The very existence of genre categories in the world of videogames means that derivative software and a general lack of originality leads all-too easily to the advent of (unfair?) comparative reviewing. It often cannot be helped. Look no further than the likes of FIFA vs. Pro Evolution, Medal of Honor vs. Call of Duty, and any of the EA vs. 2K Games, US sport offerings for proof that existing benchmarks often contribute toward a reviewer's concluding summations.
In the case of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, next-gen gamers duly found themselves blessed with a sprawling RPG epic that set the standard for things to come, effortlessly delivering an open-ended, thrilling, and compelling experience from start to finish. But, since Bethesda released the award-winning Oblivion, scant little else has come along to push forward against the RPG boundaries that it set, thus leaving RPG fans without an evolving genre, and Oblivion oddly free of comparison... until now.
Two Worlds arrives - after several frustrating delays - amid considerable 'on-paper' promise and expectation as to what it can bring to the RPG table as a genuine genre player. With an enormous game world to explore, a layered character interface to mould, and a deep storyline to progress through, Two Worlds certainly possesses all the prerequisite ingredients to deliver heaps of satisfying RPG evolution, gameplay immersion, and player reward. Yet, as is so often the case with today's videogames, tantalising ingredients don't always result in a gaming meal that dances joyously across the player's palette.
So, bearing that in mind, while Oblivion was lovingly created in a Michelin Star kitchen by some of the world's very best chefs, Two Worlds finds itself the product of a back-street greasy spoon where an illegal alien - who thinks hygiene is a dirty word - has thrown otherwise quality elements into a pot, boiled the very life out of them, added some bodily contributions by way of garnish, and had the temerity to serve it to discerning customers at cordon bleu prices. Comparative reviewing might not always be a fair process, especially by way of weak food analogies, but when it comes to appraising Two Worlds and its staid 'rescue your sister and save the world' premise, it's positively essential.
Honesty is the best policy, so it's said, so let it be known at this juncture that while Two Worlds offers countless hours of explorative temptation, adventurous battling, and progressive character development, the resolve of this particular reviewer crumbled long before reaching double digits. Indeed, when a promising videogame such as this is so inexplicably poor as to leave the player hoping against hope that something miraculously magical is just around the gameplay corner, it makes the resulting disappointment(s) all-the harder to stomach.
For example, while Two Worlds offers up a fairly impressive - and certainly huge - graphical environment for the player to run rampant throughout (poor draw distances aside), the desire to do so is swiftly fractured by frequent screen-freezes while the game engine apologetically struggles to process the next open expanse. And, laughably, it's not as though this hideous stuttering only surfaces during extreme moments of visual demand, it's ingrained across the whole game and only subsides when inside structures or wandering through contained elements such as villages, towns, dungeons, and the like.
Two Worlds' poor performance isn't just limited to its game engine collapsing in the face of its own grand visual ambition - perhaps a consequence of Oblivion's aesthetic achievements - as it also fails miserably to draw the player past its technical faults with immersive characterisations. Beyond the laughable overuse of 'ye olde' English terminology such as 'yay,' 'verily,' 'thou,' and even 'forsooth,' the game's NPC performances are so disgracefully bad that invoked laughter soon moves swiftly from frustrated exasperation to angry expletives. Hammed acting is one thing (and in most cases forgivable) but frequent contextual errors and hopelessly poor inflection combine with ugly hand puppet facial modelling to kill any willingness where the player's suspension of disbelief is concerned.
Sadly, the ongoing diatribe of criticism cannot be allayed by Two Worlds' character evolution either, and although its undeniably involving weaponry, items, and magical alchemy features do provide moments of considered worth amid the gathering disappointments, they're not able to drag the experience clear of its own destructive inadequacies. Moreover, perhaps the game's biggest failing emerges from its real-time battle aspects when weighed against the overwhelming necessity to wield magical power. The latter becomes increasingly vital - as somewhat of a forced cop out - in the face of some dreadful close quarter and ranged combat that makes Oblivion's admittedly simplistic system appear wonderfully fulfilling in every respect.
Most reviews, however negative, do usually manage to dredge through the assessed quagmire to offer up one or two redeeming aspects that would, at the very least, render the experience attractive to the strictly hardcore demographic. Indeed, no end of warnings against Hollwood tie-ins or perennial stat-boosted EA releases will prevent certain consumers from wasting their pocket money here, but perhaps those still awed by Oblivion will gauge Two Worlds with more of a honed and critical eye in terms of its near-absolute ineffectuality.
Of course, those truly, truly, truly hardcore genre fans that simply cannot deny themselves entry to a brand new RPG experience will be blinded by Two Worlds and its considerable promise. And with next-gen release lists not exactly bursting with future alternatives, its ensuing attraction will remain intact regardless of how it is scored in this review - or any other. That being said, one can only hope that sense prevails and Oblivion's vast canvas still offers enough scope to keep all-but the most dedicated (and foolhardy) gamer well away from Two Worlds.