Version tested: Xbox 360
Forsooth, 'tis oft uttered from the mouths of knaves that to unleash a game upon a console is a much different endeavour to unleashing that self-same game upon the PC. Verily, verily, thine developer should have to be some kind of knave to attempt such a release without great alteration to the very fabric of the game!
If that paragraph made you want to stab me in the face (and frankly, we had to hide all the sharp objects in the room while writing it for fear of facial self-harm), then your path is clear. Close this tab in your browser, leave this review, and never, ever consider playing Two Worlds.
The alternative is that you become another videogame violence statistic, with Jack Thompson carping on about the rampage you'll inevitably embark upon at one of those bloody awful Medieval Banquet tourist-trap nights. Which, despite a few really promising ideas, is just about exactly what Two Worlds turns out to be.
Well met! Or not.
The game sets out with a very clear goal - to be the next Oblivion. Now, simply copying a popular game isn't the world's most worthy goal in the first place, but that doesn't matter. If you're going to copy Oblivion, then at least that means that you're aiming for a certain standard of quality - a bar which has been set remarkably high by the development wizards at Bethesda.
Unfortunately, the team at Reality Pump who turned out Two Worlds seemingly missed that memo. Instead, they have created a game which fails to impress on almost every level - from the hackneyed, annoying dialogue and storyline, to the utterly dreadful graphics, through to the clumsy interface and completely tedious combat. Yeah, I guess we're probably not selling you on this one.
The first thing that will slap you in the face like a sack of rotten crabs upon embarking on your epic quest is that Two Worlds looks like a PlayStation 2 game - and a PlayStation 2 game with remarkably weak, uninspired art direction, at that. The textures are consistently low resolution, which makes most things into a pixellated mess up close. Entire towns and villages pop into existence right before your astonished eyes, as the primitive game engine struggles to keep up with the advanced concept of a character walking around and looking at things.
Here and there, the game attempts feebly to establish its next-gen credentials by throwing around impressively wide vistas. These are normally utterly devoid of any detail - what's the point in being able to see a long way if the terrain is totally barren from about 50 feet in front of your nose? It even splashes the occasional bit of normal mapped lighting in, although where games like Gears of War used this effect to create wonderfully subtle textures and details, Two Worlds artfully applies it to making things look unrealistically shiny. Nice.
It's not that there's much worth looking at, mind. Human characters achieve the near-impossible by making Oblivion's gallery of uglies look attractive and well-formed, while the various beasts which take you on are variations on the "furry shoebox on four legs" archetype which we thought we'd left behind on the PSone. To add insult to injury - or injury to insult, we're not sure which at this stage, but be assured that there's a huge bloody bucket of insults and injuries to choose from - the game struggles to keep up even with such awful graphics.
The framerate is, for the most part, in figures so low it wouldn't be allowed to go out and buy a packet of fags. This is the first game in years (and the first ever on the usually graphically brilliant 360) which has given me headaches and nausea from extended play sessions - although I can't say for sure how much of that is down to the choppy, lurching framerate, and how much is down to having to listen to American voice actors attempting to replicate British regional accents they've clearly never heard. And saying "prithee" a lot.
No lengthy moan about Two Worlds' stunning technical under-achievement would be complete without mentioning that the game also fails miserably at providing a seamless, free-roaming world. Yes, many other games on the 360 (hell, many games on the original Xbox and the PS2) managed this, despite having far better graphics - but that doesn't stop Two Worlds from regularly freezing the action and throwing up a spinning disc icon, as it manfully shoulders the burden of loading in another group of bandits identical to the one you killed 30 seconds ago. Quite often the action freezes for no reason, for several seconds, as the game thinks about something for a while - what colour to paint the ceiling, perhaps, or why on earth you're still playing.
Technical concerns aside (look, we could write a book about technical "concerns" alone, but if you've really got a stiffy for awful graphics and bad framerates, you're probably in the small minority of people who should buy this game), Two Worlds is a sub-par action RPG which occasionally displays flashes of sheer competence.
As is standard for games of this sort, you play a character who has an Epic Personal Quest - in this instance, saving your hot sister, whose imprisonment at the hands of an evil chap who looks a bit like a cross between Darth Vader and a knobbly black dildo hasn't stopped her from applying a lot of gothy make-up each morning. However, you're free to wander around the world carrying out other quests instead - slaying bandits, slaying wolves, slaying more bandits, slaying boars who look very like wolves but make boar noises so we assume they're boars, slaying some more bandits, delivering some parcels like some trumped up bloody Parcel Force man, and slaying some more bandits.
Along the way, the developers insist, the focus is on making choices. Indeed, there are several different factions with whom your reputation can be built up (although this happens remarkably fast - do three quests for some factions and you'll be told that you are a "living legend" among them, which presumably implies that they really, really respect couriers). However, more often than not, the choices you make will be entirely accidental - and downright annoying as a result.
Take an early quest, where having spent a while building up your reputation with a ruling feudal lord, you are offered a further task - one which involves threatening the wife of a suspected rebel in order to extract information from him. Trying my best to role-play, and feeling that my character wouldn't want to threaten an innocent woman, I decided not to do it.
Apparently, doing this somehow released the woman from her cell - at which point the feudal lord attacked me, leaving me with no choice but to kill him. I promptly became a legendary hero among the rebels, whom I'd never met, and had only assisted by accident because of selecting a seemingly unimportant conversation option. Similarly, you can turn entire cities (including many quest characters) against you by picking the lock on a door, even when nobody is looking. This isn't choice - it's just a steady tumble from accident to accident.
It is assisted somewhat by the fact that the game is, for the most part, spectacularly easy. Once we'd gone a couple of hours in, we never again encountered a foe that actually threatened our heroic chap in any way - suggesting a huge problem in the balance of the game. That's even without using the dodge button, an addition to combat which, after a few minutes of training, allowed us to effectively dodge nearly every attack in the game.
Five hours in, we could wipe out entire villages by walking in and swinging our sword around a bit - with, seemingly, little consequence, since the villagers half a mile down the road still welcomed us in and didn't mention a thing about the ghost town we'd just created. Even on the rare occasions when we did die (jumping off things worked nicely for that), you simply resurrect at a nearby shrine with no equipment or XP loss.
There are some quite nice ideas in place in terms of equipment and inventory - the most notable being the ability to combine multiple copies of the same item, creating a higher level version of the item in the process. This is great for freeing up inventory space - while an alchemy system allows you to combine elements you find into more powerful (and more useful) items, such as gems that add magical effects to your weapons. Similarly, you can boost the effect of magical attacks by attaching special "booster cards" to slots on your magic screen, which is a nice system that's sadly mostly wasted on this game.
Verily, verily, verily, verily.
The fact that the rest of the game is so weak - and yet in some ways, so promising, since we'd love another Oblivion-style free roaming RPG to play around in - draws unwanted attention to another of the developer's major sins. This is, frankly, one of the worst PC to console ports we've ever played - quite clearly an unloved and unwanted side-project from a developer that knows nothing about console gaming, and cares even less.
Horrible framerate and graphics aside (acceptable, sort of, on the PC where players can adjust settings or buy better equipment - totally out of bounds on a console), the game suffers terribly from a total lack of thought or consideration in the transition to the Xbox 360.
The interface - especially in the inventory and map screens - is quite clearly designed for a mouse and keyboard, and controlling it with a joypad feels clunky and awkward. Even simply giving us a virtual mouse pointer to push around with an analogue stick would have been better than this - as it is, your cursor bounces from place to place and often gets stuck and refuses to move on to the object you want to highlight. Another jaw-dropping example of misunderstanding console gaming lies in the Alchemy system - where creating a new concoction saves it in your potion list, usually as "New Potion", and you must rename it laboriously using the on-screen keyboard.
The save system, too, is pure PC gaming - and very traditional PC gaming, at that. Two Worlds has no auto-saves, no checkpoints, nothing. If you don't save the game manually - by pulling up the main menu screen and selecting Save - the game saves precisely nothing of your progress. For PC gamers, who can set up a shortcut on an F-key and press it every few minutes, that's fine. To console gamers used to checkpoints and the ability to turn the machine off with impunity, this is simply anathema.
Finally, it's not just that too little has changed on the way from console to PC. One major change has occurred - and sadly, it's a very negative one. Where co-op multiplayer is a big hook of Two Worlds on the PC, the Xbox 360 version of the game has found itself castrated in this department - probably with a large rusty knife.
Where the PC version features large, persistent worlds for co-op play in an almost MMO style environment, the Xbox 360 version restricts you to eight players and a set of one-off maps for specific quests or deathmatch encounters. RPG players have been hoping for ages for a great co-op game in this mould; Two Worlds quite certainly is not that game. We may as well put the boot in and point out that when we found a couple of friends we could talk into experimenting in the multiplayer with us, we also ended up with so much lag and such awful framerates that we suspect we've lost their friendship forever. Sorry, guys.
Two Worlds, in other words, is a mess - a game which was very average but quite charming on the PC, where its occasional clever ideas could blossom, but whose conversion process to the Xbox 360 has left it staggering around like a former pop princess relaunching her career at a high-profile music awards ceremony.
If you're absolutely desperate for a further dose of free roaming RPG action after finishing up with Oblivion.... No, even at that, we can't recommend Two Worlds to you, except possibly as a cure that will put you entirely off the idea. Unless you're astonishingly tolerant of technical and interface problems, and totally addicted to dull hack-and-slash RPG combat, don't buy this game. Forsooth.
4 / 10