The Witcher 2: Assassins of kings holds nothing back. As you battle spirits, monsters, and everything else you can think of in a fantasy setting, you will find yourself feeling rather accomplished. As the game takes its dark and mature twists and turns you will find yourself along with the ride of an excellently crafted action/RPG. The guys of CD Project Red have created a shining gem with their brand new engine. Without any major gameplay problems except for some clunky inventory management, you will find yourself getting lost in this world of fantasy beauty. With a brand new combat system that you will find as fast paced as the depth of it, you can’t help but feeling rewarded at what they have put up to offer you. And you should in one of the best looking RPGS of today.
+Brand new engine produces one of the best looking games out
+A fast pace, in depth combat system that remains fresh all the way throughout
+A mature and dark story that holds nothing back
+Just the right amount of side quests to keep you busy with the world
+They make a healthy use of their mature rating
-The lack of tutorials can sometimes feel like they have thrown you to the fire
-Voice acting not always up to par
-Inventory system can be a little clunky
-If you did not play the first you might be feeling a little out of the loop
I know what you’re thinking: “Who the hell is developer CD Project Red and what have they ever done?” Well back in 2007 they made a little ‘hidden gem’ of a game for the PC called The Witcher, based upon Andrzej Sapkowski’s (don’t worry I am not sure how to pronounce his name either) book series of the same name. Now I don’t know if you can call selling over one million units a ‘hidden gem’, but in today’s console craving culture it seems like a lot of PC exclusive games don’t get the credit they perhaps deserve, especially in the case of The Witcher. This fantasy action/RPG had many elements; shady main characters to political plotlines, potion making, monster slaying, and mature themes with consequences to your decisions; all executed really well. The Witcher 2 provides the all the same, but better.
In The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings you continue the story as a Witcher called Geralt of Rivia, a white haired, yellow eyed monster-slaying bad-ass that happens to suffer from the troubling video game character disease of amnesia. You will get a strong feeling of the games dark and mature themes right from the start, as the game opens with Geralt in prison being held up by chains and whipped by a couple of guards. The scars on the Witcher’s body glisten with freshly released blood and the guards taunt and cuss Geralt; it’s obvious from the start, The Witcher 2 holds no punches. And I didn’t even mentioning the Dragon in the prologue!
You will find out by playing through events that took place earlier, that you were assigned to guard a King who was killed by what appears to have been another Witcher, and the murder was pinned on you as the assailant ran off. This does a good job at giving the player a strong motivation as to why they should have Geralt break free from jail, and track down the real king-slayer to clear his name.
Along your journey in the Witcher 2 you will run into a lot of political muck ups that need your attention, or in some cases, the urgent need to look the other way. The game is not shy at throwing these mature matters at you regarding seats of power, racism, sex and the like, and even though we have seen a lot of this in gaming recently, it is all presented to you in a very fresh “in your face” kind of way. It doesn’t pull any punches either regarding the decisions you will have to make, and they come a-plenty.
This is one of the many matters where the Witcher 2 stands out amongst other games. There are no morality meters, or light/dark side points. All there are the decisions themselves, and the sometimes drastic consequences of those. I found myself thinking much harder about these choices than I could ever remember in any other game thus far. Usually when I play a game like this I will say “okay, here is my good play through, then I will go back and do an evil one”. There is no good or bad way to really play the Witcher 2. It falls in the gray, and even that there are some small moments where one choice is obviously more evil, like say choosing to intimidate a poor man for more gold after helping him, all of the big choices in the game are humdingers. I remember at the first big decision I came to that it took me forever to decide. I weighed the pros and cons, the race I would be helping, how it affects my goal, and even the place I would go would be different. I remember thinking to myself, isn’t that what it should be like? Instead of worrying about plus five to my saint score, shouldn’t I be thinking about how this all affects the world around me and all the others in this world? This is how the Witcher 2, by choosing not to have an element like morality in their game, are able to make it all feel important, and they do it better than anyone else.
Now if you skipped over the 2007 predecessor to this game, don’t panic. There will be moments where you do feel like you are missing something, especially with some of Geralt’s companions. They do a descent enough job though of giving you enough of the lore that, with some digging and maybe in game book reading, you can get a good feeling on most of the characters that have existed before this game came to be. At the same time it almost adds to Geralt’s story of suffering to regain his memories, as characters will wonder up to you and start talking like they knew you from the womb, and just as I was about to express my WTF’s I found Geralt doing that for me, and that felt very satisfactory. None of the supporting cast around Geralt will baby you or act as your verbal tutorial guide, and it all adds to the plenty of elements that all amalgamate to make this world a believable place. Now that’s not to say that sometimes there might even be a little too much of a lack of guidance, as I found myself sometimes wondering exactly what was the next step to a certain quest, or where to find the right person, but I only felt once that a quest was taking longer than it should to figure out. For the most part as long as you pay attention and check in with your handy journal (which is presented to you like your friend Dandelion the bard has been writing a story about you) you will be just fine.
For this 2011 sequel to their game, CD Project Red upped the ante in every direction. They even built a new engine from the ground up to support this hungry and beautiful beast, and the effort has paid off. This might be the best looking RPG out today and because of that you will need a pretty damn descent computer to run it. With the settings maxed out I had very little frame rate drops. Even on the lower settings it still looked better than most recent role playing games. However, it’s on the higher settings this title really shines. With breathtaking vistas, murky bogs, castles that look as though they have age to them, and all the amazing settings and scenery we have come to expect in a fantasy game, The Witcher 2 makes it all feel so real. Walking around in a Dwarven community with people about and the sun setting behind a mountain in the distance that has ridges and crevices you can only imagine what lays waiting in them, adds a certain weight to the world lacking in a lot of similar titles.
As for the vast NPCs that inhabit this rich and stunning world, they move with a certain purpose. Whether that be setting up camp or walking home at night to get some much needed rest, or maybe a slightly out of shape guard falling asleep on his watch. Though I saw a few re-used faces and was fairly certain I had seen the same guard on one side of the map and then again on the other, none of it took away from the believability this world had created. There were moments when I saw NPCs walking into each other or when more than one character wants to enter pass a door, they form a line and one at a time open and then closed it, and it all feels a little silly. But with a world with the scope of the Witcher 2 these minor annoyances are all there are, and that is a feat on its own.
It’s a shame that some of the voice acting does not hold up to the higher standards already set by this game. While most of the characters feel like they have real emotion behind their cause, some of Geralt’s company falls into the rather lacking territory of voice work. Geralt’s main love interest, the sorceress Triss Merigold, is by far the most inconsistent of the bunch.
All of the animations feel very specific to the task at hand, Especially Geralt’s fighting animations. Every time you launch an attack, depending on how far the enemy is, whether the enemy is facing me or behind me, you will see Geralt spring into action with a very different sword swing than the last, which opens up an entirely different looking combo each time, especially as you can switch targets on the fly. And with such a multitasking combat system in place, you will never find yourself doing the same old thing again and again. From trap laying, to bomb throwing, to casting signs (the magic in the game) you will have so many elements at your disposal that you may find yourself overwhelmed with the combat near the start of the game. The combat is such that, with good ol’ elbow grease and determination, it gets vastly rewarding once you feel like you have a grasp on it, and always stays fresh. Though the combat is very rewarding, it is also very punishing. As I spent most of the game playing with a wired Microsoft 360 controller, it felt like I was running around the world of a console action/RPG. But if you try to mash buttons or mouse clicks like you might be accustomed to, you will be sadly destroyed. The game really makes you think about situations before jumping into them. Even the potions you have to consume before a battle takes place, as Geralt has no time to stop and guzzle down a health boost potion in the middle of gutting a wraith that haunts an old time insane asylum.
Geralt fights with two swords: a steel one for humanoid foes, and a silver for the monstrous and supernatural ones. By collecting diagrams you can find out the recourses you will need to acquire in order to have a local smithy build you a new weapon, or armor, and the ones you make are usually better than any you can buy in stores. I’m a big fan of collecting, and there is enough in the Witcher 2 that will keep anyone of the same mind content. Whether it’d be for armor or swords, or collecting herbs for making potions, there is a lot to keep busy, but outside of a few quests that require a potion to be made, you never feel tied down to having to collect if you don’t want to.
You might find the inventory system a little clunky at times, and having the create potions and consume potions in different menus entirely is a little absurd. I found myself often having to go back into town and sell off a load of junk just to stay under the weight cap. It is a system however that, once you get used to it, you can manage it with a fair amount of ease.
With numerous patches now out for the game, you will have a hard time finding any major bugs, or small ones for that matter. The Witcher 2 stomps on its predecessor when it comes to polish. From the flashy animation cut scenes that show some of Geralt’s forgotten memories, to the more cinematic ones. Yes even the sex scenes look very slick. The game does not shy away from the mature rating and that goes for the five or six sex scenes that are in the game. Gone is the collection of sex cards from the first game. Instead the Witcher 2 presents them in a much more real and cinematic way that makes you feel more involved.
The quests come together nicely, and although there is not a huge amount of them, even the most basic; go hear kill that type still feel relevant. At the end you might wish the conclusion felt a little more satisfying, as you can feel them revving up to entice you into the next installment.
All in all everything the Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings throws at you, come together to present you one hell of a game you should not miss. From the gray decision making, to the rewarding yet punishing combat, to the amazing visuals, down to the unfolding political plotline, this game nails so many things right, that you will be intentionally looking for the flaws and making them a bigger deal than they probably are. If you have a powerful PC and are in any way a fan of RPG’s, I expect then that you are already playing it and are finding yourselves entangled in the dark and beautiful world of Temeria, as I am about to be once more. “Alright all the other decisions I did not make in my first play through….here I come!”