Volition studios have always given us a good slice of gaming action, as the developers of games such as Freespace and the sequel. It was no surprise to me that they ended up doing different kinds of games, such as the revolutionary Red Faction and the slightly flawed, but still good, Summoner. I was one of the few who really did enjoy playing Summoner, I found it a reasonable rpg, a bit limiting in places and damn annoying in others. But I am glad to report that I have enjoyed Summoner 2 far more than Summoner. Volition have improved their graphics engine, and added a new front end to the game. But not only have they done this, they've also changed the way it plays. Rather than a stock in trade rpg, they've opted for a control method that will be familiar to the fans of many 3rd person action/adventure games, wrapping the detailed rpg elements around this. Skill increases, experience points, new abilities and new magics.
You are Maia, the child of prophecy - the goddess reborn, and so on. Maia kicks backside, she's a Warrior Queen who also possesses the latent powers of a Summoner, but in this variant of Volitions' world, you don't summon the creatures - you become the rune that then becomes the creature. A fancy explanation for shape shifting into a monstrous beast and dealing out some extra damage. Just like in Summoner you have a number of action points which is kind of like mana, it powers your abilities and regenerates slowly - with it you can (once you reach a certain part in the story) call forth your summon and utilise your magic powers.
Things you do, quests, monsters killed all gives you experience and when you level up you find that you'll have a number of skill points to distribute. The careful use of these points can make the difference between life or death, as it's important to extend the summons duration and learn a variety of extra attack moves. All the combinations are explained and you only have to nip into the stat screen to find out how to do them. The front end is considerably improved from Summoner and the control system (once you get used to it) becomes second nature. Items can be acquired like health and mana potions, allowing you to quickly select them in battle and save yourself from an untimely end. And for most of the game, you're never alone, there's a large cast of supporting characters in Summoner 2 and they're pretty cool.
Sangiril - your friend and assassin, comes from the Munari race, and she has many shadow skills. In some ways she replaces and improves on Fleece from the first game. Train her up to the higher skills and she becomes a deadly ally. Taurgis is your mentor; he's the big warrior type and prefers to use a massive axe, which he wields with a deadly efficiency. Prince Neru - Pirate and martial artist, he's one of the more desirable characters in the game, because of his potential to inflict serious amounts of damage with just his fists and feet. There are many other supporting roles in Summoner 2, but I'm not going to go into them, because they have some surprises in store for the diligent player.
You control up to three characters, or rather I should say, three characters are on screen at any one time. With you controlling one of them, but you can easily swap between them at any time. You'll find if you have Neru in your group, and you want to do some serious kicking - you'll spend your time as him. You can, as you did in Summoner, set the script of the supporting characters to use ranged weapons, attack with spells, support you in combat or be a healer. There are other options, but I've covered the most used ones here.
But you'll obviously spend a lot of time as Maia, especially since the game gives you the opportunity to return back to the Palace every so often. Go back and you'll find you can walk around it, talk to NPCs and interact with important people. It's good to be the Queen. If you walk into your Throne room, you're often given a chance to hear the petitions of others who come to your court and this is one of the elements of the game that drags you deeper into the story. Because everything you do here will affect you later on in the game, and not just you, your people and kingdom. You could be given a choice, send an army to defend a far off ally or sit back and do nothing. Imprison, exile, or sentence to death - an enemy of the state. Choose wisely and the next time you hear petitions, the grateful ally might have sent a messenger to give you a gift - money or an item. Volition has taken some time to make these as interesting and clever as possible. And it's what brings Summoner 2 up into the ranks of the good immerse rpgs, rather than mediocre lack lustre ones.
You can also give money to various officials to improve your kingdom's defences, way of life, and a number of other factors. You may end up with a reward as well, from items to experience. The game plays from the 3rd person action adventure view most of the time, though you can shoot Sangiril's crossbow from a first person viewpoint. And she has some strange vision, as you'd expect of another race. Also you might find that you're on your own for a while as one character, when the group splits up - usually Sangiril's missions involve stealth and plenty of backstabbing, as you'd expect from an assassin.
But Summoner 2 is a vast improvement from the original, with the new system, and the new graphics engine. It's smoother, and throws around more polygons than before. All the characters are wonderfully detailed and animated, smooth and much more lifelike. The surroundings vary, and you can go from rewarding rich environments to claustrophobic corridors and turning passages. Loading times are also improved from Summoner, and it doesn't take long for a new section to load, loads are also less frequent and the game doesn't suffer from the to-fro syndrome that the original did. The camera didn't seem to be as annoying as the first either, and I haven't spotted any bugs with it. Then again, I only had a week or so to play it before I got down to the review. Any less, and it wouldn't have done it justice.
Sound and voice acting is as good as they could get it, there are a few memorable lines and overall I couldn't pick faults with their voice acting at all. And I'm terribly picky in that respect. Sound is nice, spot effects and set effects all thunder on in the background. Monsters snarl and growl, the clash of steel on steel rings as you wade into confrontation after confrontation. Typical rpg fayre, and they haven't skimped on the effects either visually or audio. Spells make convincing crackles, and flash with a bright pyrotechnical flare. Some of them are more over the top than others, and I'll leave you to find out exactly which ones cause the most damage and have the best effects.
So to conclude, Summoner 2 is a worthy and different sequel, it might have a few bugs here and there that other folks have found, but I experienced none. No crashes and no game breakers. I was a fan of Summoner, and Summoner 2 has made new headway in that genre - I'm very pleased with it and it should appeal to everyone, bar the real die-hard Summoner fans who don't like to see things change.