The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings review
A great all round experience, that needs to be patched up
If you’re in the loop with modern gaming then you’ve no doubt heard of the PC Role playing game; The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings. The original made a name for itself due to its mature themes and dark atmosphere. This time around things haven’t changed and this was one of the main points that initially drew me in, as I am getting sick of RPGs trying to cater for every audience in the world in order to make a buck. Despite the many flaws, The Witcher 2 is one of those games I couldn’t help but love, and Is one I will definitely play again in ten years when computers are powerful enough to run this game at its full potential.
The epic story of the Witcher 2 follows on from the original. “Haven’t played the original”, you say? That’s fine, because Geralt of Rivia (the protagonist) lost his memory between the two games, and his past is slowly revealed throughout the story. The game begins with our hero; magically-enhanced- human-capable-of-casting-a- few-spells-so-he-can-specialize-in -destroying-monsters (aka witcher), escorting King Foltest to a nearby castle in the heat of war. With a few bad-ass Witcher moves, victory is taken and it’s time to pop the tasty champers and plow the pasty whores. After a few calm minutes, the bloodshed returns as the king is brutally murdered by an assassin posing as a monk. Said assassin then flees and the country decides to throw the blame on poor Geralt, whose only remaining option is to escape, capture the assassin and prove his innocence. This is the setting of what will become a very interesting story. There’s sex, there’s violence, there’s betrayal, twists, turns, mayhem, and just about everything else you would expect from an R 18+ game. It is thoroughly enjoyable, but the thing that really shines is that you’ll eventually be given the option to choose which country you wish to side with in the coming war.
The two paths that you can choose are completely different and offer distinct views from both sides to the point that you only know half the story if you only play through the game once. It would be great if games could adopt this technique more often as it provides the opportunity to truly flesh out every character without having a bunch of one-dimensional antagonists who wage war because the game needs an enemy. It may seem like that initially, but once you play the game from their point of view, everything is so much more believable. This narrative technique in combination with the unique, memorable array of main NPCs is one of the strongest points of The Witcher 2 and presents a story that you won’t be forgetting any time soon. Below is an image of Geralt and his ‘friend’, Triss, about to get down and dirty.
The battle system has received plenty of praise but it’s certainly not without its critics, and for good reason. The very first battle in the game took me about 15 tries to complete, and this was just on normal difficulty. I must admit that I was used to the mindless, button-mashing system of Dragon Age 2, but still, this was a headache. The reason for this is that you cannot ever run in the middle of a group of soldiers and slash away. You need to take your time, picking off one enemy at a time, dodging incoming blades and blocking anything you can. If you can’t do that, and you won’t be able to for a while, then you will join the thousands who have seen the game-over screen countless times. But fear not, the game does get easier as you learn the battle system, and as Geralt grows in strength.
Apart from slicing and dicing, Geralt also has five spells that he can use in battle, such as shooting a flame and incinerating your enemy, or confusing the enemy to fight on your side. These spells, in addition to fighting with your sword, make the gameplay quite enjoyable and provide many ways to win your battles. However it’s the spell Quen, which shields you from enemy attacks, that is worth mentioning here. It is the single most effective counter to the insane early difficulty. After several attacks, the Quen shield will disappear, but that’s fine because you can just spam it on again, and again. Reducing the power of this spell, as well as the strength of your enemies would have been a better idea, as it would encourage more variety in fighting styles. Below is a screenshot of out hero Geralt up against a Queen Endrega.
Probably the biggest issue with this game is the beast of a computer that is required to play it to its full potential. I’m not talking regular beast. I’m talking jump-into-the-future-twenty-years-then-break-into-NASA-and-steal-their-supercomputers, beast. Now I don’t have the most powerful PC in the world, but so far it’s been more than able to play all of my games at mid power with ease. This game however spends most of the time lagging and not immediately (or at all) responding to your keys. At time’s it isn’t the biggest issue, but sometimes it’s the difference between life and the dreaded game over screen. On top of this, the game occasionally shut itself down, locked, or decided not to render any of the backgrounds. Maybe in ten years I’ll try this game again, when the average machine can run it properly. Below is an image of how amazing Triss, Geralt and Roche could look.
Every RPG has a way of strengthening your characters. This is no different. Aside from the common equipment and leveling up via killing monsters and completing quests, systems, The Witcher 2 has an enjoyable skill tree system, which is also becoming more and more common these days, There are three main branches, one specializing in Magic, one in Power, and the other in Alchemy. Players can choose to spread around their ability points and create an all rounder, or focus on one particular area (I suggest magic, because of Quen). To promote a focus on one single branch, each area has a special ability at its end, which can be used once certain battle conditions are met (IE – killing enemies or using spells). I have no complaints with this system. It allows for a decent amount of customization. It is however, quite unoriginal. Many games tend to be leaning this way these days.
The Witcher 2 offers quite a lot in the way of side quests. In each chapter, you can travel around the town and choose to take on a number of missions. There aren’t as many as most games these days, but they are actually quite interesting and non-repetitive, unlike certain games (I’m looking at you again Dragon Age 2). For example, some quests require you to simply slay monsters and learn their weaknesses, while others are more personal, such as the quest that requires you to find out why a bunch of ghosts persistently haunt a poor soldier day in and day out. The quests are quite rewarding, in terms of…. actually I’m not sure. The truth is that your reward (may it be gold or items) disappear from the screen after half a second, forcing you to look through your inventory to see if you have any new items. Hopefully this rather annoying issue will be sorted out in a later patch.
The presentation of this game is top notch. Graphically, it’s up there with the best, assuming you ended up travelling in time and stealing NASAs computers. The soundtrack is also superb. Many of the themes, particularly the opening theme, stuck in my head and just about every track suits the surrounding area nicely. The ambient sounds perfectly accompany the environments, particularly in the pubs, where a drunkin’ brawl can be heard from one corner, and a wasted solder can be heard singing to himself in another. The voice acting is also positive in most cases, although at times Geralt does seem quite monotone. Everything works well together to create a memorable world and an enjoyable experience.
Back in the day, I used to rave about the Suikoden series. In fact, it’s still probably my favorite series of all time. A major contributor to this is because of the massive world history and depth of the hundreds of characters. There is a LOT to learn about the Suikoden world, and the Witcher world is no different. There are loads of countries, each with their own royalty, historical politics and cultures. Fortunately, much of this information is held in Geralts Journal (at least as far as the characters mentioned in the game goes), but a lot of it will require you to play the original and no doubt future additions. If you want a game with a lot of depth that will no doubt keep growing as the years go on, then this game will suit your needs.
I’ll end this review here. As you can see, The Witcher 2 has a lot of things going for it but just as many small issues that bring the game down. The dark, mature story is fantastic, especially since it is told from two angles. Most of the characters are deep and full of personality, and the world has a massive amount of context to sink your teeth into it. However, to fully enjoy it, you’re going to need a pretty damn powerful machine and a few (currently) non-existent patches to iron out some small problems. Overall, this is a very decent game, and if you’re old enough to get yourself a copy, chances are you will not be disappointed.
About the author
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