I think the best bet for those who want to experience the difference between Rtwp and TB, try PoE2. I tried both and I enjoyed both immensely. I was sceptical about playing it Tb but it plays reallý well.
I've heard good things about POE2. As someone who (I assume) has played both games, from a story viewpoint is it alright to just jump into POE2, or do you have to play the 1st game first? I'm not too sold on the first game. From what I've seen in reviews and videos etc it was kinda average.
Yes I've played both games and I do like the 2nd one better because it was more polished, beautiful, better music and I really liked the exploration aspect. The whole pirate setting and naval fights, not so much.
The first was also very good, with a nice fantasy setting and a better story. The balance and mechanics were a little cluncky at first as this was a brand new game with rules created from scratch. I also recommend the expensions (White march part 1 and 2)
As for if you have to play the first one, I would say yes, if you want to learn the lore. Plus, some characters and events tie very closely/carry over from the first game. And, you can import your character, a la Baldur's Gate.