I sat surprised in front of my gaming rig. As I wandered the Savannah in Two Worlds II, I encountered a troupe of baboons. Mangy creatures, these baboons. I figured they'd just run up and try to maul me, as the cheetahs, ostriches and warthogs did as I explored this grassy plain. But these baboons surprised me. Like their primate brethren in a zoo, they threw poop at me.
Two Worlds II has a number of surprises. As I cruised through its world, I smiled and laughed at a number of things. Two Worlds II is a lot of fun, and while I enjoyed myself, its weak narrative holds back what could've been an open world classic.
Story is oftentimes the weakest element of open world games such as Two Worlds and The Elder Scrolls series. I've had a difficult time getting into such adventures in the past because I've found it difficult to "go with the flow" of what can be at times some rather random quests that have little to do with the game.
Two Worlds II, however, features easy to use and interesting combat, magic and crafting systems that you can have plenty of fun with, even considering its weak main quest (a cruel overlord is holding your sister, who holds the secret of a mighty power that the emperor wants, and it's your job to rescue her). Combat is visceral and satisfying, even if you're playing a mage (or in my case, a battle mage, equally adept with an axe as he is with flinging flame).
Let's take a look at magic. Instead of a set system of spells, players use a mixture of spell cards and booster cards to create effects set in amulets, which form the actual "spell". This fascinating system allows for a great deal of customisation, even down to the the spell's name.
You can mix a fire card with others to form a spell that reflects damage back to the opponent. A creation spell mixed with necromancy summons undead knights (boost your summoning skill and you can have a platoon of these ghastly servitors). The magic system rewards exploration and creativity, making it a lot of fun to track down as many cards and boosters as you can.
Combat can be a blast as well, whether you're flinging spells or arrows or bashing monsters over the head with a hefty cudgel. It's mostly click-based fighting, but you can learn skills that bolster your melee prowess. You can also craft weapons to improve their death dealing capabilities. Once you boost your halberd or add some fire-damage gems to your broadsword, you end up making quick work of a number of creatures.
Crafting is essential. You can improve your weapons and armor and brew a variety of potions. Most monsters leave behind crafting ingredients (such as brains of mummies, which create resurrection potions, or the mutated hearts of gnoll-like Varns that are essential for powerful healing brews). You can break down weapons and armour to provide the raw materials for crafting. Turning junk drops into iron or steel to make your cudgel or halberd stronger gives this trash some meaning.
Two Worlds II also has the best lockpicking "minigame" I've played in an RPG. The lockpick spins around tumblers, and you must click on the open space in the tumbler to put the pick through. Easy locks have only a few, master locks have more, so many that it's sometimes difficult to see the open spots in the tumblers before time runs out. You can improve the skill, but you also can use a blunt weapon to bash a lock open.
So, the combat's fun, and the game offers plenty of customisation and expansion options. Where does it fail?
I can't tell if the poor dialogue is because of the localisation or the game's original writing. But this isn't Two Worlds II's main flaw. The story comes apart for me in its second chapter. The hero finds himself at a mage university, where some of the quests include academic bickering and setting up a stag party.
I realise Europeans have a different sense of humour and even story pacing than we do here in the States, but throwing a quest where my hero, this grand adventurer, this slayer of mighty beasts on a quest to stop an evil overlord, has to talk to a girl about dancing at a stag party broke the narrative for me. At that point, the game became more about customising my character, exploring the world and seeing the ridiculous spell combos I could make instead of experiencing its plot.
The enemies tend to be fairly dumb as well, and sometimes the surroundings interfere with them. I took out one powerful foe by corralling him against a wall. I took out some powerful mummies by luring them into sewer water; they were too stupid to walk up the steps out. Another powerful foe got caught up on... the floor.
You know what? It's still fun despite the terrible story and stupid enemy AI. I respect a game that gives me so much to do, so many areas to explore, so many customisation options and so many quests. I had a lot of fun with Two Worlds II, and while the story annoys me in its second act, I do see myself giving it another go at a later date.