In the case of adventures in a series, change is usually good. Minor changes in format, interface, and character development are usually welcomed by established fans and help to draw in a fresh audience. Arxel Tribe has undertaken a large amount of risk introducing great, sweeping changes in Ring II: Twilight of the Gods, the second installment in the series of adventure games based on Richard Wagner’s Ring of Nibelungen opera.
Are the changes in perspective and puzzle style what is needed to help further this series, or has Arxel alienated Ring fans this time around?
Addressing the major changes first, Ring II is nearly a 180-degree turn in overall format. The perspective has changed from the first-person style in the prior installment to a third-person style. This is the basis for most of the changes in puzzles in Ring II, and also moves the format of navigation from point & click to a keyboard-controlled interface. These changes do not always have to send a series into a downward spiral (the Monkey Island series is a good example of how this can work for the audience), but these changes in Ring II seem to work against the standing audience in an effort to attract a more broad action–oriented audience.
The game begins with your character, Sigfreid, in a clunky metal body cage being yelled at by a slave driver. This could easily be construed as a metaphor for how clumsy the navigation is going to be throuought the entire game. From the very beginning, there is a sense of haste about the game. Sigfreid begins the game in a hurry, and that feeling is prevalent through the entire journey. For the most part, you control everything with a keyboard. From a third-person perspective you will need to walk, run, strafe, draw your sword, and jump.
You get some nice cinematics, and the puzzles attempt to forward the plot. Other than that, the story is convoluted, at best. I don’t believe fans of the first Ring will even completely grasp the story in Ring II. The reason for this is the action-oriented puzzles seem to have been forced into the story, and the two just do not seem to lend to plot progression at all. The efforts to tell a story will leave most players in the midst of confusion.
Various puzzles of seemingly frustrating insignificance litter the entire experience. One example is the inventory puzzles where you are only allowed to hold one object at a given time. You might have to go back a few screens and exchange objects or put two objects together before advancing another two screens to try to use it. Another, more action-based example is a puzzle where the character must meander through a tunnel full of spouting fire. This must be executed in a perfect manner in order to avoid repeated death.
Another distinction between this and the first Ring is that the character often ends in precarious situations that habitually cause death. As difficult as it is to navigate him on the pre-rendered scenes, he will meet his ill fate a lot more frequently than many players can bear. This is especially frustrating if you try to find meaning in it (my suggestion is not to).
Of course, one of the upsides of the game is the music. One would be hard-pressed to make a mess of Richard Wagner’s operatic opus. It is also not an altogether unattractive game to look upon.
In the end, I think the changes are too harsh on existing fans. When producing a sequel, a developer must exercise a bit of responsibility in giving the established audience a moderate amount of gratification that they know what sort of game they are about to spend 15+ hours enjoying. I’m not sure what happened to give Arxel the idea that fans of the first Ring would like action sequences and timed puzzles. This is disappointing. Many adventure fans liked Ring, but in the end Ring II: Twilight of the Gods seems to mostly ignore that which made its predecessor a success. Unfortunately in ours and almost any parallel universe this would be seen as an all-around bad attempt at game development. Adventure purists should steer clear, and I can’t really see any reason for action-adventure fans to embrace it either.