The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 review

The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 review
The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 review
The Good:
  • Thoughtfully crafted game with an engaging script, cohesive quests and logical progress
  • User-friendly mechanics
  • Superb production quality with gorgeous art, tasteful music and excellent voice acting
  • Over thirty hours of gameplay
The Bad:
  • Somewhat insipid story that does not create a sense of urgency
  • Characters could have been better developed
  • Very buggy
Our Verdict:

An epic tale that reunites some much-loved characters and recreates the magic of good, old-fashioned point-and-click adventuring in a hyper-attractive world, the Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is a must-play for fans of the genre.

The sequel to 2011’s surprise hit fantasy adventure had some very large shoes to fill – or more precisely, four large shoes, a couple of small ones, and some pink, foot-shaped fur. Fortunately, German developer KING Art Games has proven largely up to the task. The Book of Unwritten Tales 2, developed over three years with the help of a little crowdfunding, is a massive, impressive effort that returns the original quartet of Wilbur the gnome mage, Ivo the elven princess, Nate the human adventurer, and his pet, the mini-walking carpet Critter, to the tiny town of Seastone for a fresh adventure that clocks about thirty hours of gameplay. Told over five chapters spanning locations as diverse as an airborne pirate city, the spooky Dark Woods, and the lost desert city of Lorem Ipsum, the second tale boasts the fantastic art, animation and voice acting that have become a hallmark of the series. It doesn’t quite match up to the original in terms of its depth of story, cleverness of script, or character development, but since the ambitious aim was clearly to exceed excellence, falling a little short still produces a very enjoyable adventure with brilliant production values and a whole lot of heart.

We pick up the story some years after the deadly battle between the good folks of Avantasia and Arch Witch Mortroga’s Army of the Shadows for control of the Artefact of Divine Fate. With the hyper-magical artefact finally stowed away in a secret location (though not before it has altered reality in some intriguing ways), an uneasy peace has been cobbled together across the realm. The game is set afoot by Nate falling, literally, through the sky, his only hope the most insecure genie ever. It is remarkable how much the years between the two tales have aged Nate: now a heavyset, bearded gent with a very peculiar gait, he is more reminiscent of Captain Haddock than Captain Solo. Then we meet another Nate – or rather N8, a WALL-E-esque robot fixing an intricate mechanical castle in a visually charming gameplay tutorial, before being whisked to the verdant kingdom of Elfburrow, where elven Princess Ivo is feeling maudlin and under the weather. Soon there is an astonishing revelation: she has somehow had an immaculate conception. Outraged, she jets off to Seastone to demand an explanation from Arch Mage Alastair. Meanwhile, winsome Wilbur has been having a tough time as the first gnome professor of the Mage School. Tired of being trolled by his awful students, he tries some fancy magic to awe them, but things go horribly wrong and the situation is hijacked by an enfant terrible who promptly turns the Arch Mage into a frog, then sets about painting the town pink, festooning it with hideous candy-coloured flowers and toys until Seastone looks like the aftermath of an apocalypse in the land of Barbie.

There is little similarity in the premises of the first and second Books beyond the hijinks of obnoxious children and their enabler mommies: where once we endured the delusions of grandeur of Munkus the megalomaniac, we now have the churlish Chantal throwing petty tantrums while hosting kiddie tea parties. But unlike the ferocious Mortroga, who led the Shadow Army to the bloody siege of Avantasia, Chantal’s mother is a newbie politician trying to rig a spot on the Seastone Town Council, aided by the racist headmaster of the school. The fallout of the bitter war with Mortroga is summed up in a couple of expositions, and while the plot does rope in Munkus for another attempt at world domination, his abbreviated role feels tacked on only to maintain some degree of continuity between the two tales. The lowered stakes, particularly the lack of an imminent world-ending crisis, waters down the urgency of the proceedings. The lighthearted pop culture tributes and geeky humour of the first game have also been toned down, replaced by extensive tongue-in-cheek commentary on issues like race- and gender-based discrimination, politically-motivated activism, personal freedom, and insidious day-to-day corruption.

Though most of the characters lack the chutzpah that was the defining element of the first game, they still form the core of the sequel’s story, which is built upon their aspirations and apprehensions. Wilbur, once more, is the heart and soul of the adventure, an ideal balance of goodness, courage and competence. He confronts each challenge, no matter how twisted, with sense and sincerity. Though often defeated by shrewder, stronger opponents, he always bounces back by taking good advice when offered and keeping his focus on the endgame. Ivo, though heavily pregnant for most of the game, keeps a cool head despite being pitched from one aggravating situation to another (including some altercations with Nate and her crazy food cravings), and her prudence is a great source of support for Wilbur. Critter does his bit in a couple of dire situations, but is rather subdued this time. Nate, on the other hand, has morphed into an even more narcissistic, whiny, irresponsible man-child, and his drunken shenanigans and juvenile sulking are more often than not a liability to the crew. His on-off affair with Ivo, most of which apparently transpired in the interim between games, is awkward and unconvincing on-screen.

Arch Mage Alastair and Rémi, the King of the Rats, set commendable benchmarks for heroics, but the bipolar two-headed ogre Zloff-Blout and lovey-dovey zombie duo Gulliver and Esther also play key roles in the success of the mini-rebellion. While the pizzazz of Ma’Zaz is sorely missed (we get a gnome bounty hunter instead), the mummy returns to prove that he was indeed destined for greater things, and provides some much-needed laughs with his inimitable drawl and bouts of insta-amnesia. This time we meet Ivo’s parents, the elven King and Queen – he a doped out New-Age hipster; she a control freak who micromanages Ivo’s life with the same ruthless efficiency with which she runs the kingdom. Then there is Ethel, the cantankerous cook of the rats who enlivens the dreary Underground with her huge emotional range. Bloch, the unfriendly administrator of the Mage School; Tim, a paranoid shopkeeper; lovelorn bachelor Count Vladi and his mail-order bride Kiki; and a passive-aggressive troll are some of the other characters added to the cast, but none rise beyond the limits of their roles. The shrill Chantal and her devious mother lack true evil aggression, and irritate rather than intimidate.

As in Book One, the point-and-click mechanics here are very streamlined: clicking any part of the screen moves the protagonist there, and clicking hotspots interacts with them. Each scene has many hotspots, some useable and some just to create ambience. Objects are described in great detail, and several can be dismantled into components to be used with on-screen counterparts or with each other in the inventory – which appears as a rucksack at the base of the screen and must be clicked to open and shut each time. Needless hotspots are deactivated once exhausted and used items are discarded from the inventory which, along with the intelligent cursor that allows only correct or likely item matches, all but eliminates random clicking. The spacebar reveals all hotspots and double-clicking exits allows you to leave an area instantly. Chapters which involve extensive commuting – sometimes between continents – are equipped with maps that allow teleportation. Some screens scroll when the protagonist is moved, but as there is no indication which screens are scrollable, this may cause players to get stuck if they do not explore the edges of all of them.

Progress is broadly linear, though at any time there might be two or three active mini-quests. Some segments allow tandem play between two or even three characters, which is always interesting. There are no in-game hints or a diary to keep track of the protagonists’ to-dos, but the literally hundreds of objectives flow logically from one to the next in an organic progression that makes them feel easy, though many require multiple steps and items to solve. The puzzles usually involve collecting and using inventory objects to bypass obstacles, repair items and devise contraptions. Tasks range from making potato chips to building golems and saving a town from its fears, and while they are not unduly whacky, most include clever little twists to make them engaging. There are quite a few standalone puzzles too, some of which are well-structured, like mixing a special drink or a set of dangerous chemicals, while some rely entirely on trial-and-error, like the lengthy process required to run a factory machine. The game steers clear of dexterity-driven activities after the much-maligned rain dance sequence of Book One, but does include a music-based puzzle that requires a good ear. Each successful quest is signed off with a musical flourish, and there are many achievements for clearing preset milestones.

Continued on the next page...

continue reading below

What our readers think of The Book of Unwritten Tales 2

Posted by UruBoo on Mar 6, 2015

Good Game

The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is a LONG game. Expect at least 20 to 25 hours of gameplay. That's a good sign for an adventure game. It has what everyone expects from it: great graphics, great dialogs, great music and sounds, great puzzles and atmospher....

All reviews Post review

Adventure games by KING Art Games

Black Mirror (Series)

Black Mirror (Series) 2017

When his father dies under mysterious circumstances, David Gordon is summoned to his family’s ancestral home, Black Mirror House, to discuss his heritage.

» View all games in this series
Book of Unwritten Tales (Series)

Book of Unwritten Tales (Series) 2015

A few years have passed since our heroes heroically defeated the arch-witch Mortroga.

» View all games in this series
The Raven (Series)

The Raven (Series) 2013

The Raven is a 1960s art burglar who leaves behind trademark black feathers as clues.

» View all games in this series

Shakes & Fidgets: The Adventure

A new fantasy adventure from the creators of The Book of Unwritten Tales. » Full game details