Being a primarily console gamer and mostly using my computer for everything else but gaming I was excited to experience the Witcher series for the first time now that CD Projekt RED has brought it to consoles. After its release on the PC last year The Witcher 2 received countless amounts of praise from players and reviewers, even going on to win many PC and even some overall game of the year awards. But now that my time is over with the Witcher 2, I didn’t quite find the same enjoyment.
Continuing on from the first game (which you probably didn’t play) you control Gerald of Rivia, one of the last few Witchers in the world (a group of people you’ve probably never heard of). That’s the problem with bringing over a sequel to an audience who probably never had any experience with the previous game. The Witcher 2 does give you a few videos to watch and a journal filled with information to learn some of the backstory but you’ve probably better off reading a quick summary online somewhere to educate yourself first.
The Witcher 2 does have to be one of the most mature video game stories told in a while, with political elements being woven into the plot, racism between the many species and just overall real world problems that you don’t see very often in games. The game begins with Gerald being framed for the death of a king, leading him to catch the actual murderer to bring him to justice. The story then falls into a number of different plot lines which all lead up to your main goal while still keeping you interested, most of the time anyway.
The best part about The Witcher 2 is its lack of a visual morality system. There’s no conversation options that clearly tells which one is a good or evil choice or an indicator as to what kind of person you have become based on your actions. Everything is shown to you in the way your character acts and how others act towards you. Characters also aren’t clearly black and white and usually landing somewhere in the gray. You could think that one person is clearly the good character until he/she later does or offers the idea to do something that is evil. These decisions you make throughout the game can also greatly impact story, quests or even characters you meet and ultimately the ending you get, giving you a ton of reasons to go back and play through the game again.
The other half of the Witcher 2 is it’s combat which can start off as being an annoying and difficult experience, that is until you really learn how it works. Barely through the introduction of the game, I was faced with a few enemies that quickly demolished me three or four times in a row until I was lucky enough to get past them. Button mapping may seem a little off at first and could use some getting use to (for me it was switching over to Easy mode for a couple hours to fully get used to it) but eventually you’ll be slaying soldiers and monsters like it was what you were born to do.
The main combat consists of swiping at your opponent(s) with either your quick or heavy attack, rolling to dodge attacks, blocking which can also lead to parrying and spells, which go by the term Signs. You need to use all of these techniques to carefully take out your opponents because most times just running into a fight swinging your sword will only get you killed. Not making the experience any easier is targeting your enemies. When you are locked onto one opponent with the left trigger you can use the right stick to target a different enemy to defend an attack. A lot of the time when I would try to target a different enemy it wouldn’t be the right one getting me hit and at times killed. You can lie out traps and throw bombs or knives to help you win but they never really felt necessary.
Also to add more strategy into the game, potions can’t be used when in a fight. You are only able to use them right before a fight to properly prepare yourself whether they increase the attack power of one of your weapons, defense or whatever else you have in your bag. At times it can be an interesting feature but when you’re so close to winning a fight only to die before landing that last hit, you’ll wish you had something to help you out.
While taking a break from the main quest The Witcher 2 offers side activities like ghost stories and missing persons, arm wrestling, bar brawls or other missions that can lead off into there own little storylines. There isn’t a ton of them throughout the game when compared to most other modern RPGs but they do provide a nice escape.
And like most giant role-playing games these days the Witcher 2 has its fair share of bugs. Minor screen tearing, texture pop in and even a couple crashes plagued my experience but installing the game’s two discs will improve your experience a little. Just make sure you have enough space for the 15GB needed to install both discs.
The Witcher 2 is beautiful game but that lies more so in it’s scenery than the character models. Sunsets and moonlight more than once caught my attention and wandering through forests were never a disappointment, but going back to a character’s face, more so less important NPCs, don’t really mix in with the rest of the game.
Despite some of my statements I actually had a really good time with the Witcher 2. After easing myself into the combat and looking more into the story I was able to have a much more enjoyable experience and really those could just be my problems. While I don’t think it’s the amazing experience I was lead to believe it’s a great role playing game for someone to check out especially if you’re looking for something to mix up the formula.
This review is based on a retail copy of the 360 version of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.