Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Two Worlds Review

Two Worlds, developed by Reality Pump and published by SouthPeak Games.
The Good: Unrestricted game world, stacking items is neat and quite useful, quick leveling up, numerous skill upgrades with open-ended character development, robust multiplayer, traps for powerful foes, teleporting saves time, no penalty for dying and frequent respawn points, horses
The Not So Good: Exceedingly difficult (in the beginning) on anything other than “easy”, very abbreviated tutorial and uninformative tool-tips, uninteresting combat, fighting from horseback is almost impossible, confusing quest log, silly and drawn-out “medieval” dialogue, generic setting, laggy multiplayer
What say you? Several unique features make this role-playing game almost memorable: 6/8

Fantasy-based role-playing games are quite numerous on the PC. By far the most popular setting for a RPG, an alternate medieval universe with swords, spells, and elves brings in the big bucks. From the gold standard Oblivion down the line, many developers are trying their take at the genre. From Reality Pump, responsible for the Earth 240/2160 series and the completely forgettable World War III: Black Gold, comes Two Worlds, a role-playing game based in a fantasy world (who would have thought?!). Will Two Worlds make us forget about Oblivion, at least temporarily?

I think the graphics of Two Worlds are comparable to Morrowind rather than the most recent Elder Scrolls game. The two worlds of Two Worlds look decent enough, with nice fantasy geography of thick forests and large mountains (you never see a game set in Kansas). The towns are believable in nature and the character models and various creatures roaming the land look decent enough. The animations, though, could use a lot of work: the characters are very static when talking (and their mouths seem a bit off), and horses look especially silly when trotting around. Characters appear to “hover” over the landscape rather than walking on top of it, especially when descending mountainous terrain. There are also some hiccups in performance while the game loads a new outside area (about a second or so). These don’t occur during combat, so it’s not that big of a deal. While the graphics don’t compete with the Oblivions of the world, they do look decent enough for a RPG. The audio is very standard for the genre: fitting background music and battle sounds are good enough, but the voiced dialogue is not very good. First, the game uses old words like “perchance” and “mayhap” to put you in the time period (whatever period actually used those words), which come across as being downright ridiculous instead of being authentic. Secondly, Two Worlds features some low-quality voice acting where the dialogue lacks any conviction or realism. The actors seem to be simply reading the lines instead of injecting some humanity into them. Two Worlds compares favorable to most role-playing games that have been released recently, but comes up short of the top of the mountain.

Two Worlds is, in general, a classic first person role-playing game. The title kind of assumes that you’ve played this style of game before, as the tutorial just teaches you how to move and the rest is up to you. This makes the learning curve high for new players to the genre and requires reading the manual (gasp!) to understand the controls. Speaking of the controls, they are standard for PC RPG games: WASD to move, plus four hotkey bars that allow for one-button access to spells and special abilities. You can also scroll through the spells using the mouse wheel if you change the default setting in the options menu. Two Worlds uses the spacebar to interact with anything in the game world, from speaking to people to picking up loot to mounting horses: a nice simplification that takes a bit of the learning curve away. The single-player campaign features a very common story present in pretty much any role-playing game. The game leans more towards the Oblivion side of player freedom, as you aren’t required to follow the main story as numerous side quests are available. Two Worlds is not just a single player game, however, as the game features some nice multiplayer options in two mode. You can play instanced missions (like Guild Wars) with several other players in the RPG-mode, or conduct hot player vs. player action in the arenas. Either way, you are given separate online characters with pre-set classes that make everyone competitive right out of the gate, instead of rewarding just those people who completed the single player portion of Two Worlds. You can choose from a warrior, sword dancer, knight, ranger, thief, archer, barbarian, air mage, fire mage, water mage, earth mage, or necromancer; each has slightly different starting skills and diverse weapons and spells at their disposal. The RPG matches seem to offer different quests from the single player game, rather than just being a cooperative copy. The arena matches offer team deathmatch and domination-type games where you have to destroy the enemy’s base or monsters. The ability to create online guilds is nice for team-play and joining a match is easy through the game’s browser. The only problem I’ve seen with multiplayer is the huge amount of lag: the pings aren’t all that great, but the performance should still be a lot better than it is. Servers are either slow or crash more often then they should, so there is some work to be done to improve this portion of the game. Overall, Two Worlds offers a lot of content in both single player and multiplayer modes that should keep RPG fans busy.

Leveling up in Two Worlds happens pretty fast, especially when you focus on completing quests (killing low level creatures isn’t where the XP is). When you level up, you can distribute five points over four areas: vitality (health), dexterity (speed), strength (damage), and willpower (mana). I needed to look in the manual to remember which skill was which, and some tool-tips would be nice (this is an extension of the poor tutorial). Also, you get to upgrade skills, from general ones like swimming and riding to schools of magic (that must be unlocked by a teacher first) to a whole array of active and passive skills like balance, critical hit, defensive combat, break sword, death strike, and accuracy. This is a neat system with lots of options that allows the player to really tailor their character beyond a simple “mage” or “warrior” class. Your reputation and relationships with the various clans and guilds in the game will also change over time, allowing you to undertake side quests for the merchants or necromancers.

The inventory system of Two Worlds is standard fare with one major exception. You still gather items from people and then sell them, and you are restricted in the amount of weight you can carry, so you’ll often have to venture back home to sell your wares. Two Worlds features a nice arrangement of weapons: swords, axes, clubs, magic wands, halberds, daggers, and bows are all present. The game also has an assortment of armor and shields for defensive purposes. Probably the most unique feature of the game is the ability to combine like items. For example, you can combine two low-level swords into a more powerful sword. This has big ramifications for the game mechanics, as low-level weapons now have an important use: you can create an extremely powerful weapon from, say, twenty low-level weapons, eliminating the usual level-based restrictions on good weapons. While this is very neat for beginning players, it does tend to make the game easy as you reach the end of the campaign. In addition to combining weapons, you can apply magical powers to weapons and combine various items to form potions. You can throw together anything and it will make a potion, which is really neat and eliminates the need to search for valid recipes. Obviously, it won’t be a good potion, but it’s still cool. I like the wrinkle that Two Worlds has added to the RPG formula with the ability to combine weapons, and this new feature makes the game distinct.

You will spend most of your time completing quests, so it’s too bad the map could be a lot better than the quest list is very confusing. The quest list shows a lot of unnecessary background information; I just want to know where to go and what to do, not the life story of the character! The quest locations are all shown on the map at once, and they indicate the origin and destination, resulting in even more confusion. The completed quests also remain on the quest list in a slightly grayed-out text, compounding the issues even more. The land of Two Worlds is fairly large, so it helps to mount a horse to travel into new areas. This method of transportation is much, much faster than walking, but it’s extremely difficult to fight and you really need to dismount before engaging the enemy. Once you discover a new town, a teleport location appears to allow for quick transportation to old areas. This is nice, but you lose your horse in the process! Magic in the same is somewhat unique, as spells are earned by finding cards on defeated enemies (or buying them). The five schools have some cool spells, but they are generally repeated in each school. You can only equip three spells at a time, requiring some strategic planning before entering into battle. You have the ability to add boosters to spells, which will increase the damage or duration, or decrease the mana usage. The magic of Two Worlds isn’t unique, but you do get to throw fire a lot.

Combat in Two Worlds is very ininspired, as it is a lot of clicking. Multiple clicks result in a combo attack, but most people will probably just keep clicking and watch their avatar do unnecessary (and life-threatening) animations in the process. Aiming is difficult, as you must move the camera to directly aim at the beast you are fighting. The game automatically picks an enemy to engage (a nod to the console roots of Two Worlds), but it generally does a good job at this. Ranged combat is preferred over close combat, at flinging arrows or spells is a lot easier than swinging a sword. Enemies will surround you (clipping into each other in the process) if you engage in close combat, so constantly backing up is the usual form of self-preservation. Two Worlds is remarkably difficult: I died during the very first “tutorial” battle in the game. I then switched the game to “easy” difficulty and the game was more appropriately balanced. It’s a good thing that there is no penalty for death: like BioShock, you spawn at frequent respawn points with all of your experience and weapons intact. Enemies will also keep their damage when you do respawn (again, like BioShock). Two Worlds features average AI at best: they will stay back if equipped with bows or charge if they have blunt weapons, but they won’t do anything extraordinary. The difficulty arises from having to engage multiple enemies at once, so having an area-of-effect spell that can damage more than one enemy at a time is mandatory for survival. There could have been a lot more done with the combat in Two Worlds; the game features very standard combat that is more annoying than exciting and epic.

Two Worlds does feature a couple of unique features that set portions of the game apart from the pack. The item combination options make low-level weapons actually useful, and the quest-based and PvP multiplayer modes are nice. However, there are a number of little problems that add up to an unpolished gaming experience: the tutorial is woefully inadequate, combat is boring, the quest list is confusing, the voice acting is bad, and the difficulty is poorly balanced. It’s like in order to add one neat features, the developers had to screw up two. Still, I had fun playing the game and I liked the fresh approach Two Worlds brought to a number of role-playing game conventions. Though I do like it when games add new features to a genre, there are too many small issues with Two Worlds that bring the game down to an average title overall.