As long-time listeners of Checkmate Arcade know, I had always wanted to try the Witcher series to scratch that Baldur’s Gate itch and see what the fuss was about on this game but having a PC built in 2003 meant I did not have the capability to play it. I even bought Witcher 1 on clearance at GameStop on Black Friday 2010 just so I would have a copy to play someday when I did get a better PC. That better PC came in fall 2011 and with all the games out on console to play and talk about on Checkmate Arcade and the POWCast, I only got around to playing a few hours of Witcher 1 over the last couple of months.
Another factor delaying my jump into the world of The Witcher was not having a gaming PC for 6-7 years and being raised on consoles outside of some Wing Commander here, a little Sims here, and a dash of Baldur’s Gate there meant I was accustomed to a controller and being in front of a TV. When the opportunity came to play for review Witcher 2 on the Xbox 360, I was happy the series I’ve heard much about was coming to a format I was more comfortable with and truly “plug-and-play” friendly.
Geralt by MSUHitman, on Flickr
The Witcher 2 is the continuing story of Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter called a Witcher, and a Polish folk hero with a series of prequel novels before his story was taken into video games by Polish developer CD Projekt Red in 2007’s Witcher for PC. A Witcher is someone who has been trained in techniques and conditioned through a secret process of mutagens and potions from an early age to combat the forces of darkness that threaten the civilized world. Those creatures fear the silver blade a Witcher carries, but humans, elves, dwarves, and even other witchers who cross a Witcher’s path face his finely tempered meteorite steel sword. The dual swords are one of the first unique things one notices when starting up The Witcher 2.
The other unique thing, at least on consoles, with The Witcher 2 is there have been no compromises in terms of the game’s difficulty or mature content, be it moral choices, sadistic acts of violence, or visual acts of sexual intercourse that would cause most of the staff of the Fox News Channel to get chest pains in anger of what is shown on screen. This is an adult game made by adults for adults and for those wanting a PC experience on console they will get it with this game.
Those who have not played the first Witcher need not worry about being lost or at a disadvantage in starting fresh with Witcher 2. New to the game is a tutorial that takes place outside of the game’s story once you select new game that very quickly, perhaps too quickly, throws the all of the mechanics of the game at you to learn and then gives you an endless wave of enemies for you to use the skills just taught to you on and gives a suggested difficulty level for you to play the game at.
Tutorial by MSUHitman, on Flickr
Many new players will want to start on easy mode, and won’t be penalized achievement wise for playing at that difficulty as the only difficulty-based achievement is for beating the game in its very hard mode called Dark mode. I would rate the game’s difficulty somewhere between Dragon Age Origins and the Demon’s/Dark Souls games.
In terms of the game’s story, there is background information in the menu on the major characters and events as told by Dandelion, a womanizing bard who is a long-time friend of Geralt from before the events of the first game, which saw a long, thought dead Geralt found by his School of the Wolf Witcher comrades but with complete amnesia. Other returning characters are Triss Merigold, the fiery (in more ways than one) sorceress who is Geralt’s on/off again love interest, and Zoltan Chivay, a dwarf who has fought beside Geralt many times before and was a witness to his “death” 5 years ago. Those wanting more story can see a 5 minute video on the Witcher’s YouTube page that summarizes the events in video, but surprisingly, that video is absent from the game.
The game takes place 1 month after the events of Witcher 1. Geralt and Triss, once again romantically involved and in the service of King Foltest who has a long history with Geralt before and during the events of Witcher 1 (where Geralt helped him regain his kingdom and stop another Witcher from assassinating him.) Foltest is fighting against a rebellion by various nobles of the Kingdom of Temeria who are using Foltest’s illegitimate children as leverage. Once Geralt helps Foltest recover his children, events happen that leave the King dead, the true assassin escaped, and Geralt left to take the blame. Geralt must then escape and clear his name, which leads into the bigger story of whom is pulling the strings leading to all the conflicts in the Northern Kingdoms.
Dandelion_and_Ves by MSUHitman, on Flickr
Combat in the game is real-time and the enhanced controls on the 360 controller work wonderfully for the game. Gone from the first game are the complicated stances and replaced with a more refined system of light and heavy attacks that can be timed into grand combos. Players must also utilize Geralt’s other talents including Witcher signs; spells Geralt can cast to throw fire, lay down magical traps, push foes away, control simple-minded foes to join your side, or to shield Geralt from damage.
Combat by MSUHitman, on Flickr
Geralt ability to craft bombs, traps, and daggers also come into play to damage foes from a distance, lure them into damaging traps, or throwing daggers to interrupt enemies’ actions, like stopping the casting of magic by enemy mages. Geralt can also roll away when things get too hectic or if he spends in the abilities, parry and riposte enemy blows into counter attacks. One of the things most new players will struggle with is there aren’t health potions per say in the game. A Witcher prepares for battle by drinking potions before entering combat. These potions can increase Geralt’s health regeneration, vigor regeneration (what Geralt spends to cast signs or parry attacks,) potions to increase sword and sign damage, potions to give the ability to see in the dark caves of the world, and various other affects. Like the crafting, creating the potions is done in the same meditation menu (accessible outside of combat when holding LB then hitting the meditation icon) and requires the collection of alchemy agents, from plants to monster parts, you’ll find over the course of your adventure.
Knowing when to use these various techniques are especially important in all the difficulty levels, although you are not penalized as much for mistakes on easy mode, but large groups or large creatures can still kill you on easy mode if you don’t learn the combat.
Many good RPG’s in current times have a varied skill tree that has branching paths to customize how the player’s character can succeed against the enemy horde and The Witcher 2 is no exception. After spending points in the early levels in a basic branch of the skill tree, Geralt can then spend talent points gained each level in one of 3 skill trees: swordsmanship, magic, or alchemy. While it’s OK to learn a few talents in each tree, there is a cap of 35 levels with the content in the game and many of the best talents, including the adrenaline abilities that give Geralt one-hit kills or power him to superhuman levels, are located at the end of the various trees. Someone who’s a completionist will want to play the game 3 times as a primary swordsman, mage, and alchemist as there are achievements tied to getting to the end of those trees and getting kills with those trees special adrenaline abilities.
The biggest point where The Witcher 2 excels and accedes what companies like Bioware have done is how they handle choice in the game. Unlike Bioware’s Dragon Age and Mass Effect series, where the same quests happen in the game, regardless of the choice made but just with different people to interact with or different scenes playing out, major choices in The Witcher 2 (with the biggest one being at the end of Chapter 1) affect how the entirety of chapter 2 plays out, what quests are available in Chapters 2 and 3, what women Geralt can have sex with, and how the city Chapter 3 takes place in looks. The game has 8 endings in total, in 2 sets of 4 endings depending on the major choice at the end of Chapter 1. The endings then fork more with decisions in both Chapter 2 and 3.
Given the vocal disappointment of many Bioware fans (including myself) and game critics and Bioware’s promises of taking feedback into the Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut and yet-to-be-officially announced Dragon Age 3, I have one statement to make to those at Bioware. Everyone working on either of those projects should be mandated to play through Witcher 2 and see what true choice means in video games today.
World by MSUHitman, on Flickr
Graphically Witcher 2 falls just short of Skyrim’s outdoor visuals but exceeds Skyrim in the quality of the faces of the characters. I also enjoy Witcher 2’s graphical style more than Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning personally because I feel Reckoning is a little too bright and comic book style. While it’s amazing the quality that is stuffed into the 360 version of the game, 360 owners should (and are recommended) to install the game data onto the 360 HDD to limit how much pop-up occurs in the environment and during cut scenes and cutdown on the loading times. The prologue and first 2 chapters of the game encompass disc 1, while Chapter 3 is on disk 2, so you can manage the 7 GB per disk install size easier. Even with installation, pop up will still occur, especially during dialogue and cut scenes on disk 2 and on the map in the pause menu.
This leads into a great note for those who have played the original PC version of Witcher 2; all of the additions and changes made for the EE are available for free to previous Witcher 2 owners in the form of a massive patch regardless of how the originally purchased the game, and Witcher 2 owners can also register their CD key on CD Projekt’s download service GoG.com to get a free, digital copy of the EE for PC.
While I feel this is one of the best RPG’s on the Xbox 360 and a contender for RPG/Game of the Year in 2012, not everything is perfect. As discussed before, the combat has a steep learning curve but once learned it is deeply satisfying, and you can even try your luck in a new wave-based single-player arena mode new to the EE. Geralt also only has two speeds, slow walk or run. Many times you will run past flowers and other items before you have a chance to pick them up, leading to dancing in a circle trying to get the A prompt to pick up the item. Explanations about the mini-games (fist fighting, arm wrestling, and dice poker,) are extremely poor and I needed the help of a guide to figure them out as you’re not given a proper tutorial about them.
Arena_Fight by MSUHitman, on Flickr
The biggest problem I had with the game was the mini-map and the full map in the pause menu. It’s VERY hard to figure out where you’re going and what path you need to take to get to your destination. Although I didn’t have major issues, others have complained of audio problems during gameplay. Only weird audio issues I had were NPC’s saying their lines and being audible even after I enter a house/tent and leave their sight. Those who hate quick-time events should also beware that they are spread throughout the game. When playing on Easy though, all QTE, minus the fist fighting mini-game, are auto completed successfully.
All-in-all, Witcher 2 will stand with Skyrim, Fallout 3, Mass Effect 2, and Dragon Age Origins as the pillars of Western-developed RPG’s of this generation as Tales of Vesperia, Valkyria Chronicles, Lost Odyssey, Demon’s Souls, and Dark Souls are the pillars of Japanese-developed RPG’s. As a former-Bioware super fan, I can say I’m anticipating the third chapter of The Witcher saga much more than the third chapter of the Dragon Age saga.
4.5 stars out of 5
-Game was provided for review by CD Projekt. Used Prima strategy guide purchased at retail to help with completing the game. Played the game for 42 hours beating the campaign on Easy difficulty earning 34 of 50 achievements for 655 points.
Edited by MSUHitman, 09 May 2012 - 12:34 AM.