Friday, August 24, 2007

Two Worlds, one trashcan

Alright, so it's not that bad, but I'm definitely more than a little disappointed with this one.

I picked it up this morning and have played it just a few hours, so this review's about initial impressions. But if a game doesn't grab you within a few hours, to hell with it, right? I'm not going to try to be completely comprehensive, but I'll give a lot.

THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES cutscenes. That's right. You have to wait to play the game. Sure, Oblivion had an intro movie as well, but Bethesda's was decent quality (superb quality, once you're watching the fly-over around the Imperial City while the music rises to a heroic melody). This intro wasn't worth watching.

It's open-world, so you can wander wherever you please, just like in Oblivion.

But, unlike Oblivion, Two Worlds doesn't adapt creature levels to the player's level. That's a step in the right direction, allowing for EQ-style nasty surprises and adrenaline rushes. Unfortunately, the combat system, which I'll get into in a minute, prevents many truly tense moments.

Two Worlds isn't afraid to surprise you with numbers. Hiking up to a small settlement, I found a small dwarf. Dwarves are good guys, right? Wrong! By the time I realized the little guy wasn't walking up just to talk to me, he had 6 or 7 buddies with him. Did the seven dwarves put me in my grave? No, but it was a fun surprise.

The combat system is less than stellar.

Oh, it looks nice. One of the reasons I bought the game was the motion-captured combat animations. Combined with a good combat system, those really would have been a big deal. Unfortunately, melee combat is pretty lackluster.

You press one button to swing your weapon (the same way every time, though pressing the button more than once results in a set series of swings) and press another button to jump backward (only backward). Parrying is a passive skill, as is blocking, and neither seem to have an animation (though I keep hoping I'm just missing those animations by some crazy odds). I suppose that this is offset somewhat by the lack of weapon specialization, encouraging the player to change weapons (each with its own animations) frequently.

But mostly, this game must depend on magic. I always start these games with a brutish warrior character, so I haven't explored the magic system yet. I've used a Fire Wall spell, which wasn't bad -- unlike Diablo 2's Fire Wall spell, it acts more as a hard barrier than a way to roast multiple enemies at a time. I also use a basic Heal spell and Fireball.

They did come up with a cool spell augmentation system using cards. You can collect so many augmentations cards (reduced mana requirement, increased power, etc.) at a time. You're then free to assign the cards to whichever spells you want, and re-assign them later. So, for example, I chose to apply both my cards to the Heal spell, thereby increasingly its effectiveness considerably, while leaving the other spells as they were.

There's no death penalty beyond merely appearing away from where you were. I haven't tested the NPC-wizard's memory yet to see if he recognizes the guy he killed for breaking into his chest and stealing his stuff just 2 feet in front of his face (that's right, the game let me browse the chest's content at my leisure while the NPC merely waited for me to finish).

Oh yeah, and don't be surprised if combat's really only difficult fighting a lot of enemies at once. Bears are absolutely ridiculous. I swing, swing, swing... it begins to rear back, so I hit the "leap back" button... he swings and misses... I swing, swing, swing... etc. It's really that easy. I never get hit. I haven't found an enemy that's much harder than that yet, when alone (I'm playing on Medium difficulty).

If there's any justice in this world, lightning will strike the writers down for truly awful dialogue. You know those players in MMOs who think roleplay is a simple matter of throwing in a bunch of "thee"s and "thou"s? Apparently, those are the folks who wrote this game's story.

In fairness, some of the blame lies with the poor voice-acting. If you ever want to hear genuine Middle English, or even Old English, let me know and I can direct you to a university professor who does it well. Enunciating poetic contractions as if you were reading them from a dictionary only makes the attempts at Medieval conversation that much more unbearable. Surely, script writers don't all sound like nerds and can occasionally perform their own dialogue, at least?

I'm not far enough into the game to know how the story plays out, but it hasn't really grabbed me yet. To be completely honest, I've started skipping past a lot of the dialogue by mashing the "A" button.

Conversations are repeated verbatim... not just from one conversation with Bill to the next, but Joe and Bob give you the same lines.

I knew it wasn't as good as Oblivion's before I bought it, so I really wasn't expecting stellar graphics. But I'm surprised by how dry and uninteresting the graphics really are. Perhaps it's somehow related to German aesthetics that I don't understand, because Gothic had a similar style, as I recall.

Beyond that, though, sometimes I run into something that really bugs me. I walk under an arch, and it feels separate from the landscape somehow. Either it's an art direction problem or a problem with object borders, but it feels like I'm walking through a model rather than a world.

Like I said, the cards of the magic system was a cool idea. For all it's faults, the melee combat system does encourage the player to find a rhythm and adapt slightly to each particular weapon (jabbing and slashing with a spear feels different than swinging an axe).

More than anything, the little attraction I have for the game is for its retro appeal. The inventory interface, the potions and pause gameplay, the rustic feel... it reminds me of tabletop D&D somewhat. If you miss the good ole days, maybe it'll spark something.

Don't buy Two Worlds expecting an experience similar to Oblivion. I knew they would be considerably different, but I had no idea how different. Just because you enjoyed Oblivion, that does not mean you'll enjoy Two Worlds. Rent it. I'm sure some people will really dig it, but I'm definitely not one of those people.

Hopefully, it will last me just long enough to trade it in for Medal of Honor: Airborne in a couple weeks.

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