With the Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, CDProjekt RED has crafted a game that reminds us of why we love role-playing games in the first place. The Witcher 2 is a throwback to how rpgs used to be as much as it is a great new game. One thing is for sure though, it’s one hell of an experience all the way through.
The Witcher 2 continues the story of Geralt of Rivia, who is in fact a Witcher, a professional monster hunter if you will. Witchers, and Geralt especially, are known for their efforts at staying neutral in the happenings of the world, but things don’t always work out that nicely. The game picks up right after the end of the first Witcher, Geralt has saved himself and King Foltest from an assassin and now Geralt serves the king as his personal bodyguard. Things escalate hugely from this point, and without spoiling things, Geralt basically ends up protecting all of Temeria and even the other realms from destruction.
You may have seen The Witcher 2 advertise itself as mature non-linear storytelling, and this is exactly true. The story is incredibly dark as well as mature, and the plot never shies away from violence or any other number of mature materials. The other thing is the non-linearity; The Witcher 2 has choices, big choices. The choices that you make severely alter the story, even to the point of you not visiting a certain town at all. The Witcher 2s choices all come together quite nicely, leading to an unforgettable conclusion to the game. This ending wraps things up nicely while tempting us with the possibility of another game, the only problem I had with the ending was how rushed it felt. The actual ending is fine, but the final chapter and epilogue feel very rushed. This isn’t to say that they aren’t good, but compared to the first two chapters, they just come out feeling a bit rushed overall. The Witcher 2s story is a dark, moody, unforgettable experience that is as much about the world and everyone in it as it is about Geralt himself. Geralt turns out to be a surprisingly deep character, and you do have a decent level of control over how his personality comes out. He starts to become much less of the enigma he was in the first game, as he regains some of his lost memories. These memories of Geralt’s are told in the colored static art cut scenes that many people may remember from the first Witcher.
The game plays out much like you would expect an rpg to, there are quests, cut scenes, and dialogue trees. The quests all do a good job of explaining things to you, and there are only a few very brief moments where you feel confused about what you should be doing next. The thing I really enjoyed though was the side quests. Unlike a lot of other rpgs out there, the side quests in The Witcher 2 all feel directly connected to the main story. It’s really an admirable thing that every side quest you do feels completely connected to the main narrative even though it is actually optional. There are also mini-games to distract you from the main story, these come in the form of dice poker, arm wrestling, and fist fighting. Dialogue in The Witcher 2 may not be as deep as in something like Mass Effect, but it still is sufficient. There are oftentimes choices to make in dialogue, and you usually have time to answer but on a few opportunities you have a matter of seconds to pick your response, a nice touch to add to the drama of things. Another thing I enjoyed about dialogue was the Axii hex, a Jedi mind-trick of sorts that allows you to convince weaker minds that what you are saying is true.
Of course the most important part of the game play to many people, is how does the combat play and how do the interfaces work? Combat has changed from the first game to become much more hack-and-slash like. There is still depth to be had here though, you still have your silver sword for monsters and the steel sword for humans, and in addition you have various traps, bombs, and throwing knives to aid you in battle. Light and quick attacks are mapped to left click, while right click is used for your slower heavy attacks. You can dodge by double tapping a direction or hitting the space bar, and the E key is used to block. You also have Geralts various signs available right at the get go.
All of these factors compile into a battle system, that while not the greatest, turns out to be surprisingly fun as you advance through the game. But there is one drawback, the absolutely brutal difficulty of the game. The prologue is a chore to make your way through because of its high difficulty but once you get through it the game slowly tones its difficulty down as you progress through the game. This is in part because of the way you develop Geralt as you gain levels. Each level nets you one upgrade point for Geralt, and after you make it through the Witcher training skill tree, you unlock three more skill trees. One for swordsmanship, one for alchemy, and one for signs. This allows you to develop Geralt’s skills as you see fit, and it really lets you tailor the combat to whatever you like best. One other option you have to aid yourself in battle is to drink stat boosting potions. This has to be done prior to battle however and the potions only last certain amount of time.The combat itself can be frustrating at times because it doesn’t work right, but other than those few rare times it actually is a fair amount of fun. Enemies are generally pretty varied and take some level of planning to defeat, there are also a few boss battles sprinkled in the game that are a spectacle to behold.
If there’s one area of The Witcher 2 that could have used some work it’s the interfaces. Your inventory and journal feel a bit cluttered and aren’t always easy to work way through. Luckily the skill trees and potion screen work just fine. However, the alchemy system can be a bit confusing to understand at first. These are minor complaints to a game that is overall fantastic though.
Alright, let’s start the graphics section off by saying this; The Witcher 2 is the most beautiful game I have ever played, ever. Everything about the world of The Witcher screams detail at you, and it’s all incredibly beautiful. The world looks absolutely gorgeous, while characters and monsters look really good themselves. Animations are very fluid and believable; something the first game had trouble with. Spell effects and fire look especially nice as well. You have to give credit to CDPROJEKT as well for making this game as functional as possible, even on a lower end gaming pc you can optimize the graphical settings and get it running pretty well with just a little bit of tweaking. Once you find your own graphical “sweet spot”, the Witcher 2 is an experience unlike any other. Assassins of Kings isn’t without its share of bugs of course, graphical glitches do pop up on occasion and I personally experienced one game crash. Two patches have been released so far after the games release clearing up many of the issues that the it shipped with, especially with the second patch.
Like everything else in the Witcher 2, sound design is top notch. The score is as unforgettable as the first games if not more, and it manages to set the tone for the game perfectly. Even better is that you get this soundtrack for free no matter what version of the game you buy. Voice acting is also of high quality in The Witcher 2. Most of the main characters, especially Geralt, Iorveth, and Roche do a phenomenal job, and the rest of the cast pull off decent performances as well. Sound effects are all great, combat sounds effective, and the world sounds exactly like you would imagine it to.
It may not be a perfect game, but The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings comes close. It’s been a while since I’ve had a role playing experience as immersive and wonderful to play as The Witcher 2. And after you beat the game it’s not over, you still have basically another whole game to play because of how hugely your choices effect the outcome of the game. One thing’s for sure, The Witcher 2 is one of the best rpgs released this decade and may even end up being my game of the year.
*Atari provided Slimgamer.com with a review copy.