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Two Worlds

Beating out the Oblivion repackaged release by a couple of weeks, TopWare Interactive & Southpeak tossed Two Worlds into the small group of RPG games for the Xbox 360. Invariably, immediate comparisons to Oblivion will be made by the majority of Xbox 360 gamers, due to the similarities in the genre setting. Ironically, Two Worlds is actually structured more for the veteran RPG player rather than catering the casual players that Oblivion attracts.

The basic premise of the narrative revolves around the protagonistís search for his missing sister, who is kidnapped in the opening montage. The story vaguely jumps ahead several months and a sinister character enters the fray to offer the sister back in exchange for a mysterious artifact lost in the main characterís family tree. The presentation is a bit bland and doesnít do an excellent job of setting up the story. In fact, the only time another presentation movie appears is before the final boss battle.

As I stated earlier, players need extensive knowledge about RPG titles before starting Two Worlds. Playing Oblivion was like being on vacation with a tour guide compared to this. Two Worlds drops you in the middle of nowhere, without any instructions, and expects you to survive. This is a hardcore RPG that will turn away beginners within minutes of starting a new game.

Immediately, the player needs to access the select menu to build up their opening stats, assign weapons / armor, and decide what type of player they want to build. Players taking the magic route should increase their willpower over strength, archers should focus on dexterity, and so on. The character creation screen doesnít have the same amount of options as we have seen on other RPG titles. Then again, there isnít much need to change the options, as the player will be covered with either armor or robes the entire time.

The select menu features 5 screens: Stat & Skill building / Inventory & Item mixture / Magic spells / Map & Quest information / House Disposition & General statistics. In the first screen, the player can assign points to the four stat categories and choose the skills they would like to build upon. Some skills will be automatically opened at the start of the game while others will have to be purchased from trainers in various cities / villages. Skills are wither passive or active. Passive skills focus on the playerís inherent abilities while active skills are mostly certain attacks. As an archer, I built up my passive quickdraw & overshoot skills in addition to adding points to my multi-arrow & disarm attacks. Points for both the player stats and skills are earned by leveling up the character or completing certain tasks.

The Inventory screen allows the player to assign armor and weaponry to their character along with consuming potions. Additionally, weapon boosting occurs on this screen. Players can assign extra damage modifiers such as poison or lightning damage to their weaponry. Once the alchemy skill is learned, the player can build potions themselves via the cauldron portion of the screen. Potion materials are found all over the world and often produce unlikely results when mixed. I do wish the developer had included a method to research what materials are needed for certain potions. An in-game recipe book outlining all the potion recipes would have been fantastic. Instead, you can only view the potions that have been made.

The magic screen is perhaps the simplest to navigate. Assigning magic spells is a breeze as well as adding modifiers to those spells. There are five categories of magic in the game: water, earth, fire, air, and necromancy. Spells have various levels of difficulty and only become available to the player when unlocking the full skill point value. Similar to the inventory screen, spells can be assigned to the D-pad as a hotkey during battle. The player can switch between three different spells. While my archer didnít dabble in the magical realm too much, I certainly used quite a bit of air and cold magic in the endgame. All in all, the developer did an excellent job creating a deep magic set that most RPG veterans will enjoy.

The map is clunky to operate and could have desperately used a free form tool to select specific locations. Itís used in combination with the quest listings and they work well together on occasion. Often times, an underground quest will appear on the map as completely blacked out, offering no indication on the above ground location of the quest. Another annoying feature has to do with the zoom function. There are three set views, which rarely provide the type of view the player needs. The developer should have included either more zoom presets or a sliding zoom tool.

The final screen shows how the clans / organizations in the game view your character. Completing a quest for one clan may lower your rating with their rival. This will effect your ability to gain quests from the clan and any bonuses they offer. For instance, the head of the Giriza clan (thieves) offered me 30,000 gold to kill the head of the Merchant organization. While I killed the Merchant leader, I lost my 80% price reduction on items sold by merchant stores. In return, I gained a 50% increase in the amount of money gained from fenced goods with a Giriza representative. Overall, I found this relationship system to be much more symbiotic than Oblivionís guild system, hence more entertaining.

The main problem I have with the single player campaign is its brevity. The entire narrative can be completed in about 10 to 12 hours. Thatís figuring in a dramatic amount of sidequests into the mixture, enough to reach level 33 anyway. For example, the lack of mission structure when hunting down relic pieces severely reduces the amount of time it takes to complete the single player game. I rode on horseback right up to the Air Element without ever completing a mission or fighting a single enemy. I was expecting at least a dragon to be guarding an item in a place called the White Dragonís Nest. Basically, the freedom allowed within the game works far too well and handicaps the length of the single player story.

Also, mission structure often confusingly jumps ahead of itself. You can complete missions without ever receiving them in the first place. For instance, there is a shady character in Four Stones called Scar. You can walk up to him, start talking, and will be offered an option to kill him. This kill option is entirely based on a mission that starts in Quindar. You can kill Scar first, go talk to the guy in Quindar, be assigned the mission to kill Scar, talk to the guy in Quindar two seconds later, and be awarded the gold / experience for the murder. This is just a case of sloppy programming. The developer shouldnít offer mission options until itís actually begun.

When navigating the world, you have three options: hoofing it, riding a horse, or using the teleport system. Riding a horse is often an exercise in futility. Horses, or the strange spiked beasts the orcs ride, donít understand changes in terrain. At certain points, they will refuse to turn and require a complete stop to change directions. This opens the player to attack from local enemies plus itís completely annoying. Preferably, I stuck with the teleport system, which I rather enjoy using. Once a teleport shrine has been located, the player can unlock it by traveling to another teleport shrine. Navigating the enormous map is easily done in a matter of seconds with teleporting. Additionally, the player is awarded a teleport stone later in the game that allows for teleporting from any fixed location to a teleport shrine. It helps tremendously in delivery style quests.

When the single player campaign has run its course, we have co-op and versus multiplayer modes to explore. While the co-op multiplayer world isnít persistent like a MMORPG, it does keep track of the playerís stats, skill set, etc. Smaller portions of the main map are loaded and up to eight players can explore. Quests are structured oddly, as the game doesnít split the quest reward between players. Itís basically first come first served, unless you are playing with friends. Overall, the co-op mode can be entertaining, but feels shallow compared to the single player game. Versus multiplayer offers up several standard modes, but also includes horse racing. Watching 4 players attempt to navigate their stubborn digital steeds over an obstacle filled level is ridiculously hilarious.

At the time of this review, both versions of multiplayer are lag-filled, prone to severe pauses when a player drops the connection, have hit-detection issues, and offer up strange graphical anomalies. Itís possible the lag will be alleviated with expanded, local servers in the near future or perhaps a patch.

The achievements are broken up into 41 tasks for a total of 1000 gamerscore points. The majority of the points can be earned by simply playing through the single player narrative, mostly due to the obnoxiously large 370 point achievement for killing the final boss. Fortunately, the game also ramps up the difficulty with achievements such as finding every location on the map or reaching level 50. Itís a solid grouping of achievements that seems to include something for everyone. Approximately 800 points can be racked up in about 10 to 12 hours, while the rest of the points take considerably longer. (At the time of this review, 2 achievements worth a total of 70 gamerscore points cannot be earned due to a game glitch.)

Visually, the graphic engine produces a vibrant lifelike world with a draw distance thatís incredibly vast and load times that put Oblivion to shame. The character models are beautifully unique and the environments are littered with absolutely gorgeous textures. The camera angles all work very well and they even include a first person view. Unfortunately, this level of massive detail comes at a steep price, framerate. Hitching, stuttering, freezing, itís all packed in with this graphic engine. Flying up and down rapidly, you will see silky smooth fps in an enclosed room or dungeon and sputtering fps in the wilderness.

There are a few ways to tweak for smoother single player visuals though. First off, clear the temporary cache be holding down the A button during startup. Secondly, turn down the HDR level in the options menu. Finally, disconnect from Xbox Live when playing within single player. Every time a friend logs on, the pop-up message will bring the game to a screeching pause. It also curtails the status reporting to Xbox Live and summarily speeds up the framerate. Sadly, as console gamers, we shouldnít be put through this type of experience. Itís as if the graphic engine was only ported from the PC version rather than optimized for the Xbox 360.

The voice acting within Two Worlds is very solid, but the writing often fails miserably. Listening to the actors & actresses read many of those ridiculously worded lines is just torture. Often the humor fails to connect as well, but the main character occasionally lets a funny line slip out. The sound effects become repetitious after many hours of play, but thatís understandable considering the same attacks are used over and over. The cries of the monsters and animals in the game are unique and often scared the daylights out of me when walking through some of the darker portions of the game. Music is mostly forgettable when it cranks up. Itís really a shame as the rousing score of Oblivion really encapsulated the grand journey.

As a fan of role playing games, it pains me to see Two Worlds released in such a haphazard condition. Itís actually an entertaining, rewardingly difficult RPG, unfortunately locked up in a graphical engine wrought with massive problems, containing gameplay riddled with design issues, and features a currently lag-filled multiplayer. Until the developer of Two Worlds releases a patch to alleviate the variety of problems plaguing Two Worlds, this is a rainy day afternoon rental at best.


Second Opinion

Mike pegged Two Worldís pretty accurately in his review. As a die hard role playing gamer myself, I had high hopes for this game and was sad to see that it didnít live up to its potential. Sure, thereís a huge world to explore, potions to make, creatures to kill, and a lot of quests to keep you busy, but the game never feels like more than a slapped together amalgam of other RPGís. While a few aspects worked well (like the ability to stack two weapons and create a more powerful attack, and the teleportation was a nice touch) there wasnít any aspect that was cool or intriguing enough to set it apart from other similar games.

A big problem for me was that the game lacked heart. I just could never get into it. Part of the problem was that the story was really lacking. Thatís a big draw for RPGís. After all, youíre playing a role: Putting yourself into the heroís shoes. In this game, the hero is never even named and the quest to find his sister is so gossamer thin as to be almost forgettable. The quests were fairly mindless in general too. In some games the side quests are just as much fun as the main adventure, but in this effort I was frequently asking myself ďdo I really want to do this?Ē

In addition to the less than satisfying story, the game is riddled with bugs and problems. As Mike pointed out, you could sometime complete a quest before it was ever assigned, and on top of that I had trouble getting a reward for a quest I did complete. Riding a horse? Forget it. As Mike noted, it was more trouble than it was worth.

I will admit that the game gets better as you advance your character and get used to the way this world works. But even at its best, Two Worlds isnít a game that Iíd recommend to my friends. If youíre really aching for another RPG on the 360, go and rent it.