“Power, sex. Sex, power. They both come down to one thing – F***ing others.”
– Geralt of Rivia
This simple quote, from 2007’s game The Witcher really speaks to the core of who your hero Geralt really is. You see, Geralt lives in the fantasy equivalent of the “real world.” In his world, the differences between hero and villain are not easily noticeable up front. Good and evil tend to blur substantially, creating a world of shades of gray versus black and white.
For those yet to play the original Witcher, fear not, as it is not entirely necessary. The first game began in such a way as to make you feel like you came into the world in the middle of something, and this one carries that feeling along. For instance, Geralt is still missing pieces of his memory, still in the company of Triss Merigold, and still working for King Foltest, at least at the beginning of the game. When Foltest is assassinated and Geralt is blamed for the crime, he is forced to go on the run in search of the assassin, who appears to also be a Witcher.
The game begins with the story in progress, allowing you to play parts of the prologue, out of order, as your character relates the events while being questioned. It is really in this prologue that you are fully introduced into the core gameplay itself, namely to the combat, magic, and alchemy portions specifically. The game basically uses the prologue as a fun way to introduce you into the epic storyline, while also teaching gamers how to control the Witcher, which both Witcher veterans and first timers will need to know.
"The Witcher 2 has received a complete overhaul on basically every level."
The Witcher 2 has received a complete overhaul on basically every level. The first thing you will notice is that combat has been completely re-done, doing away with the timing based combos, for a slightly more hack-and-slash mouse click variety. In order to engage in more advanced combat moves, for instance being able to strike multiple enemies or do different types of melee attacks, you will have to devote your skill points to combat style skills (more on this in a moment). Combat has been broken down into light attacks, which are fast and seem to chain fairly well, and heavy attacks. Combat becomes left click for a light attack, right click for a heavy attack, a separate button to block and another button to allow you to roll away from your enemies.
This new combat mode will force you to master it, as you are from the earliest moment of the game surrounded by swarms of enemies, requiring you to master blocking, rolling and the best way to chain your attacks against enemies, who often will block much of what you throw at them. This is where your ranged weapons can also come into play. In Witcher 2, you have essentially three different types of ranged attacks, throwing daggers, bombs, and traps. Each of these attacks often requires you to actually craft a lot of these items or find somebody to make them for you, forcing you to try and conserve them for when they are really needed. I can recall at least two separate occasions in which well used bombs and well placed traps helped me survive being wiped out by a swarm of vicious little Nekkers. The bombs and traps vary in type, damage done and in overall effectiveness. It will require some combat testing to find the best way to use them, but I have personally seen how much of a difference they can make in major battles.
The final, and perhaps the most crucial, component of combat is the use of Signs. Your signs can be used to greatly even the odds of combat, as you can use bolts of force to knock down enemies, set them on fire, make them attack each other, use a magical trap – and then there is the Quen sign. The Quen sign is easily the most powerful attack in the game when it is properly upgraded, as it will act as a damage shield that also damages and stuns other enemies. There is one boss battle in particular in chapter 1, where I was on the receiving end of an upgraded Quen and got killed pretty quickly. This went on for at least 25+ times before I realized that you simply cannot engage an enemy that uses Quen. By that same token, once you can upgrade, this will become your most useful Sign in The Witcher 2, and it often acts as a difference maker.
In addition, to combat, The Witcher 2 has received a slight overhaul to the alchemy skills. While it remains the same in terms of requiring you to gather monster parts and local plants, they have changed the way you make use of the potions that you create. Now the only way to drink a potion is to enter a state of meditation, drink the potion or potions, and then to carry on. What this means is that you will never be able to use potions while actually in combat. While I have heard others complain about this, I always felt it was pretty obvious when you were about to begin a huge battle, and as such I always felt like I had enough time to use potions when it was really needed. Then again, once I started really upgrading my skills, I stopped making use of potions as much, and by Chapter 3 I had stopped using them all together.
One of the biggest changes from the first Witcher is the introduction of different gameplay types. The Witcher 2 features some epic set pieces and boss battles and has decided to make use of some quick time events in certain major situations. You see this in the prologue and chapter 1 and then a bit later, but it is not overused and it usually adds to the overall excitement. While rolling dice has been changed a lot, it is still essentially like playing poker and still seems completely random. I never really made use of it in the first game nor much at all in this one. You will also have the opportunity to arm wrestle for money and as part of one large, game spanning quest. This involves moving the mouse to match a sliding meter. While I finished this quest successfully, I never really figured out an effective way to be good at it. My guess is trial and error will also be your guide. Finally, you also have the ability to get into a fight club of sorts, and this fighting is now controlled by a series of quick time prompts. I found this to be quite entertaining, if a tad easy after a while.
As an RPG, The Witcher 2 does make use of a new skill tree, designed to help you tailor your character to the style you want. This new skill tree system was actually fairly unexplained and will require some exploration on your part. Basically you get to choose between combat skills, magic skills and alchemy skills, using whatever combination you wish in order to fight the way you wish to fight. As you go from simple ability like knife throwing, you will move into advanced abilities, for instance the ability to fill up your adrenaline meter through combat and tap a button to use a finisher to kill one or more enemies. On the magic side, this is the only way to gain access to more advanced magical abilities as well as to gain more bars in your magic meter. At the start of the game you can only use two abilities before having to wait for them to refill. I never actually made use of the alchemy skills tree, as I focused on magic and combat.
Graphically The Witcher 2 is simply the single most stunningly attractive PC game currently on the market. While the first Witcher looked decent enough on the aging Aurora engine, The Witcher 2 makes it look like a game from 2000 by comparison. The graphics are so extensive and so beautiful, that you will likely spend some time tweaking the settings in order to find a balance between aesthetics and performance. I played The Witcher 2 on my Alienware Area 51 and M14x and was forced to occasionally tone down the settings in order to get a solid frame rate. Simply put, The Witcher 2 is the beast that will require PC upgrades. This will be a new benchmarking tool for future graphics cards as people attempt to get it working at the highest settings.
As such, please be aware that getting The Witcher 2 to perform may require some old-fashioned tweaking. For instance, I had to download the latest nVidia beta driver to help with performance. Some people may be forced to actually upgrade their older hardware in order to really make things work for them. There have also been reports of graphical errors, strange glitches and issues playing with ATI products, but I never really came across these issues. I also played the game on both of my rigs using nVidia graphics cards, so I cannot speak to the ATI issues, but as always look to the net to get an idea there.
The sound effects and music are about what one would expect from a blockbuster movie or an AAA video game. The characters are well-voiced and lend a solid air to the story, particularly Doug Cockle’s growling portrayal of Geralt. The music score also seems to lend an epic feel, particularly in the larger action set pieces. Overall, audiophiles should be pleased and purists, can actually download and use English subtitles and Polish vocal tracks, if you want to experience the game that way. (The game is by a Polish developer and based on a well known Polish fantasy epic.)
There is a basic difficulty associated with this game that felt strangely exaggerated by not really being shown how to do things. I purchased this game from gog.com, meaning that my user manual was in PDF format. For the first time in years, I had to reference it on more than one occasion in order to figure out how to do something. While the game shows and explains how to do the most basic of things in The Witcher 2, a strange lack of further instruction in certain areas was a tad annoying. I found myself literally pressing every button on my keyboard to see what the keys did. It took me hours of gameplay to figure out how to select different ranged weapons to use and something as simple as entering meditation mode. Obviously these issues are of the “your mileage may vary” type and will affect others differently.
The Witcher 2 spans a prologue, three chapters, and an epilogue, at least as far as the main game is concerned. There have been rumors of DLC coming, but no mention of whether it will be post-game content or content accessed at different times during the main game. I took me just around 36 hours to complete the first game and 25 hours to complete this sequel. It bears noting that I have only achieved two of the alleged sixteen different endings and know of at least one major decision change that will require a second play through to see how the game differs. howlongtobeat.com currently shows a median length of just under 25 hours to complete the game, with the high end registering 30 hours.
I have spoken repeatedly about the power of choice in games, and I must say that the Witcher series really takes this to a new level. You are simply never given any easy choices in The Witcher 2. Do you help the terrorists or the racist subjugators? Whichever decision you make, be ready to accept the consequences, as people are going to get hurt, and they are often innocent of what is going on around them. This refusal to present a “good” path and an “evil” path makes the Witcher series one of the most compelling to be found anywhere – especially when small choices that you make are later explained to have had surprising results.
Simply know that The Witcher 2 will force you to constantly choose between what you want and what may be needed, and this lack of easy answers made me constantly second-guess myself until I decided to just play Geralt the best I could and see what happened. The branching story early on should remind you that the best way to see the whole story is to play through it more than once, this time making different choices.
"The Witcher is very definition of a new and improved sequel. "
The Witcher is very definition of a new and improved sequel. CD Projekt Red Studio have taken their new engine and crafted a new Witcher game that improves upon nearly everything that they had in place in the first. While some may lament that their favorite characters from the original didn’t make it to the sequel, the characters on hand are still compelling enough. Certainly while you won’t have nearly as many options for sexual partners this time around, you will find that the sex scenes themselves are far more graphic and, in the very first instance, quite entertaining.
Having said all of that and despite some tiny nitpicking issues, The Witcher 2 is simply “the AAA RPG title of the Year” to date and a certain candidate for Game of the Year.