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The Witcher 2: Witchier Than Before?
When The Witcher took the PC RPG world by storm in the fall of 2007, nobody saw it coming. Polish developer CD Projekt delivered a stunningly beautiful and deep game that had a surprisingly unique story behind it. Lucky for all of us, Geralt, the brash and violent monster-hunter protagonist of the first game, makes a successful return in The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.
The introduction to Assassins of Kings is a perfect example of the world of The Witcher. Geralt is thrown into the midst of complete chaos almost immediately, being accused of killing the Temerian King he was actually guarding. Several different factions respond accordingly as war reigns down throughout the kingdom, with Geralt at the center of it all.
While the introduction is hectic and confusing if you haven't played the original Witcher, it does a nice job of setting up the rest of the game. It even quietly shows the player its questing and not-so-black and white morality system. Geralt tracks down a traitor, and has the option to kill, arrest, or bargain with him. If the player chooses the first two options, the traitor is killed, and never heard from again. If the player allows the traitor to live, he shows up later on in a *very* useful way. Of course, this outcome is not obvious when Geralt is presented with the situation, and this is exactly the way the world works in The Witcher 2. But what about the graphics, combat and sweet storytelling we keep hearing about? Find out more in the rest of The Witcher 2 review below.
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The Witcher 2 Graphics
The Witcher was a great looking game, despite its relatively old graphical engine. The Witcher 2 is a fantastic looking game, with an entirely new hand-built engine. Not only has CD Projekt outdone itself in terms of its cinematic storytelling, but the actual in-game action is visually amazing. Tent siding ripples in the wind, villagers actually have panicked looks on their faces as they run away from burning fires, and the animations of Geralt flow as smooth as water as he hews monsters into tiny little pieces.
The scenery is also quite good, as grassy fields clearly move with gusty winds, as do frequent thunderstorms. Vistas occur frequently, and the draw distance that comes from this engine is fantastic. Colors are vibrant - especially blood and fire - while dungeons and crypts have a foggy tint that is slightly creepy. Thankfully, The Witcher 2 runs great on lesser settings - good for gamers who haven't upgraded their rigs this year. You might miss some of the more amazing facial effects or motion blur, but you will get atmospheric graphics that set the tone of the game well.
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The Witcher 2 Cutscenes
While The Witcher 2 doesn't have quite the level of sticky gore of Dragon Age 2, but the texture work done here is nothing short of the best looking PC RPG ever. This is especially true when players experience plot-advancing cutscenes. Amazingly, the graphical quality of Geralt and his band of merry monster hunters in cutscenes is eerily similar to the rendering magic done during the live-action portion of the game. Everyone remembers how Final Fantasy VII had an incredible CGI rendered intro - but they also remember the letdown when they realized the rest of the game was blurry and boxy. The Witcher 2 is the exact opposite of that infamous moment, and that is an amazing achievement.
Apparently, there are no censorship laws in Poland, as the last Witcher game had quite liberal collectible "action cards" featuring the harem of women Geralt "romances" throughout the game. The Witcher 2 takes a step back from that objectification, but still shows quite a bit of skin through its cutscenes. Surprisingly, the more "romantic" scenes are beautiful and relatively tastefully done. Introverted nerds beware: the ladies in The Witcher 2 are numerous - and beautifully rendered by CD Projekt's robust engine. The bottom (no pun intended) line is that if you have a gaming computer of any caliber at all, you owe it to yourself to watch The Witcher 2 operate in all its glorious motion.
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The Witcher 2 Gameplay
Combat in The Witcher series has an unusual take - a unique hybrid action/strategy system that penalizes brute strength quite heavily. The Witcher 2's combat is much more action oriented than before, as Geralt responds to every click of the mouse with a vicious series of attacks. The result is actually more engrossing, powerful combat that is rewarding. Unfortunately, the early combat in The Witcher 2 is quite unbalanced - Geralt is supposed to be a hard-core demon hunter, yet gets killed easily by any group of 4 or more enemies. Also, the combat later on is a pendulum swing in the opposite direction, as most monsters pose no threat to Geralt.
Combat sequences are often tied into the overall arch of the game. When Geralt has to face off against large groups of marauders to save a struggling village, he almost always has the option of fighting them head on, bargaining for money and or his help, or intimidating them into running away. Of course, the consequences of these options are to be seen later, but you get the idea. Combat is not the sole focus of The Witcher 2, although it is quite enjoyable.
Despite some minor problems, combat is fast and fun, gorgeous to watch, and does involve a decent amount of planning. Switching between silver and steel swords on the fly is easy, as is selecting different magic spells. The spells look great and have a nice weight to them, adding to the atmosphere of the combat. Of course, combat isn't the only thing going on in The Witcher 2.
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The Witcher 2: Best Plot Ever?
While most games these days focus on combat as their only entertainment vehicle, The Witcher 2 takes a different approach, using the combat as a way to advance the story with direct and indirect consequences appearing later on. The story in The Witcher 2 is the real meat and potatoes of the game. Politics, lust, love, good old Batman-esque detective sequences, and of course plenty of backstabbing are just the beginning chapter of The Witcher 2, and Chapter 2 gets much better as you go along. The result is a flat out addicting story that makes playing the game feel like reading a fantastic book - absolutely one you can't put down.
The entirety of the game lasts about 30 hours or so, and unfortunately, the last 5 of those pale in comparison to the previous majority. The end of the game is quite abrupt, as the chaos and confusion of the first 2 chapters should be coming to a head - they are halted almost immediately. What should have been a statement ending becomes a cliff-hanger sequel set up, and not a very exciting one at that. Despite this fault, the story of The Witcher 2 is great, and is told in an intellectually stimulating and amusing way. In this Witcher 2 review's opinion, that makes this game a must buy.
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The Witcher 2: Sound
When you think of the prototypically great role playing game, you probably think of an immersive, expansive epic in the likes of a Final Fantasy, Diablo, or Fallout game. All of these games have several things in common of course, but one feature often overlooked is the incredible sounds found throughout each epic. The Witcher 2 doesn't quite reach the professional compositions of a Final Fantasy, or the pounding beats of a Diablo, but it does do plot cutscene music and effects quite well. Geralt is voiced with authority and a calm cool, while other characters sound exactly as they should. There is no Oblivion effect here; almost every character - large or small - has their own distinct voice.
Unfortunately, the sound effects of battle aren't quite what I was hoping for. Yes, the combat sequences are engaging and fun, but the clang that should come from a blocked attack sounds more like a clink. Magic spells do sound powerful, as do many of the more ferocious monsters you face, but it always seems as though Geralt is just a bit smaller when it comes to the effects department. To be honest though, this is just nitpicking - and these minor problems may disappear with a better surround sound rig. The Witcher 2 sounds great - whether Geralt is obliterating small armies of demons, or spending some time with the ladies - and the work done in this department adds to the immersive feeling of the game.
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The Witcher 2: Controls
The controls for The Witcher 2 - especially when compared to the first game - are quite responsive. Rather than taking a point, click, and wait approach to combat, the CD Projekt decided to go with a more direct route, making The Witcher 2 controls much more responsive. The result is a combat system that works as players continuously rotate and reposition the camera and Geralt with the keyboard, while attacking via the mouse. Geralt performs admirably, quickly adjusting to complicated commands given by the players with no hitching or choppy animations. Unlike many other action-RPGs, it really feels like you are the person in complete control of the game.
The user interface in The Witcher 2 is minimally invasive, yet works well. The HUD looks great and helps to bring an atmospheric washed-out European feel to the game. Bringing up in-game menus during combat is a snap - fast and responsive. The menu system is a little bit more thought out and organized when compared to its predecessor, but it can still be a pain to micro-manage Geralt's inventory. The alchemy system hasn't changed in a profound way, including the often complicated menu screen, but the ability tree has been streamlined for easier understanding. It seems as though CD Projekt did a much better job of localizing The Witcher 2 for North American consumption, as the oft repeated errors in translation in the menus or UI is completely gone. This game feels like it was made by a major AAA developer, not a small Polish team of dedicated fiction fans - and that is a huge compliment to their control and display scheme
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So How Good is The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings?
The answer to that very simple question: absolutely excellent. The Witcher 2 has the brains of a Sherlock Holmes twister tale, the brawn of a Dragon Age, the immersiveness of an Elder Scrolls game, and the presentation of, well, not many games get as good as this. The Witcher 2's graphics would be worth a 5 star rating alone, but when you throw in seamless combat, deep customization and detective work, excellent voice acting and an incredible story line, people start throwing around the "GOAT" title. While I am not prepared to give The Witcher 2 the "Greatest of All Time" belt yet, I do think that if you take the last 5 hours of the game out of the picture, that may be close to what you get.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is a great game, and a must buy for any, casual or serious, role-playing game fan.