Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Comparison of Oblivion and Two Worlds: Exploration RPGs

I enjoyed both Oblivion and Two Worlds. In fact, I've had more fun in both of them than I've had in a number of other recent games.

That's actually the first point to make: for all their differences, Oblivion and Two Worlds are much more similar to each other than either is to other games. In both of them, you can spend 40-100 hours wandering around exploring. I happen to really enjoy exploring, so I'm already predisposed to like both of these games. Fortunately, despite the flaws of each game, both of them were rich enough and polished enough to keep me exploring.

I liked Oblivion better for letting me create my own skill template. I don't mind the occasional swordplay, so I could handle Two Worlds just fine, but the stealth-mage character I was able to develop in Oblivion fit my preferred playstyle a lot better.

The downside was that this build was perhaps too effective! Combining the 6x backstab modifier with fully-leveled-up magic (including an easily-enchanted dagger that does 100 Health damage) meant that pretty much everything became a one-shot-kill. While that kind of power is initially satisfying, it eventually gets boring. If the rest of Oblivion weren't interesting, the high-level combat would not be a reason to keep playing the game.

Combat in Two Worlds, on the other hand, soon starts feeling like an exercise in mouse-clicking. But the "combine like items" minigame that allows you to create more and more powerful gear provides a rationale for continuing to engage in combat that Oblivion lacked. (It's not long before collecting glass and daedric loot in Oblivion is a waste of time unless you enjoy seeing how much money you can accumulate.)

Speaking of exploration, the world of Two Worlds is larger than that of Oblivion. There's just more world to explore than in Oblivion, which, although it seems large when you start the game, is soon revealed as quickly traveled even without the instant travel. (The question of instant travel is a wash, by the way; both of these games allow it. In fact, with the teleport stones, it's actually more powerful in Two Worlds.)

Another exploration note: the feature in Two Worlds of marking with a gray overlay any locations you haven't yet visited is nice. It's fun trying to expose every possible location. (Although as someone on the Two Worlds official forum said, it would have been nice if "percentage of world uncovered" had been a tracked statistic.) Trying to find all of the teleport nodes was an enjoyable subgame as well. Oblivion had something like this in its "find all the shrines" subgame, but with far fewer shrines in a smaller world, this subgame was over too soon.

It's hard to say which game's vistas I preferred more. Oblivion was extremely pretty, with the glow that everything seemed to have, while Two Worlds was a little more photorealistic. (I say "a little more"; it certainly wasn't photorealistic to the degree of, say, Crysis, which itself was only semi-photorealistic at a distance.) In both games I really enjoyed climbing up mountains to see if I could find a really picturesque view, and I was often successful in doing so in both games.

Weather was handled better in Oblivion. Rain in Oblivion was more visually appealing; it was more frequent in certain locations; and it was specific to locations. Rain in Two Worlds just seemed like a graphics effect; it happened anywhere (even in the desert -- ?!); and if it was raining anywhere in the world, it was raining everywhere in the world. And don't even get me started on how often the annoying fog showed up in Two Worlds.

On voice acting, I don't think it's fair or correct to say that the voice acting was "bad" in Oblivion. It wasn't bad; it was just that other than Patrick Stewart and Sean Bean, Bethesda only used about four people to do the dialogue of every NPC in the game. Even great vocal work couldn't overcome the repetitiveness of hearing the same voices over and over.

In certain cases, however, the voice work in Oblivion was superlative. Specifically, Sean Bean's voice work as Martin, especially in the later stages of the game, was award-worthy. As much as I enjoyed Armin Shimerman as Andrew Ryan in BioShock, and Ellen McLain as GLaDOS in Portal, Sean Bean's performance in Oblivion was outstanding.

Sadly, that points out the quality of the dialogue writing and voice acting for Two Worlds (at least the U.S. version that I played). It wasn't the worst ever, and as noted above there were some funny bits. But it wasn't Oblivion-quality.

It also wasn't Oblivion-quantity. While most the quests in Two Worlds weren't badly done (I can only think of a couple of gripes), it felt like Oblivion had more quests. (I say "felt like" because it's possible that the size of the world in Two Worlds made it feel like quest-givers were spaced farther apart.)

That said, NPCs in Oblivion were definitely much more fully realized -- with more lines of dialogue, they felt more like people. In both games, NPCs occasionally wandered off into the wilderness and got killed, which is interesting from a "state of the art in AI for computer RPGs" perspective, but Oblivion gets the nod for having more interesting NPCs. (It's worth noting that Bethesda has mentioned that it plans for Fallout 3 to have fewer NPCs than in Oblivion, but that each NPC will be more fully drawn as a character.)

Both Oblivion and Two Worlds featured a kind of alchemy subgame. I liked Oblivion's a bit better because plants respawned, and that feels more natural. Plants couldn't be allowed to respawn in Two Worlds because certain plants could be used to create permanent-effect potions (as opposed to the temporary-effect potions of Oblivion). After maxing out my Alchemy skill in Two Worlds, late in the game I was able to use all my permanent-effect resources to crank out potions that turned my character pretty much into an untouchable killing machine. So while collecting resources in Two Worlds was sort of fun, it paradoxically wasn't as much fun as Oblivion's less-powerful version of plant harvesting.

Finally, I found horses more trouble than they were worth in both of these games. They get killed too easily in Oblivion, and they're way too hard to steer in Two Worlds (sort of like the Mako vehicle in Mass Effect, only with a mind of its own).


There's more, but the point is that these two games balance each other pretty well. Neither is perfect, but both are enjoyable if you like long-playing combat/exploration RPGs.

No reason to avoid buying either game, especially at current prices. Both will provide hours of exploration fun.

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