Two Worlds II - Staff Review  

The Best of Both Worlds
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

Two Worlds II
Xbox 360
20-40 Hours
+ Flexible combat system
+ Entertaining, tongue-in-cheek quests
+ Unique twist on magic spells
- Lacks technical polish
- Limited character visual design options
- The final boss
Click here for scoring definitions 

   As I stated in my impression, Two Worlds II is leaps and bounds better than its predecessor. Saying that really sells the game short, due to exactly how much of a mess the original game is versus how enjoyable Two Worlds II is. It is almost impossible to believe these two games are made by the same development team, but believe it or not, they are. So while not perfect, the experience this game offers is well worth the time.

   Flexibility in combat is the game's biggest strength. Characters have four stats in which to place points: endurance, strength, accuracy, and willpower. Depending on the stat focus, players can create a powerful warrior capable of bashing enemies with melee attacks, an archer who can kill from a distance, a mage who is able to cast any range of spells, or a mix. At each level, four points are given to increase these stats, though they can be saved for later. Even if players are not happy with the build they have created, stats can be reset for a fee. This helps to not pigeonhole a character into one unchangeable role.

   Along with stats, players are also given skill points which truly help to shape their character. These points can be used to boost warrior melee abilities, mage spell affinity, archer skills, assassin abilities, crafting, or general talents. Melee and archer talents are straightforward enough, but magic is fairly complex. Spells have to be created, so combining the missile spell with the element of fire is all it takes to cast a fireball. These spells can be changed on the fly, so if an enemy is not vulnerable to fire, going into the menu and changing the element to ice is simple. Magic gets even deeper, as spells can be stacked, such as having an ice missile that can cause area of effect damage when it hits or an enchantment that can also double as a healing spell. Creating the desired spell is not the most intuitive process, but simple trial and error can yield some interesting results. For those who prefer a more streamlined approach to combat, melee is simple hack-and-slash that avoids overcomplicating things.

Jurassic Park Unlike Jurassic Park, this sequel is better.

   Character development is very flexible, and it is complimented by some useful interface options. One nice feature is the quick equipment change macro, giving players three equipment sets to swap between on the fly. Another plus is that by simply having the character put away his weapon, he will start to regenerate health, so during chaotic battles this can be a life saver. Crafting is also a simple process, only requiring a certain skill level and the correct items before jumping into a menu and upgrading. Adding to the ease of use are the world map and mini-map that come complete with quest markers which can be turned on or off as needed. Players can also teleport to points on the map from most anywhere, so travel is painless. A horse is made available in the first major area of the game, but it is easier to just teleport around and not worry about riding around. Players can even obtain an optional boat midway through the game, making exploration even more enticing. The game auto-saves at set intervals, as well as when entering a new area, but players can also choose to save anywhere, as is standard fare for an open world RPG. That's just one more thing that makes Two Worlds II a nice, streamlined affair.

   Not everything about the game is flawless though, as there are some notable issues. Occasionally, lag or blurring when moving occurs for no reason, making it difficult to move or attack. Lag mostly happens when arriving in a new area, though it usually does not last for long. Blurring is more problematic, as it happened out of the blue, but only once and went away when reverting to an older save. Another issue is that it is often difficult to target a specific enemy when fighting a group, so battles can quickly become a chaotic mess if too many enemies charge at once. Lock picking, which is required for a few missions, is awkward and cumbersome, especially at harder difficulties, though it can be worked around with the right skills. Finally, screen tearing and choppy animations keep Two Worlds II from looking as smooth as it could. Thankfully, most of these flaws can be easily overlooked or worked around, so it shouldn't hinder gameplay too dramatically.

I'm sailing away! Set an open course for the virgin sea.

   The story of Two Worlds II is an oddity. On the surface, it looks like a typical fantasy adventure, complete with an evil emperor who is oppressing the kingdom. However, the further the game progresses, the less serious it becomes. While the overall arc of learning more about Gandohar and saving the hero's sister from his clutches ever looms, players will be tasked with such strange things as returning a decapitated head to a necromancer, investigating charges of sexual harassment at a university, and even hiring an exotic dancer for a student's post exam party. The story really begins to seem inconsequential, but the tongue-in-cheek quests keep it feeling fresh. Two Worlds II is very front-loaded, as the opening chapter offers a long story quest chain as well as quite a few optional tasks. By the third and final chapters, the game cuts to the chase allowing players to plow through to the finish if desired. There are a few interesting twists and turns, and even a few points where players can choose to follow one quest path over another, but none of them play into the overall story. That should not scare gamers off, as the little quest chains and the fun characters are refreshing.

   Along with all the single-player features, Two Worlds II offers a completely separate multiplayer experience. One part is a cooperative campaign that is broken into chapters. Here, players create a new character and venture into an online world where they can team up with others to complete an independent storyline. There is also a village mode where players can shape their own town along with player vs. player combat. All of these features are segmented from the single-player experience, but they help to beef up the game.

   Two Worlds II is a puzzling experience. How the same group of people could make a game as dull and boring as the first Two Worlds and then turn around and craft a fun experience like this is mind-boggling. Two Worlds II doesn't succeed by being a heavily narrative focused adventure, it earns its merits by being a fun game where players can jump in and explore with a lot of freedom in combat. This game isn't trying to copy the depth of something like the Elder Scrolls series, but instead seeks to offer tongue-in-cheek quests and flexible combat. The whole game is much more streamlined than a typical open-world RPG, which is a blessing for those who get too overwhelmed with nitpicking over tons of little details. So while Two Worlds II might be lacking in polish, it is pure and simple fun without the headache of over complication.

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