It's not easy being a role-playing game; not when all everyone talks about is your big brother and how good he is. Sure you're different. That's what they all say. Why should we believe you?
Reality Pump has had this problem with Two Worlds ever since it reared its head back in 2005. At first glance it looks strikingly similar to the much-applauded Oblivion. It's on the same platforms, for starters, has the same free-roaming and sprawling gameplay, plus the graphics look as if they could be twins. But underneath all that is a game desperately trying to carve its own identity; one with mounted combat, an item combination system, and that curious MMO-style multiplayer option.
We had a chance to see how it all meshed together in our recent first impressions, but still felt we weren't getting the whole picture. So ahead of its scheduled early August release, we got hold of Zuxxez (publisher in the US and Germany) big-cheese Dirk Hassinger to find out if it was all just a case of mistaken identities.
Eurogamer: What makes Two Worlds different to a game like Oblivion, and why do you think people will prefer your offering?
Dirk Hassinger: Two Worlds may seem to be in the Oblivion template, but the two games are very different once you get beyond the surface. Two Worlds offers a more focused, grittier experience - and a lot of correlating features are deeper in it. Our inventory system is smarter, our magic system is much more complex, and even the way we handle horses has more depth. Beyond those game mechanics we have a much more complex society, with many more factions working within it. Our overarching storyline is a touch darker and more involved, too. Which is not to say Oblivion is a worse game, just that Two Worlds has more 'meat'.
Eurogamer: How much character customisation will be in Two Worlds? Do you think you offer more choice than any other game out there?
Dirk Hassinger: Our commitment to player freedom means our character customisation is seriously deep. We have no class definitions, which means players are free to sculpt their avatar as they like - based on the skills players choose to learn. There's also a really nice progression as skills improve, and the sense of increasing power is really tangible. What's more, there's no level cap on your character. You can keep on progressing indefinitely if you wish. And by talking to the right people you can even undo all of your skill point assignments, then completely re-specialise your character using the points you've already earned.
Eurogamer: Some observers felt Oblivion could be quite shallow and often repetitive, perhaps leaning towards quantity over quality. What sort of storyline, quests, and linearity will we see in Two Worlds? And how will our actions affect the world around us?
Dirk Hassinger: The main storyline in Two Worlds is very different to the one in Oblivion. The basic premise is that the world is split into regions defined by various races. Humans, Orcs, Elves and Dwarves are familiar, but races like the Serpents (snake-based people) and the Trachidis (insectoids) should feel fresh even for die-hard fans of the genre.
The Orcs are the 'enemy' race and have been kept at bay ever since their god of war was slain and his body entombed in a secret location. However, the tomb has recently been re-discovered and the Orcs are about to embark on a holy crusade to reclaim their fallen god. Obviously this means things are about to turn nasty, which brings a sense of brooding menace to the game.
You start out as a wandering mercenary trying to find your missing sister. I'm not going to give too much away, but you and your sister are significant to the main story, which will become clear as you encounter members of a secret brotherhood during your personal story arc.
Two Worlds also has more than its fair share of side-quests. There are hundreds of them, and they can affect more than just your statistics - as each race is split into different groups with separate goals and needs, so there are political repercussions for just about everything you do. It's up to you to decide which faction to work for and if your morality will affect the missions you do.
Eurogamer: How much equipment and variety can we expect? Is there a crafting system in the game?
Dirk Hassinger: Two Worlds doesn't feature crafting, but we have come up with a neat way for managing your inventory. In a standard role-playing game you're bound to end up with duplicate items. Normally these would be useless, but in Two Worlds you can combine them to make a more powerful version. And we've made sure the interface is intuitive enough to do this with a couple of button presses. Basically, this makes the treasure hunting aspect of role-playing games much more fruitful for you.
Eurogamer: How will mounted combat work in Two Worlds, and why do you think so few games have previously included it?
Dirk Hassinger: It's extremely difficult to do mounted combat properly and keep it satisfying for the player, but we've worked out our own solution and it works amazingly well. We have various levels of horse riding skill so that the better you are, the more effective you'll be fighting on a mount. High-level players will be able to shoot arrows with the same accuracy as they have on foot. They can even dual-wield bladed weapons if they wish!
Eurogamer: Large and sprawling games can often become impersonal over time. Will we build relationships and adventure with other non-player characters in Two Worlds? Will it be a game that appeals to our emotions?
Dirk Hassinger: There are recurring characters you'll form relationships with, but the real personal emphasis is in the main plot; a quest to find your missing sister!
Eurogamer: Two Worlds will be one of the first games to offer a persistent world-style multiplayer option. How much extra life will it breathe into Two Worlds and exactly how is it all going to work?
Dirk Hassinger: The multiplayer mode is going to be really special, both on PC and Xbox 360. We're going to implement two distinct modes. One will be a hub area where players can form teams, chat, trade and set off on instanced mini-quests. The other mode will be a straight player versus player arena. We're overflowing with ideas of how to innovate in the competitive side of things. We've already mentioned horse races with an in-game gambling system, although the rest will have to stay under our hats for now.
Eurogamer: The online mode for Xbox 360 was only recently confirmed, and it still isn't clear whether it will offer the same amount of detail as the PC version. Why has it been so difficult to bring the persistent world option to console?
Dirk Hassinger: We're striving to make the 360 multiplayer as close to the PC version as possible. The issue isn't a technical one by any means.
Eurogamer: Do you see Two Worlds as a pioneering game in the genre?
Dirk Hassinger: Definitely. No one's ever tried to bring a free-roaming single-player RPG together with a fully-featured multiplayer mode before - although this is due more to ambition than innovation. Two Worlds is pioneering through innovation using some unique features, such as our item combination system and data streaming technology - there aren't any blank screens for loading when entering buildings. We think this kind of subtle advancement makes the game world more persistent in your mind. The suspension of disbelief is enhanced, which is a critical aspect of your experience.
Eurogamer: What's next for Reality Pump?
Dirk Hassinger: In a nutshell, extra content for Two Worlds. The team has so many ideas that we could keep expanding through downloadable content for the next decade. We're also looking at the possibility of Two Worlds on other formats, but official word on that will have to wait!
Dirk Hassinger is vice president of business development at Zuxxez, the company responsible for publishing the game in Germany and the US. Two Worlds is due out in UK in early August, and will be published by SouthPeak.