Review: The Witcher 2 Assassins of Kings (PC)
The Witcher 2 is one of those rare RPG titles that come along once in a great while. While most RPG titles promise you choices and customization, none ever seem to put you in situations that force you to make decisions that will actually have weight and impact in the world. It is tough to make an open world RPG in this sense, but CD Projekt has put together a near masterpiece in the RPG genre. From its visually defined world, to its wrenching decisions, it sets the bar high for others to follow in its footsteps. Sure, it makes a few missteps along the way, but The Witcher 2 is the best game I have played on the PC at this point in 2011.
Players are introduced to The Witcher 2 in a most spectacular fashion. Instead of the slow, plodding tutorials that we find in most games today, we instead are thrust into the throes of battle. Geralt, the main hero from the first title, has been enlisted by the King Folstet to fight in what could only be described as a family squabble. It is a strange start, but it immediately gives us access to try out the powers and swordplay of Geralt against the backdrop of a castle siege which is interrupted by a dragon of all things. It is a huge cinematic show piece that sets the events for the rest of the game, with the King being murdered, and Geralt framed for the crime.
While the overlying story may feel generic, CD Projekt soon makes us forget that The Witcher 2 is not about an overarching story, but the decisions and choices that bring us to the final climax of the tale. At every twist and turn, there are choices that need to be made and sides that have to be chosen, and the game never makes you feel like you are making a clean cut decision. Instead, as with real life, the choices are set in many shades of grey, normally requiring players to make choices that will undoubtedly irritate some faction. You never have that Bioware moment where it is one path or the other. There are decisions that have to be made that have no good choice, and that is where The Witcher 2 shines brightest. At one point, I had a choice to free an elf from her persecution. Down one path, I found out that the elf was a pathological liar that wanted to lead me into a trap, because of the hatred she had received at the hands of the humans. Of course, I could have left her be, but she would have ended up killed by the humans that fostered guilt just because she was an elf. Or, I could have bought her freedom and maybe redeemed the human race, but at the cost of humans hating me for being a dirty, rotten, no-good elf lover. Each path ended with a decision that harmed my reputation or health no matter which path I followed.
Decisions not only play into the world choices that are made by the player, but they factor into the way that Geralt evolves as a character in the game. Witchers are known for their prowess with both a steel sword to use against humans as well as a silver sword to use against creatures. Witchers are also very adept with forms of magic, called runes in the game. They can also use items from the environment to create strong elixirs that can help their vigor, see in the dark or create extra damage opportunities for the enemy. All of these skills can be added to as the player levels up Geralt, and allows for the customization of the character to their favorite skill path. Yes, you will still need to use a sword and magic for most battles, but you can tailor the battle to your skill set as you please so you can lean heavily on the path you have chosen.
Of course all of these choices and customization would be nothing if the world was not an enjoyable place to journey through and thankfully, it becomes a major supporting character to Geralt. The world of The Witcher 2 shows off the dichotomy of the rich vs. the poor and the strife in-between the two worlds. In the beginning, you see the regal nature of how royalty live, with clean castles and the majestic colors that surround you. Compare that to the muddy, rundown town of Flotsam, the first city that you visit in the world. Flotsam feels dirty and run down at every turn, with the lowest class of the world seeking to make a meager existence. You never feel sterility in Flotsam and it is beautiful for that. The world feels alive, with NPC characters that work, relax and tell stories about things they have heard or witnessed.
The Witcher 2’s world is brought to life with a completely new engine, built from the ground up by CD Projekt for the game. It allows for an amazing amount of detail in not only the main characters, but the NPCs, the towns and villages and even the enemies that you encounter. It can also take a toll of weaker systems, and while CD Projekt has done what they can to optimize the engine so it can run on most systems without losing any quality in the world, you might want to consider an upgrade if you are looking long in the tooth when it comes to you gaming rig. It is not a slight against The Witcher 2 in any way, but to enjoy the game’s lush detail at its finest, a solid machine is required.
It is not all roses and candy when it comes to The Witcher 2 however, as there are two issues that might leave people scratching their heads after entering the game. First and foremost would be the steep curve learning the combat system. The Witcher starts you off with very little in the way of skills and overwhelms you with enemies. Routinely, I would find myself in the middle of three to five men and dead within seconds. Strategy becomes first and foremost for your survival in the game. Combat for me in The Witcher 2 would have me attacking, rolling around to dodge, luring one away to fight and then repeat as needed. It is only the first main chapter where this is a big occurance, but you never want to scare people away at the beginning with such a steep learning curve.
Combat is further complicated by the complete lack of training that The Witcher 2 provides to the player. There are a few context sensitive items in the intro, but you are left high and dry as to what things do, or how they work. I played the first Witcher title, and while it was difficult, I never felt lost within the controls. But in the sequel, I was like a deer caught in the headlights. I never could remember what spells did what, where I would meditate and so much more. It was a complete miss on the part of CD Projekt, and I hope that patches are in the works to tweak it. The beginning of the game is supposed to be an affair that slowly works you into the game, but here the boot comes down from the beginning.
While The Witcher 2 is not perfect, it does pack in a beautiful, living and breathing world, complete with compelling characters, witty dialog and quests aplenty. Combat and tutorial mechanics bring the game down a slight notch, but at the end of the day, The Witcher 2 stands out leaps and bounds beyond the traditional RPG affair for the PC. The Witcher 2 Assassins of Kings gets a 4.5 out of 5 Aeropausonauts.
Check out The Witcher 2 Assassins of Kings and other PC reviews at Test Freaks.