Wow, so that took a LOT longer to finish than I was expecting it to. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Witcher 2 by CD Projekt Red, but especially for semi-completionists like me it was long. I mean REALLY long. The important thing though is, of course, was it fun? Did I like it? Would I recommend it to you? And the answer to those questions is YES, YES and YES! It’s won around 50 awards including Game of the Year and Best RPG and was received critical acclaim as one of the deepest, most beautiful and most immersive RPGs of our generation and I wholeheartedly agree with those assessments. I didn’t play the first one, but even on it’s own, it far surpassed my expectations. It isn’t without it’s flaws, but in general, the Witcher 2 is truly a masterpiece.
The Witcher 2 follows Geralt of Rivia, one of the last witchers remaining. Witchers are genetically altered humans who as a result develop special powers to help them fight the various types of monsters plaguing the land. The story, with all its political intrigues and machinations is incredibly complex and deeply layered, to the point where I wouldn’t even know where to begin explaining the plot. Suffice it to say that in many ways, it’s got everything you might want out of a fantasy tale – heroes, rebels, scheming, treachy, love, lust and much much more.
By far the best elements of the Witcher 2 are its incredible story and character development. The games were based on the books by Andrzej Sapkowski (which I’ve never read), so obviously talented as the writers over at CD Projekt Red are, they don’t get all the credit for the creation of the world and characters. Still though, the writing in the game is excellent and the characters’ voices are always spot-on. The Witcher 2’s cast of characters – friends, foes, temporary allies and enemies all add to the vibrance of the world. The plot itself seems at first like a typical fantasy tale, full of dragons, elves, dwarves and political intrigue, but it takes everything people love most about fantasy, keeps it and also turns it on its head. There are elves, but they aren’t just the ethereal, delicate creatures from other stories. The Scoia’tael are vicious and merciless guerrillas and most of them are badass elves. The lore is incredibly well developed – each race has its own culture and mannerisms and each location is filled to bursting with history. It boggles the mind how long the people in charge of developing the history of this world must have spent on to make it as detailed and cohesive as it was, although I’m sure that much of that credit goes to the original writer of the books. It also doesn’t hurt that this amazing world is so pleasing to the eye either. The art style really complements the setting and the graphics are some of the best I’ve seen in any game. Ever.
I also love that it doesn’t try to hold your hand. Some of the boss fights are pretty difficult, sometimes even punishing. The combat can be a bit clunky at first, once you get the hang of it’s extremely strategic and very satisfying. There’s definitely a learning curve and it doesn’t try to appeal to a wider audience like many RPGs these days by breaking it down or simplifying combat. The menus can complicated at first, as is the potions system. It takes some hours to really get it down, but once you do, it really feels like an achievement and the gameplay is undeniably fun and unique (something to be lauded these days with so many RPGs sticking to tried and tested formulas).
Although it’s not like a Bioware game where you can customize the gender or even the appearance of Geralt much (other than armour and hairstyles), it’s actually something I like about this game. Geralt is who he is. Even though there are different dialogue options, so you can decide how Geralt interacts with people, for instance whether he’s trusting or suspicious or impatient and you can choose vastly different paths, his core character is inviolable. Having tons and tons of options is great for some games, but for the Witcher I don’t think it would be what it is without that streamlined character development.
Don’t get me wrong – Geralt is still highly customizable in ways other than aesthetics. There are 3 main skill trees for you to upgrade with experience points you gain from completing quests and fighting monsters (among other ways) – Magic, Alchemy and Swordsmanship. I of course chose to focus on the Swordsmanship tree (suprise, surprise!) How you upgrade your skills can really change how you fight enemies. I was mainly focused on using my sword and dodging/parrying, so that meant I made sure to spec my armour and weapons for damage and vitality. You also have a range of spells that could be utterly devastating if you decided to put your points into that or powerful oils and other potions that could be made even more powerful with some points in the Alchemy tree. Next time I’d like to try specialising in Magic, because I have a feeling it would be a whole different experience.
That lack of an obvious morality system in the Witcher 2 that I mentioned is one of its finest features in my opinion. It’s a game that doesn’t treat us like children or drooling idiots – setting out the good, bad and neutral options clearly and rewarding with good points if you do something good and evil points when you do something evil. I have nothing against games like that – ME is one of my favourite games after all, but it’s nice to have to really make difficult choices and live with them, often not knowing if you made the ‘right’ choice, just like in real life. The choices you make and who you choose to ally with will often have a huge impact on the rest of story and the quests you receive. That means that every playthrough can feel different and that the game has great replay value. As a result of this more nuanced approach to morality and decision-making, the Witcher 2 feels like a mature, sophisticated video game that’s strictly for the adults.
As I mentioned, the Witcher 2 did have it’s flaws. The combat could get a little repetitive sometimes once you got the hang of it. The formula that worked almost every time for me was roll, cast Aard (stun), slash, roll away, etc… I thought they could have spiced up the animation a bit more (which apparently is something they’re doing for the Witcher 3). It would also be great if they could introduce a few more types of enemies (although there were a fair number) or changed up the mechanics a bit sometimes.
Although I did love the Witcher 2’s complexity, I did find the menus a tad overcomplicated at times. I certainly felt they could have been streamlined a bit more as they were a bit clumsy and unintuitive at times. Also, sometimes the combat wasn’t difficult because of the enemies, but because of slightly awkward controls and because of the camera, which occasionally dodged behind walls in the middle of a fight.
In terms of pacing, I did feel it dragged on a bit (no, really?) I loved that it was so long, but I did feel that the main story did lose some of its intensity from the number of side quests there were and amount of exploration there was available to do. It’s an issue for any open world-ish game and I don’t think the Witcher 2 is any different. That could just be me though. Personally, I’m a little concerned about the Witcher 3 being completely open world. It seems it could exacerbate the problem, but I’m also excited because if they do it well, I would love free-form exploration of the awesome world of the Witcher series.
I think it’s good that CDP didn’t spoonfeed us, but I still feel a bit more direction might have been nice. The maps weren’t always super helpful and the quest descriptions were sometimes a bit too confusing. I did have to look up a walkthrough in a few places just to check what they were talking about. For instance I had to solve this blasted riddle to lead me to a location and even when I’d figured it out, the directions were so unclear (at least I thought so) that I had to check the walkthrough anyway. It was fine most of the time, but in a game where wandering around a whole area can take a really really long time, you just don’t want to be getting lost too often. Just a little nudge here and there would suffice.
Overall, the Witcher 2 had its issues, but it’s still one the best RPGS I’ve played yet and one of the greatest achievements of this generation of games, in my opinion. Every element came together to make one of the best looking and most immersive gaming experience I’ve had in a long time. I would, without a doubt, recommend this game to any fan of RPGs and/or fantasy out there. Let’s just say that I’m looking forward to the Witcher 3 more than any of the other next gen games and I think that really means something.