Hardcore RPGs are a dying breed. Apart from a few exceptions, almost all role playing games are made with the console player in mind, meaning accessibility comes before depth. One of the few games that bucked this trend was The Witcher. Praised upon its release for an engaging story, amazing depth and adult approach to the genre, it was one of the few bright sparks for the dedicated PC roleplayers everywhere. It had its problems, most notably the strange timing based combat system, but gamers looked past these issues and it soon developed a cult following.
CD Projekt has now returned to this world with The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings and they have learned a few tricks in the time between games. Once again based on the works of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, The Witcher 2 continues the tale of the famed White Wolf, a Witcher named Geralt. Our hero begins locked in a cell, accused of murdering the king. It is here that the game throws you into the deep end. There is no tutorial and barely even a guide. Sink or swim is the only option available so you must quickly master the skills that Geralt has at his disposal to survive. It is very clear from this opening sequence that the Witcher 2 is a difficult game. Dying is something that you will do, but it is never unfair or because the AI cheated. It is always something that happens as a result of you simply not being good enough or making a mistake.
Combat is the single greatest improvement over the original game. Gone is the combo based system and in its place is a more traditional way to take on enemies. A light attack, heavy attack, Spells (or ‘signs’ as the game calls them), a block and a dodge button are all at your fingertips. This should feel familiar to just about any gamer out there. What is different is the way combat is handled. You must be facing your attacker to be able to block, meaning dodging is often a better option. Spells have a limited use and potions, upgrades and health restoration cannot be accessed during battle. This means you must prepare carefully for each encounter as a few temporary upgrades may mean the difference between a glorious victory and a crushing defeat. You also have two swords, a traditional steel sword for use on humans and a silver sword to take on monsters. This adds another layer of strategy into battles, especially when you are fighting both monsters and soldiers. Luckily, unlike other items, you can switch swords on the fly.
The range of enemies is also quite impressive. From the traditional soldiers and elves to spiders, golems and gargoyles, variety is the spice of Geralt’s life. The game also allows you to take part in some truly epic boss battles against mythical beasts such as a Kraken and a Dragon. These massive encounters look amazing and really draw you into the clash, making the event a memorable experience. However it is not just the set pieces that look amazing; the whole game is a feast for the eyes. This is the type of game that will force many of you to upgrade your video cards to see this in its full glory. Playing this game at “high” or “ultra” settings requires a beast of a computer to run, but the payoff is worth it. Amazing vistas, detailed characters, and spectacular effects are in abundance making The Witcher 2 one of the best looking games available.
The audio design in The Witcher 2 is also of the highest quality. From a sweeping classical score to the engaging and convincing voice acting, sound is an important and impressive part of the game. The clash of swords, the scream of a dying monster and the whoosh of approaching flames have rarely sounded so good, making the Witcher 2 a game you will want to play with headphones or a quality 5.1 speaker system. It deserves nothing less.
All of the amazing graphics and sound are in the Witcher 2 to do one thing, and that is to tell a story, and what a story it is. It is very clear that this game was written by not just an accomplished author but an excellent one. The game handles story through traditional means, such as cut scenes, conversations and literature that can be read by Geralt, each of which has been created to be enjoyable and entertaining. You won’t want to skip any cinematics or conversations in this game. The story will also play out differently each time you play. The Witcher 2 not only includes multiple endings, but also multiple story arcs. Choices made by you in the game will lead through different versions of Geralt’s tale. Locations, quests, characters and of course story are all based on how you approach the game, making multiple playthroughs almost a must if you want to experience all The Witcher 2 has to offer.
If there is one area that lets the Witcher 2 down, it is in the menu screens. It is in these screens that you do some of the traditional RPG activities such as crafting, inventory management and levelling up. These tasks are made frustrating by confusing menus and almost no instruction on how to actually complete them. This is especially noticeable when you wish to create a new potion or oil as the crafting screen cannot be navigated easily making it much simpler to simply buy these upgrades rather than create them.
This is a minor issue when compared to the excellence that the rest of the game exudes. The Witcher 2 is really the perfect sequel. It has improved on the problems of the original, such as the combat, and has polished what the first did well to a shine. With system crushing graphics, first class sound design and a story that will keep you glued till the conclusion, The Witcher 2 is at the top of the pile when it comes to PC RPGs. Simply put, it deserves a place in your collection.