The Witcher 2 was released last week and I got my copy from GoG on day one. (Well, I pre-loaded the game) The game is made by CD Projeckt, a Polish game maker and publisher; their parent company also owns GoG. I haven’t tried everything in the game yet, but I did finish the story once: Magic-oriented Witcher following the Squirrels. So here is my review and impressions on the game.
First let’s talk about the visuals. The Witcher 2 is a really pretty game on the highest settings. The first chapter happens in a forested area that looks like the West Coast spruce forests of the USA or Canada. Big trees, lush vegetation and big monsters prowling about (not bears). The characters’ and monsters’ design and looks are also well done and colourful contrast with the dull brown and grey of mud and stones of the city. The second and third chapters also have good scenery, but there are a lot more stones around.
Now comes the gameplay, the basis of a video game. The Witcher 2 has a simple gameplay, be it combat, mini-games, crafting, or potion making. Left or right mouse button clicks send Geralt dancing with his sword following a predetermined pattern of movements. Somewhat similar to the first game, but without the glowing cursor. Using the rolling displacement is a must as well, considering the latency between clicking on the use signs or bomb/trap and Geralt performing the requested operation, getting clear of enemies first is important. I played a “magic” Witcher mostly, which meant my main offense and defense were Quen and Aard. There’s one place where you can throw people off a wall with Aard. I had fun with that. I haven’t tried the “sword” Witcher yet, but it seems to be equally devastating, but in a different way and probably easier. The “alchemy” Witcher seems for people who are in their 3rd+ playthrough. Most encounters are scripted events, so placing traps in advance is almost impossible unless you know what to expect from a previous playthrough. Also, creatures have resistances, so without knowing what you will be facing, it’s hard to drink the right potions or prepare the correct oils or bombs to fight them.
Mini-games aren’t that complicated to win, minus the dice poker randomness and the last arm wrestling opponent, but it’s not a good way to make money like in the first game either. Fist fighting is quite cinematic though. Crafting and potions making are just picking stuff around and gaining access to the windows to perform the operations. Alchemy can be done at all time by Geralt, as long as you can meditate, this include potions, oils and bomb-making. Crafting requires a special trader and will cost money on top of the gathered material. With crafting, one can make armor, weapons, other crafting components and traps. Personally, I believe that traps and crafting components should have been in the same category as bombs, having to hunt down a trader is slightly annoying when you only need one more trap. Also, alchemy and crafting components take a lot of inventory space, I kept busting the limit and having to walk around to vendors. In both cases, the game will auto-select components once you pick a recipe. The entire process is “select recipe” + “create” button, making the whole operation a lot less like doing crafting/alchemy and a lot more like buying from a merchant, except that the screen looks different.
But in the game, the gameplay is only a way to express the story. The Witcher 2 is about Geralt trying to get back his memory, with a lot of political turmoil in the background: empty thrones and nobility oblige. Although, you could also see the background being Geralt trying to regain his memory and the political stuff being the main story… except that Geralt doesn’t really care about politics, he just happens to be trapped in it because of events from the first game (and pretty sorceresses). The story is where the game offers it biggest re-playability. The first chapter ending forces the player to make a choice and that choice will determine the content you will see in the subsequent chapters and who you will interact with for the rest of the game. It also allows you to see different parts of the gameworld and as such, different points-of-view. Some parts of the game also allow the player to “play” as another character, a way of playing cutscenes and not just watching them. There is also a good selection of NPCs, including a large number of female ones, and this time it’s not all about Geralt sleeping with them; they actually have important roles in the story. Each NPC has their own personality and rather good voice-over. There is some really “eurgh” moments as well, like a few torture scenes. Like the first game it doesn’t try to be politically correct, although at the same time it’s not graphic about it. We hear the torture and know what is happening, but we don’t directly see it. It’s enough for me, really, just gross.
My favorite NPCs in the game were Roche, Iorveth and Saskia. Roche and Iorveth are two face of the same coin, both are leaders of group of people. Roche is the head of the secret police of Temeria who hate Scoia’teal and Iorveth is the leader of a group of Scoia’tael (nonhumans rebel fighters) and he hates humans. Although, I believe that Saskia is the most badass character in the game beside Geralt. There’s nothing like a peasant girl climbing the social ladder to become the leader of a group of rebels. She also happens to be idealistic, all about freedom and everybody living in peace together. But she has the power and talent to back those ideals.
Also, this time the monster contracts and quests are more interesting, you don’t just kill X of them, you actually have to find how to stop them by destroying their nests or killing the Queens. Also, the journal is entirely written by Dandelion and it’s kind of weird to read it; I’m used to reading first-person journals, not something told by somebody else… and Dandelion can be whiny and annoying. Also, some quests have novel-sized text to read, if you like lore you will be satisfied with the game.
The game is far from being perfect though. I hate the prologue area, it’s just annoying to wade through and it has way to many cutscenes. Combat can be unresponsive, the two things that annoyed me the most were clicking on the “use sign” button and Geralt only unsheathing his sword (if he unsheathed his sword) and the fact that sometimes Geralt just didn’t want to sheath his sword despite me clicking on the sheath button multiple times. Also, there is the “stun-lock,” basically don’t get cornered, because you will die. Although the stun-lock also works for Geralt, against a single enemies you just have to hit with your sword and watch the creature unable to move. Another problem was probably at the quest level, some quest lack information. A good example would be the first Nekker quest, you need to destroy their nest, but the game doesn’t tell you need a specific bomb to do so, so you can spend quite a bit of time trying to click on the “destroy” button for Geralt to say that he can’t, but you have no information about what to use to destroy those nest. I also saw one quest disappear from my log, to reappear later once I reached a new quest phase. Also, the game overuses all the forms of the word “plough.” The game has also encountered launch problems because of the DRM used in retail versions and website registration.
Finally, I liked the game, but there is something missing. I don’t really have this feeling of “I must play again” that some games give me and that’s despite the game having a good story (if you like politics), a rather good combat system (lots of possible tactics), and a really good-looking environment (despite the corridor layout and linearity).