I never reviewed The Witcher 2 when it came out in its original form on the PC last year – it wasn’t because I didn’t want to, but I had a lot of other things going on during that time. That being said, I’m not going to just talk about the additions and extras that are in this version, because I really don’t know what they are. No, this will be a review on the product as a whole, so if you just want to know how well the other stuff is incorporated you will have to inevitably look somewhere else. That disclaimer might seem a bit odd, but when PC players have already played the main game, they might just want to know what makes this version so special; at any rate let’s get on with the review.
When the first Witcher game came out in 2007, not many people outside of Poland had any idea what a Witcher was. Based on the works of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, a Witcher is a monster hunter with special powers and abilities, with the main focus of the books and subsequently games (and don’t forget television series, graphic novels, and a movie – yeah, people love the Witcher) being put on Geralt of Rivia. Barring the monsters and spellcraft and such, the world of the Witcher is more realistic than any I’ve played in a RPG prior. There is corruption, violence, racism, sex, and brutality – everything you should expect from something set in medieval times. That’s not to say that other games get it wrong, but just look through the bloody history of our real world and you will see what I mean. The world of the Witcher is unapologetic in its desire to be as gritty as possible – and even though things can get ugly the world itself is fantastically beautiful.
That’s one of the things that I really and truly love about the Witcher 2 – while the game world isn’t as big as Skyrim or the like (and it doesn’t need to be as it isn’t full open world), the environments are so deeply and richly detailed that you won’t really notice. Just look at the first area in Act 1 (after the Prologue) – there are so many distinct environments there from the dirty and dingy shanty town, to the corrupt official’s house, to the beauty of a forest scene complete with waterfall, that it is easy to forget that you are merely traveling through small set pieces. The diverse beauty isn’t just used on the environments though, the people and creatures that inhabit them are just as nice to behold. Whether you are looking at the facial features, clothing, or just the way they act you can actually feel that each character you come across (even the ones that only have one or two lines of dialogue) have their own personalities much deeper than what you would normally see in a game like this.
One of the things that the Witcher 2 does right is to give the player choices – but not little choices meant to take up plot space or to bridge one arc to another – no the Witcher 2 gives players choices that will radiate throughout the rest of the game. Do you kill this person or save this person? Go this way or that? There are choices like that in other games to be sure, but unlike in other games when you make a choice like that here entire areas can and will become blocked off for you. Unlike other developers who want to be able to show the player everything they have crafted in one play through, CD Projekt RED makes the choices you matter, and force you to live with those choices unless you want to play through a second time (and a third and a fourth) – there are actually sixteen variations on the ending, and while some of the changes are relatively minor, it is worth it to check out what changes have what effect.
The combat in the Witcher 2 is a mixed bag – for the first third of the game you will struggle to simply not die from the waves of enemies that are thrown at you. During this time you will learn all about how things work, and figure out the style you want to use the most. For the next third of the game, things will gel for you in the combat, and there will be a beautiful dance of death where you are never over or underpowered – everything will be in harmony. In the last third of the game though, you will become so insanely overpowered that combat will be a joke. Enemies will fall before you with basically no effort on your part, and while this might sound like fun – it isn’t. It ends up making combat more of a chore than it was when you were struggling against seemingly insurmountable odds in the first third. I don’t know what they could have done better in this aspect because the Witcher is supposed to be insanely powerful.
For what it’s worth though, the combat does have a decent amount of variety to it to make you learn – from how to use traps effectively, to what potions do what, and when to use what special move. It all has so much promise behind it, that when you start having abilities like when someone attacks you they get stunned it makes you feel somewhat cheated. You want to level up and gain new skills obviously, but it you’re anything like me, when the switch is flipped from “Nightmare” to “Child’s Play”, you start to wish you could go back. It is just one of the gameplay elements that really could have been polished a bit more. Another is when you use your ability to try and persuade people to do what you want them to – it isn’t clear if when you fail it is because it is scripted for that to happen, or if it was because of a missed dice roll. That brings me to the other major complaint though, which is that the game doesn’t really communicate well with the player. Yes, there are little tutorial messages throughout, but they offer such little information without real context that you end up playing by trial and error.
The Witcher 2 is by no means or measure a bad game, in fact it is really good – it just doesn’t manage to penetrate into the realm of excellence. Oh it pushes and prods around the boundaries of excellence well enough, but the few problems it has are just enough of a ball and chain to hold it back. There are elements of this game that I feel surpass any RPG released recently (yes, including Skyrim), but the muddled combat is just too much to ignore even in the face of such an incredibly excellent story and narrative. Nonetheless, credit has to be given to CD Projekt RED for being able to bring such an amazing series to life in such vibrant fashion, and I for one can not wait for the next iteration.
The Bottom Line: If you want an RPG that deals with elements that are much more mature than anything else you’re going to find out there definitely pick this one up, but don’t be surprised if the game is a cake walk towards the end.
- The world of the Witcher is incredibly vibrant and alive
- The story is so intense and well told that you will crave another game when finished
- The first two thirds of the game’s combat is fantastic
- The last third of the game’s combat is not much fun at all
- Lack of feedback to the player
You can pick up The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings Enhanced Edition for the XBOX 360 (reviewed) from Amazon for $49.99 or the PC version for $39.99