Three and a half years ago, an unknown Polish developer called CD Projekt released an RPG titled, “The Witcher” based off of the works of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. Despite having poor voice-acting, a plethora of bugs and a very mundane combat system, it managed to win over 90 critical awards including RPG of the Year for 2007. It was a valiant first effort but the public demanded a sequel that lived up to its potential. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings has arrived and it lives up to expectations in almost every conceivable way.
Taking place very shortly after the original ended, The Witcher 2 follows Geralt of Rivia in the kingdom of Temeria. He is now being forced to serve as King Foltest’s bodyguard as he lays siege to a city in order to retrieve his bastard children that the baroness refuses to relinquish. Soon after the siege is successful, Foltest is murdered and Geralt is the prime suspect. Shortly after being imprisoned, Geralt flees and sets about clearing his name. What follows is a rather complicated story of political intrigue and subterfuge that is sure to keep you interested providing you can keep up with all the people, places and locales.
What separates the world of The Witcher from most high fantasy-style role-playing games is the mature environment. It abandons the cliché of some evil entity questing for power and death and goes the route of having things being more about political intrigue and betrayal. While this leads to a very complicated third chapter, it makes everything worthwhile for those that pay attention.
However, if you aren’t familiar with the world of The Witcher be it through the original game or even if you haven’t read the books (only two of the nine have been published in English) then you will be lost, plain and simple. There are territories, people, events, creatures that are talked about in the standard vernacular and the game doesn’t take the time to play catch-up. It helps out the hardcore players who don’t want their intelligence insulted but it also leads to alienating new players who will undoubtedly be left scratching their head as to why everyone seems to hate the Naalfgardians so much.
The Witcher 2 implements a feature that lets you import your saved game from the original Witcher to show a continuation of your previous adventure and give the player a sense that what they did really mattered. It’s not perfect but almost all of your major decisions of Witcher 1 will affect your playthrough of Witcher 2, including the ending itself which means it will affect The Witcher 3 as well.
As expected, Witcher 2 relies more on a system of the choices you make and the consequences that follow – there are no real “good” or “evil” decisions. Regardless of the choice presented before Geralt, there is a specific reason as to why that choice exists. There is no mandatory good or evil option given just to satisfy a morality meter. The Witcher 2 aims for a sense of realism and it achieves this in spades.
Since choice is the name of the game it comes as no surprise that the choices made in the prologue can change the rest of the game and in fact, the entirety of Chapter 2 will change based on your decisions leading up to it.
In fact, the ending can seem to be a let down as several subplots are dropped entirely. However, this is due to the aforementioned choices. In order to discover the hidden motivations of each faction, you’ll have to do another playthrough and align Geralt with another faction. This could easily sway your decision as to which saved game will you import for Witcher 3. In the end, it’s a game that doesn’t just ask but downright demands multiple playthroughs.
A story can only be as good as its script and as with everything else, The Witcher 2 delivers. Considering how the entire staff of CD Projekt doesn’t use English as their first language, the fact that the script has been so well developed into English including several expressions is amazing. Much like the original, the dialogue is very mature. The characters say every curse word under the sun but what makes this different is that it seems like common practice for characters to use these words. There is not a hint of cursing for the sake of it or to generate controversy.
The biggest complaint of the original was the combat system. It was nothing but click-wait-click for 50+ hours. The combat has certainly been revamped but it has not been perfected. The game’s tutorial doesn’t do you many favors in teaching you the ins and outs of the system. Much like with the lore, the game is unapologetic and just thrusts it upon you. There are light and strong attacks along with dodging and parries. The key to everything involves your placement in correlation with the enemy and timing your parries.
If swordplay isn’t your thing, Geralt can specialize in enhancing his magic or enhancing the magic potions that he can readily make. Going further along in any direction will suffice and they will also unlock the devastating “group finishers” that are charged up through an adrenaline bar. If the combat is too complicated and doesn’t interest you, just turn the game’s difficulty to easy and take in the rest of the game.
The game is divided into a prologue, three chapters and an epilogue and each place has a very distinct feeling and there are no re-used dungeons, caves or sewers. Even the peasant houses are distinctly crafted to match their respective area. Peasants are even given certain personalities and will talk of your exploits, both current and past, as you walk by.
A brilliant design is matched by an even better presentation. I have not been impressed with a game’s look since the original Morrowind. Everything is absolutely stunning. The environment, the people and everything else under the sun look fantastic. The forests are lush and beautiful while caves have the dank look and feel that they should.
Not content with just making a game look absolutely stunning, CD Projekt worked their butts off and crafted one of the more detailed games I’ve ever seen. From the ambience of walking through a forest while you listen to birds chirp or when you enter a local tavern and hear the locals singing drinking songs to pass the time. Of course, a barrage of well-crafted nude women isn’t going to hurt anyone either.
There is only one complaint I can give over the presentation: There are little to no facial animations when people are talking and people have a tendency to look like zombies, especially Geralt. It may be making a mountain out of a molehill but it is noticeable. Thankfully, it doesn’t detract from the game in the slightest.
The Witcher 2 manages to be exactly what a sequel should be, an improvement over all important aspects of the original. The combat has been vastly improved (even if it is not perfect), more weapons and armor sets and more of the same greatness of the first. Nothing has been dumbed down in order to sell more copies. CD Projekt has created a product that they have poured their hearts and souls into and it clearly shows. This is a game for the fans of the original, of the novel and people who just prefer a more ‘hardcore’ RPG experience. If any of that appeals to you, then The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is something that you simply cannot miss.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings was released on May 17th, 2011 for the PC.