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A Look Back: The Book of Unwritten Tales 2

Gameplay From and Age Past

Do you remember the first time you ever played a point and click adventure game? I do, it was Kings Quest IV on my neighbor’s computer that they had setup in the basement for us kids. At the time, it was the most in-depth game I’d ever played. It’s because of this that I learned games could be much more than just a linear path. They could also feature stories that moved beyond the typical, defeat bad guy, save the world game over trope that has been a part of storytelling for generations. The Kings Quest series will always be known for its innovative brand of storytelling, and it’s directly responsible for the way stories are told in a lot of today’s games.

I wanted to preface this article with that little bit of information because The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is now at the top of my very short list of games that have legitimately moved me while playing. The way this game presents its story to you is nothing short of breathtaking and is so engrossing that you feel as though you are a part of this colorful world that the creators have crafted for you, within your first few minutes of playing. With all that said, let’s get down to it and explore this title in detail and by the end, you’ll understand why well-crafted storytelling in games is so important. You’ll also know why the industry needs to move away from the cookie-cutter formula that everyone seems to have adopted over the past decade.

A wondrous Journey Lies Ahead
A wondrous Journey Lies Ahead

The Problem With Point And Click Games

Is that they are typically nothing more than a pre-rendered background in which you move a single on-screen character around and locate whatever object you need to progress to the next key event. Unwritten Tales follows this same formula but with more of a focus on immersion. For instance, in one of the opening areas of the game you play as the Elf Princess Ivodora, underneath her room is a small library where you will find several objects plucked from other game franchises like Final Fantasy and The Elder Scrolls. There are even some objects from popular culture like Daenerys Targaryen’s dragon eggs and an altered version of Sully from the Film Monsters Inc. Things like this are both important to immersion and potentially harmful to it. Allow me to explain that statement.

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When you want to compel a player to continue playing your game, a good way to do so is by referencing other games they may enjoy based on the setting of your game. However, by doing so it can come across as cheesy or a desperate grab to trick gamers into thinking your development team is in touch with current trends in the industry and by doing so, you could end up driving away your target audience. Luckily for the developer, the calls to other franchises comes across as endearing and more of a nod to the influence they’ve provided, more than anything else. The level of production is where the tales series separates itself from the average point and click adventure. It combines immersion, excellent gameplay and some of the most robust and humorous writing that I’ve ever seen in a game. Let’s talk about that for awhile, shall we?

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A Script For The Ages

One of the things that have drawn me to many games over the years has been the excellent writing. From scripted epics like the Mass Effect series to those that bring a new level of intrigue to the fantasy realm like CD Projekt Red’s, The Witcher. The ability to tell a truly engaging story in games is something that not many developers have the capacity to execute properly. The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is not one of those games. It combines two of my favorite styles of writing, that which is both humorous and compelling.  Unwritten Tales 2 will crack a joke on seemingly anything and does so in a way that never feels forced or simply for the cheap laugh. For instance, at the beginning of the game you meet a miniature Ent named Arbor, who acts as the palace gardener. Arbor is sitting on a pot filled with dirt and worms when your character asks him a question he quickly becomes flustered and asks her why she is bothering him while he’s sitting on top of the pot. While it’s true that he is sitting on the pot, he is also “on the pot”, and so an awkward exchange ensues between the two, and the game carries on. This small scene is in my opinion, a part of what makes this game so incredible and an absolute joy to play.

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During an interview with the game’s creators by Gamewatcher.com, Marco Rosen said the following “We’ve got more than 150,000 words in there. We try to have a universal style of humor that works internationally, which is the hard part.” Now that is a tremendous amount of dialogue for a game that chose to be a part of a genre that traditionally has very little. In spite of this, there isn’t a single moment throughout this game that I can recall, where I felt the need to skip through any dialogue. Everything in this game was so interesting that I often found myself loading an old save just to hear a conversation again, that’s how much I enjoyed this games script. To put more emphasis on that statement, the last time I enjoyed the writing in a game this much was back when I played Star Ocean 3. I invested well over five-hundred hours into that game, mostly because I kept reloading old save files to hear monologs again, for what would probably haver been the tenth time.

I Do Feel The Game Has Issues

These are inherent in the genre, but they are problems none the less. The movement in point and click adventure games is limited, to say the least, and honestly, at this point, there’s no excuse for it. Take everything that TellTale has done over the past seven years; there is a company that understands what needs to be improved and proceeded to do so in spectacular fashion. Considering Unwritten Tales 2 was released in 2015, I can’t think of many reasons why they chose to use the traditional method of the movement of clicking to have the character move there. I feel that they should have incorporated the WASD keys to speed things along or give the player a bit more freedom of movement. What confuses me more about this design choice is that the game is published by Nordic Games, a company that makes action adventure games. While it’s true The Adventure Company also had a hand in Unwritten Tales publication, I feel as though Nordic Games is the most prominent of the two and should have had some say in the creative process. This may seem like obvious complaints from someone who is in too much of a hurry to finish an otherwise beautifully and masterfully crafted game, but I assure the game has other issues that we need to discuss

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For one thing, the audio engineering should have gone through a few more rounds in the Quality Assurance department. At random points during the game, this strange filter will be put on a character’s voice as if they are speaking to you through a large hollow tunnel. I tried multiple times to recreate the sound distortion in different scenarios, but as I had originally thought, the whole thing was just a randomly occurring bug. While this isn’t a huge complaint, it did occur often enough for me to become annoyed and pulled from the immersion on several occasions. There were also a few instances where I was instructed to click on an object to progress in the game but when I did just that, the game would not acknowledge my action as if I had been magically tabbed out of the window and was clicking on dead space. Luckily this can be solved by simply Alt+tabbing out of the window before going back in. I’m not sure how you would fix this issue on the games console port, but I imagine it would be incredibly frustrating. If you can look past those few things, then you should have no problem appreciating this game for what it is.

Finally, it should be noted that this games incredibly long. You could easily spend over twenty hours exploring the world and interacting with its inhabitants. That said, I don’t mind the games length, but I do feel that it would have been better suited as an episodic series broken up into four or five games. With this presentation, I think the game would have appealed to a wider audience.

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So The Game Sounds Amazing, Right?

Well, that honestly depends on your personal preference. Unwritten Tales isn’t strong enough of a game to stand out on its own and draw in people who wouldn’t otherwise play this type of game. It is, however, a shining example of what can be done with old school mechanics and brilliant design. The game mixes humor and depth in a way that is very rare these days, specifically in the medium of video games. Where the game truly shines though is in its artwork and world crafting. Each area feels like it’s alive and full of life, from the sounds and people to the conversations and the way your character interacts with the world around them. If you enjoy adventure games that have more of a focus on story crafting than action, then this is the game for you.

The Book of Unwritten Tales is a masterpiece of casual gaming and shows us that games with a slower pace still have a place in the gaming community.

You can check out our review for The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 written by the always awesome Will So. Why not check it out and tell him what you think?

About Christopher King

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Chris King is a freelancer from Pennsylvania. With more than two decades spent in the digital realm, it's safe to say that he's most comfortable with a controller in his hands. He drinks too much coffee and spends too much time on Twitter. Send help.

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  • Hans Wurst

    Hey Chris, your grammar is pretty frightening at times.