If there's one thing you'll think about as you play through The Witcher 2 is just how polished the whole experience feels. Coming from CD Projekt Red, the game's excellent graphical style, detailed storyline and fun combat all come together to make an above average experience. But, that of course isn't The Witcher 2's speciality. It's actually the incredibly complicated moral choices along with it's effects on the world's development that elevate The Witcher 2 from superb to masterful in what is undoubetdley one of the best RPG's I've played this year.
For someone like me who is jumping into the series fresh, with very little foreknowledge of the books or the previous games, The Witcher 2 is very comparable to Game of Thrones. The world of Temeria is very high fantasy, but with unmistakeably dark undertones that really bring this world to life in an absolutely fantastic way.
Really though, one of the strongest points of The Witcher 2 are its stellar characters. This is mostly because the game sets out to make them extremely believable and interesting, with CD Projeckt succeeding gracefully in all aspects of their development over the course of the whole game. The chemistry between main character Geralt and his on-off lover Triss is both memorable and exciting while the plights of the world’s numerous factions and their leaders are always imperfect; leading to decisions that are both hugely ambiguous yet affect the world drastically.
This is the other strong point of The Witcher 2’s storyline, its decisions and the effects they have on the world. With a plotline that is heavily based on political intrigue, it’s easy to see how seemingly small choices have huge ramifications for the various kingdoms. Well... actually The Witcher 2 is very good at having those choices come back to haunt you later either for Good or (usually) for Ill. In my mind, this actually feels like something really awesome as most Bioware games or even Bethesda games feel like some of the smaller choices that you make don’t ever develop into something meaningful later on. To cite a particular, absolutely amazing example of this, the final choice at the end of the first act dictates one of two areas that you’ll spend the entirety of the next act in. Not only does this affect the entirety of the locales you’ll see but also the characters you’ll join forces with, the entire outcome of the story but also the quests and gameplay objectives you’ll embark on for a very large portion of the game. I’m pretty confident in saying that you’ll need at least two full playthroughs, but preferably even more to see every interesting possibility that this game has to offer. It’s really awesome that so many of your choices feel so immediate and some great additional cut scenes from the Enhanced Edition that have been added to the end of each chapter as well as a longer form endgame cut scene do a nice job of tying things all together and reminding you just how pertinent your decisions were.
At first, it also seems a little strange for CD Projekt to be exposing Xbox players to The Witcher series with its second installment first, but trust me when I say that’s for the best here. While the story always benefits from specific knowledge of previous events, especially earlier on, the game feels very self contained despite its abundant world and clearly detailed back story. Think of it this way: you probably haven’t read any of the books or the first game yet CD Projekt have still made it easy to get excited about the various goings on in this world, which is fantastic.
Another thing that really stands out as the story progresses is just the quality, variety and detail in the voice acting. There’s a whole heap of excellent dialogue, particularly on the subject of Non-Human races and the prejudices they are all forced to endure at the hands of the dominant humans that is all brought to life by voice actors who all achieve some very great things. One of the primary things that really hits you, especially as someone who lives in the west, is just the variety and depth to a lot of these characters. Main characters Geralt and his supporting cast are also masterfully voiced, with their differing races and accents really having an effect on me.
To be frank though, I don’t feel like I overstate the game’s extraordinary ability to have even the minutest details in your gameplay or even dialogue choices coming back and having incredibly varied effects on the world. Early on, just the direction you choose to go in a dungeon can affect your discoveries of its secrets and storyline in wildly different ways. It’s something that really makes the game special, even more so then the majority of games from similar companies like Bioware and Bethesda.
It’s funny, the striking thing that really comes to mind with The Witcher 2 as a whole is just how complex it is. While the story is mired in deep and complex politics and dark fantasy characters, this is also an apt description of the combat systems in The Witcher 2, which force you not only to choose the correct sword for each situation but also prepare traps, use offensive skills like throwing knives and, oh, there’s also magic at play here and... Well, you get the picture. And that’s perhaps the striking flaw in this approach is that the tutorial doesn’t do the greatest job of explaining just how much you’ll need to use these to survive. It’s interesting to observe that because of this, The Witcher 2 almost has a reversed learning curve. You hit a large brick wall in the game’s opening battles, especially when you’re alone, and then, as you dig deeper and deeper into the skill trees and remember how differently The Witcher 2’s combat plays out from standard RPG fare, the game becomes much easier to manage.
So let’s talk about these plethora of combat mechanics because they are all quite intriguingly different and usually offer a refreshing or exciting take on the RPG genre as a whole. As you play Geralt, you’ll quickly learn that having a healthy mix of swordplay with the support of magic is the way to success. However, like I mentioned previously, you’ll almost always have two swords at your disposal, with Geralt’s regular steel needing to be used against humanoids while his Witcher’s blade needs to be taken out when monsters are around. It sounds a little weird at first to be switching on the fly constantly but usually there won’t be a mix of enemy types in one area, which makes it extremely easy to tell when you’re using the wrong sword. At the same time, you’ll also be complimenting your sword skills with a healthy variety of magical spells which can add anything from a quick stun to mind control and shields. Thing is, again adding to the frustration early on, the spells are always referred to in their fake language inside the game. While the game certainly pulls out no stops to keep you immersed, even the quick menu calls the mind control spell “Axii” and the trap spell “Yrden”, which can make some of your early experience using magic quite confusing since quickly switching in combat doesn’t really become an option until you’ve memorized the look of its icon on the spell bar.
Finally, there’s Alchemy which plays a pretty key role during Geralt’s adventures. For example, if you foresee the fact that you’ll be entering combat sometime soon, you’ll want to have created some of the wide variety of Witcher potions that you can brew for you to drink. What’s really cool here is that potions themselves can only be consumed outside of combat and none of them really have properties that just flat out heal you for a certain amount. Rather, the potions add fairly short term effects to Geralt that, more often than not, have properties that hamper you in one area and buff you in another. Most of the potions you’ll make through alchemy all have very potent positive or negative effects. The one you’ll probably notice early on gives you vision in dark areas as well as on enemies through walls so it’s easy to prepare for possible complications but the downside is pretty significant in that whenever you enter a well lit room or exit the dank cave you’re in, any form of sunlight will effectively be blindingly bright, meaning that it’s extremely hard to get around. It adds a really exciting element of risk to every potion you take and it’s also amplified by an extra element called Toxicity which limits the amount of potions you can intake at one time. Everything behind alchemy and potions just feels so right in the way the Witcher handles it. It reinforces the idea that nothing is ever perfect in the dark world that Geralt inhabits while also adding in even more game play choices for players to think about.
As if the gameplay wasn’t already complicated enough, there are skill trees where you can choose to amplify your power in Swords, Magic or Alchemy. Its nice then that these trees really feel like it’s rewarding you for sticking with what you prefer as you aren’t really hindered in the other two aspects. It’s more to choose an overall skill and having the other two trees compliment your preference.
And then of course there are always some weaker aspects to the overall game that could do with improvement. Doors only allow for one people to go through them at a time, which leads to some jarring sequences where NPC’s can just pile up around a door, waiting for it to open and close in their face a couple of times until there is finally room to start their animations. Another small thing to take note is that the PC version’s gamepad controls aren’t as smartly laid out as they are on the 360, meaning that some of the things you’re trying to accomplish on PC can feel like they take just a few too many button presses when, strangely enough, they’ve already solved most of these problems on the 360 version.
You’ve also got some smaller morsels in the Enhanced Edition with the inclusion of a survival based arena mode that is fun to play for a couple rounds as well as the addition of a couple extra quests in the Enhanced Edition, all of which do a good job at making the final Act of the game come to a more satisfying conclusion than it reportedly did with just the base game.
One look at the screenshots and it’s blindly obvious that both graphically and aesthetically, The Witcher 2 is quite the powerhouse. Speaking about the PC version first, you’ll need a pretty beefy machine to even try to run it while higher end machines get to see the fantastic use of lighting, detailed textures and overall scope at its maximum potential, with a very smooth engine powering the whole thing along with an absolutely huge amount of graphical options that’s refreshing to see for PC players who like to fiddle with these kinds of things.
If we switch to the Xbox, we also see that CD Projekt has done some fairly good work porting it over, considering just how old the 360 is at this point. The game itself runs around the medium settings you’ll find on a computer and while there are certainly the occasional artifacting or texture pop in issues, they are pretty hard to notice in the grand scheme of things. It helps that the frame rate is pretty rock solid throughout some of the game’s most demanding moments, leading to a version of the game that is totally great to play through if you don’t have the PC to run it.
Other than that, aesthetically, the game is riddled with detail and creativity throughout the entire experience, particularly with a nice variety in areas that doesn’t change too quickly, allowing you to take in the sights at your leisure as well as observe some of the various ruins and cities that you’ll find dotted around the landscape. Even better, like I mentioned earlier, the extremely varied Act 2 leads you to completely different settings and locations depending on certain choices. It’s a cold hard fact that you won’t be able to see everything in one go, not only adding to replay value, but also showing just how confident the developers are in hiding a few exciting things away for next time.
Final Thoughts (5 out of 5)
I feel pretty confident in saying that The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition will whole easily make it close to the top of my Game of the Year list for 2012. Not only is it a deeply satisfying experience as an interesting story and a fun combat system, it also looks absolutely phenomenal. In particular, the choices you make have real weight to how you’ll experience the story but also how you’ll be questing and seeing for hours on end. It makes a huge impact on how you perceive the game and it’s subtle details, making this one of the first single player hardcore RPG’s that I’d literally pick up and play through again.
But of course, let’s not forget the noticeable problems with the game overall. The most immediately noticeable one is the reversed learning curve which I’ve seen turn off a few of my friends from the whole game just because the first few encounters are so challenging. There are also a few clunky menus here and there as well as an infuriating door problem. Man, it’s pretty awesome when your getting made at how doors were handled in a videogame but I digress, if you’re into hardcore dark fantasy RPG’s in the style of things like Game of Thrones, you won’t want to miss one of the best experiences of the year.
- Complex And Deeply Fascinating Storyline
- Equally Varied and Interesting Combat
- Risk-Reward Element of Potions
- Fantastic Graphics and Art Style
- Reversed Learning Curve
- Some Unnecessarily Clunky Menus
- Doors. They can go to hell. Who needs em anyway?
You know, it’s really challenging to find stuff to dislike about The Witcher 2. At least besides the doors. CD Projeckt really have created one of the most refined and interesting experiences in a long while and it really feels like the culmination of a lot of excellent ideas the RPG genre has presented but hasn’t always come through with to this point. Just how well the world and the gameplay go together can’t be overstated and the experience you’ll have with the game will definitely leave you thinking about it for the next few weeks. Go check it out!