The original Witcher game, from Polish developers CD Projekt, was a game that managed to sneak into the minds of PC RPG fans who found the mature attitude and subject matter refreshing. Although not being especially notable on release, various patches and updates were released that resulted in an incredible game and raised the anticipation for a sequel. As a sequel to what was a surprise hit, The Witcher 2 actually has a lot to live up to. Not only must it emulate that which made the first game so popular, which is not easy once the element of surprise has been removed, but it must also offer more of everything to show that the series is evolving.
The player takes on the role of Geralt. As a Witcher, Geralt was born with certain abilities that made him stand out from the general population and lead to him training as a monster hunter. As the game begins, Geralt finds himself incarcerated and accused of murdering the King that he was supposed to be protecting. The events leading up to this are played out through a series of flashbacks during Geralt’s interrogation and serve as a tutorial/training ground of sorts, although the reality is that the player is still dropped into the deep end of the action. As one would expect, Geralt makes his escape with the help of a few reluctant allies and then gets mixed up in all manner of betrayals and politics.
The retail boxed version of the game comes with a number of nice additions, such as the hilarious papercraft figures, and also includes a rather handy game guide. Don’t be expecting some massive volume detailing every aspect of the game, it is more of a pocket guide. Even so, it still came in incredibly handy, especially as I found myself slightly lost quite early on in the game and using the guide was far easier than searching the Internet for the solution to my problem. The majority of players will find themselves quite often referring to either the included guide or some form of online help, as The Witcher 2 certainly doesn’t pull it’s punches when it comes to difficulty. This is apparent both in the general progression of the game and also the combat.
The encounters in the game, at least on the default difficulty, offer a refreshing amount of challenge to the player. The combat system itself flows smoothly, with the player leaping around and brandishing their swords in a very impressive manner, moving from one enemy to the next in a display of true swordsmanship. But the enemies are neither stupid nor weak, which is where the player will find themselves having to work for their victories. The swordplay is only one aspect of the games combat though. The player also has access to a variety of different spells and is also able to use potions to improve their overall abilities.
In a break from most current RPGs, The Witcher 2 does not throw the player vast amounts of loot to make them stronger or keep them interested. Instead the player will have to rely on leveling up and following the deep and interesting storyline and well written characters.
One of the perhaps most compelling attractions of The Witcher 2 is it’s unashamedly mature attitude, which is sure to draw in the interest of many a “not-quite-old-enough-to-legally-buy-alcohol” gamer. The well publicised sex scenes have already been plastered all over the Internet for all to see, and the combat is brutal and not suitable for before-watershed viewing. But the reality is that the majority of the games maturity comes from the decisions and repercussions.
There are a fair few games that offer the player moral choices which change the actual direction of the game, but I have yet to find one that does it so well as The Witcher 2. The decisions are rarely black and white, with sometimes the player having to choose between what they see as the lesser of two evils, and the consequences of these choices are not always seen straight away, with the player realising, or not, later in the game that their path has changed. On the other hand, some choices have no impact on the game whatsoever, leaving the player always very mindful of what they choose.
Controls are fairly straight forward, although a quick look at the manual is recommended just so the player can get familiar with things. Should the player choose to play with either the classic mouse/keyboard combo is entirely up to preference and what that player is used to. Personally I am quite comfortable with the mouse/keyboard combo for use with FPS games, but in Witcher 2 I found that movement was incredibly twitchy with the mouse. As a result I played through the game using an Xbox360 controller, which worked incredibly well and promises good things for the upcoming Xbox360 version of the game.
The Witcher 2 makes a huge number of improvements over the original game, but it is by no means perfect. Some of the quests come across as vague and there are plenty of glitches to be found, both visually and during gameplay. But considering the support offered to the last game, patches are likely to be released offering fixes for these issues and additional content for the game on the whole.
Although some gamers will consider The Witcher 2 to be the best thing to happen to RPGs since the dawn of time, others will find the game too difficult, too involved or even too lacking in swag. If you are the kind of longtime RPG gamer who takes their gaming seriously, then The Witcher 2 will tick all of your boxes. If you are more casual or are just dipping your toes into the pool of RPG gaming, then you may well do better to look elsewhere, at least for your introduction to the genre. With the game coming to the Xbox360 and making itself available to gamers who may not have experienced PC RPG gaming, it will be interesting to see if the game is dumbed down for that audience. I hope not because, as it stands right now, The Witcher 2 is a breath of fresh air that brings enough new ideas to the genre that it could change the shape of future RPGs.