I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to playing games in sequence. If a game comes out that has a sequel I’ll usually have to play the original first before playing any of the others, unless it’s a strategy game or something where the plot isn’t as important. It can be a real chore sometimes when the games preceding the current release have excessive amounts of play time (I’m looking at you, aptly named The Longest Journey) but I figure that should the sequel be any good than so should the original. The Witcher 2 then comes in as one of the few games where I’ve broken this rule, having not played the original game but after many recommendations I decided to give it go. What followed was definitely one of the more interesting RPG experiences I had and confirmation that my general rule for playing games in sequence is the right way to go.
You play as Geralt of Rivia, a “Witcher” which is a person who was extensively experimented on by wizards and sorceresses as a child. As such he has vivid yellow eyes and the ability to cast Signs which are in essence just spells. From what I can gather the original Witcher started off with Geralt completely losing his memory, thus forcing him to relearn all his training once again. This gives people like me a rather interesting in for being able to play the sequel without playing the first since Geralt is still recovering fragments of his memory as the game progresses. Still there are enough characters who appear to know Geralt solely from his exploits in the first game to make it look like playing the original would be worth it, even if they’re inconsequential to the overall plot.
Graphically the game is quite impressive. In fact this was the first game to bring my machine to its knees after turning everything to its absolute maximum, no small feat considering Crysis 2 barely made it break a sweat on the same level. However after re-tweaking the settings and jumping back into the game it wasn’t different visually so I have to assume that the one setting that said “only for high end machines” is actually just a poorly coded feature. Still the game does have some fantastically lush environments ranging from sprawling cities to deep, dark forests all of which are done exceptionally well.
The Witcher 2 is also completely voice acted with every character in the game having a range of dialogue lines. Encounters like the one above have sprawling dialogue trees enabling you to craft Geralt’s demeanour as you see fit. The voice acting is somewhat lacklustre with Geralt’s gravely voice being delivered in a constant monotone and many of the other characters echoing his performance. The idle chatter of non-plot NPCs is unfortunately quite limited often repeating the same lines in response to the same trigger event like when Geralt enters the area. For the most part you can ignore it though except when one obnoxious NPC keeps shouting “Bite his balls!” every 20 seconds.
Combat in The Witcher 2 starts off being extremely tedious as the game relies quite heavily on knowledge attained from the original game. This coupled with a lack of tutorials (lest you have to dive through the in game manual to find what you’re looking for) and incredibly difficult first encounters serves to make the opening scenes of The Witcher 2 rather tiresome rather that enjoyable. Indeed I never found myself playing much longer than an hour or so to begin with specifically because combat was such a chore. Talking over with my friends this doesn’t appear to be an isolated experience although apparently certain unbalanced abilities (Quen) make quite a lot of the game trivial. That’s all well and good but I wanted to play a particular play style (mage path) and using that ability precluded the use of the talents I had heavily invested in. It did get much better towards the end however as Geralt’s abilities became incredibly powerful, able to dispatch legions of enemies before running out of vigor.
Other aspects of the game had me searching for quite a while to figure out how to accomplish certain tasks. The two sword mechanic, steel for humans and silver for monsters, was only revealed after discussing the topic with friends (Of course I hadn’t noticed that the combat log was telling me this the whole time). Crafting is also a bit of a strange beast with Geralt being able to craft his own potions but not anything else, requiring the help of NPCs to craft everything else. There’s also no real indication of what items are useful and which aren’t, leading to your inventory being filled with all sorts of miscellanea that may or may not be helpful for you. I ended up installing a weight reduction mod so that all the crafting crap didn’t weigh anything, making crafting actually worth pursuing rather than a total crapshoot.
The various mini-games in The Witcher 2 serve as something to break up the long quests that the game sends you on as well as functioning as an unlimited money supply. Most of them are quite easy (like arm wrestling and the fist fights) but the dice poker game, since it involves a lot of chance, ends up being a lot more difficult. They seem to be a necessary evil as many items in the game are simply unattainable with the amount of orens you loot or are rewarded with during your stay in the game. Sure most of the best items in the game are crafted but even those require a pretty hefty orens investment, and you’d be struggling to get the required sum without playing numerous mini-games.
The Witcher 2 also takes the crown as being one of the most liberal games when it comes to Geralt getting down with the fairer sex. The opening scenes have him caressing his (naked) main love interest Triss Merigold for a good couple minutes before the plot gets underway. After that point there’s no less than 4 times when women (and demons) will throw themselves at you or, for a few orens, cheerfully take you to their bed. However, apart from some brief interludes with Triss, none of the romping really leads anywhere and for some reason Triss doesn’t seem to care how many women you get with. It then seems that sex is treated more as a reward rather than something meaningful which is unfortunate but is nothing out of the ordinary.
Where The Witcher 2 does shine though is in its action scenes. Whilst the boss fights are few and far between they are all rather intense encounters keeping your heart racing and your gaze fixed on the screen as you do battle with some really fantastical foes. There’s also many 300 inspired slow motion action scenes which whilst cheesy are pretty cool to watch. A few are also quick time events and whilst not entirely difficult (I never failed single one) they are enough to keep you from breaking immersion when an in game cut scene is playing through.
The story of The Witcher 2 is servicable but unlike other chapter based RPGs like Dragon Age 2 it does have some semblance of an over-arching goal to keep you driven throughout the entire game. I’ll be honest though at the start it’s slow going especially when the all other aspects of the game add endless amounts of tedium. Still Chapter 2 felt quite well paced (I chose Iorveth’s path) and whilst Chapter 3 was incredibly short in comparison it also felt a lot better than Chapter 1 did. The ending however was a total cock tease, foreboding to a big battle that is about to come but abruptly cutting you off before you have the chance to join it. For fans of the game this at least means they’ve got The Witcher 3 to look forward to, but I’ll never forgive games that leave plots so open like that.
Throughout The Witcher 2 I couldn’t shake the feeling that my whole experience of the game would’ve been a whole lot better had I played through its predecessor. Honestly the only reason I didn’t was because of Yahtzee’s rather scathing review of it since I hadn’t heard anything else about it (which is an oddity for me). Still on its own The Witcher 2 is a decent game and I could see myself coming back to it during a game draught to play through Roche’s path just so I could get the complete experience. If you’re a fan of the RPG genre The Witcher 2 won’t be a disappointment to you however if you’re like me and haven’t played the original I’d strongly recommend doing so as otherwise you’ll end up like me wondering why certain things are the way they are and forever googling basics of the game that its developers have assumed you already know.
The Witcher 2 is available on PC and Xbox360 right now for $79.99 and $89.00 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC on Easy difficulty with around 24 hours of total game time on a single play through.