Apologies for not presenting this to you on Friday – I’d planned to post it after attending the excellent World of Love conference, but it turns out that if you drink a lot of beer then go home without eating anything you fall asleep on the train and wake up in a darkened station feeling like you’re dying. So there’s that. But on the subject of dying, let’s talk about all the endangered species I mindlessly murdered during Chapter One of Two Worlds II.
A step through a teleporter – TW2’s perhaps over-familiar take on fast-travel – rushes me out of cramped Tutorial Island and into, improbably, Africa.
A small hub town occupied by unchatty NPCs and a pair of uninterestingly-stocked traders backs onto the Savannah, a vast semi-verdant desert area. I’m given quests, few of which I have yet undertaken, to reach characters or objects at its extremes or in the few caves built into an infuriatingly impassable central rocky mass.
I don’t care about any of that, bar a so-far futile attempt to access a tantalising wizardly tower somewhere on cock-block-rock. I’m in the desert. Not Fantasy Forest or Icy Wonderland or Lava World. I’m somewhere a little more real, a little more barren, a little more, well, The Barrens. My time with World of Warcraft is well behind me, but early-Horde area The Barrens lingers as strongly in my memory as any childhood homes. Many first-year WoW players will agree that The Barrens was a terrible, over-sized, grind-ridden area, but it was vital in young WoW’s world-building and exploration punchiness. I believe it was redesigned for Cataclysm, but I’d rather not see its changed form. I remember The Barrens fondly; it’s to me a vast brown-yellow memory kingdom occupied by ghosts of what I truly believed MMOs would become, and what they so resolutely failed to.
Now I’m back in another variant of cell-shaded Africa, collecting swords and killing beasts. It’s startling in both the unexpected reminensce and in the sharp change from the dingy claustrophobia of Two Worlds II so far. My purpose, as revealed in part one, has for now coalesced into an obsession with upgrading my weapons via a dismantlement-based crafting system. So that’s why I’m out in this desert. Running. Stabbing. Looting.
In a manner that I suspect may ultimately become haunting, Two Worlds II has poured everything into the incidental details of world, at the aching expense of dialogue, characterisation and common sense. I don’t care why my character is here in the slightest, but I am massively impressed by how well they’ve recreated and animated the ape (a baboon? I think so. My monkey-fu is not what it could be) that’s currently hiding behind a tree and flinging something suspiciously viscous at me. I can’t help but presume it’s monkey poo, but on the other hand it’s a lurid green colour and causes some sort of poison damage when it hits me. Best not to wonder.
When I first ventured into the Savannah, these apes/monkeys/oh God I don’t know please don’t judge me were a reasonably serious threat. Their poo-poison took off vast chunks of health, plus the little buggers were deftly able to throw’n’run, taking a mere modicum of damage from me before scuttling out of range. Fortunately, either generous or imbalanced experience point gain sees me level up fast during my arid wandering, and it’s not long before I can hold down sprint, rapidly gain pace with one of these primates and with a single left-click dispatch it into a motionless sandy-brown heap. Which I then loot, and with horror collect the likes of a tongue, lung or heart.
These items are useful to me for potion creation: an art I have yet to delve into, but in the meantime experience the singularly unpleasant joy of walking around with a backpack full of miscellaneous animal parts. Weapons and armour contribute to my character’s load, often requiring that I dismantle valuable items in order to walk again, but apparently you can carry around as many monkey organs as you like without issue.
This desert has no shortage of endangered species awaiting my blade. Ostriches, boars, cheetahs and – Oh God, oh God no – rhinos roam the Savannah. They’re designed with painstaking detail but almost invisible purpose – lovingly-made textures and animations but hatefully murderous futility. Most of them are aggressive to a fault, but all die with troubling ease. It’s rare now that any requires more than a single swipe.
Only the rhinos, the remarkable rhinos require three or four slashes from my ever-upgraded sword, but either by error or by Machiavellian design, they don’t fight back. They stand there, placid and innocent in their hugeness, before crumpling so that I can loot their horns. Perhaps they’re supposed to be cows or horses, some foolishly trusting companion/cattle beast of man. Perhaps the AI routines never made it far. Either way, it makes me sick to my stomach to assault these huge, noble, peaceful creatures. Yet I can never resist doing so. Something about their mass and real-world ferocity has me convinced they’re honourable prey. The experience points will surely be immense, the bards will surely sing of my deeds.
No. It’s just meat. Granted, enough itinerant slaying of roaming beasts occasionally grants me bonus skill points (almost always spent on crafting), but there’s no pride in it. “Well done. You’re the best monstrous bastard. Here’s a token recognition of how awful you are.”
I’ve been horrible. I hate myself. All that saved me was being presented with an alternative context for animals – my very own horse, a faithful speed to whisk my across this land to my questy fates. The only reason I stopped killing every beast in sight? I couldn’t be bothered to stop the horse to get off and start stabbing.
I’m a monster. But this is an amazing desert.