Zeno Clash 2
The first Zeno Clash was a quirky, surreal boss brawling game. Like Street Fighter 2 in 3D. It had just enough story to keep it interesting, the fighting was solid and satisfying, and the world it created was bizarre and quite cool in its own way.
My only complaints with the first game was how repetitive it got, and the difficulty of fighting multiple foes at once. Someone on the development team must have listened to feedback like that, because Zeno Clash 2 corrects those issues. Game 1 was boss fight after boss fight after boss fight and it was tiresome. Game two takes a more open-world approach. Instead of being on a path and fighting everyone on it, now you have a whole world in which to wander.
But I can't call it "open world" gameplay. An open world has other places to visit, other people to meet and talk to, other stories to find. Zeno Clash 2 has none of that. You have an entire world to explore, but pretty much the only thing to find is the next objective. That part is disappointing, but it is a much needed break from the constant boss fighting of the first game. Now those fights are spaced out with some exploration.
There are other things to find in the world, though. Once I figured out what the cubes were for, it gave me something else to accomplish, and I wasn't disappointed when I found out what happened when I had all eight cubes.
Zeno Clash 2 has something the first game only barely had: a story! The story is a little tricky to get into at first. Character motivation is a problem because it's not obvious why Ghat is breaking FatherMother out of jail. After all that fuss in the first game discovering what FatherMother really is, now they want him/her back?!
It does become clearer as the game progresses, and it all ties to who these people are, what Zenozoik is, and why everyone in it is fighting all the time. Yes, the game's core mechanic (brawling) is part of the story, and it's pretty clever.
A reviewer at PC Gamer apparently didn't catch it. The Golem is trying to bring law and order to the world, so yeah, why would the people be against it? Well, if you think about it from their point of view, law and order is stupid when you can just fight out your troubles yourself. These are primitive, uncivilized people. To them, law and fairness are the chaos they must resist.
I agree with the reviewer that the issue of fighting crowds of enemies isn't any better than the first game, except that now running away from the fight is easier. The fighting itself seems to be weak now, but this may be my fault.
I foolishly didn't think to check the system requirements before buying the game. I figured the first game ran perfectly, so the sequel would also run! Wrong. New game engine, and my computer isn't strong enough to handle it. But like Skyrim, the game runs well enough on the lowest graphics setting.
The combat doesn't feel as solid as in the first game, and I don't know how much of that is my computer's fault and how much of it is the game itself. I found it almost impossible to string together any combos. I'd click the mouse and press buttons on the keyboard, but half the time Ghat wouldn't punch in quick succession. Maybe only one or two of those button-presses actually got through. This may not be the game's fault, and if I ever upgrade systems I'll find out then.
But Zeno Clash 2 doesn't rely so heavily on brawling! In the first game, it's all you did. This time the guns do more damage, you have secondary weapons, and now you can run and turn at the same time! Plus, it's open world, so you can run away from the fights to find health and weapons, and sometimes leave the area entirely. Finally, you can have up to two allies fighting with you! There are more options in how to play the game, which gives it more appeal than the first.
For me, the story is what saves this game. You get to know who the people of Zenozoik are, and why they're here. We finally learn who the Golem is, who those shadow things were, and what their purpose is. All the stuff missing from the first game is here.
(Side note: I noticed the resemblance to the Wizard of Oz in the mountains level, and just minutes later, the game makes a self-conscious joke about it. Perfect timing.)
I can understand people's issues with the story, since it does require a stretch to understand. The story could have been told in a much stronger way, but it's a game, so development is always geared more towards gameplay. I would have liked more places to visit besides the objectives, too. What we have here could have been better, but it's still good and fun, and it does make more sense this time 'round.
But unless you played the first Zeno Clash, you're probably not going to understand the second. It tries to bring new players up to speed in the tutorial, but it's not enough. You must play the first game to enjoy the second. I did enjoy it, and I look forward to Zeno Clash 3 revealing even more about the people of Zenozoik and what's beyond.