Replay Value: 7.5
The first was technically sloppy and a massive chore to play. The sequel is technically sloppy and actually quite fun for role-playing aficionados. That is the single biggest difference between the two titles in question; while some of the technical issues will make you cringe, you’ll spend the vast majority of your time enjoying a decent combat mechanic, a ridiculous amount of side-questing and treasure hunting, and fiddling with raw materials to create better items and equipment. There are still a few control and camera problems and the story and characters aren’t exactly memorable, but the strength of Two Worlds II revolves almost exclusively around the questing, customizing, building, and battling aspects. It still can’t be considered a top-quality production due to a host of glaring issues, but RPG fans might not care too much; there's lots to like.
As you could’ve guessed from the opening line, the graphics aren’t a strong point in this improved sequel. Oddly enough, the gameplay visuals are actually more stable and pleasing than the in-game cut-scene cinematics, which are shaky, unpolished, and sometimes even laughable. Pop-in, clipping, anti-aliasing and just about any other technical misgiving you can imagine can be spotted in the herky-jerky cut-scenes, and the syncing of voices to mouth movements is about as bad as you’ll see. But even so, exploring the landscape is cool because there’s a huge variety of locales, a lot of different NPCs and enemies, and some of the vistas are really quite beautiful. The frame rate isn’t terrible, either; we don’t get much of that jerkiness we get in the cut-scenes, and overall detail, environmental design, and artistry is impressive in some areas. Hence, it’s a virtual visual dichotomy between interactive and non-interactive graphical presentations.
One graphical side note- the actual CGI; the cinemas and not the in-game cut-scenes, are damn good. I should mention this.
The sound is less hit or miss and more stable, as it’s helped along by a fitting, sweeping score and a lot of sound effects that serve to bolster combat immersion. Unfortunately, much of the voice acting is mediocre at best, which only makes the aforementioned cut-scenes even more painful. But there are a few decently voiced characters and when wandering about, the combination of good music and solid effects makes the experience an enjoyable one. There’s a definite balance issue as one aspect will often override the other, but this is just another technical fault that we have to accept. As I noted before, as we spend so much time out and about, most of the sound problems aren’t prominent; in fact, when they pop up, you’re not accustomed to the drawbacks. As a result, it can be a little jarring… But despite the iffy voices and screwy balance, the soundtrack and effects save the day.
Let’s get the story foundation out of the way, because believe it or not, it just doesn’t matter much- we once again find ourselves in the land of Antaloor and the evil wizard Gandohar is causing all sorts of trouble. You come to learn more about the villainous mage as time progresses but your sister – who should be a bigger part of the story, but isn’t – just sort of gets things going. The best part of the story is told through those really sweet CGI sequences (that make the in-game cut-scenes even more ludicrous by comparison) and the books you find during your travels. They often contain some very well-written stories and notes that focus on the lore of Antaloor (rhyme!), and it’s clear the developers took a great deal of time to produce such pieces. Much appreciated. But hey, this also falls into the realm of exploration and gameplay rather than anything technical or story-related, which only drives the following point home:
The gameplay is absolutely paramount and quite possibly the only reason to play and enjoy this title. And you know, there’s nothing wrong with that, despite the fact that I would expect a great plot and characters when I indulge in an RPG. The instant you start filling up your inventory with weapons you can’t yet use, tomes that require your attention, and raw materials that can be used for God knows what, you will become immersed in a deep, fulfilling role-playing experience that rewards the patient, the meticulous, and the prepared. Skill books will unlock whole new skill trees and if you decide to focus on being a mage, you’ll have to dive into one of the best spell-making customization systems yet. There are various schools of magic based on elements (fire, air, earth, etc.) and by using raw ingredients and toying around with modifiers, you can create unique spells. You can even name ‘em.
Being someone who typically likes to be a magician in RPGs, I loved this. I’d spend a silly amount of time experimenting; seeing what I might be able to make, given the materials at my disposal. And let’s not forget that you can utilize your collected raw materials for other creations that could prove beneficial. For instance, you can make your own potions, disassemble weapons and use the pieces to upgrade your armor, and you can do it all on the go. You don’t need to find a town and a certain citizen who will perform all these duties for a fee; you simply enter the menu and go at it. It reminds me a lot of spending many hours with the Synthesis system in Star Ocean: The 2nd Story; some may find it tedious, but I’ve always liked these mechanics, provided I have some direction and I’m not just fumbling in the dark. Combat, which consists of standard real-time controls and the ability to block, counter, and execute a block-breaking maneuver, also works well.
It’s great that depending on your chosen path – Warrior, Mage, Ranger – the experience changes significantly, and you always feel as if there’s plenty of depth and potential to accommodate your play style. For the record, you don’t pick a class when you start; you simply choose to earn skills and bolster particular aspects of your character. This means you have full control over how your hero advances in terms of skill and ability, and that’s easily the best part of Two Worlds II. Now, I know I’m gushing a little but it isn’t all roses; we do have some significant issues to mention. Firstly, the camera doesn’t always keep up with the action, and I imagine those who engage in melee encounters more often than I would have some problems. Secondly, because you often find yourself in tight, contained areas, the enemies sometimes don’t fit, and all sorts of comedy ensues.
The AI isn’t very good, so many foes can get stuck behind a wall or a rock, leaving them vulnerable to your attack, but it’s obvious that various creatures respond and react differently. At least that’s a nice touch. But those tight areas can make the camera go absolutely bonkers, and I have no idea why they forced you to draw your weapon each and every time. And while you can customize different weapon sets, some confrontations can be far too urgent and challenging; switching those weapon sets might be a deadly proposition. But once you get into a rhythm and you become accustomed to the eccentricities, you really begin to let the game envelop you; everything from the item/equipment building to the exploration to the general character growth is absolutely satisfying and well implemented. Plus, the sheer size and scope of the world and the total amount of gameplay is more than acceptable.
Two Worlds II takes a big step in the right direction. They’ve still got to catch up to the rest of the development world when it comes to technical elements, and a better story with more interesting characters would vault this franchise into the 8+ realm. Heck, if they really ironed things out and gave us a Mass Effect 2-like story, we’re looking at an elite 9+ possibility. As is, the big, immersive world, gameplay depth, freedom and customization, sweet upgrade and creation mechanics, and an overall solid combat mechanic makes the game quite appealing. You just have to deal with some shoddy visuals, a slightly unstable camera, and few other small quirks. If you’re willing to overlook some of the flaws, I do recommend that you give it a try; you might be pleasantly surprised. If you’re more anal…well, you’ll find fault everywhere. You shouldn’t be too picky, though.
The Good: Decent music and sound effects. Huge world with plenty of stuff to do. Enjoyable combat. Great, unique weapon upgrade and spell creation systems. Lots of variety. Diverse enemy actions and reactions.
The Bad: A host of graphical and presentation issues. Sound balance problems. Ho-hum story and characters. Iffy camera and somewhat loose control.
The Ugly: “…that’s five different technical glitches in ten seconds worth of cut-scene…a new record.”