Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Witcher 2 - Assassins of Kings Review

The Witcher 2: Assassins of KingsThe Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings is the second dark fantasy role playing game from CD Projekt Red that is based on the novels written by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski.  It's a beautiful game from a technical standpoint and Geralt's tale of finding the Kingslayer and involving himself in the politics of the world at the same time is so well written, that every decision you make doesn't feel like the "wrong" choice and flows so well until the end that you forget that this game can change dramatically in a different direction by making a different choice. Technical issues aside, this game is a grand adventure with a great combat system that you probably don't want to miss if you're a fan of the role playing genre.


When your jumping into The Witcher 2 for the first time, it probably helps to know what happened in the first Witcher game.   I wouldn't go as far as to say that you should play that game before you start the second game.  That first game establishes relationships you may have had with some main characters that appear in the second game like Triss, Dandelion, and Zoltan but as to what happened to Vizima in that game doesn't get referred to at all.  Even if you import a save there's only a mention here and there but it's not important to the second game's story.

So lets get this out of the way first, the game is very mature and yes there is a lot of nudity.  Most of it is not in bad taste and doesn't detract from the core game at all.  It's well done and not as casual as the first game.  Sex does not overshadow the game and merely complements the tone that this is a raw and dark game. 

The game starts off fairly interesting because Geralt is arrested and interrogated for being an Assassin.  So you would think this would turn into a tale of revenge for being framed and while the game could conclude to such an end, you actually become more of a vessel for finding out the truth.  There is no good or evil in this world and every character you talk to has their own agenda.  Basically everyone is a jerk and you just have to choose which jerks you're comfortable siding with. 

 My enemy's enemy is my friend.
 My enemy's enemy is my friend.
Decisions you make in the Prologue and in Chapter one will drastically change the events in the final chapters of the game.  So much that you basically quest in a different area and meet different people.  The game is surprisingly good at keeping track of your decisions and when you reach the end of the game and watch the culmination of your story come together it feels really special. 



If there was anything that has changed a lot from the first game it would have to be the combat system.  The timing based click system is completely replaced for a more traditional action oriented system.  You still have to choose between a steel and a silver sword to most effectively combat humanoids and monsters.  There aren't any stances either and that is replaced with a basic light attack and heavy attack system.

Now don't get the wrong impression that this game is a common hack and slash.  It's far more complex than it really looks.  Rushing
 Fighting Harpies with a friend.
 Fighting Harpies with a friend.
in like Kratos and thinking you can destroy everything in a few hits is the wrong way to approach this game.   You must use everything at your disposal from traps, bombs, signs and dodge rolls. You have to play defensively and break the guard of enemies because they can just easily block your sword attacks and counter you. Early on in the game you might feel overwhelmed due to not having some abilities that are unlocked later in the game.  Once you start unlocking those abilities the combat feels great and very satisfying. 

There are three ability trees in the game, excluding the fourth tutorial tree, where you can specialize in magic signs, swordsmanship, and alchemy. Each tree plays to it's strengths.  If you are comfortable with keeping your distance and using signs then you might want to focus more on magic.   Swordsmanship will allow you to unlock some more devastating sword attack and hit multiple targets with your sword.  While alchemy is a lot more focused on longer duration potions and more devastating traps and bombs. I personally would recommend dropping points in the magic tree until you get the extra two bars of vigor and build from there.

Alchemy crafting is another part of the game that may be tedious at times.  Monsters in this game drop components for crafting potions, oils and bombs.   You can also gather the components from plants in the environment.  It's one simple click once you have all the ingredients if you have the diagram to make it.  Geralt can't craft weapons or armor himself but in a similar manner to alchemy if he gathers the components to make something from a diagram.  He can hire a blacksmith to create items for him. Now knowing when to use potions becomes a problem because you can sometimes get caught off guard with an encounter unprepared.  You can't use potions while in combat so you must drink any vitality regeneration potions like "Swallow" before any such difficult encounter.

Magic and the parry system use the vigor system.  One spell will eat up a block of vigor and a parry with the sword will also do the same.  Some people might find this awkward because once your vigor is depleted you cannot block an attack anymore.  At the same time it forces a player to pick and choose their battles instead of turtling up defensively throughout the whole game.

Controlling the game seems fine with either a gamepad or keyboard and mouse.  I eventually warmed up to keyboard and mouse because I could not live without my hotkeys for all my magic signs.  Something you can't do with the gamepad because you can only choose one spell to cast at a time.  Doesn't mean you can't change spells but it takes a significantly longer time to switch between spells on the gamepad.

In terms of general questing, this game does a good job of pointing out objectives and giving you a general idea of what to do in the Journal itself.  Even though the game is fairly linear in terms of questing, you can sometimes fail non essential quests if you go through main storyline quests too quickly and without it giving you any indication that you won't be able to do a side quest anymore. 

The game is not very difficult, the learning curve might be a bit slow but once you know the spells and weaknesses of opponents you will find strategies that will work towards your play style.  It's not an unforgiving game due to the checkpoint system in the game.  It adds an autosave at almost every major decision or encounter almost to a fault.  Also the game comes with a quicksave feature that I used quite a bit in case i needed to go about a situation in a different direction. 

Graphics and Sound

There is no doubt that this game is amazingly beautiful to look at. The environments and effects are so well crafted and each chapter has a distinct look and feel.  You get this illusion that the world is bigger than what it really is and that is a credit to a game that isn't an open world type of game.  The only drawback is that with great visuals there is a greater demand on system resources.  With some graphical setting tweaks you can get this game running smoothly on a 2-3 year old system.  The minimum system requirements for the game are actually the minimum system requirements because if you have something weaker you can be sure that this game won't run on your computer.  This may be improved over time as the game gets patched but I did not have too much problems running the game with Ultra Settings (Ubersampling turned off) on my Core 2 Quad 2.4ghz and Nvidia Gtx 480.

The sound design in this game is fairly good as well. Every character and NPC seems to have a unique personality that really pull you in to the game world and you can't help but just sit and listen to all of the dialog.  If you played the first game you would know that a lot of the English dialog was very awkward and wasn't very good at times.  Now even though the game pulls some of the same voice actors from that first game they definitely seems to have improved immensely.  This is due to a better dialog script for the characters so it sounds a lot more natural.  Environmental sounds, weapons, spells all complement each other in an overall nice package.


This game is as close to the complete package you can get in a RPG.  Great story, lots of replay value, fun and intuitive combat system, great atmosphere.  Add to the fact that it is probably the most beautiful looking role playing games on the market right now makes it a fairly amazing game.  If you have a PC that can run this game then i would highly recommend picking this game up.  Kudos to CD Projekt Red and I hope to see them continue this franchise on a successful path.  It is certainly one of the best role playing games to have been released in recent years.

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