I enjoyed playing Two Worlds II, even if it's hard for me to articulate exactly why. Ever since I was a little kid playing games (or even watching others play games) on a NES or Apple IIGS, I have chased the feeling of excitement when I first get into a game. I imagine this is what a chemical addiction can feel like. I wake up in the morning, I want to play it. When I'm doing something else, I want to play it. Etc. This is one of those rare magical feelings of childhood that I can still sometimes capture, however briefly, and so I chase it whenever I can. It's more fleeting and harder to come by now than it was 20 years ago, but it's still there.
So ordinarily, when I don't find myself sucked into a game fairly quickly (usually within the first couple of hours), I don't ever reach that feeling. This is particularly the case when the game in question is a long RPG <cough, cough, Gothic 4>. So perhaps the weirdest thing I noticed when playing this game was that I found myself more deeply into the game after 20 - 30 hours than I was after the first 10. I don't think it was so much that the game itself got better, but I became accustomed to its quirks and mechanics, the writing and story grew on me, and the fairly deep item and skill upgrade trees continued to capture my interest. Now that I've gotten my initial high-level reaction out of the way, I have some more specific thoughts on the game below.
I'll start with the graphics. These are fairly strong, but they looked similar to those in Gothic 4, right down to the glare of the sun in the distance used to obscure the limited draw distance. Ordinarily, any comparison to Gothic 4 isn't going to be a good one, but this one isn't so bad. I noticed occasional hiccups when sprinting through the open world, but they were nowhere near as obvious as in Oblivion, and load times generally were very short.
The plot deserves a special mention, in part because I think it is probably easily misunderstood. Make no mistake, it is absurdly stupid, but I've come to think that this is done on purpose. The main character has no real depth to speak of, serious NPCs regularly make dumb little jokes, and the story ends with a plot twist so silly it makes 95% of the story of the entire franchise not make any sense. That being said, it (surprisingly) grew on me because it seemed to be a parody of run-of-the-mill fantasy RPG stories. The main character seems to recognize this, but wants to save the world anyway. There are several particularly enjoyable moments like this (Dave Spade the archaeologist, an Indiana Jones homage as a side quest, for example). These did a good job leaving me smiling, so somehow this ended up being one of the stronger parts of the game.Various game mechanics deserve a mention here as well, but I'm not sure if these were a substantial improvement over those of the original. The inventory is poorly organized, but still manages to be a fairly fun part of the game. In the original Two Worlds, you could upgrade any weapon with another weapon of the same type. Here, you can break down any weapon or armor that you find into component parts (wood, iron, steel, etc.), and then use those component parts to upgrade your equipment. You can also modify items by using ability gems that can affect almost any attribute of your character. So this can be fairly in-depth, but the game caps how far you can upgrade an item based on your skill in armor crafting. To me, that felt like a fairly big limitation. Part of what I liked about Two Worlds was the ability to create an absurdly powerful weapon out of an originally crappy item, and this felt handicapped here. I felt fairly similarly about the alchemy system. You get a lot of components to use, picked up from the environment or dead monsters, but at the end of the day there only seem to be a handful of items you can actually create (potions of health/mana and various resistances being the most common). There are a few more interesting ones (500% jump, converting damage to health into damage to mana, for example), but these were relatively few and far between, and I always felt guilty using them for fear that I would run out when I actually needed them. The skill system, on the other hand, is more or less well done. You can upgrade a variety of abilities, including resistances, combat skills, different schools of magic, thieving skills, etc. And unlike some other RPGs, it's pretty unlikely you'll max any of these out. I mostly played as a warrior, and by the time I beat the game I was still a long way from maxing out warrior abilities (and had barely explored the magic tracks). So the game will make you carefully choose what you want to focus in, which helps keep things interesting. You will also be rewarded from time to time with additional skill points for doing things like picking locks, killing monsters, or mixing potions, which is also a nice touch.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the game will also probably be it's most overlooked part. The magic systems is surprisingly deep, allowing you to create spells based on a variety of attributes (damage, area of affect, type of magic). Unfortunately, magic seemed so underpowered that I basically stopped using it very early on in the game. The mini-games were also pretty disappointing. The lock-picking mini-game starts out fairly interesting, and stays at least a step above boring throughout, but I did find it tedious to have to go through a slow chest opening animation after picking each lock. Why else would I be picking the lock if I didn't want to open it? Unfortunately, the pick-pocketing mini-game isn't nearly as good, and the rewards (usually around 30 - 40 auras) are almost never are worth it. The horseback riding is terribly implemented. The boats are significantly better done, but there doesn't seem to be much point in doing either one.
The combat is pretty janky, as it was before. Combat skills are nicely done, but there isn't that much need for them. There isn't much point in blocking, as I found I could just spam attack most of the time and be successful. So the combat can get dull at times. I also found a few frustrating instances where I was caught between two large monsters, neither of which was dangerous in itself, but between the two of them they repeatedly knocked me down and made me unable to attack, defend, or heal myself. That got annoying, but it only happened a couple of times and was mostly easy to avoid.
Probably the most disappointing aspect to me was the limited open world concept used here. Things didn't feel nearly as open as the previous game. Here, each chapter is more or less set on a separate island, each of which is much smaller than the continent featured in the first game. You can always go back to previous islands, but generally I found that I accomplished most of the sidequests before I chose to move on. Moreover, many of the paths you can travel are preset. There are a lot more mountains or impassable hills separating paths, so you can't just sort of set out in one direction and see what's there. For me, this was a pretty big drawback.All in all, I put in around 40 hours into Two Worlds II and I enjoyed it. But it's probably not for everyone, and I wouldn't necessarily recommend it over a serious open world RPG.