The greatest old-school adventure game of all times?
Close, but that is still actually a pretty legitimate statement for The Book of Unwritten Tales 2, the highly anticipated sequel to the tremendous The Book of Unwritten Tales 1, a point-and-click adventure game set in a fantasy world. What is even more surprising is the fact that certain parts of the game alone put so many classics and modern games of its genre to shame. It is hard to believe that after so many years such a gem can still be created. A gem with some flaws though.
Firstly, the Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is without any doubt the best looking point-and-click adventure game to date. An improvement from the original’s already colourful aesthetic, it can be clearly seen that KING Art pushed the visual fidelity with this game. The way the 3D camera and objects orientate around the characters gives such a pleasant ocular effect to the environments. The backgrounds are mesmerising and better than ever, packed with so many tiny details. The character models are also superior than in the original game; Ivo and Nate, two of the protagonists of the series, have received excellent character redesigns which feel both mature and a bit less cartoony (in a good way). And of course, let’s not forget Wilbur's (the main protagonist) new mage outfit which I personally dig. Visually, KING Art just outdone themselves, but that is not to say that they cannot go even further than this. Additionally, the soundtrack has the right vibe for a fantasy setting, especially with its memorable theme tune. The English voice acting is once again strong, but if there is one criticism about it is the fact that during certain situations some of the spoken dialogues lack urgency -- like if you are falling to your death and you do not feel like screaming out your dialogues.
The humour is back, and it would not be The Book of Unwritten Tales without mocking and making funny references to tropes, movies, TV shows and video games. Once again, there are plenty of moments of laughter to be had. When it comes to parodying pop-culture and paying homage to the classics, this franchise does it best. It is truly the spiritual successor of Monkey Island when it comes to comedy.
The puzzles in the game have the right balance between easy and hard, but for comparison, the difficulty got bumped up a notch compared to the original game. As a result for those who thought it was a bit too easy in the first game, then the good news is that in this sequel they are a bit more challenging, especially in some areas. While the brilliant character-switch mechanic is back, it does sadly feel underused here. Personally, I really wish there were more puzzles involving all the characters working together than the game has to offer. There are few puzzles which require some backtracking that may ultimately cause some passing issues with the story around the middle. Nonetheless, it is good to see that at least all the puzzles are logical and, more importantly, fun to solve.
Unlike the original game’s story which was more or less The Lord of the Rings in a nutshell with its own distinct flair, this time around it is a lot less on that epic scale of good versus evil. And no more encounters with (new) dragons, orcs, goblins and taurens (spotted the WoW reference yet?). In a way it feels more intimate, especially with Ivo and Nate’s relationship, with more time dedicated to character development instead. Of course, the whole "a new evil force is slowly growing in the world of Aventasia in secrecy and our heroes have to prevent it before it is too late" is still present. As a whole, the story is solid and on par with the original, with enough plot twists to keep you engaged for what is a very lengthy adventure game. On the other hand, it could have been enhanced by introducing a lot more new interesting characters since the game seems to oddly do the complete opposite by bringing almost the entire cast from the original game – which is great to see all the old faces - but it does not have the same spark the second time around. Though, that is not to say that the new few characters are not appealing; for instance, the owner of the adventure shop is actually a pretty cool character. But then you have characters like Miss Kiki who just feel a bit out of place and Bennie, the genie, who feels like such a missed opportunity and only gets about five minutes of screen time. If there is an area where The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 kind of falls flat on its face is in the heavy reliance on the old supporting cast (including revelation of the main antagonist) to drive what is a solid fantasy plot -- almost as if the game wanted to play it safe, take no risks. So in that regard the first game still has better, more memorable moments than in this sequel only because of its novelty. Evidently, there are a handful of moments which are also brilliant in this sequel too.
However, the developers have done it once again with yet another rushed cliffhanger at the end which left more questions unanswered while making you scratch your head until you cut your scalp. It is hard to comprehend how they could replicate the same annoyance found in the original’s ending in here as well. The ending is clearly left opened for another sequel, but the last five minutes feel very rushed. It is almost impossible not to feel like the ending ruined some of the experience, which it did for me to an extent. "Wait what?", "But how?', "Urghmm" and "That was it?" will be the common phrases running through your mind when the credits start to roll.
In conclusion, The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is the best point-and-click adventure game that there is in this day and age, even with its few issues. While it does not reinvent the wheel and is not perfect the way I maybe wanted it to be prior purchase, it did enough to proudly earn its place amongst the greats such as Monkey Island, Longest Journey, King’s Quest and many others in my book. I cannot think of a better and more fun game of this genre from the past decade than this, with the exception of maybe the original game. Great characters, interesting plot, best visuals for this kind of game, hilarious conversations and the list goes on. You cannot go wrong with this game if you are a fan of old-school adeventure games. Whoever makes such games nowadays must learn and take notes from this series, except on how to make endings. I only wish the ending was more cohesive and not so rushed. That is something which this series still needs work, pronto.
Bring on The Book of Unwritten Tales 3.