.

I learned where to be careful with my button presses, and I began to enjoy the colossal realm of Two Worlds. Had I quit in my initial bout of screaming frustration, I would have missed cresting a ridge to stumble upon a huge city in the shadow of a sinister, dark tower. I would have missed thwarting orcs' efforts to construct siege catapults, and I would have missed assembling an ancient artifact to decide the fate of the very world after destroying a flaming pentacle in the sky. And I never would have run an army commander's underwear up a flagpole.

There is a steep learning curve, and Two Worlds requires such a strong tolerance for bugs that the box should come with a hypodermic packed inside to provide an immunity booster. Past that, though, there is a lot of straight-up high-fantasy content in a huge world. Especially for gamers who enjoy exploration, Two Worlds is filled with strange structures, natural vistas, and underground lairs to find hidden in a vast wilderness. By the time I stumbled across a Lava Dragon, I'd seen a lot, and had to finish exploring the landscape to discover towns like Xanthos in the Drak'ar Desert and dungeons like the Dark Bottom Cave.

PC's Flaws and Strengths Come to Consoles

Two Worlds is a console game that divides gamers who grew up on consoles from PC gamers who now play console games. Long-time PC gamers will remember those classic, epic role-playing games that came from independent developers and Eastern European development shops. They didn't always work perfectly, didn't have the same QA debugging you would get from a top-notch publisher, and you had to save a little more often. But it was still another epic adventure. With the convergence of the PC and Xbox 360, it's easier for such developers to bring games to consoles. Long-time PC gamers are more willing to endure problems to enjoy the high points of a game with enough quests to last at least forty hours.

Two Worlds' greatest strength is its size, accompanied by freedom of player choice. The character system offers a lot of choices, with the ability to become a specialized archer, a thief, an assassin, a powerful mage or one of many styles of warrior. The magic system has five schools of magic, each with five levels of spells, and a complex "card" system that allows you to modify and construct more powerful spells from found and purchased cards. That leaves a lot of ways to play, from becoming a great swimmer to a seasoned warrior. You can play and fight from horseback, if you so choose. There are even mages who will "regress" you so that you can easily reassign skills and try other strategies.

How Much Skeleton Marrow Do I Need?

Then there's a creative combinatory item system to make the extensive inventory management more interesting. Similar items can be combined to make more powerful items, and then combined with gems to enchant weapons with puissant magic. This makes it so that collecting 12 pieces of basic leather armor might create better protection than a set of chain cuirass. It also makes vendors and loot more interesting at higher levels, because it's possible to find yet another piece of that special armor or another quiver that will make your character even more powerful. Of course, this is a traditional role-playing game with extensive inventory management, so be prepared to spend a lot of time managing plants you've plucked. Two Worlds is a few short steps from those days when you had to manage your food stores or risk starvation.

This is supplemented by an alchemy system that lets players manufacture potions, gems to enchant weapons, and a wide assortment of traps. Plants litter the landscape, and can be boiled with animal parts, loot and minerals to make all sorts of items. This can lead to filling the inventory through overzealous collecting. For example, by the time I finished the main quest, I'd collected around 1,400 wolf hearts. I had visions of my nameless, gruff mercenary stalking the landscape with a huge burlap sack, glistening and dripping with wolf blood. It did mean that I had the seven wolf hearts an army cook wanted, but seems like it should have made conversations with townsfolk awkward. As it turns out, there are ingredients (like wolf hearts) that can make temporary potions, and rarer permanent items that can forever boost your character's stats to epic levels. But that's what RPGs are about: making your own story (even if it involves a large number of wolf circulatory organs).

Two Worlds, One Achievement

The game really has a lot of freedom of choice, but perhaps not the choice implied by the title. Clearly, you are supposed to take part in epic decisions governing the fate of the world, and can side with factions that are good, evil and otherwise. Frankly, in most cases you can easily play both sides of any issue. Sure, you can choose to help the merchant's guild or kill the head of that guild, but it's easy to keep everyone friendly with your sardonic and often grumpy protagonist who laughs when he slays woodland creatures. The freedom of choice is where on the vast landscape you choose to go, and which tasks you decide to tackle. There are a lot of side quests, scattered all around the world. And you can tackle whichever you want, almost whenever you want. Or just wander around the world.

At the same time, the moral choices implied by the Two Worlds title are often just bizarre. A lot of games make you choose, say, between a noble but less rewarding path, and an evil path paved with gold. Such games might make you feel the consequences of your choices later, but the risks and benefits of such choices are often clear. Two Worlds likes to offer ambiguous choices. For example a man claimed that a healer refused to help his daughter and wants revenge. The healer denies it and wants protection. Who's right? I never found out. And nearby, I was made to feel guilty for a seemingly noble decision. By donating spare change to a young woman so she could buy medicine for her sick mother, I ended up unjustly blamed for the same woman's death. Is that really an intriguing dilemma, or just annoying? We want to be heroes or villains in games, not the guy who gets berated for returning a lost wallet found on the street.

Ultimately, the name Two Worlds refers to the final choice you make in the game. It's really just a single dialog tree, but only one of the two choices nets you an Xbox 360 achievement worth 370 points. You choose good or evil, but the gods of gaming are prepared to bribe you to do it their way. It's easy to focus on these strangely unsatisfying quests, but there are dozens of other quests that had me slaughtering marauding orcs, cleaning out graveyards, delivering packages, reconciling spouses and stealing underwear. There's just plain a lot to do in Two Worlds.

The game also sports a multiplayer component that lets players take preset mixes of skills (that correspond to traditional pencil & paper role-playing game classes like "Ranger" and "Barbarian") into a variety of games on Xbox Live. These range from deathmatch and team deathmatch to cooperative activities. But honestly, it's best to not even include these for your consideration. There's almost no one to play with, and when you do find a game the lag makes it almost intolerable. The single player game is the draw here, and stands on its own. The multiplayer is like a third nipple – best ignored.

If you're looking for an epic role-playing game on the Xbox 360, Two Worlds shouldn't be your first choice, but if you can tolerate a few imperfections, it's good enough to keep you busy for a long time. You may even find that if you can tolerate the first few minutes, it will grow on you quickly. It did for me.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on September 18, 2007 8:49 PM.

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