On May 17th, CD Projekt RED and Atari brought us part two of The Witcher series, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. I’ve heard a lot of hype, and plenty of folks are talking good about this game, so I wanted to see for myself how it stacked up. Based on the series of short stories by Polish author Andrej Sapowski, The Witcher 2 picks up some time after the events of the previous game.You take the role of Geralt, part of a supernaturally enchanced “order” of monster slayers, chosen and trained at young age to combat the sorts of things best left alone. The prologue starts off as in a dream, Geralt is being chased by something, and wakes up to find himself imprisoned. From there, the character is interrogated by one of the officers of the Kingdom of Temeria’s Special Forces regarding the events leading to the death of their King, Foltest of Temeria at the hands of someone with some striking similarities. Unfortunately for Geralt, member of the court and bodyguard to the King, he was found cradling the King as he lay dying… The scene flashes back, and you take part in the siege which ultimately leads King Foltest right to his killer. After escaping from prison, Geralt ventures out on a quest to clear his name and avenge the king.
Stunning Graphics – The cinematic cutscenes are mostly first rate (see Hated), and are among the best I have ever seen. The level of detail is far and above what you normally see, and I was impressed with some exception. The gameplay graphics themselves were of little disappointment too, and I found myself pleasantly surprised at the performance of the game’s RED Engine. No major hiccups, smooth playing, nothing at all to complain about there.
Quests and Complexity – Throughout the game, you have one main goal in mind, but a number of side quests crop up from time to time, each one requiring a number of tasks in order to successfully complete it. Some games make you feel like a sycophant running back and forth only to find out you have “one more thing” you must do. Instead of requiring me to travel across the game world I was kept in a relatively reasonable area of the map, and didn’t have to pull my nose hairs out in frustration. The quests are trackable and you can access them anytime by selecting the journal, which is the J key on your PC. Simply highlight the one you wish to complete and move along.
Multiple Actions, Multiple Choices – Like many RPGs, you face a lot of choices in game. Your actions, interactions and even the way you walk around determine how the NPCs will interact with you, and where the next series of events will lead you. Doesn’t matter if you want to be a choirboy swashbuckler, or a boorish villain, you have that choice and often it will come back to haunt you. Not surprisingly, I found it a little difficult to talk to the villagers while walking around with my sword drawn, and had to remember to sheath it so the guards would quit chasing me.
LOOT! Nothing sings to the heart more than getting stuff to buy or make more stuff. As you walk around, you can forage for herbs, search containers and of course pick through the gear of fallen opponents. With a realistic encumbrance, you won’t be moving about looking like a walking salvage truck. A pair of pants (don’t ask) might not seem to weigh a whole heck of a lot, but try carrying 27 pair… Better yet, you can exchange your loot for items, use them in crafting potions and formulas (no not the pants, but I did try), or outright sell them for cash. Here is one hint on that end, if you can open a door, go in and look around, most rooms have something worth rifling through, and the villagers don’t seem to mind all that much.
Finish Him! Probably the best feature in combat thus far, is the ability to get an instant kill via a theatrical finishing move, complete with cut scene. Using either an ability or weapon to stun your opponent, you can then initiate an attack which will result in their death one of several ways, including catching them on fire with one of your magical abilities. OK, so I admit, lighting folks on fire is not the thing to say I found entertaining, but hey it’s a game, so FLAME ON!
Back to Graphics – As much as I loved the graphics, there were a few issues in cut scenes I found annoying. Small to be sure, but recurring. First up is simply a case of what I call bad editing. In the first chapter of the game, a scene will occur, fade to black and then pick back up in the same location, with the same people talking about the same topic. It’s almost as if you were expecting a commercial that never happens, and you have to question whether the scenes were badly stitched together because of it. The overall effect can be distracting, but only seems to occur within the first chapter seige. After that it is hardly noticeable. Another issue is an overlay of graphical detail that sometimes takes a moment to catch up. How and why this occurs is beyond me, and I can never nail down when it is about to happen. The effect is seeing details such as items or sigils on clothing, facial features or even the granular effect on the background suddenly appear where it was not before. Think of looking at someone, something doesn’t look right and then all of a sudden their eyebrows jump out of their face and appear where they were not before, or a smooth brown plank suddenly morphs to showing wood grain.
Why Can’t I JUMP! This is always a pet peeve of mine, and most assuredly The Witcher 2 is not the only game that does this. I can’t stand being on a fixed path, and not able to short cut certain obstacles such as a short ledge, a few stairs or something trivial. While traversing stairways in either direction, there is no option to jump up or down a few. You can’t drop off small ledges for cross certain terrain features unless the particular portion of the game requires you to do so. You might see something that looks like a short cut, but will have to run down each flight of stairs, run, turn and run down the next.
Despite the minor annoyances I really enjoyed myself with The Witcher 2, and will continue to play it and explore the different possibilities and interactions my choices lead me to. As far as the graphics issues, that can probably be fixed with a patch, and I hear one is in the works. It doesn’t blue screen my rig, so that is always a step in the right direction. With lots of openings for a sequel, and best of yet, a grayed out Downloadable Content on the launch menu, I think CD Projekt RED has some good things in store for us. One last word of advice, this has a bit of full on nudity in it, I realize you may not be the shy type, but some of us have kids and wouldn’t want little Joey going to school describing some of the, ah…terrain features to his classmates. “Mr. Givens, could we get you to come to the school to speak to Mr. Tightpants about your son?” Damn, not again…
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
- Available On: Xbox 360, PS3
- Published By: Atari
- Developed By: CD Projekt RED
- Genre: RPG
- US Release Date: Spring 2011
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
- Quote: "The Witcher 2 is one of the most mature role-playing games that we've ever come across. An incredible branching storyline, stunning graphics, and challenging combat system make it a must play."