Monday, May 16, 2016

Two Worlds: Epic Edition - 15/20 hours

Out in the wilderness, Two Worlds' skewed population demographics don't matter. The packs of wolves which periodically attack you are probably all male, but really, who can tell?

I seem to have cleared the initial difficulty hump and now my battles are fairly straightforward. No more retreating to the nearest shrine every time I draw aggro. That's making travel a lot more efficient. I'm not sure whether there's anywhere I particularly want to travel to, but that's an entirely different matter.

I mean, the game looks good, in that early-last-gen way. You know, where they don't quite have the graphical power for convincing realism, but they're confident enough at being state-of-the-art that they don't attempt to cover their flaws with stylization. I'm certain that in 2009, I would have found it breathtaking (I know I swooned over its contemporary and most obvious point of comparison - Oblivion), but looking at it with the benefit of hindsight, I can see the graphical compromises it made in order to look as good as it does.

Which isn't meant as a point of critique, of course. I'm not one of those people who admires a magic trick any less just because I know how it's done, and it would be ridiculous of me to expect an old game to not use old technology. Once I start down the road of knocking Two Worlds just because I can see the foliage pop in, it's only a matter of time before I yell at Chrono Trigger for being 2D, and that's just nonsense.

What it does mean, though, is that when you choose "temperate western-European pastoral" as your base setting, you really do have to bring something special to the table. It takes a lot of guts to try and put your own mark on something that has been done often before. Doing it better than anyone ever has is one way to distinguish yourself, but that's a tough racket and the crown never lasts as long as you think. Not that I think Two Worlds ever had a chance, but even if they did think they had a shot, it's long since past when that meant anything at all.

 What I'm left with, then, seven years after the fact, is a setting that doesn't really feel like it holds any surprises. I can go over the next hill and what I'll see is something I've already seen before.

Long time readers of this blog will know that this isn't something that bothers me, per se, as evinced by the fact that I have 15 hours into the game in 4 days - on the weekend following the release of a 4X strategy game (which is sitting at a 32 hour playtime, by the way). I do enjoy fighting my way through random encounters and pawning the loot, even if it's all part of a meaningless xp treadmill. It really is enough to get me to forget the game's other flaws.

I guess I should probably talk about the game's loot system, seeing as how it's the thing I enjoy the most. Two Worlds actually has a clever and elegant solution to a problem that plagues virtually every loot-driven rpg ever made - the proliferation of useless trash items that are too weak to ever actually use, but which can be sold for gold in order to gain access to the truly valuable equipment you need to survive. If, upon looting a body or searching a treasure chest, you find a duplicate of an item you already possess, you can combine the two, improving the base item's stats.

I'm not sure if it's a system that Two Worlds innovated, or whether some other rpg had done it before, but it's absolutely brilliant. With enough leveling up, you can keep items relevant for a lot longer, allowing players to choose their equipment based on personal aesthetics and fighting style without having to toss their favorite equipment just because it's obsoleted by the level grind. And it makes inventory management a lot easier, requiring much less weight juggling and far fewer shop detours. A great idea all around . . .

Which the game then promptly screws up by giving you dozens of different item sets. What's the damned point of having a system to level your items if they're just going to be divided into tiers anyway. The shops are level-scaled, so you're going to lose out on the opportunity to grind your weapon with gold, and unless you go back to previous areas to farm enemies, you're not going to be getting new drops of old weapons. So really, the system is almost entirely pointless. I'm thinking that maybe one I hit the level cap, it will be nice to have the option to further improve my equipment, but realistically, that's not going to happen within my time-frame.

In the end, Two Worlds proves to be more conventional than it could be, which means that, because I enjoy the convention, I will have no problems finishing the 20 hours, but because I've seen the convention done much better in games with a much more engaging presentation and setting, that it's a primary candidate for my "remove from hard drive" list.

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