Developer: CD Projekt RED / Publisher: Atari / Played on: PC / Price: $49.99 / ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs]
If you’ve ever said the following, you should play The Witcher 2 right now:
- They just don’t make RPGs like they used to.
- I wish I could find a game that wouldn’t coddle me and teach me how to do everything.
- Games these days are too simple / easy.
- I love to get lost in a game for hours.
- I just dropped $600 on a video card and have nothing to use it on.
- I like boobs.
The Witcher 2 provides little in the way of introduction or education about the game’s setting or characters. Most of this is easy enough to grasp from context clues, and from there the game’s main plot line is easy enough to follow. Geralt, the titular witcher, has been falsely accused of assassinating the king he was tasked to protect. From there, you assume the role of Geralt in an attempt to prove your innocence and uncover the plot behind the assassination attempt.
Simple enough, but the game will occasionally and unapologetically discuss the politics or history of the world, so prepare to completely miss the relevance of conversations time and again unless you’re willing to ferret out details from the game’s codex. You get a real sense that you’re in a living world here, and part of that is not being insulated from the actions of others. The setting also pulls no punches in regards to mature content. Murder and sex abound, as do some particularly messed up sub-quests in which bad people commit heinous acts This isn’t a game for the kids.
Most RPG mechanics in The Witcher 2 will be familiar to you if you’ve rounded the RPG block once or twice. You’ll move between various quest hubs that contain NPCs that will either sell you stuff, craft items for you, dole out quests, or sleep with you if you throw enough money at them. Interaction takes place through familiar dialogue trees that occasionally feature intimidation or persuasion options should the situation warrant.
Combat and alchemy vary from the RPG norm, and are established as well as the setting (which is to say, not at all). They’ll throw you right into the deep end in The Witcher 2, providing little in the way of tutorial or explanation. If you can bear to read an instruction manual in this day and age or tolerate a little experimentation, you’ll find your footing quickly enough. However, if you’re accustomed to the way modern games walk you through mechanics, prepare to be confused.
Combat revolves around positioning and timing — near the beginning of the game, attacks will do lots of damage and hits to the back do double damage (you can hunt out better armor and level up Geralt in ways to mitigate this). Fighting groups is extremely difficult, requiring in-and-out attacks and limited engagement. If you’re expecting a typical fantasy brawler from the combat, the fragility of your character and the high stakes of encounters may rub you the wrong way to start.
That fragility can be countered by the game’s alchemy system, which allows you to combine ingredients you find sprinkled about the world to create various potions. When consumed, these potions give you a temporary boost to health regeneration, damage, etc. At first, it’s a little counter-intuitive to know when to stack up these buffs, but after a while you start to develop a sense of where enemies are and when you’re vulnerable.
You might notice a trend here — such and such is frustrating to start, but makes sense once you figure it out. While there are numerous other systems that come into play during The Witcher 2, that’s the main experience tying the game together. If you have the patience to dig in, you’ll find a game that rewards experience and experimentation. That’s also a polite way of saying it punishes ignorance. When you first start playing, you won’t know what’s going on or the best way to play, which will lead to wheel-spinning and death. It’s rewarding to get over that hump, but not every player has the sensibilities to do so.
Here’s a good example — during one sub-quest I had to destroy nests for a particular kind of monster. I had no idea how to do that, or even where the monster nests were. After some random exploration I found one of the nests on the ground, but I had no idea how to “destroy” it. I had to find and read books about that type of monster and then find the entry about that monster in the game’s codex to learn that I had to use a particular type of bomb (that I didn’t even know how to make yet) to destroy the nests. Then I had to find the diagram for those bombs and on and on. At no point did I have a giant glowing arrow to tell me where to go. This will be lazy design to some, and refreshingly open to others.
Graphics and Sound
I feel wrong saying this because it’s overused, but The Witcher 2 is the best looking game I have ever seen. Yes, better than Crysis 2. Sharp textures, incredible lighting, and awesome use of color make The Witcher 2 the game to get if you want to showcase your PC’s strength. It’ll be the game that you always reinstall every time you upgrade just to see if you can finally max it out.
I don’t want to sound needlessly hyperbolic but in this case it’s deserved. The Witcher 2 looks damned awesome.
Voice acting in The Witcher 2 deserves special mention as well. Geralt’s delivery is intentionally disaffecting, while other performances are subtle and nuanced. Shockingly, not every character has an ostentatious British accent, which is a particular peeve of mine when it comes to fantasy.
Witcher 2 controls similarly to other PC action RPGs like Gothic, though there are some quirks that take a while to get used to. Combat controls are mostly tight, though occasionally you’ll wait for Geralt to finish up a flourishing attack before you can evade or move. Inventory screens are a little uncomfortable, too (though they sure do look pretty). Often handy information is either extremely hard to get to or absent entirely. Comparing equipment is awkward, and you have to wait for the item description to slowly scroll down to see the ingredient lists for any item-crafting schematics in the vendor window. Picking up items in the game world is finicky too. Using your Witcher pendant will temporarily put a glow around anything lootable, but finding the right place to stand to actually loot them can be difficult.
If you have a seminal RPG void in your heart that wasn’t filled by Dragon Age II, you’ve found the perfect surrogate. The Witcher 2 improves universally over the original, and also manages to be the best looking PC game at the same time. If you’re a fan of meaty RPGs or if you’ve been desperate to stretch your computer’s technical legs, you need to play The Witcher 2.