For all the shortcomings of Reality Pump's rather awful RPG Two Worlds, at least it gave the developer something to focus its efforts on for a sequel. Most reviewers quickly decided that the original game was buggy, ugly and fairly dull. There's three things to get to work on already.
Having had a chance to look at a very early preview build, it's too early to say whether Two Worlds II will ship with quite as many glitches as its older sibling, but on the other points it's already looking like a distinct improvement.
While Polish developer Reality Pump remains in control of the project, TopWare, the publisher, is taking a far more hands-on approach this time around - particularly when it comes to the writing and voiceovers - and between the two of them they're hoping to create an experience that makes more sense to a global audience.
With a story set seven years after the first Two Worlds - just in case you were keeping track of these things - with the Orcs nearly entirely exterminated by the evil Gandohar, it's up to you to set things straight, even if that means working with an old enemy.
Narrative aside, the first thing that stands out about the sequel is that it's not exactly ugly any more. Kicking off in a huge dungeon, there are plenty of opportunities to take in the improvements to the game engine. Chains hanging from ceilings ripple in the breeze, torches splutter and spark on the walls, sending out real-time shadows, and everywhere you look water is running over stone rather prettily.
Reality Pump has three different versions of its proprietary Grace engine running - one for each platform, covering the PC, PS3, and 360 - and the differences between this game and the lifeless environments of the first are pretty obvious.
It's not just improvements in technology, however. There's a real sense throughout our hands-off demo of a developer getting its act together. The camera now pulls in close for cut-scenes rather than staying at an awkward distance, we're promised that a new writer - whose previous credits include Dead Space - has been brought in to make the fantasy stuff a little less laughable, and the whole game skips along at a less arthritic pace.
The dungeon we're currently exploring will eventually double as the tutorial, and it appears to move at a nice clip, shifting from the introduction of basic movement to rooms that ease you into combat, a library stuffed with books and globes that gives you a chance - if you want it - to learn a little more about the world, and finally, a fairly violent encounter with the game's baddies in which heads are severed, blood arcs through the air, and there's much ominous chatter about destinies and revenge.
Stepping outside and things only get better. The game's outdoors environments are looking lovely, and there's far more variety to the art design. With a world that's 33 per cent bigger than the first game, the landscapes we're shown range from Brothers Grimm-style swamps, full of spooky, twisted trees, creepers, and thick mists, to cities with Persian influences, where peasants mill around in busy marketplaces and palms sway in the distance, and even an oriental plaza filled with wooden bridges and temples of red and gold.
And the game that takes place within these spaces appears to have had a significant overhaul, too, with sweeping changes to everything from inventory management to the approach to magic.
Two Worlds II is still, like the original, a classless system that allows you to shape your character as you wish, blending traditional roles a little. Hot-keys will allow you to build specific armour sets for your various needs, meaning that you can effectively switch classes in real-time, moving from equipment geared towards magic attacks to stuff that's better for melee or ranged combat as the situation calls for it.
Weapons and armour can be upgraded, but the original game's bizarre stacking system is out, replaced with a mechanic that allows you to break unwanted inventory clutter down into its core components, and then use that as resources for upgrading the items you want to really focus on. It has a pleasant semi-RTS feel to it, and if you enjoyed mining in Mass Effect 2 - some of you did, yeah? - you'll be right at home.
Magic has been similarly rethought, and it's actually looking rather good at the moment, blending accessibility for casual players with a potentially fairly frightening depth for those who really want to get stuck in.
The system's based around amulets, each of which will contain a series of cards which act as modifiers. It sounds pretty confusing, but, at a basic level, it means that the amulet for your fireball spell can have a range of different cards, all of which change the way it works.
The basic fireball will be enough for most - it was good enough for Mario, after all - but it's going to be tempting to start messing about and trying to trick things out as you get more cards: switching it up so that zombies are spawned whenever your flaming attacks hit the ground, or causing the fireball to split into five chunks as it moves. A quick glance down the menu suggests there are hundreds of cards available, while a smart radial menu allows you to have fifty spells within reach at any one time.
Finally, Two Worlds II's multiplayer component is starting to look distinctly ambitious, too. Split across three fronts, it offers a separate co-op campaign that contains seven levels of adventuring to bridge the gap in the story between the first game and the sequel (co-op will support eight players in outdoor environments and four inside dungeons), a standard eight-person PvP setup, which allows you to see what kind of bizarre spell combinations other players have come up with as you smack them around in arenas, and, finally, a bizarre city-building offshoot which sees you gathering and managing resources, keeping your population happy, and engaging in basic RTS mini-quests.
All of which should hopefully be enough to cheer up anyone who found the first game boring. With a campaign that should take, at a minimum, 25 hours to get through, and side-quests and multiplayer oddities that should push that number well into three figures, Two Worlds II is looking surprisingly good. It's far too early to tell whether it's got what it takes to banish memories of the first game, but it certainly appears to be going in the right direction.
Two Worlds II is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in Q3.