Getting Medieval

Funny how gaming's most epic genre -- the role-playing game -- often feels the most limited in scope. After all, how many times can we traverse a medieval land, defeat the orcs, rescue the girl, save the world, and level up along the way?

Never enough times would be the answer supplied by the latest RPG, Two Worlds. And while you can't fault the game for lacking scope -- its map is open-ended and enormous -- everything else about it is as clunky as armored underpants.

Immersion in any RPG's world is crucial to the experience, but those accustomed to the character customization of Elder Scrolls or World of Warcraft will cry "Nay!" at the sight of Two Worlds. You're forced to play a nameless, average white knight with an array of mind-boggling options: Enjoy your choice of five different haircuts, every one of which will be concealed by your helmet. Feel free to lengthen your arms or -- if you dare -- even shorten them! Customize your eye color for irises that are one pixel wide. Sweet Lord of the Nazgul, it's just like playing God.

The story is as comprehendible as a Chinese copy of The Hobbit. You may find yourself hours into the thing and still have no idea what the "Two Worlds" even are. Here's the short synopsis: One night, your sister is attacked and wounded. You go for help, return to find that someone has kidnapped her, and then spend the game trying to find her. It's Last of the Mohicans with a twist of incest. Also, a war with the orcs is brewing, so you should probably level up along the way.

Following a ponderous, yawn-worthy cut scene about Kings and Magic, the real sword-and-sorcery action begins. Well, eventually -- but the first thing you'll do is attempt to adjust your TV set in disbelief. The graphics can't be that craptastic, can they? Yes, they certainly can. Blurry, ugly, and primitive, the imagery may lead you to think a PlayStation One has puked all over your monitor. And even with a large flat-screen TV, prepare to get off the couch and squint to read the fuzzy, tiny onscreen text.

The sucking continues with Two Worlds' choppy frame rate, load times, and herky-jerky animation, which make the game's challenges nearly insurmountable. It's like repeatedly playing a skipping record -- a skipping Avril Lavigne record, no less. And how do such lag times translate to Two Worlds' Internet multiplayer mode? Read the string of expletives spewed by jilted online gamers, and you'll get the idea.

The battle system is easy enough, with one button controlling your uninspired weapon-swinging. As with other RPGs, the more things you kill, the more experience you earn. But prepare to remain a lowly Squire, massacred by woodland creatures. While they gnaw on your customizable arms (Damn! Shoulda gone with shorter ones), you'll fumble with the confusing inventory system, trying to craft a potion from the random items you've picked up. Also, just how is a person to know that you'll need beaver fat to whip up a batch of goddamn manna?

One last nitpick: You can mount your horse from only the right side. Try hopping on from the left, and you'll magically teleport to the other side before galloping away. And galloping, incidentally, looks something like hovering above the grassy countryside. In the year 2007, you'd think developers could, I don't know, fix this kind of shit. Until Two Worlds' creators get the memo, you'd best gallop in the other direction.

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Chris Ward
Contact: Chris Ward