Does KING Art Games’ Kickstarter-funded adventure game The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 tread new ground in the point-and-click genre or is it just another succession of mildly amusing scenes and good puzzles?
The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 (PC)
(Germany 2015, developer: KING Art Games, publisher: Nordic Games, platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4)
Fantasy world Aventasia is again in trouble, as there’s an attempt on the life of the Archmage, and things start to turn into sugar fluffy colors, so it’s up to elf princess Ivo, now magician teacher Wilbur, adventurer Nate and alien Critter to save it once more.
Epic failure of a story
When does a story become too ambitious and drowns in its own social and political commentary? The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is one such example. While it deals with interesting topics like war, politics, corruption, social injustice, censorship in dialogues, the plot and character development are too slow to get interesting enough, especially with main characters who become less interesting the further the story unfolds. With a cliffhanger-like ending, it all feels a bit like The Matrix Reloaded, without the sci-fi scenario, but with the narrative problems, leading to a big climax that ultimately doesn’t come, only preparing for a third part. This is all well and good if it’s the Star Wars trilogy, but the story is interrupted by tedious and uninteresting conversations as well as exaggerated descriptions of every single object.
As a comic fantasy adventure, the game takes itself way too seriously, but doesn’t have the quality writing to support its lofty goals. While NPCs are memorable and the world of Aventasia provides a good fantasy lore backbone, it relies too often on tropes Terry Pratchett has written about ages ago with more interesting stories and characters. Creatures who paint pictures in cameras and the concept of humans having to believe in gods are all well and good, but it all feels like a lame rip-off. The same holds true for movie allusions (Star Wars again) and other fantasy parodies. Again this is unfortunate, because at times some really good ideas crop up, e.g. books which have to be read and speak about meta-fictional elements like storytelling and art. It’s just too bad the story and characters can’t live up to this, even if there are some beautifully realized locations to visit.
Not so epic puzzles
The puzzle design is quite good with various fun conundrums to solve. Especially the time travel part with Wilbur jumping from the present-day graphic adventure to an old-school pixel art adventure without speech or even a text adventure, is used to great effect, although the rest of the game can’t keep up with this creativity. Object combinations and certain solutions are still fun and to a certain degree logical, but they’re not as memorable. However, being able to travel by ship to various locations later on is fun. While the game stays rather linear, this open-world approach is still much better than the unlock-screen-and-next-screen gameplay used in the last titles. Switching between various characters is back again, but brings with it its own set of problems.
Even less epic technical hiccups
Exchanging items with other characters results in the same old repeated animations and waiting for the partner’s line as a response is annoyingly slow. In some parts using other means of giving and receiving items means that one has to go to a specific place each time with the partner standing close by. While it’s realistic, it’s still cumbersome. More problems show up when one tries to pick up an item which is only possible after enduring a long description and then clicking again on it (which often doesn’t work, as the interface isn’t the most accurate). Pathfinding problems abound as well, while the biggest issues are the claustrophobic, small screens requiring unnecessary scrolling due to their zoomed-in appearance. Even worse is an inventory that clutters the screen and has to be clicked away each time one wants to use an object. A few bugs also rear their ugly heads, e.g. with Wilbur being shackled on the ceiling in one scene and suddenly being down again, bringing the game to a standstill.
Looks and sounds can be deceiving
The aforementioned zoomed-in appearance leads to some less than stellar character models. While the surroundings are as colorful as ever (even if at times too cutesy), often breathtakingly beautiful, and the graphics are quite good, it’s not a big step up from the first game, maybe even a step backwards. Backgrounds are still well-drawn with their own personality, just like the characters, but they lose something in the claustrophobic environments. Voice acting is great as well (except for some spoken lines missing due to questionable QA testing), but the music is too pompous at times, always playing in a loop and often at the wrong time. It’s nice to listen to, but more variation and a subtler use would have done wonders in a text-heavy adventure like this when it’s mostly characters endlessly talking in one position.
Whatever happened to innovation and storytelling?
Some genres never seem to change with the times, and while the point-and-click adventure is a niche genre that doesn’t seem to die out, it can still deliver great stories. KING Art Games’ The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 isn’t one of them, though. An overblown story with boring characters can only entertain for so long, but when it reaches almost 20 hours of playtime and one doesn’t care anymore, something has to be seriously wrong with the writing. Even as a comic adventure, it doesn’t provide enough funny lines or dramatic scenes.
However, if one is only looking for many puzzles to solve, the game is a good alternative to the more cinematic approaches from Telltale Games or Wadjet Eye Games. Unfortunately, a great time travel puzzle is the only highlight with other conundrums just being fillers for the slow plot and character development. It might look and sound great, but with control issues and a questionable zoomed-in perspective, the prolonged playtime can feel like a lifetime, raising the question if that time isn’t better spent elsewhere.
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Buy the retail version for Xbox One on
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