This week, Zero Punctuation reviews the sequel to One Worlds One... err Two Worlds One... eh whatever.
Fantasy always has to be dark these days, doesn't it? Seems like for every fiery dragon and wizard you put in your intellectual property, you've got to have five minutes of someone being beaten to death with their own infant to balance the books. Have we become so cynical that we can't even sing Puff the Magic Dragon without adding on a verse where he's tied down and forced to become a reference to drug abuse? I can't remember the last time I saw a wizard casting magic with a fucking smile on his face; it's always a grim, half-hooded scowl of disgust, like he's shaking off some stubborn earwax rather than the manifested power of the fire spirits. "Ew, I had to fight in a big war 'cause I've got mastery of time and space, mmeh mmeh mmeh!" Why don't you magic yourself cheerful, you gloomy spod? That said, a game like Two Worlds II, in which the main character giggles like a schoolgirl every time they kill someone, may be a step too far in the other direction.
I'll admit, I was first attracted to Two Worlds Two by the title, a title with a rather severe case of "we were not expecting to get sequels out of this so we put a Two on the title and now we have to put another Two on the end and it sounds really weird" syndrome, which someone really needs to come up with a shorter name for.
I'm not sure if you're supposed to be the same guy from One Worlds Two - I mean, Two Worlds One - but if you are then you've undergone a bit of a status downgrade. The game opens in a castle full of fantasy dudes who, not unusually, have all dressed up in armour that is the wearable equivalent of an elderly spinster's kitchen dresser, and your guy shows up wearing what appears to be jeans and a t-shirt. Perhaps he misheard someone and thought he was only going to be helping someone move today rather than. . .actually, what the fuck are you people doing? It's something to do with you sitting next to some woman who is apparently your sister while another bloke makes wibbly-wobbly magic stuff float through the air, a bloke who dresses in black armour and calls himself Dark Lord so presumably has completely stopped giving a shit. Your sister gets possessed by something and then you get rescued by some orcs, so I guess whatever was going on it wasn't particularly wholesome.
But as is fairly typical of western RPGs, once you actually start playing, the establishing plot gets swiftly dogpiled under a labyrinth of side quests and intermediary objectives, and within a matter of hours I paused to reflect while escorting an old man into a sewer to make a trade with some underground organization on behalf of a crime lord so he'll eventually tell me about some tower that the orcs seemed really keen for me to visit and realized that I'd completely forgotten how any of it related to the overarching possessed princess / Dark Lord motivation that I still don't get what was going on there. This is always the part of western RPGs I have difficulty with, 'cause I always lose the sense of flow. After a few quests and a particularly financially ruinous trip to the armour shop, I find myself floating around a peasant village dressed like a dandy cutlery drawer with no smegma-chugging idea of what to do next. And I do try to pay attention to the dialogue, but I keep getting distracted by my character's incredibly evil voice. He sounds like he's spent his whole life smoking in the basement of a Satanic church. He could be asking directions to the sweet shop as he leads a puppy parade and you'd still want to call the police and scrub yourself.
Rather than letting you pick a character class, Two Whatever Two takes the Jack the Ripper-of-all-trades route by schooling you in the entry levels of all the available murder techniques and murder support skills, leaving you to level up only the ones you like and let the others decay like sponge cake in an airing cupboard. Your primary murder techniques are melee, bows, or magic. Magic has a complex creation system wherein you combine elemental cards with application cards that seem to work with some elements but not others so that when you are called upon to commit murder you can swap out the element for the more specific weaknesses of the potential murder recipient as they bear down on you screaming and waving somebody's leg around - OK, then, guess it's a melee and bow specialist for me!
(Incidentally, on the subject of murder support skills, this game has the loudest lockpicking minigame I've ever heard. Seriously, it's like someone cocking a shotgun to try to intimidate a tumble dryer full of saucepans.)
In playing Two Dediddly Two, it soon became clear that there are numerous flaws in its mechanics infrastructure - that is to say, the interface gets on my plums. You assign weapons and items to number keys, which are at best akward to use in a heated moment because to touch alone the 5 key is hard to distinguish from the 4. And you can only assign one piece of equipment to each. This proved aggrieving when I wanted to switch back and forth between a bow and a sword-and-shield combo, because once my vexed arrow recipient runs up wanting to show me where I can stick my pointy things, I reselect my sword but my shield tearfully reveals that this is a journey I must take alone. I need to go back into my inventory and re-equip the shield, making the quick select function somewhat redundant.
It seems like every time I fight something, I have to go down a fucking checklist like I'm starting up a helicopter: equip wepon, go into fighting stance, go into sniper mode, select special attack, select target, move to a different spot because the game can't tell there's a target through that huge, weighty cube of empty space that's in the way, press attack - "whoops, did you forget to go into fighting stance? Because now you're karate kicking a wall and giving your position away!" And if you get ambushed without your weapon equipped, you might as well have your trousers around your ankles.
It would probably be more of an issue if the A.I. wasn't so thick. If they're not attempting to remember how to phase through invisible walls midway through the final exam, they're standing gormlessly around wondering why they keep painfully sprouting additional narrow, wooden limbs.
Unless the story somehow reveals itself to be an ironic deconstructionist satire twelve hours in or the disk drive starts spontaneously disgorging peanut butter M&M's, I find little to recommend Two Wahdiddydiddydumdiddy Two. It looks quite nice, or at least it did until I had to reduce the graphics quality sufficiently that it would run at any playable level on my laptop, and even then there was like a quarter-second delay between button and action, like I was sending all my commands via text message. It seems like an earnest attempt at epicness severely let down by the means by which we are invited to explore it. Your ice cream may be the tastiest in the world, but it's hard to take comfort in that when your spoon is made from a rotting horse's head.
Never roleplay without a safeword: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Yes, I know an upside-down cross isn't actually a Satanic symbol, I read that Cracked article too.
So when does the second world come into all this anyway