As fantasy action-RPGs go, 2007's Two Worlds may have been a bit shonky, but it certainly had a lot of heart. The sequel goes one better: it's got a lot of lung.
Loot a slain animal and, with a squelchy audio cue, you'll fish out one of its meaty gasbags and flop it into your backpack. But even the gizzards of a lowly hyena are worth collecting in Two Worlds II. In fact, absolutely everything is worth looting, as the game's superb crafting systems enable you to repurpose every piece of trash in your backpack to useful ends. It's almost a meta-commentary on recycling.
Basic alchemy is available pretty early on, and lets you combine reagents into healing, mana, and stat-buff or resistance potions. The entire process is affably simple, too. Looting can be done from a distance, and a single click sucks everything into your backpack. You find yourself running at breakneck speed through the countryside, snatching indigenous herbs without pause and emptying foes' pockets, post-massacre, with Dyson-like efficiency.
A similarly elegant system applies to weapon-modding. A bag bursting with looted weapons doesn't necessarily mean a trip back to town to offload at the vendor, as any weapon or item of apparel can be broken down on the fly to its base components. Through the metallurgy skill, these can be used to improve the stats of your favourite weapons and armour so they grow with you.
When I learned that Two Worlds II did away with the first game's item-stacking mechanic, I was dismayed; it was one of the things that kept me playing. But this new system, which turns the useless into the useful, is a considerable improvement.
Spell-crafting is the most intriguing of Two Worlds II's crafting systems. While you need to pour skill-points into specific schools of magic Fire, Necromancy, Air, for example to improve your abilities, mastery of the schools doesn't actually unlock spells. The spells themselves appear as cards, and can be bought or looted just like any other item.
To create a castable spell, it needs to be combined with carrier and modifier cards in the spell-crafting interface. Combine a Fire spell-card with a Missile carrier-card and an Increased Damage modifier-card, and you have you a tasty, direct-damage fire-bolt. You can then stack more of these combos together within the spell, depending on your mastery of specific magic schools.
Why not add an area poison-burst to it? And an icy damage-over-time effect? The combinations are mind-boggling. One early NPC actually mentioned a rain of anvils, which I haven't seen but, given how outlandish and versatile the system is, I firmly believe it's in there.
It's difficult to get as excited about the game's storyline, which follows on from Two Worlds, and once again sees the hero's sexy sister (yeah, that always was a bit weird) in thrall to the evil Gandohar and in need of rescue. The narrative arc isn't the pay-off, though. It simply forms a backdrop for the game's myriad smaller tales. In both content and geographical terms, Two Worlds II is enormous; if you're after an absorbing time-sink of an RPG, here it is.
It's bulging with off-piste quests, and many of them are agreeably potty. At one stage, in the beautiful, Feudal Japan-themed city of New Ashos, I found myself assisting an umbrella-vendor whose latest inventory had been cursed by a jealous shopkeeper, and was now flapping around her customers' houses munching on them. The quest concluded at a songbird exhibition. I walked in and was confronted with a scene of comical avian carnage. I set to dispatching the rogue brollies... before picking over the parrot carcasses for eggs and feathers. Alchemy never sleeps.
Two Worlds II also features a number of multiplayer modes, the most expansive of which is the Adventure mode. It's like a second campaign, in which you start a new character and fight your way through a series of linear maps to earn XP and gain levels.
Like the single-player game, there are no set character classes; you just spend your skill-points where you want. My current multiplayer character is a necromantic archer who also dabbles in healing; my conjured hounds keep the mobs at bay while I aim for the head, and if anything gets a blow in, I can pull out some heal-over-time spells.