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RPS - Wot I Think of The Witcher II
Review - posted by Jaesun on Thu 19 May 2011, 02:01:20Tags: CD Projekt; The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
So. Finished. I even had a little time to play through some of the alternate storyline stuff. What do I think? Well, I don’t think I’ll be putting any spoilers in this review, so you can read my thoughts on the subject with some degree of safety. If something else needs go above the jump here, it should probably be this: The Witcher 2 is going end up being talked about for a very long time to come.
This is one of the most significant games of 2011. Right now it looks like most significant PC-only game of 2011.
The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings is the sequel to 2007′s wonky fantasy RPG, The Witcher, and it improves on that precarious foundation in almost every conceivable way. I suppose the ambition of the developers for their work should have been clear after they relaunched their original game with the voice acting and character animation redone in 2008, to give us an Enhanced Edition, but even that was a pale creature when compared to the muscular effort of their most recent work. The Witcher 2 is a collossal beast in terms of vision and complexity, and it has engrossed me for the past few days. It’s shorter than the original by some measure, but it is burning half as long to be twice as bright.
It’s a third-person fantasy RPG. There’s level-based progression, which allows you to unlock skills via a large talent tree. There’s a sizeable, linear story with dozens of quests, set across two distinct, large areas, and two other smaller intro and outro locales. The story is told mostly via dialogue scenes and cutscenes, of which there are many. Your choices have genuine impact in the game world, to the point where the tale told actually wholly diverges after the first chapter. It’s a huge bifurcation of plot, and means that pretty much everyone who enjoys this game through the first time is going to want to play it through a second time.
To be honest, though, I tend to loathe standard modes of exposition in games, and I find the labyrinthine plotting of this game refreshing. Although there are villains, there’s no Chosen One, no Ultimate Evil, just a lot of petty, powerful people squabbling under the shadow of magical weirdness, and all underwritten by the machinations of sorcerers, adventurers, assassins and other complicated, interested – and interesting – parties. It’s quite a world, but it definitely doesn’t welcome you in.
While there’s a lot of wandering about and chatting, and even a bit of shopping, The Witcher 2 is action-heavy, not least when it comes to fighting. Combat is real-time, and is reliant on you being nifty with your positioning and timing. You perform fast blows with left-click, heavier, slower blows with right-click, and blocking with E. There are also some spells, but I’ll come to that in a moment. What’s weird about The Witcher 2 is that the prologue is about the hardest bit in terms of how this combat system handles you. There’s a lot fighting and a lot of getting flanked by groups of enemies. Because you don’t unlock skills to cope with being flanked until later in the game, the prologue (which lasts a couple of hours) and chapter one (many hours more) are significantly tougher than the chapters that follow.
It’s a peculiarly ill-judged baptism of fire (literally at some points). Where you’re expecting a game to teach you how it works and lead you by the hand, The Witcher 2 offers nothing but a few text-based tips boxes. If you don’t take time to figure out that you have to constantly dodge away with the spacebar, or use magic to buff your combat, you are going to struggle. And the game does not tell beginners this. The spells are barely mentioned, and you’ll need to stop and figure it out for yourself if you want to know what they do. While there are situations in which they /are/ introduced to you, at no point are you explicitly taught that it is a lot easier if you use the shield power to protect yourself in combat, for example.
I want you to leave this piece of writing with some thoughts about how beautiful The Witcher 2 is. It’s the kind of beautiful where you find yourself gazing over particular details, a stoned smile on your face. There was a moment where I stumbled across a shallow lake, with forest glades all around. A moment of serene wilderness. I marvelled at the fact that I could make out a shallow path through the milky water that allowed me to cross the lake. It was exquisite: naturalistic, perfect. The Witcher 2 is filled with details like this. The details are rich, and glorious.
It [The Witcher 2] creates a sinister, cogent, violent, colourful world that is routinely affected by your actions within it. The game comes to life as it is merged with your decisions and articulates a story that is at once overwhelming and engrossing. I’ve enjoyed this collision of combat and story more than I have with any RPG since Vampire Bloodlines. It dissolves my lack of interest in fantasy games with its intensity.
The Witcher 2 is flawed in some ways, and a paragon in others. I cannot recommend everyone play it, because it simply won’t satisfy everyone in the same way, and will frustrate and off-put many with its bizarre little quirks of difficulty and moments of poor design. But I will recommend everyone buy it, because I want to play another one. And another one. And many more after that.
Well done, CD Projekt, you’ve just brought the fantasy RPG back to life. It’s still twitching from the electricity, but it’s a beautiful thing.
You can read the entire article here.
Spotted at: Rock Paper Shotgun