A few weeks before PAX, we were contacted by the people at Topware about the opportunity to take an early look at the upcoming sequel to Two Worlds. We entered the preview skeptical of what we would see. The original Two Worlds did not leave us impressed, so our expectations were understandably low. I now know better than to judge a sequel by its prequel, because what we saw in that room was most certainly something to look forward to.
The preview began with an acknowledgment that TW1 was a little rough around the edges, and excuses were offered up. It turns out the game began its life as a PC title, and with only months left before release they were asked to port it to a console. Topware didn't call us in to request forgiveness for past sins, however. They were here to show us what they could do with the right time and resources.
Two Worlds II is running a whole new engine, the Grace Engine, which is three tiered. It has XBOX, PS3, and PC flavors, all with their own dedicated teams. The demo given for us was running on a Dev Xbox, and it looked like it was a fairly solid product even despite its pre-beta status. The graphics were highly detailed, with slick effects like multiple light sources and non-flat textures. Physics have been upgraded as well. We saw a dungeon with dangling chains, floating debris, and a full rag-doll skeleton hanging from the wall. The environments were lush and varied. No more "green castle with gray stones or gray castle with green stones" as your only choices. Now there are colorful grasslands, Asian inspired cities littered with cherry blossoms, and one particularly gorgeous cave filled with torches and fireflies, each shedding their own light that interacted and mingled. The effect was impressive. Character models were very nice, and even in this early build, effects were sprinkled in that caught our eye, like the arc of green blood left behind by a sword sweeping through a zombie.
There were all sorts of other touches that stood out in the preview. A dialog system that seeks to engage the player rather than force him to sit and wait until the game is done talking was particularly well done. The player is allowed to maintain control while his character speaks, stalking around the NPC and shifting the camera, all while the head and gestures continue to target the appropriate person. This may not seem like much, but it produces a very cinematic result. There was also a feature permitting the player to summon a disembodied viewpoint that can be used to freely fly around the map and scout out different areas.
Combat has had a few niceties added. The D-Pad will be mapped to different weapon and armor sets, allowing you to keep, for example, a different configuration for magic, ranged, and melee. Swapping happens instantly, which looks like it would allow a very flexible play style. We were shown off-the-hip target locked ranged weapons as well as precision aimed ones. There were also neat gadgets like multi-arrows that could be launched as a barrage or individually targeted and simultaneously fired.
Where the game really shines is in the magic system. Spells are contained in amulets, and they take mana to cast. So far nothing special. However, each spell has the capacity to be augmented. We watched as a simple ice projectile was given the multi-shot and ricochet augmentations. We were told that augments stack – two multipliers get you 4 shots instead of 3, for example – and any spell can get any augmentation. Not only that, but at higher levels, amulets can be given secondary spells, each with their own augments. We now saw a fireball spawn an area of effect lightning storm where it struck, then a multi-shot ice ball spawn summoned monsters. All told, they say that there are over 1×10^26 spell combinations available. Seldom do I have to use scientific notation in a video game preview, so a tip of the hat to them there.
Crafting has been tweaked to be more logical. Now items can be stripped down to their raw materials, and these materials are used to improve other items. Item improvements are uncapped, too, so as you grow, you can improve your existing weapons and armor rather than being forced to drop a beautiful piece of armor for a generic piece of leather just because of a 2% stat improvement.
The voice work was a sore point for many in the earlier game, "Forsooth" and such, but we have been assured that many of those problems were due to poor localization. A dedicated North American localization team is in place making sure that the plot and performances are of a much better quality.
Multiplayer was a big topic of discussion, too. This game will feature a co-op campaign, distinct from the single player campaign. Four plus players will be able to join each other either via a friends list or a matchmaker. Gameplay will be mission based, and the difficulty is designed such that latter levels will nearly require you to have a full party to succeed. The co-op campaign will be shorter, 6-8 hours to the solo game's 25 or so, but it is likely to be the target of DLC.
As I said before, we did not have the highest of hopes stepping into this preview session, but stepping out we were enthusiastically awaiting a game that could very well reverse a tepid reputation and firmly establish the Two Worlds franchise.