The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (Enhanced Edition)
CD Projekt RED
April 17th, 2012
Coming to us from one of the far reaching corners of the gaming world is the Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. While it was released for the PC back in May of last year, the polish beast from the east is back and looking to make another splash with the 360 release. Taking the lore that has made the Witcher series a booming success in Poland and mashing it into an RPG sandwich has to be a match made in heaven, right?
Something is stirring in the Northern Kingdoms and oddly enough, the witchers are at the center of it all. At the end of the first game we leave with our hero, the White Wolf, or Geralt of Rivia for those that are not into the legends, slicing off the arm of a would be assassin and saving King Foltest. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings picks up only a month or so after these events but surprisingly enough, You donít need to have played the first game in the series to get a grasp of what is happening. In fact, the only thing that playing the first game helps you understand is a few of the reference points they make in the dialogue.
While Geralt was a better swordsman than the assassin that sought to do Foltest in a month or so ago, he was not clever enough to stop the second attempt, and is paying for it. Framed for regicide, we begin our journey re-accounting the past few days to none other then the commander of the Blue Stripes, Vernon Roche. If you donít know of the Blue Stripes then that just means that they are doing their job properly. An elite team put together to eliminate dangerous non-humans, the Blue Stripes inspire fear in the lesser members of the guerrilla fighters of the Pontar Valley, the Scoia'tael. Having seen our favorite witcher in action, Vernon knows how dangerous he can be, but also that he was protecting the king, it wouldnít make sense for Geralt to be Foltestís killer, so he helps him escape.
Geraltís first and foremost mission is to find the kingslayer responsible for the murder of the king and clear his name so he can continue on with figuring out why he canít remember anything from before. Finding the kingslayer is proving harder then expected though and keeps dragging Geralt down the political path that most witcherís shy away from, caring not for the lines that separate the races but for the coin they provide to rid the locals of the monsters that terrorize them night and day.
Hunting monsters comes as naturally to the witchers as breathing air does to us, they are armed with the knowledge about most of the monsters out there and were trained at a very young age to fight them. I just wish you were able to fight more of the big monsters like the Kayran in the first part of the game. Once Geralt makes his way to Vergen, it seems that he forgot all about the primary source of income to the witchers. Sure there was a few contracts that allowed you to hunt the harpies but none that were of the same scale as the Kayran.
Even if Geralt is being dragged down a road that he doesnít normally like to travel, he sure makes it interesting. The best part about the story is that it actually changes, in the first act youíre given a choice that will change the course of your story entirely. This is the only one of this magnitude, but there are a ton of smaller ones that also change how things will pan out. Itís actually hard to have two playthroughs that are exactly the same. The choices have a good piece of meat attached to them because they are not just something to determine how evil or good you are, because there is no system like that. The witcherís are supposed to be almost as feared as the monsters they hunt, hiring them being the lesser evil. I say supposed to be because it seems that everyone in the game is cool with a witcher just showing up and talking to them, looking into the cat-like eyes of a witcher seems to have no effect on people anymore.
In you were interested in the Witcher 2 back in May of last year when it came out for the PC then you would know that it was one of the most demanding games in terms of graphics. Even today it takes a beast of a computer to run it at the Ultra settings, but now we have been treated the same kind of graphics, if only a snippet of, that we saw on the PC a year ago. Even though they couldnít possibly expect to pack the same kind of visuals into the 360 version of the game they gave us some the best looking cinematics and character models Iíve seen on this console. The only thing that I noticed was a problem was the constant texture pop-ins. It was the first time you were grace with the dragons presence in a cutscene that you truly appreciate everything this game offers visually. Now only if they could get the hair right.
After listening to the soundtrack that is seemingly included with every copy of the game, I am happy to report that it is some of the most bad-ass music music Iíve heard, period. This music that is so commanding of your attention makes the transition outside of the game and changes not only the mood in-game perfectly, but the mood of your office/livingroom as well.
Gameplay is going to feel a lot like Dragon Age 2 on roids. Being successful in combat in the Witcher 2 requires you to be at peace with every game mechanic thrown at you. Forgetting any of them can prove to be your ending in a very short time period. While not paying attention to your positions can get you surrounded and killed even faster. The thing that is interesting about the combat is that every opponent requires a different way of taking them down using either the witchers magical signs or dodging attacks and waiting for the precise moment to attack.
The witchers signs are another thing of legend. Used for all sorts of shenanigans the witcher is able to change the course of battle with just a single sign and each witcher has five of them. However casting a sign is a great deal of work and casting too many too fast will result in Geralt not performing at the same level. This is because each sign uses a vigor slot and those same slots are used to parry and dodge enemy strikes. There is a multitude of uses for the signs and even multiple uses for one sign. The Axii sign in particular is quite the charm spell allowing you to coerce even the strongest minds to agreeing with you, revealing information, or even fighting their own allies, now their enemies.
Of course one of the other things the witchers are known for is their use of potions. Potions to the layman are dangerously toxic, but barely phase the witcherís mutated cells. Potions can change the course of the battle much in the same way that the signs do, only these are passive changes, sometimes too passive it would seem. Itís true that potions on the higher levels are instrumental in falling some of the worlds monsters or defeating some of those pesky knights but in truth, there really is only two potions that youíre really going to use. Maybe there was a few potions that missed but the majority of them were actually oils for your blades, which allow you to deal out increased damage to your enemies depending on what you happen to be fighting, or bombs/traps. Bombs and traps were a sweet addition to the game, but I fail to see why or how crafting traps was located in with the alchemy crafting page.
Of course being an RPG youíre able to upgrade your talents into each of the three trees of combat, allowing you to slay your opponents easier and easier. This is first for any game Iíve seen but each level is exactly a thousand points, never getting any higher and never getting any lower. I actually prefer this method because when you get near the end of the game, youíre still getting the levels at the same pace you were at the start of the game and keeps things interesting.
Most people Iíve talked to about the game seem to complain about the difficulty of it, mostly in regards to the combat. I feel however that the main amount of difficulty in this game comes from the terrible interface The Witcher 2 is sporting. Maybe it was better on the PC where you would be able to just mouse over to the screen you wanted but on the 360 you have to click the RB button over to that very same page, and the kicker is that they donít start you off on the page youíre going to be using ninety-nine percent of the time, but at the completely opposite end of the spectrum. I mean, who really uses the ďALLĒ page?! In a game with this amount of items that you have to pick up, and weíll get to that in a minute, you need an organizer, the ALL tab is not that organizer. Most of the time youíre going to be using the first two pages which is your weapons tab and your armor tab. You need these because this is not only where you can view all your gear but also where you upgrade it as well.
Of course, maybe we wouldnít need all this organization if we able to turn off the freaking auto-loot. Like in most RPGís after you kill an enemy you are allowed to steal anything they may be carrying in their pockets and keep it. Most of these game feature a window where you can view and select what you want to take. The Witcher also features one of these windows but the difference is that if you want something, you have to take everything. This system of looting takes hoarding to a level even hamsters have never thought possible. Other than the organizational nightmare this creates, it also makes sure that Geralt reaches his carrying limit every five minutes requiring you to go through and trash everything extra that you picked up. It go to the point where I was just killing the monsters and leaving their bodies to rot unless they had a quest item I needed, something that wouldíve killed my younger, World of Warcraft playing self. This is like wearing the Iron Boots from Zelda and the Ring of Burden from Oblivion and going for a leisurely swim, nothing quite as limiting as that.
Amazingly, thatís not even the most difficult time I had with this game. The map in most games is a reviewer's best friend, especially games are that feature some what of a quest tracker. Itís not a problem at all when it doesnít but when it has one that leads you in the wrong direction only some of the time, giving you false hope when it works, and shattering your dreams when it doesnít, that is entirely another level of annoyance. I canít even recall the amount of times I was led down the wrong path, a path that was used later in the game, only to find a locked door that was impassable and my quest objective through the other end of the city. Even using my epic quest reading abilities that I acquired from the earlier days of WoW, I wasnít able to find the place, because they didnít mention it at all. Talking to the locals does no good either as they all seem to want to talk about their own problems and never help the scary old witcher.
Luckily for the lands of Temeria, these all only amount to a minor annoyance and even if I quit the game in frustration, sooner or later I would hear the Witcherís call and be back into the game completely absorbed by the story and dialogue.
The Witcher 2 doesnít feature any extra modes or anything unlocked after the main story is done. It relies solely on the fact that youíll want to play again, either to pick up on things that you missed in the first playthrough in terms of the lore, or just by the sheer difference in the storyís events. The people looking to purchase the 360 version of the game are lucky. Each one of the 360 copies is the ďenhanced editionĒ meaning that it comes preloaded with about four or five hours of extra content that the PC nerds had to pay for. Itíll be interesting to see if they produce any more DLC for the game now that the 360 version is out, only time, or a well refined google search, will tell.
I was one of those guys going into this game blind. I had not played the first Witcher, even though it has been recommended to me numerous times. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings was the first experience Iíve had with the entire series, including the books, but I have become enlightened, moved by the story. I have already bought the books that are available in English and Iím just waiting for the moment that I can open the pages and delve back into this world. The thing is that itís one of the only games that really earns the mature rating it bears. Yes, there is some pretty graphic images in the game from all the usual angles, blood, sex, etc but they are just treated as they simply are, not a objective. Think of it as one of those fairy tales from when you were younger, but FAR more interesting now that youíre an adult. This particular part of the tale couldíve used a lot more work in the gameplay department what with the map and entirety of the games interface looking to be the hook to my pan and pulling me out of the story, but luckily failing even that in some regards. The gameplay isnít all bad, the combat consequences forced you to think about the fights and be strategic in your attacks, with the exception of the harpies, I dunno what went wrong there but that was definitely the easiest monster to kill. There are not a lot of games out there that inspire me to read into the series quite like this one does and I look forward to spending some time getting to know the White Wolf a little better. I recommend this game to everyone looking for a game that is more story heavy, and if I may be so bold, pop this sucker on easy or normal and enjoy the story uninterrupted.