For those unfamiliar with the series, The Witcher (Atari) is a mature and often macabre action role-playing fantasy game based on the book of the same name. Players assume control of Geralt of Rivia, a witcher — a super-human-esque creature with powerful magical capabilities — and a monster hunter for hire. Though Geralt’s fame precedes him, he suffers from amnesia and remembers little, if anything, of his past life. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings takes place almost immediately following the finale of the first title. Geralt finds himself caught up in the political unrest following an attempt on the life of the King Foltest of Temeria. Other kings, too, are targeted, and the surrounding kingdoms spiral into tumult and Geralt must hunt down these kingslayers if he is to ever uncover the mystery of the assassin witcher — and clear his own name.
The Witcher 2 is a game of many complexities. First, the storyline involves much to do with fantastical foreign politics and players that have not experienced the first game will find themselves struggling to catch up with the ins-and-outs of the lore. Though it may seem at first like a daunting task, the prologue does well enough to get new players on-board, so going back to play the other Witcher title isn’t necessary. The prologue also introcudes several journal article tutorials that will help new players get accustomed to both contextual information and game mechanics.
The game starts off with Geralt imprisoned, recanting his memories on how he came to be locked up in the dungeon and primed for execution. Through use of the game’s complex (get used to this word, because it will be thrown around a lot) conversation menu, players will have the option to choose in which order they tell (or play) the prologue. New and veteran players alike are encouraged to begin at the top and work their way forward through the sequence of events. The reason for this is that not only does it present the timeline in the correct order, but also allows new players especially to get accustomed to the controls and familiarize themselves with the functionality of the game.
Second, the complexity of combat can take some getting used to. This is not a game that involves rapid button-mashing to slay enemies. Rather, Geralt’s swings, if timed correctly, can follow through and flow from one attack to the next. Additionally, there is a fair amount of recoil as attacks are blocked or parried, so players will have to take breaks between their swings lest they leave themselves open to a counterattack.
Geralt is also equipped with an arsenal of magical spells. Only one spell can be “equipped” at any time, but this term is used loosely as players can open up the menu and swiftly select a new spell to hotkey, very much like the way the menu worked in Mass Effect. Though this menu does not freeze time, it slows significantly, allowing players a few extra seconds to tactically plan their next move. Players can also concoct powerful potions and create traps to aid them in battle.
Though the option for targeting exists, Geralt will swing by default at the enemy he is facing (that is, the enemy that the camera is facing). Though this isn’t typically an issue whether or not Geralt is surrounded by two enemies or five, it can become problematic while trying to hit a particular enemy with a spell, as Geralt might start firing in the opposite direction without proper readjustment. This readjustment can also become an issue when attempting to loot an object, open a door, or climb a ladder.
The start of the game for some players will be overwhelmingly difficult. On top of not knowing what to do or how to do it, Geralt’s stats are also unreasonably low. Without upgrades, Geralt takes 200% damage from attack to the back and has a small health pool, which can result in a lot of restarting and a lot of swearing.
Third, the complex mess that is the menu screen. This unfortunately is a major annoyance that comes up repeatedly throughout the game. The menus — crafting, inventory, character, shops, journal, options, etc. — are, well, complex. Complex not just in sheer size, for which most of those becomes quite large, but complex in the sense that they are difficult to navigate. Part of this has to do with the lack of a storage system, something most role-playing games include, especially when players are asked to craft and create items, as the ingredients pile up in that backpack fast. The other part of this has to do with the way that the shop and craft menus function in particular. Assume for a second that a player opens the craft menu and sees that in order to create a sword a bar of silver and a piece of wood (use imagination) are needed. Well, this player has the wood, but needs the silver. It’s a good thing that the shopkeep, the one the player is already interacting with, sells that very thing! However, in order to purchase said silver, the player must completely exit the crafting screen, re-engage the shopkeep, purchase the silver, close that screen, re-engage the shopkeep (again), and proceed. This isn’t an issue distinct to shopping — the lack of fluidity between all menus is frustrating.
Luckily, complex and poorly designed menu functionality can be overlooked, as players will likely spend less time in the menu and more time actually engaging the [complex] world around them. Part of what makes this game so complex is player choice. Players have seen this a lot in recent games, especially in the role-playing genre. Player choice in this case referring not just merely to options but to consequences as well. The Witcher 2 takes consequence to a whole new level. Players can be certain that no two playerthroughs will be 100% alike. Players’ choices can lead them to one of sixteen different endings. Additionally, not only are questlines significantly impacted by the decisions players make, but the storyline itself will evolve as well. Players will have to choose between life or death, charging forward with blade swinging or attempting an act of diplomacy, who to make allegiences with, and which trail to follow. The consequences of players’ actions won’t always be instantly evident. It may take some time before the full scale of their decisions finally comes to light.
There is so much going on in The Witcher 2 that it really should come as no surprise that the game can take anywhere around thirty hours to complete. And these thirty hours are every second worth it. Players not willing to overlook clunky menus, fidgety controls, or daunting customization options should think twice before purchasing. Players looking for
a game that features superb storytelling, beautiful graphics, an engrossing and mystical world, dark and compelling mature storytelling, and a next-generation role-playing game will thoroughly enjoy this game.
Developer: CD Projekt RED Studio
Release Date: May 17, 2011
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