The Witcher 2 Assassins of Kings: Gaming Royalty
By Neil Kewn (Murxidon) – OnRPG Journalist
2008’s The Witcher was a largely forgettable game. An intriguing premise that was hampered by poor performance, numerous bugs and frustrating gameplay mechanics, it failed to set the role-playing genre alight in 2008. CD Projekt RED’s much talked about sequel has finally hit shelves and thankfully puts right everything that dragged down its predecessor. The Witcher 2 doesn’t compare and it doesn’t compromise. A game that draws you in and refuses to let you go, it’s a stylish, beautiful adventure that offers the best the role-playing genre has to offer. With its lush world, meaty combat and engrossing narrative, The Witcher 2 is the complete package.
It isn’t without faults, but its shortfalls are nothing compared to the original. This time around Geralt has been accused of murdering his King, and he must set out to find the real killer and clear his name. It isn’t the most original tale but it is told with such style and intrigue that you can’t help but be drawn in. The characters you meet and the places you visit on the course of your travels are full of character, and fantastic voice acting makes the gorgeous world even more believable. There is a lot to see and a hell of a lot to do in this game; you could spend hours avoiding the main story just to soak it all up.
Make no mistake - this isn’t a “My First RPG” type of game. The Witcher 2 is a hardcore title aimed at the most dedicated of players. It’s challenging and often unfair, and you will almost certainly be frustrated at the seemingly random spikes in difficulty that crop up at the most inopportune times. Often I found myself outnumbered and outgunned, leaving me questioning just how well balanced the game is, but that’s just how it was made (CD Projekt RED themselves testify to this). I applaud the developers for taking a no holds barred approach to role-playing that we don’t often see these days, but it will alienate those who are new to the genre or lack the patience to find other ways to progress. Those who stick with it are rewarded in kind, as even the slightest victory feels totally satisfying.
Combat is primarily achieved via the mouse. Left click makes use of Geralt’s fast and frantic sword swings whilst the right mouse button offers slower but more powerful attacks. This is no hack and slash adventure though; it takes real skill, patience and timing to pull off successful attacks without leaving yourself exposed. Very rarely are you fighting a single enemy, and very rarely do the others hold back. This is notably more apparent in the early stages of the game when a weaker Geralt can be easily blindsided and killed by just a few attacks. It’s all too easy to get overwhelmed by the enemy. Geralt doesn’t have to rely on just swordplay to defeat opponents though. Signs are magical abilities that can aid the white haired warrior in and out of combat. From fireballs and traps to magical shields and mind control, they can turn the tide in battle if used effectively.
Most of the combat options can be found in the game’s quick access radial menu. Bringing it up slows down the game considerably (without pausing), giving you time to select a new Sign, trap or weapon. Also here is the Meditate ability, a particularly important skill that Geralt can perform when not fighting. Once meditating, you can create or drink potions, see the character development screen or wait until a certain time. Alchemy is an important part of The Witcher 2 and Geralt can harvest most plants he comes across. Being the skilled potion brewer that he is, he can create a variety of drinks and spirits that can aid him both in and out of combat.
Meditating may sound like an unnecessary step to brew or take potions, but it’s in line with the games slower pace. Combat is methodical and exploration is rewarded, very rarely do you want to rush from one area to the next. Geralt doesn’t have a completely open world to explore but the developers have done a good job of breathing life into to the people you meet and the towns you visit. A full day and night cycle is in use and NPCs live out their day to day lives with a nice, if a little predictable, set of actions. It isn’t totally realistic, often you will hear NPCs recycling lines, but citizens will work and sleep and chat with each other. Guards will also light torches at night and patrol the streets during the day. Witcher 2’s awe-inspiring locations feel lived in.
As a monster slayer, Geralt always wields a silver sword alongside his primary weapon to deal with any otherworldly characters he meets on his travels. There are a variety of different swords to be salvaged, collected or made and most come with welcome buffs or upgrades. Geralt doesn’t create weapons himself though, and instead must gather the required schematics and materials to take to a blacksmith or crafter. He can also throw dice, arm wrestle or simply trade wares.
A lot has been made of the visuals in this game – and rightly so. It is a mesmerizing display of both technical and artistic graphical quality. A master class in lighting, detail and texture work that fortunately doesn’t require a powerhouse to experience. Witcher is well optimized to run on all sorts of systems, and a recent patch promised to improve performance and remove all traces of the controversial DRM that was bundled with the game on release. Downloadable content has also been promised.
The Witcher 2 is an accomplished role-playing title clearly made by, and aimed at, die-hard fans of the genre. An awkward learning curve and harsh difficulty might at times drain the enjoyment out of the early game, but if you commit you will be rewarded with a sublime role-playing experience. It’s bold, beautiful and packed with memorable moments and intriguing tales. Its execution isn’t perfect, but it’s an overwhelmingly supreme game that stands head and shoulders above the competition.