- Great sequel.
- Graphic marvel (Even with DirectX 9).
- Great story.
- Memorable and rich cast.
- Great music and sound effects.
- Slick combat.
- Realistic A.I.
- Detailed character growth system.
- Grim and mature atmosphere.
- Variety of locations to visit.
- Good alchemy and armor crafting system.
- Mind blowing boss battles.
- No DRM (GOG version).
- Interesting mini-games.
- Short in length.
- Very few side quests compared to the original.
- A bit difficult to manage inventory system.
- Some bugs/glitches and occasional slowdowns.
- Require a monster rig to run.
RPG genre is as old as we can remember there are many RPG games out there which we love but only few RPGs manage to reinvent or give a new direction to this genre, one such RPG is The Witcher. Made by a debut studio CDProjekt RED it caused a stir in the genre as it took a new step and improved the formula, both audience and critics accepted it with open arms. Since then we were eagerly awaiting its sequel as the story left a lot of loose ends. Finally CDPR gifted us with The Witcher 2 – Assassins of Kings (Quite a big name) and today we will see does it live to the hype or not.
The Witcher 2 is the story of famed monster slayer Geralt of Rivia, a mutated male who is gifted with several abilities to even the odds. His purpose in the world is to solve problems related to monsters or more specifically anything which a normal human being can’t do. The Witcher 2 starts where The Witcher left, our hero Geralt is helping king of Temeria in fighting a war against a big rebellion. In his battle Geralt soon discovers that there is a third force at work and that force is assasinating the kings (thus the name Assassins of Kings). In one assassination Geralt himself is framed as assassin and there begins the grand search of Geralt for real assassins. In his journey he makes new friends and foes as he is forced to make morally ambigous choices throughout the game.
The story itself feels quiet rich and interesting as every major character in the game plays an important role and you never fully understand the nature of characters thus making every character mysterious in a way you love. The political nature of this game always surprise me, it makes you feel that a huge plot is about to get uncovered and you’re the only innocent character in the game who is not involved In something big.
The reason behind the success of Witcher’s RPG formula is that it takes a bold and mature approach in the story which many games try to take but they fail in that area, there are several other factors as well such as totally ambigous and inexplicit choices, for example in simple RPGs you’ll find situations in which you have to save a demsel in distress by killing the kidnapers now it’s up to you to kill them or leave them, most probablly you’ll kill them as they are bad guys, now if we take The Witcher 2 a man comes to you and give you a contract to kill a woman who cheat and kill men, he also present you deadbodies as proves. Now once you track down the woman you find that she’s actually a sucubbus and she seduce men to satisfy her hunger but never kill them, the man is angry because she cheated him and wants revenge by framing her as a killer and the proves he presented are all false as he himself killed them to generate false evidence against her. Now what will you do? Kill a monster that seduce and use men for her purpose? Or counter the murderer who is trying to frame her? Both are bad in a way so the choice is difficult.
CDPR tried their best to make the sequel better in every possible way, you can judge their effort by looking at the fact that they developed their own engine for The Witcher 2 which offers advanced features like DirectX 9, Advanced Shadows, Depth of Field, SSAO, Dangling Objects, new Uber Sampling and many more, they also reinvented the combat, alchemy, introduced new elements such as brand new characters, monsters, traps, bombs, mutagens, crafting etc and off course lots of new choices as well as endings.
As mentioned above The Witcher 2 is based on CDPR’s proprietary RED engine, the engine is capable of pulling outstanding graphics, it turns the world to life with imaginable yet incredible special effects. It is safe to say that we haven’t seen such graphics in fantasy RPG games and it simply destroy games like Skyrim and Dragon Age in that area.
The sound effects are equally impressive, from birds singing to sword slashing it feels so natural that it devours you in the world. On the other hand the music is composed in such a way that it suits the mature setting of game; the music during combat is intensifying; increasing your spirits to fight the enemy.
The world of The Witcher 2 offers incredible beauty and exploration. There are many things which you won’t find in your first play through, maybe not in second as well as, the world is so vast and natural it will consume you. There are plenty of locations to visit, from enormous jungles to mountains, military camps, villages, bars etc… you’ll find The Witcher 2’s vibrant world as a major player in replay value.
Today you can easily divide the RPG genre into two broad categories one that offers generic play style with generic characters. Such RPGs maybe long in length but they don’t have a character, a certain feel of life. One such generic RPG is Kingdom of Amalur: The Reckoning, while it is 10 times bigger than The Witcher 2 it does not offer a unique feel as everything in it feels so generic and repeated. The Witcher 2 smoke such RPGs with its character and unique atmosphere, every single individual in The Witcher 2 has a certain personality which you’ll love because if one person dies in The Witcher 2 you won’t find someone like him or her ever again, a rare thing which we only see in real life.
The cast of The Witcher 2 approach you with different set of feelings, some love you deeply while some hate you and there are some who fear your presence, the reason behind this broad spectrum of feelings is that you are not an ordinary human being and your presence in any area alarms the people thus making you feel isolated. People can love or hate you based on your decisions, some humans accept you because you were a human before you got mutated and some non-humans (Dwarves and Elves) take you as a fellow non-human because now you are not a pure human, so you are entangled in a difficult situation, Geralt usually try to stay neutral but neutrality also has a price and there are some moments where you have to sacrifice your neutrality and take a side. Such moments mark your enemies and foes.
Your interaction with characters remains mostly the same, Geralt approaches everyone (friend or foe) with same mature tone we love however interaction with females have changed quite a bit and I think you understand what kind of interaction I mean, the sex encounters are now more lively. In The Witcher many players criticized the fact that it allows you to collect cards having nude female pictures like we’re some kind of porn junkie collecting nude cards but that feature also had its fun. The Witcher 2 does not allow you to collect cards instead it allows you to actually engage in sex encounter by presenting a full video of sex scene, something we haven’t seen in The Witcher, this is also cool as the game is based on a mature theme and has mature atmosphere but this means “Rated M for Mature” video to be placed in start.
The Witcher 2 combat is totally different from The Witcher, CDPR redesigned the combat to be more responsive as well as fluent. The beauty of combat lies in the fact that it is not a simple hack ‘n’ slash combat in fact if you try to take hack ‘n’ slash approach in The Witcher 2 it will not only punish you but also going to frustrate you. You have to take strategic approach in The Witcher 2’s combat. First you have to study your enemy, is that a slow enemy or a fast mover? and other factors like that then you have to meditate before you go in combat, during meditation you can drink potions, yes now you cannot use potions during combat; a feature that I dislike as well because drinking during combat feels unrealistic, thankfully The Witcher 2 does not allow it and you need to mediate for all your preparations, you can also apply oils and poisons to your blades to make them extra efficient.
In combat you have a variety of tools at your disposal, things which make you a professional monster slayer such as traps, bombs, throwing knifes, The Witcher signs (magic) then actual swordsmanship come into action, you have to carefully place your strikes, don’t expect that if you press mouse button quickly you are going to kill enemies quicker. Pay attention to what your enemy is doing for example shield holders give you a hard time if you attack them quickly as they will block your strikes and land counter blows, you have to use appropriate sign in order to stun or disorient them so that you can land a successful hit, also there are some powerful enemies for whom you have to take defensive approach, for example the parry skill and dodge. This is how the The Witcher 2 combat works.
Boss and mini-boss battles really shine in The Witcher 2’s combat section; they will not only amaze you but also compel you to play it again. Boss battles stress your abilities to the extent and force you to utilize all your skills and tools. Since all bosses are unique in The Witcher 2’s world the fights do not feel repeated and they include some wow moments such as quick time events and finishing moves. Believe me you are going to love these fights.
Armor and blades also play a major role in combat, unlike The Witcher which had only 3 – 4 armors, The Witcher 2 has tons of armors, some are purchasable while some are craft able, the crafting is fairly challenging and only possible once you acquire proper design as well as the raw material (Leather, Cloth, Ores etc…) then you have to visit an armor or weapon merchant to make the item for you. Blades follow the same rule as The Witcher; there are two types namely steel and silver, steal is for fighting humans and silver is for monsters, you acquire blades by either merchants or through crafting, high quality armor and blades can be further improved by placing appropriate runes and reinforcements which you can find throughout the world. The Witcher 2 also has weapon and armor sets which are very difficult to get but equally rewarding.
A.I is also improved in a considerable way; the enemies will try to surround and flank you with their weapons, shield holders and heavily armored opponents on the other hand try to get close to you and when you least suspect them they will land their deadly blows. Faster enemies move their weapons in such a way that you cannot block easily thus forcing you to adapt to situation and dodge their attacks. It can be easily said that enemies are as intelligent as you can believe.
While The Witcher 2’s combat is a welcoming change I cannot quite compare it with The Witcher’s time/rhythm based mouse clicking combat. Some of us deeply like the original’s formula while some prefer more fluent and cinematic approach of the sequel for me both have their pros and cons. The Witcher’s combat though repetitive feels more like PC formula while The Witcher 2’s combat feels a bit console button masher formula, however there is one thing I would like to add that if you simply follow hack ‘n’ slash way then you’ll certainly feel that its console formula but if you take the strategic approach by using all the tools available at your disposal, you’ll realize that there is depth in this new formula but some gamers still disagree and say that it’s taking a console’s hack ‘n’ slash approach, I disagree with those guys because you cannot justify The Witcher 2’s combat by naming it hack ‘n’ slash because It’s not like Dragon Age 2’s combat in which you can kill 10 enemies with a single blow, that’s what I call childish hack ‘n’ slash combat.
Alchemy like in The Witcher plays an important role in The Witcher 2, Since Geralt is a mutant he has unique abilities which can be further enhanced by drinking potions for example Geralt can drink Cat potion to view clearly in dark areas, however potions have intoxication effect which adversely affect Geralt’s health if it exceeds the desired amount so you cannot drink like seven potions at a time and go like a god in combat, you are limited to 2 – 3 potions based on the amount of intoxication they cause.
For alchemy you need different ingredients which you find throughout the world, you can then in meditation mode mix those ingredients and create different potions, however you need necessary recipes for the potions first or you can experiment with ingredients which can result in either a poisonous potion or a stable potion if the ingredients are right.
When it comes to questing, The Witcher 2 kind of disappoints, not because there is no quality in quests but because there are very few side quests compared to The Witcher, I don’t know why CDPR didn’t pay attention to the number of side quests but it is certain that this area is pretty weak in The Witcher 2, you’ll mostly explore the world for main quests and not the side quests, monster encounters are also small compared to the first game. But I don’t entirely blame CDPR for this because one thing that I understand or you can say I suspect is that The Witcher was based on modified Bioware’s Aurora Engine which is quiet an old engine so maybe it allowed the devs to pack more content in game for less amount of space but since The Witcher 2 is based on CDPR’s proprietary Red Engine I think it takes much more space than Aurora so packing more content was difficult for them, however the positive thing is that CDPR is continuously improving this game and releasing awesome free content, recently an enhanced edition is announced along with Xbox 360 release date which includes new quests as well as characters.
On the contrary when it comes to character advancement and leveling The Witcher 2 never disappoints, you can take one or more character development paths. It has one generic and three specific paths, the generic one is the basic training you should take to become a successful combatant. Other three paths include swordsmanship, alchemy and magic. The swordsmanship focuses purely on sword combat thus giving you edge in close combat skills like Riposte, Feet Work, Whirl, Guard and many others. Alchemy path gives you expertise in potions, oils and skills like harvester, potion duration, oil specialization etc… thus helping you in combat by improving your reflexes, vitality and weapon effectiveness. Similarly the magic path enhances your magical abilities like the intensity of signs and at higher level allows you to use a new sign called heliotrope which was not available in The Witcher. All these paths are exciting in their own way and allow you to develop your character in the way you prefer. I for instance mix all three development paths to make a unique Geralt.
Some of these skills hold empty slots in which you can place mutagens which will further improve those skills though once placed they cannot be removed so choose your mutagens carefully. Mutagens can be found or purchased by Alchemy merchants.
CDPR redesigned the inventory system for better management of stuff by making different categories like potions, weapons, trophies etc allowing categorization of items but the inventory itself is limited hence you can only collect limited amount of items, the amount of space provided is quiet small compared to the amount of items available to collect, it actually frustrates the player because it takes a lot of time to separate junk from useful stuff and then sell that junk to a merchant that is why a mod has been made by the modding community which allows you to collect unlimited number of items. I personally feel that in their attempt to make things simple CDPR actually made it clumsy like the navigation in inventory menu does not feel streamlined; in fact when you carry a lot of items it is quite difficult to find the item you’re looking for because the screen showing the items is very small.
A new radial overlay menu has been introduced which can be used anytime during game play, the best feature of this menu is that it does not disturb the flow of game by only making it slow and as soon as you release the appropriate button the menu will disappear and the game will return to normal speed, it allows you to select signs, traps, go into mediation mode and so on…
CDPR also introduced a new mini game in which you can arm wrestle with worthy challengers, old mini-games made a return as well like dice and fist fighting however fist fighting has changed; now you only have to press given inputs in quick time events to successfully win a fight, it is much easier compared to the original’s fist fighting and also disappointing for some players. I kind of agree that when you insert stuff like quick time events it feels like you are shifting to console development model.
In the end I would like to say that The Witcher 2 is a sequel anyone will love, it has improved in remarkable ways and presented the formula of mature RPG game in a good manner. It has all the elements of successful RPG along with some new elements such as morally ambiguous choices which make it unique among similar RPGs. The game also has some flaws such as bugs/glitches etc, I think the impressive RED engine still has a lot of room for optimization and improvement. I myself faced the problem of extreme slowdowns with my Radeon 4870 but I am thankful to this game that it gave me the reason to upgrade my system as I was struggling with that decision for quite some time. Anyway if you are looking for a rich mature RPG with choices having real consequences then look no further The Witcher 2 is a true masterpiece worthy of your shelf.