Two Worlds II (XBOX 360) Review

Two Worlds sucked, there’s no other way about it. Why it’s getting a sequel continues to baffle everyone, but regardless here we are. Two Worlds II picks up the tattered remains of its predecessor, polishes everything just a little and presents its player with a much improved albeit depressingly mediocre reminder that open-world fantasy games are hard to make.

For those spared the ghastliness of the first game, Two Worlds II is a fantasy action-adventure game that puts the player in charge of a classless hero that players can shape as they earn experience and save the kingdom. There’s nothing really unique here, except for an Orc-centric storyline that shows the greenskins in more roles than generic berserker for once.

All of this would be fine of course if it weren’t for the god awful controls that make it nearly impossible to efficiently do anything. The designers seem to have a torrid love affair with the controller’s trigger buttons because for some idiotic reason they seem to control everything important within the game. From swordplay to horseback riding to general mobility, the triggers are the centerpiece for this poorly laid out abomination of a control scheme.

What’s worst of all is trying to use magic, which requires players to hold down a trigger to prepare spells while using face buttons to cast, adding an extra and completely unnecessary step to throwing a fireball. In fact there are a lot of unnecessary steps in Two Worlds II’s control scheme. Unsheathing a weapon is a separate button from attacking, which is incredibly frustrating and doubly so if you want to switch weapons (another button) in the middle of combat.

Everything is context-sensitive to which equipment set you’re wearing and what weapon you have out. It’s all very confusing and constantly requires the player to think about what button they need to press in order to do what they want. This sort of design breaks any sense of immersion, throwing any work developing an immersive world out the window.

Unfortunately the poor button configuration completely ruins combat, which looked like it had potential. An easy to understand system of blocking, counter-attacks and specials earned through leveling offered decent variety to the combat that wasn’t expected. It would have been great except it’s never clear how you execute each of these elements as the buttons always shift, and triggers just don’t feel right for sword swings.

The menu system is just as bad, requiring the player to constantly check the ever-changing button legend on their screen. It could have been made a lot easier to manage with drop-down menus or simply consistent controls but as it is, things are frustrating at worst and confusing at best.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the game didn’t constantly require the player to flip through their inventory screens. Two Worlds II subscribes to the everything-is-collectable doctrine of item management, filling the player’s pockets with hundreds of useless but marginally valuable items. This makes the virtual backpack constantly cluttered, but leaves the player unwanting to throw anything away because they could sell it for gold. There is the option to deconstruct items to craft or repair weapons and armor, which is one of the game’s highlights but it doesn’t excuse the poor management system.

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The problem with the weapon crafting, spell creation and potion mixing elements of the game is that despite the solidness of their design they lack any real point. The game provides the player with everything they need to complete the game and apart from a few Excel fanboys, it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to sift through tables of components to brew the perfect mana potion if they don’t have to.

Though they’re all equally deep, spell creation is the only one of the three trades that’s ever any fun. Offering players a card system to mix and match components of a spell allows them to simply create unique attacks that fit their play style. The system also encourages experimentation because though it’s pretty easy to guess that the fire card and projectile card will produce your traditional Hadoken, obscure mixes can still provide unusual but effective results.

Two Worlds II features an inordinate amount of talking, and none of it is good. TopWare seems to have hired their vocal cast off Craigslist and recorded it in a day because none of the performances stir any emotion other than complete ennui. Worst of the performances is the protagonist himself, pulling a Christian Bale-esque Batman voice with a hint more faux-machoism.

The soundtrack is passable, but nothing to write home about. Visually the game is a lot better than the first, but doesn’t stack up to other, older games in the genre. Even the character design is starkly pedestrian. Nothing about this game stands out, at every turn it revels in mediocrity.

While Two Worlds II is an easy target for a poor review, it’s deserved. The game doesn’t stand up to scrutiny and no matter how improved it is over the first game, as a stand-alone title it’s just not fun to play. The flaws it presents aren’t quibbles and it’s hard to imagine it getting improved with patching.

There’s no ideal player for Two Worlds II, fantasy fans will be bored by the derivative world and action-adventure fans will be horrified by the terrible design. Fans of the first Two Worlds game might find some mindless fun here, but anyone who calls themselves a fan of the first Two Worlds is clearly already insane.

[Editor’s Note: The game was only reviewed for a 10 hour period because the controls were so bad it was virtually unplayable.]