Update: The Escapists 2 has since launched on Nintendo Switch. Scroll down to the end of this review to our impressions of the game on Nintendo's console. The score remains the same.
Original: Creative freedom in a video game is always a difficult area, because on the one hand in principle all gamers like to think that more freedom, and by consequence more choice, is a good thing, but in practice it's hard to implement this without leaving the player feeling at times overwhelmed, aimless, and frustrated not knowing what to do and where to go. This was one of the biggest areas of discussion with 2015's The Escapists, that it wouldn't be to everyone's taste as a result, but now the sequel is busting out, and aiming to push the boundaries of prison escaping even further.
For those who don't know, The Escapists (if you've not worked out by the title) is a game where you play as a prisoner who is aiming to escape prison, and the whole thing is from a top-down perspective. How do you break out, though? Well, that is indeed the question, as it's up to you to experiment with how you want to escape, making it as hard or as easy for yourself as you want.
This sequel aims to soften the blow a bit, though, and this has always been Team 17's intention, taking the original's sometimes unforgiving gameplay and making it that bit more user friendly. For example, in the first game dialogue boxes would pop up if the game didn't want you to go to a certain place and perform a certain action, and now there's much more rationalising going on in these areas.
One of the big areas this has changed is crafting, as that was more of a system of trial and error in the first game, but now a handy menu lets you sample what kind of shivs might be to your liking, or how to get the best shovel for tunnelling to freedom. This menu, while it could have been a bit easier to use, makes the creative process that bit more straightforward, as it shows you what's available to use to interact with the world, as you can't get out without crafting and creating a selection of goodies for yourself.
Another way the whole process of prison life (which is "no fairytale world", as Morgan Freeman once said) is made easier is the streamlining of the UI. When you get a favour, for instance, the objective of that favour is highlighted on your mini-map, and after you accept the favours you can get all the way to completing them without entering any menus, making everything smooth, quick, and easy.
When we say it's been made more accessible, though, we don't mean it's easy - far from it. The tutorial, for instance, only gives you five minutes of how to do the basics, like move, dig, mine, and climb on things. Then you're pretty much thrown in at the deep ends. By accessible, then, we mean that all the tools at your disposal are made clearer to you - the actual process of breaking out of prison is still no mean feat, and there's a lot of roadblocks in your way.