By Alec Meer on January 27th, 2011 at 7:50 pm.
Reality Pump’s RPG sequel arrived in mainland Europe back in November, but won’t reach the US and UK until next week. Publisher Topware Interactive seems to have disappeared off the face of the Earth this week and haven’t replied to requests for review code, but as the European edition also includes the English version I imported a copy of that, applied the three patches since launch and got cracking. As far as I can ascertain there are zero differences between the two versions, but apologies in advance if there proves to be some major change.
I’ll be reviewing it – if you want to call it that – in stages. This’ll be the first one of those, then.
Thought about doing a semi in-character diary, but I really want to get my head properly around this curious beast rather than risk simply lampooning it. Right now, I’m in Chapter One of the game, which follows a lengthy prologue/tutorial that I’ll concentrate on in this first chunk. Why I’m still fairly confused about what to say is that the Prologue and Chapter One are in quite profoundly difference. I don’t really know what game I’m playing yet. I’m exceedingly curious to find out.
I’m not sure what I expected. Two Worlds the first was a terrible, terrible game that I couldn’t help but love. Openly ludicrous, completely incoherent and all kinds of broken yet pulsing with passion and ambition. It wanted so much to be epic and free and clever that I couldn’t be cross with it for being cramped and fiddly and moronic. It was so innocent about it.
So I carried that in my head when I stepped into the sequel, but I also carried shy hope: a game from outside the system, which like Risen or The Witcher had the earnestness and recklessness to risk doing things that a Bethesda or Bioware game probably wouldn’t.
Plus it’s an RPG. That’s always going to be a bit of an event.
The game starts, as an ancient law written by an idiot states all contemporary RPGs must, in a series of rocky tunnels. A prison, specifically, but that’s just an excuse for rocky tunnels. The plot continues on from whatever the hell happened in TW1, with you playing the brother of a girl possessed by some spooky evil and held captive by some growly bloke whose face you can’t see. It takes approximately eight seconds to realise that narrative is unlikely to be TW2’s strong point, but that’s OK: bar some shonky subtitle grammar, it’s not dreadful, it’s not insulting, it’s just banally there.
Following a brief spot of playing with the character creator (there’s a decent range of face-tweaking options, and it’s possible to create someone breathtakingly ugly if you so choose), you’re broken out of the slimy-rocked slammer by a group of orcs and a surly/sassy/sarly masked lady with comically impractical armour and pointy ears.
Everyone’s a bit surly, which is because you spent most of the first game murdering orcs. This time around you’re bad-tempered allies, teaming up against the common enemy that is Mr NoFace. It’s not done terrifically interestingly, as everyone’s just blandly growly, but I’m slightly charmed by the inversion of roleplaying norms.
Oh yeah, and you can take your clothes off. I totally did that.
Annoyingly protracted tunnel run done, you get your first weapons and beat up a few guards, watch an achingly over-serious cutscene wherein Boss Orc gets his own back on a dark knight wearing metal antlers who once wronged him, then break out to the surface. You find yourself on a verdant lighting, rich in vegetation and bloom effects. Largely quite attractive, if not staggeringly so. Similar sort of level to Gothic 4 I’d say, but much more detailed characters thus far.
Everything remains completely linear at this point, but that is going to change later. For now, it’s all about stealth-killing a few laughably unaware beastmen, grabbing some more gear, then running through a series of tutorials on the various different kinds of combat. Melee, stealth, archery and magic are all open to you all the time, with character development depending on how you choose to allocate points earned upon levelling up.
It’s pretty standard RPG fare in terms of getting and spending XP, but it works well enough, and there’s certainly no being tied into an archetype. My guy, so far, is primarily melee with some semi-punchy magic to lure away stragglers or soften up scary things before I go in for the kill. Combat’s real time, high-action stuff – left click to smack, right click to block and number keys for a few special abilities such as blockbreaker. While better stats and loot help, it’s not invisible dice-rolling – it’s a proper fight, including the option to hide, run away and dodge. Oblivion’s the easy comparison, but if anything it’s even more non-mechanical.
Back to Tutorial Island though. There’s a prophecy to yawn through, there’s some fetch quests to run and, most interestingly, there’s an introduction to crafting. Crafting’s so far shaping up to be the most compulsive element of the game. Two Worlds 1 offered the brilliantly absurd system of simply merging similar weapons together to make a single, superior weapon. I was always deeply disappointed that this wasn’t represented by the hero running around with twelve swords taped awkwardly together.
This steps back yet further from implausibility, replacing impossible melding with dismantling unwanted loot into component parts – iron, steel, wood, leather, fabric, gems – which can in turn be bonded to the stuff you do want in order to upgrade it. I have no idea whether this has anything to do with real-world weapon forging, but as this is a game about fighting giant scorpions and helping sexy masked ladies escape from bear traps, I’m not exactly demanding 100% factual accuracy from this.
Even on Tutorial Island, I immediately became obsessed with the crafting. Everything that wasn’t tied down I’d take and dismantle, pushing my entry-level sword and shield to ever-greater heights. Unfortunately I was quickly prevented from doing so by a skill level cap – come my next level up, I’d need to decide whether to pour points into fighty stuff or into being a better blacksmith. Frankly, it wasn’t a hard decision. Dismantling things > killing things. Already, I have a backbone for my experience. Without it, I suspect I’d have been bored and annoyed by the hamminess and clichés, but as it is I’m building my own purpose. That’s key here.
The small island housed a few more beast-things for me to pick on, and a healthy drip-feed of loot. It was clear I couldn’t hang around for long though. Despite an admirable lack of invisible walls, the physically large landmass was defined by mountains and cliffs, restricting the explorable content to a few paths. I tried to break away from the fixed roads, I really did, but then I just ended up doing this for 20 minutes:
No matter – I was being ushered onwards to chapter one, to what would immediately become a dramatic escape from this linearity. It would also present me with a far, far stranger game. More on that – and on murdering poo-flinging monkeys – tomorrow.