Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Two Worlds (addendum)

I felt the overwhelming need to do a second post regarding this game because it's actually a bit discouraging how overlooked Two Worlds apparently has become in relation to how much I've enjoyed playing it thus far.

First, I need to redact a statement that I made in my previous post, where I commented that I think what this game really needs is a Construction Set. As it turns out, there actually is a SDK for Two Worlds, which one can download (along with some other modding tools) from the Inside Two Worlds Forums once one has secured a free membership.

This discovery should have encouraged me. Being restricted to a single male character always lessens any role-playing experience for me, so I immediately looked for a mod that would allow me to play the single-player game as my own gender (that's right, there's a multi-player aspect to the game). I found just such a mod, but in the end decided not to use it because none of the male-voiced dialog was replaced so it ended up just being a bit unnerving.
But here's where I began to get truly discouraged: a quick look there at the downloads page for Two Worlds mods (for this first game, not its sequel) reveals only 77 entries, which is a staggeringly low number when compared to the quantity of community-produced mods available for other games. I find this a bit of a paradox since there are plenty of remarks to be found on the web opining what's wrong with the game and should have been done differently by the devs. If you don't like it and you have a SDK, why don't you fix it?

But the community isn't entirely to blame here. The latest version of Two Worlds to be released is v1.7 (a.k.a. the Epic Edition), yet the SDK has only ever been updated to work with v1.6. Thus the community was forced to make a choice: play the most recent version of the game or play a moddable version of the game. Somebody somewhere really "dropped the ball" on this one.

Despite the fact that Two Worlds apparently is a "dead" game now, I just wanted to do another post to attempt to counteract all the negative criticism surrounding it. The game really isn't bad at all, it was just never able to escape from the shadow of Bethesda's Oblivion  -- the game that it's constantly compared to and thus could never be as good as in the eyes of most gamers.
The most frequent complaint I've read about Two Worlds is that it's poorly balanced. This is in a way true; I initially played it for about four hours on the default "medium" difficulty and found that I leveled up relatively quickly and soon was able to cut my way through most enemies virtually unscathed. Now I'm about ten hours into my current game on the "hard" difficulty setting and am finding the game more challenging and perhaps even too challenging in some areas. But I also think that the majority of the complaints about balance result from the fact that the game is being compared to Oblivion. In the popular Bethesda game the entire world around the player (for the most part) is constantly adjusting to the level of the player, whereas many of the encounters in Two Worlds appear to be static and should not be attempted until the player has reached a certain level. The Cyclops and the Ogre I stumbled across are good examples: each was able to smash me with a single blow while I was able to do virtually no damage to them.
Oh yeah, and then there's the graveyard full of undead that hit me with fatal levels of poison:
But Oblivion and Two Worlds obviously have two very different leveling and balancing systems, so in the end I have to say that comparing the two is really just illogical and unjust. Sure, in Two Worlds you'll feel really outmatched by some of the enemy mobs, but the game also provides the player with ways to deal with such mobs without taking any damage at all. Prime example: my fiery assault on this Dwarf-invaded mine; the little buggers never really had a chance...
It's also possible to get different factions (monsters versus humans, for example) to lose interest in you and start attacking each other. I came across this mob of bandits that were really giving me a hard way to go...
...until I realized that I could lure the aforementioned Ogre to their camp to wipe them out for me... but only after they had done enough damage to the big guy that I was then able to finish him off myself.
So the game is not without its own tactical nuances and challenges and can be enjoyable if one can stop comparing it to other games and simply accept it for what it is. In my opinion (and trust me, I'm not easily impressed), Two Worlds has everything a good single-player RPG should have: a huge world to explore, lots of quests to complete, a somewhat unique magic system, plenty of stuff to kill when it tries to hurt you and a main story-line that (though perhaps a bit of it was lost in translation) is interesting and entertaining. I feel that it's well worth the $10 USD that is asking for it and, while I won't be so boldly delusional as to declare it the best game ever created, I do recommend that any fans of sandbox-style RPGs at least give it an impartial chance. It might never be your favorite RPG, but I don't think you'll regret having played it.

EDIT: (a few hours later...)

Oh, and another thing I forgot to mention while we're comparing Two Worlds to Oblivion:

I've lost track of how many times I've read complaints from Oblivion players regarding frequent CTDs. Sure, some of those crashes can be attributed to improper mod usage, but many of them can be blamed on the buggy game itself and the engine that runs it. But I've now logged in over thirteen hours of gameplay with Two Worlds and its Earth Engine and I can honestly say that it has not crashed, frozen, flickered or faltered a single time. Nope, not even once. My kudos to the devs of Two Worlds for their craftsmanship on the technical side of the game.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Two Worlds

I've actually owned this game for a number of years, but only recently have been able to play it. You might ask why that is. Three letters: DRM. A few years ago I purchased Reality Pump's Two Worlds at a local Wal-Mart, perfectly legally with my own hard-earned cash. But as my luck would have it, it was one of those games that contains a nasty little bit of DRM that makes it impossible to re-install and re-activate it more than once or twice. After an OS replacement on my old computer and later switching to a new computer, apparently I inadvertently had used up all the permitted installs. Thus the game ended up sitting in a DVD rack collecting dust...
This is where websites like (Good Old Games) come in handy. Offering DRM-free versions of many popular games at reasonable prices, is really the sort of place a reminiscent gamer like myself should hang around more often. Special thanks to unofficial spokesperson Kirtai for mentioning that Two Worlds could be found there for just $10 USD. So, now that I've owned the game for a few years and have purchased it twice, I can finally play it...

You're Hooded Dude. Your sister, Scantily-Clad Chick, has fallen off the horse you both share. While you go off to fetch a pail of water, Armored Hooded Dude drops by and kidnaps her. Several years pass and still you're looking for her.

Okay, there's a bit more to it than that, but the game doesn't really give us much of a prologue before we jump right into it.
Two Worlds is the game that I've always felt really wanted to be Oblivion but just didn't quite make it. Much like the famous Bethesda cash-cow, it offers players a large green world to explore and plenty of quests and stuff to hack at with a sword or throw fireballs at. However, unlike Oblivion, you can only play the game as the one guy and you have a pre-determined list of possible skills that you can activate with your experience points (think Witcher, but with an interface and skills that don't look or feel quite as cool or complex).
To be honest, the only things that really went wrong with this game in my opinion are the characters and the dialog. The NPCs all look quite shoddy by today's standards, and everybody likes to say things like "forsooth", "mayhaps" and "pray tell ye" a lot, to the point that it just sounds really corny.
But I can overlook such things if the gameplay keeps me entertained, and so far Two Worlds is doing just that. It took me a few tries to grow accustomed to the GUI and find a control configuration that I'm comfortable with, but now that I'm getting into it I could see myself actually playing this one through to the end. It has plenty of side-quests, a large world to explore, plenty of stuff to buy and sell, lots of spells to learn from various elemental schools of magic and of course hordes of enemies to hack your way through. The combat system does not seem at all complex, but I'm a fan of hack-'n-slash adventures so I really don't mind.
If you've heard bad things about this game and have avoided it because you found the Bethesda games first, the best way I could describe Two Worlds to you would be this: imagine a game that tries to emulate Oblivion but with lesser graphics and gameplay similar to Morrowind, though the quests and factions system aren't quite so complex.
I'm not going to preach that everyone should buy Two Worlds because admittedly there are better RPGs out there, but I also have to say that you could do a lot worse. At only $10 USD for a full game with two expansion packs and no DRM, you really can't go too wrong. If you get bored of playing those other games that you've already been through more than twice and want to mess around with something different, Two Worlds might be just the thing you could check out without emptying your whole wallet.
(What this game really needs is a Construction Set. Don't know why more game devs and publishers haven't caught on to that yet...)
I've also managed to get a copy of Two Worlds II... but that, my friends, will be another story for another time...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

More Ubisoft CSI

So I asked myself: "Why stop while I'm on a roll?"

Yes, apparently Ubisoft secured the gaming rights to almost all of the CBS crime scene investigation shows for a current total of nine games that I was able to find (that's counting the NCIS game I wrote about a few days ago).

CSI: Dark Motives

This one looks and plays just like the CSI Miami game I wrote about in my last post with the exceptions that this time it's the Las Vegas crew that you'll be working with and the GUI uses a different color scheme.
The characters are reasonable facsimiles of their RL counterparts and are all voiced by the actual actors (apparently they were cheaper than the NCIS cast).
I should also mention here that my shallow critique in the last post might have been somewhat premature and only partially accurate. While the physical interfaces of the gameplay make me feel like I'm playing an old DOSBox game, the gameplay itself is not entirely without its challenges.
At times I feel like I'm being led by a dangling carrot by either the game's NPCs or its ethereal narrator's sexy voice, but there are also times when I actually have to use my knowledge of actual CSI procedures (or at least their television and PC game equivalents) in order to determine which tool I need to collect which type of evidence and what to do with the evidence once I have it. So my assertion that the game could be played by an automated mouse clicking device might have been a tad harsh, though those suspect interviews are still way too shallow in my opinion.
Remember the story of Calleigh and the alligator? Well, apparently I neglected to use a cotton swab to collect a sample of a mysterious substance from the severed human forearm. Calleigh appeared quite bewildered by my obvious inexperience. Making a mistake in the game doesn't seem to cause irreversible harm (so far) but the narrator in the Miami game did mention that asking my CSI partner for clues will deduct points from my evaluation.
CSI: Deadly Intent
CSI: Three Dimensions of Murder
CSI: Fatal Conspiracy
CSI: Hard Evidence

The remainder of the games featuring the Las Vegas CSI crew are pretty much the same sort of thing. In some of them the toolbar GUI is replaced by a snazzy PDA, but the general feel of the games does not change much from one to the next.
As one would expect, the quality of the graphics has improved a bit as the series has progressed. However, the first few games in the series are just old enough that they don't include any options for playing on widescreen monitors at higher resolutions. Thus I haven't included screenshots from all the games here; I wasn't able to engineer a way to run a few of them in windowed mode on this rig and I didn't want to post images that are stretched and distorted. This also explains why the images I've included here are in two different aspect ratios; the ones in 4:3 are from the games that I was able to run in windowed mode on this rig while the 16:9 ones are the more recent games which included options for my monitor. In the cases of the older games that I couldn't run in windowed mode, I simply didn't feel like going over to the old Dell, taking the screenshots there and then e-mailing them to myself from the computer just four feet away. I'm such a lazy slacker...
CSI New York

This is where the devs went off on some strange tangent as far as visuals are concerned. Unlike the more traditional CGI used in the other games, here they decided to make everything look like it's from some sort of hip-hop Cartoon Network show.
It should also be mentioned that, despite the fact that all the actors from the show are billed next to the names of their characters in both the game's title sequence and on the credits page, this game contains no voice-overs whatsoever. Apparently Ubisoft decided to save themselves a whole bundle of money on this one.
Also unusual is the fact that this game can only be played at a 4:3 aspect ratio; unusual because the game was released in late 2008 when widescreen monitors were becoming more commonplace. Apparently the devs simply decided to cut corners there as well (pun intended).
Despite the decidedly different look of this game, the gameplay is pretty much more of the same. You scan over a picture with your cursor and click to collect evidence, then haul it back to the lab for the fine folks in their white coats to examine.
Here there's a plus and a minus. The plus is that you can apparently pick up clutter and junk that is totally irrelevant to the case, which I suppose could make the gameplay a bit more interesting depending upon what you might need to do with the discards later on. The minus is that when you click an item it is added to your inventory with an animated bounce that is accompanied by a springy sound effect reminiscent of a classic Warner Brothers cartoon (which I found very annoying). All things considered, I have to say that this is my least favorite of all the CSI games so far.
Before I go on, I need to again amend something that I printed in an earlier post. In my description of the NCIS game I said something to the effect that all the voice stand-ins were talentless hacks that sounded nothing like the actual actors from the show. That statement is only partially correct. Now that I've had more time to listen to them more carefully (I've completed the first three "episodes" of the game), I have to say that Betsy Moore, the gal doing the voice for the character Abby Sciuto, is actually doing a believable Pauley Perrette imitation. The others are still talentless hacks, but Betsy Moore gets an official Neko Kudo.
If you've read my ramblings this far then you're likely one of the people wondering how my Valentine's Day turned out. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. My girlfriend worked a weird double/split shift so we didn't have loads of time to spend together, but during her break in the afternoon we had a nice lunch out and then when we came home I was able to spring the games on her (as well as a few other gifts I won't bore you with here). She seemed genuinely impressed by the number of games I found for her and actually started playing the NCIS game, which I had a suspicion would end up being her favorite. She was able to play it for about half an hour before she had to go back to work and, though her quirky hand-eye coordination seemed to give her some minor troubles getting accustomed to some of the mouse operations required to solve some of the puzzles, she actually seemed to enjoy it. She enjoyed it so much in fact that, upon returning home in the evening she again surprised me. Usually her primary concern after work is finding out what we have for dinner, but on this particular evening she went to the computer and resumed playing the game, not remembering to mention food until after she had been playing for about half an hour. After taking a break to eat, she again returned to the game and I let her play for about another half-hour before I decided to be the responsible one and remind her that she needed to be up early the next day. I can honestly say that, compared to her playing Ms. Pac-Man, Frogger or Space Invaders for a few minutes at a time, this has been the most time I've ever seen her spend playing any video game. Score one for the gaming neko!

Now I have to worry that perhaps I've inadvertently created a game-obsessed monster...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Forensic Gaming

Deciding that it might be wise to not put all my Valentine's Day eggs in one basket (wait... eggs are Easter; perhaps I should find a better analogy before I publish this), I got the PC game version of another of my girlfriend's favorite procedural crime dramas: CSI Miami.
At first glance it looks like it will be a pretty cool game; the characters look pretty much like their RL counterparts (though perhaps under the influence of something?) and it appears that this time Ubisoft actually managed to secure the services of all the actual actors for the voices...
...but then I start getting into the gameplay and I realize that this is probably another example of exactly what I've been looking for: a game less suited for a semi-experienced gamer like myself and more suited for my non-gaming GF.

The thing I instantly found disappointing was that questioning witnesses and potential suspects really doesn't require any actual attention at all; if I had a little automated device to click my mouse button for me it would work just as well. The game gives me a single question I can ask and the character gives me a single answer; so like, what's the point? See, if I had designed this game, the player would be given a list of possible questions to ask the suspect and the information the suspect would reveal (or not reveal) would be dependent upon whether or not I had asked the right questions. But alas, such is apparently not the Ubisoft way.
Wait a minute... was that the late Bernie Mac?
Next we have a picture of Calleigh, a dead alligator and a severed human arm. My options are to click on either the alligator or the arm to collect the evidence, or to click Calleigh to ask for her advice as to what to do. I'm bewildered by the choices! They could have at least hidden a piece of evidence under a bush or something and made me look for it, but no such fun to be found here.
Then I get to take all my hard-earned evidence back to the morgue for Alex to examine and tell me what's up. Ooh, the suspense is killing me...
Okay, I'm not going to bore you with any more of this. Suffice it to say that this is another game that can be played entirely with just the mouse and, as far as I can tell so far, requires very little actual thought to play. If my GF can't manage to play through this one, then I might as well give up all hope...

Friday, February 10, 2012


Along with Tuesday's hype-heralded Steam release of the SCK (which I hear Bethesda is already releasing patches for) Bethesda also released the "free bonus gift" of a Skyrim high-res texture pack weighing in at over 3 GB. Not one to pass up any free gifts, I decided I should check it out.

Below are a few before-and-after screenshots all taken at 1600x900 resolution. I had a few settings switched off (like FXAA effects, anti-aliasing, anisotropic filtering, water reflections, et cetera) but all the images were taken at the same resolution with the same settings and at the highest texture detail setting so they should still serve as accurate comparisons as far as the textures themselves are concerned.













If you ask me (which nobody did of course), there's really not much difference to be seen here. I've also read reports that the only real differences are reduced framerates and increased loading times. In my opinion, this is just Bethesda releasing as a DLC something that should have been in the game to begin with and trying to make themselves look generous by calling it a "free bonus gift".

What do you think?

Oh... and before anyone asks... yes, I checked to be certain that the thing installed itself correctly. I even made sure that the BSAs were both registered in both my .ini files:

sResourceArchiveList=Skyrim - Misc.bsa, Skyrim - Shaders.bsa, Skyrim - Textures.bsa, Skyrim - Interface.bsa, Skyrim - Animations.bsa, Skyrim - Meshes.bsa, Skyrim - Sounds.bsa
sResourceArchiveList2=Skyrim - Voices.bsa, Skyrim - VoicesExtra.bsa, Skyrim - HighResTexturePack01.bsa, Skyrim - HighResTexturePack02.bsa, if this is a case of the textures for some reason not showing up in my game, we can give Bethesda another gold star for their fine craftsmanship, excellent customer service and their wise decision to distribute all their products through Steam...

The only real good news here is that the textures are in fact all contained in two tidy BSA files, so if it turns out that they don't work well for anyone, they can easily be deleted...