PC gamers have the right to be disillusioned.
There’s a laundry list of reasons why PC gaming is losing approbation; thanks to piracy, PC games are often saddled with draconian DRM. Many once steadfast developers have abandoned the PC favour of the more lucrative console market, or have taken to dishing out broken, buggy ports of unoptimised, dumbed-down console games. Then there’re the patches, installs, tweaking, drivers and other hurdles that make playing games a bit of a chore.
In spite of this, PC gamers maintain a smug, elitist air of superiorityâ€¦and that’s ok.
Because they have The Witcher 2
Polish developer CD Projekt’s second foray in to Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher universe is, without overstating it too much, a marvel. Geralt of Rivia is a white-haired and gravelly-voiced mutant; gifted in magic and unnaturally strong. He’s not your typical hero; he is a Witcher, a monster-hunter for hire.
The Witcher 2 resumes Geralt’s story with a prologue that follows the events of the first-game; Geralt has become King Foltest of Temeria’s new favourite lucky charm after thwarting his assassination and serves as his counsel, entwined in politics he cares little for. Things go awry, leaving the King slain, and Geralt as the prima facie suspect. Your goal, it seems, is to track down those responsible for the regicide and clear your name.
This prologue serves as the tutorial and introduces you to two of the games primary characteristics; the power of your choice, and its complexity. Truth told it’s not much of a tutorial; the game does very little in teaching you even the basic mechanics and skills you’ll need to make your way through the game’s varied and exceptionally realised scenarios. The Witcher 2 makes you hit the ground running, and you’ll have to figure it all out for yourself – which I suppose with this being an RPG with emphasis on the R only adds to the experience. That or it makes it unnecessarily and fiendishly difficult from the onset, something that could dissuade newcomers.
Combat has been given an overhaul, making it simpler and less reliant on the awkward swordplay combos that sullied the first game. Simple doesn’t mean easy though; Combat requires a keen degree of strategy and forward planning. You even have to ensure you’re using the right sword; the ambidextrous Geralt has one for humans and another specifically for monsters. Running at a group of foes and trying to hack â€˜n slash your way to victory will almost certainly leave you dead. Splitting that group up using traps, snares, diversions and – of course – magic. You can choose to focus your earned experience in to beefing up Geralt’s witcher, alchemy, swordplay or magic skills, and doing so greatly influences how you’ll play the game. You won’t max out more than a single one of the branches in an entire playthrough, so you’ll have to make your choices rather carefully. It’s a far cry from the mindless, button-mashing combat we’ve seen other RPG’s systems devolve in to.
Adding to the complexity is the fact that Geralt is a master alchemist, and can use the herbs, flowers and other miscellaneous ingredients to create potions, tinctures, liniments and oils that can be used to weaken enemies or increase status effects. None of these can be used during combat, so you’ll have to magically know just when to apply them.
What really impresses though is the world in which this all takes place, and how your actions and choices carve the gritty, mature narrative. In fact, the game’s second chapter is shaped by your actions in the first, and seemingly innocuous decisions can lead to unexpected outcomes. It’s impressive in that with this degree of narrative malleability, the game’s core fiction remains intact, and nothing falls apart. It’s a game begging for multiple play-throughs.
The world in which all of this takes place is equally captivating, filled with a stunning level of detail and wonderful intricacy. The game’s many varied environments, even unlikely locales like Dwarven catacombs and derelict ghettos possess a certain unalienable beauty as a result. There’s also nary a copied an pasted, recycled cave to be seen.
The new engine that powers the game brings it all to life; even on modest settings you’ll be treated to some of the most beautiful, vibrant and captivating visuals video games have produced. It’s without doubt the very looking RPG, and possibly game, available at the moment. If you have the means to run it on higher settings, be prepared to spend a lot of time just eyeballing the scenery.
The Witcher 2 is a triumph and marvel; not just for its graphical fidelity, fully realised worlds and fleshed-out characters. No, The Witcher 2 is a triumph for being an M-rated game that earns its rating by through a sophisticated, uncompromising narrative that introduces adult themes (racial inequality, political manoeuvring, religious fanaticism and rape) and treating it players as adults without descending in to a juvenile flurry of brash, overused swearing and gratuitous sexuality.
It is somewhat disappointing though, that the game, a relatively short 30 hour romp, ends before the story actually does, something that hints (in a nudge nudge, wink, wink manner) that there’s a sequel coming. I can’t say I’m too disappointed, mind, because the Witcher 2 is one the best and most immersive RPG’s to come along in decades, and one of the best games of the year. if you like RPG’s at all, even just a little, you should have this game.
A nice variety of quests, tactical but fast and fun combat – and those important choices that shape the game.
Design & Presentation: 9.0
Beautiful artwork, and a stunning attention to detail. Let down by some awkward menus.
It’s short for an RPG, but The Witcher 2 benefits from multiple play-throughs, as they’ll likely be wildly different.
CD Projekt RED has created an RPG that right now, stands peerless. It’s not only one of the best RPG’s of the year, it’s one of the best games.[Reviewed on PC]
Last Updated: June 2, 2011
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