Ahh those lovely Europeans. Just when you think the idea of traditional point and click died with LucasArts, back come independent developers to create some astonishingly finely crafted adventures that can delight, amaze, frustrate and, in the case of this gem, ultimately squirm its way into being one of the best adventure games I have played in a very long time.
The big confession to start with is that I have not played the first title in this series and therefore come into this a little cold. However it is to the credit of the writers and characters that I almost instantly felt an affinity to the people I was to take control of. While they may fall into standard tropes of elves, rogues and mages in a magical adventure, each is written and voiced in a way that makes you quickly find a favourite that you cannot help but root for.
For me it was the dwarven mage Wilbur Weathervane. Ridiculously innocent, genuinely helpful and voiced by a Welshman that appears to be having a ball with the part by the end of the game, I was ready to enrol as his understudy and don the pointy hat myself. The fact I enjoyed this character was all down to the fantastic dialogue and adventures he found himself caught up in, including one memorable section that involved time travel, retro graphics and a very funny set of text. It was incredibly well executed, simultaneously making me smile while also providing a great sense of accomplishment.
And that in itself is not even an isolated incident. The writing is packed full of clever references to real life pop culture that worked in raising a wry smile from me each time. It is very aware of what time it is in as well as the age of the audience it is aiming for and rather than feel like a misstep it comes across as clever and well integrated into each discussion and situation. Most importantly it works, with one standout section asking you to create a story that mingles well known science fiction and fantasy films including the Matrix into a random, and not entirely believable tale, simply to finish a quest. None of it felt forced or the writers trying to be too clever, in fact it felt completely natural to the environment I was in.
The plot is a standard set of doomsday scenarios mixed in with some political intrigue and an unexpected pregnancy (yes it really is that oddball). It worked in getting my attention and keeping it during the substantial length of the adventure. There are a few nice twists and turns that crop up as well providing me with moments of genuine surprise and intrigue that pushed me further into the story. The fantastic graphics and great environments are a joy to explore, showing good detail and presenting a fascinating world. In fact there is almost nothing wrong with this game.
OK there is one little thing. For the most part the point and click staples of picking everything up and trying to merge it with anything in your inventory before clicking on every inch of the screen are adhered to. The puzzles mostly make sense but there are moments where it can expect leaps of faith. It attempts to alleviate this by allowing the player to see what is still of interest on screen by pressing the spacebar, but this is not always as helpful as it could be. There is also a section around two thirds of the way through that requires trips between a large amount of locations with little signposting and no real indication as to where to go next. It proved to be the most frustrating section and one I have no problem admitting I used a guide to help with. The final section makes up for this lull however, with some of the best locations and puzzles in the game.
It is rare to find a title that evokes the past while providing a modern set of tools that attempts to bring the genre into the present but in The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 everything is in place to deliver a fantastic adventure title with memorable characters that have stuck with me long after the final click. In a lot of ways it feels like the adventure part of the game is a starter for the main course of the dialogue and the people you control. Those relationships are what formed the root of my enjoyment and are by far the most interesting part of the whole game. The reason I want to play the next instalment is partly to make a fishing rod out of a variety of random materials, but mostly to see what happens to the adventurers I have grown rather fond of.