Last week Two Worlds 2, a seven-year-old role-playing game, got an expansion. But the PC version got something else too, something unwanted: microtransactions.
In a new Marketplace section of the game's main menu - screenshots from a Reddit thread - were optional purchases for in-game skill books, materials, crystals, cards and money, each ranging in price from $0.50 to $2.
Exacerbating their surprise inclusion was the removal of the game's console commands - a place where you could type cheat codes and spawn exactly the kind of content now being sold - although they have since been reinstated.
Not before, however, the PC community could pummel Two Worlds 2's recent review average on Steam down to "Mostly Negative".
I asked TopWare for an explanation and vice president of business development, Dirk P. Hassinger, replied with a statement:
- "With the 2.0 update for Two Worlds 2, we implemented some features from the Xbox 360 version to the Steam Version. At the time the game came out in 2010, Steam did not support features like achievements or in-game purchases, but Xbox Live did.
- "For the DLC Call of the Tenebrae [the expansion], we made several improvements to the game engine and added features like achievements and a marketplace we took from the Xbox version. We decided to release this improvement as a free update to all owners of the main game, independent of if they have purchased the new DLC (which requires the engine update) or not.
- "With the same update, the DRM for Two Worlds 2 has been removed as well as the developer console, but after some users asked us to put it back in, we re-activated the developer console for single-player. For multiplayer the console was never available, to avoid cheating.
- "The in-game purchases are optional and not required to play the game - all items which are available for purchase can also be found in inside the game.
- "From our seven years of experience with the Xbox 360 version we know that there are many users who like the possibility of purchasing items like healing potions and mana potions. Those who do not like it do not need to purchase anything - same as it is since release in 2010 for all Xbox 360 users.
- "Two Worlds 2 is not Free2Play or Pay2Play. Everyone who owns the game has the full product with all features and the full gaming experience. The only special items not in the standard version can be found in the digital deluxe content, in some special editions or in the season pass. But these items are not available as in-game purchases."
To clarify, Hassinger told me the microtransactions in the Steam version are "exactly" the same as the microtransactions the Xbox 360 version had from day one.
The unexpected new content for Two Worlds 2 comes as TopWare works towards a new game in the series: Two Worlds 3 for release in 2019.
"Two Worlds 3 is in its concept stage," Hassinger added. "During the next half of the year we will release three more DLCs for Two Worlds 2 and make further updates. After this, the entire team will focus on Two Worlds 3."
He added: "The reason we keep working on a seven-year-old game and still release updates for it is that we want to keep the franchise we are so passionate about alive so we can introduce new members in our team to Two Worlds and keep the RPG topic fresh and interesting."
Original Two Worlds 2 developer Reality Pump is very different today, however.
"The Polish company Reality Pump Sp.z.o.o. went bankrupt in April 2015," Hassinger explained, "and the owner of this company - the German Publisher Zuxxez Entertainment AG went bankrupt in 2016. Now the team is under ownership of TopWare Interactive (AC Enterprises e.K.).
"At Reality Pump are people who have worked there since the '90s. Over the years of course some people left, but in the last year some new people joined, and under new ownership the studio is growing. Today in Krakow work around 30 people with 10 more supporting them (writers, composers). For Two Worlds 3 they work as the core team and most of the graphical assets will be outsourced."
Two Worlds 2 came out in 2011 here in the UK - 2010 in Europe (there were all kinds of release mix-ups).
"There is real innovation here," we wrote in our Two Worlds 2 review, "and there are some ballsy forays into game-styles that are way outside the standard tick-list of features for the genre, both online and off.
"There's also a great deal of absorbing content to enjoy, not to mention consistent, meaningful progression, creative quests, and empowering customisation systems that let you craft your own rewards from a plethora of resources. If you can live with the lo-fi elements, there's an awful lot to enjoy.
"I sincerely hope it does well enough to fund a bigger-budget sequel."