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Episode 420

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The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Game Name: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Platforms: PC
Publisher(s): Atari
Developer(s): CD Projekt RED
Genre(s): RPG
Release Date: 05/17/2011
ESRB Rating: M
Big Ups: Fabulous morally ambiguous tale, very strong RPG elements, beautiful visuals, fantastic voice acting, great combat
Big Downs: Some bugs

For those who are not familiar with the Witcher series, it is based off a mid-90s Polish book series of the same name by¬† Andrzej Sapkowski. Though not having personally been able to read the series since only one book of the five has been translated to English, I have heard that the Witcher games maintain the thematic elements Sapkowski establishes in the books. People are used to black and white storytelling where there is a clear line between good and evil. This is not so in the Witcher. A majority of the game is making decisions that have no clear moral binding. And this is my first point of the review, the story telling and characters are so beautifully crafted you never really know who you should be siding with. It makes a majority of the decisions of the game very difficult and typically leaves you feeling guilty either way. I have to applaud CD Projekt RED for this because it’s a hard concept to illustrate in a video game yet they do so seamlessly. Not only is the story telling fantastic but the visuals are just as lush. Typically, it is popular amongst most modern games to have a very limited color palette. This is not so with the Witcher 2. It’s beautifully vibrant. I think I need to warn you before you go on, dear reader, that I LOVED this game. So a majority of this review will be full of high praise.

As I said before, the Witcher 2 has a complex and vast story. Each major character is given his own very unique personality that you both love and hate. Their own personal agendas are made apparent through the dialogue and events of the game thusly giving the player a sense that there is a living, breathing world beyond just Geralt’s present surroundings. Geralt of Rivia is the protagonist of the Witcher 2, who I have to say is friggin’ sexy. He gives all the scrawny nerds, such as myself, something to look up to with his slender build and standoffish personality. Geralt is an amnesiac Witcher. He is driven forward by the desire to recover from his amnesia but while he searches for answers he takes up various tasks slaying beasts and lifting curses. He’s what I like to call a paranormal hunter. ¬†Anyways, with Geralt’s journey comes several unique characters who each have various flaws and redeeming qualities. Even characters considered to be very minor sometimes have surprising levels of detail to their personae. The choices you make with each of these characters drastically affectsthe story and stage for which these choices play out upon is very fascinating. It brings joy to my soul to see a fantasy world not limited to conventions established by authors such as Tolkien. Yes there are dwarves, elves and the sort of typical sentient fantasy creatures, but beyond that the inhabitants and setting are wholly different from other fantasy settings I have encountered. Everything perfectly melds together and feels very natural. The only issue I have about the story is the ending. It actually was so unbearable it literally almost took all the praise I had for the game’s tale and thrashed it to the ground. If you are familiar with Matrix Reloaded’s ending, Witcher 2 feels a lot like that, abrupt and disappointing. However, realizing it was only one part of the game and knowing the writer’s intention of developing a natural world instead of one full of dramatic climaxes, I excused it. I wish I could elaborate further into what all fed into my exceptions but I’d rather not spoil the game for you. Quickly, I want to cover the decisions presented to the player. It astonishes me all the major game altering decisions you have to make in this game. In games like Mass Effect, your choices, save for a couple, affect little of the rest of game outside each isolated incident. However in the Witcher 2, your decisions, especially the one you make at the end of the first chapter, make for completely different playthroughs of the game. This makes you carefully choose your options. I need to make an aside real quick to say, I friggin’ hate achievements. There is a choice you make near the end of the game and if you didn’t choose the right path at the end of the first chapter you miss a crucial detail in a decision you have to make later after a boss fight that is revealed through an achievement after you make your choice. My issue with this is not because I wasn’t given the information to make a well-informed decision; it was the fact that it totally spoiled a shocking reveal that I would have discovered on my second playthrough. Phew, now that that is out we can move on to other elements of the game.

The visuals in the Witcher 2 are amazing , much to a lot of PC owners’ laments. Sure there might have been frame issues due to DRM and such, but that is not longer an excuse since the last update removed it. YAR HAR MATEES! Though you see some corners CD Projekt RED cut so that their game is mildly playable, the game remains one of the most beautiful I have seen in a while. From the lighting to the vibrant colors, this game truly is eye candy. One particular scene that caught my attention was the scene shown in the announcement trailer of a conversation between Iorveth and Letho. That scene is just as pristine as the trailer and the entire game looks like this throughout. There is some slight texture pop in here and there but it does not dampen the beauty. Especially when compared to the first Witcher, the Witcher 2 is a major leap graphically.

The audio design is fabulous as well. Most of voice acting is spot on and the ambience is fantastic. There are strange moments where echo accompanies the spoken dialogue which doesn’t make much sense but ithardly ruins the enjoyment of the well acted scripts. The musical score is fantastic. The classical mixed with metal accurately fits the feel of the entire game. The only issue I had with the audio was the action music. The trend of some recent games is to make the music escalate with the action or hostility of the world around the player. In the Witcher 2, there will be some unseen distant foe that activates this music making the player aware they are in danger even though in reality he is nowhere near any danger. But again, this is only a minor issue in the scheme of the complete game.

For anyone familiar with the enhanced edition first Witcher game, they will recall the third person camera addition and the click combos. The Witcher 2 maintains the third person camera but changes up the combat significantly. No longer does the player have to time their clicks to initiate the second and third phases of a combo but instead the game gives you direct control of your swings: left click being a light swing and right click being a heavy. The animation is flawless and sometimes Geralt will execute some flashy sword play full of several slashes, but for the most part you feel in direct control the entire time. That is until the context sensitive brawling scenes. I am not sure what exactly CD Projekt RED was thinking about when they removed the ability to fight barehanded, but it does give a mildly entertaining side event. However the lack of animations ends up selling this aspect short. After a couple fights you have seen all of the battle animations Geralt will execute. Though slightly gimmicky, the need to switch between silver and steel weaponry to effectively fight your enemies is a nice little touch in the mythology of the Witcher. Luckily a majority of your foes are monsters so you’ll not have to consciously switch weapons every two seconds in a fight. There is a pretty frustrating bug that sometimes occurred during combat. There were times my inputs were not recognized so much that at one point I was fighting several rotfiends and at sometimes Geralt would completely fail to swing on command. So he would stand there aimlessly as I pounded on my mouse trying to get him to defend himself, only to be bludgeoned to death by my combustible friends (rotfiends explode when they die, just a forewarning). However frustrating it might have been, it really did not occur frequently enough to interfere with my play.

The complexity of skill development and item crafting allows for repeated playthroughs. There are tons of various potion formulas, weapon diagrams, and modifiers for weapons as well as for Geralt to keep the gameplay interesting for each successive playthrough. What makes this extremely entertaining is actually having to go out to retrieve the ingredients to make these things. By doing this the game feels alive and really making you really appreciate every single piece of armor and weaponry you own. When I would obtain a weapon that I liked, I was hard pressed to give it away. The character tree, though not as complex as the first Witcher, offers three very different character trees which can at any time be leveled: alchemy, magic, and swordsmanship. I chose the swordsmanship tree and barely began to dabble in the magic tree before I completed the game. When choosing skills, the player is given a thorough read out about what exactly each skill will alter on Geralt. What adds to the complexity to the character development, however, is the inclusion of mutagens. Seeing that Geralt is a mutant, this feature makes sense. Mutagens are like weapon modifiers but are instead placed in a rare few slot openings that appear during skill development. They alter various attributes and can drastically affect Geralt’s stats. This makes for a individual experience for each player as no one character build will be the same.

Ultimately, the Witcher 2 is a great game. Its fantastic story-driven gameplay along with loads of player content, makes for quite possibly one of the best Western RPGs to date. If CD Projekt RED really takes their time with their next game and makes sure to leave out the major bugs that ruin the possibility of a complete enjoyment of the game, they may be able to create a game that will go down in history as one of the best RPG series. Regardless, the Witcher 2 is a very solid game and demands any roleplaying gamer to play it. Where it stands, I give Witcher 2 a four out of five. I would love to give it a five but just can’t deceive my readers by saying it is a completely perfect game. But take it from me, if you play it you’re in for one hell of an entertaining adventure.

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