When The Witcher came out four years ago, it surprised a lot of gamers with it’s decent story, tactical combat, long, diverse locations and its sense of scale. It told a story about a monster hunter trying to survive in a war-driven world. While not perfect, The Witcher nailed many of the aspects that made the old school RPGs so popular.
The result was a game that was praised by critics and gamers alike, and went on to sell more than 1.5 million copies. Those numbers are great considering that it was a PC only title. So after four long years, CDprojekt has finally released the much anticipated sequel for the fans to enjoy.
The Witcher 2 takes Geralt of Rivia on a tracking mission across three chapters consisting of three different cities. The person he is tracking has committed a crime that Geralt is being accused for. At the end of the prequel, we saw Geralt fighting another Witcher who was there to assassinate the king. The sequel expands upon and follows this story throughout the game. While not an instant classic, I really liked how the story was implemented in the game. For the most part, the story and the characters are shrouded in ambiguity. This is not a game which polarizes the player by forcing him to choose between a light and a dark side. Its a story about selfish people and to what extents they will go to fulfil their objectives. You cannot trust any character since none of their intentions are never fully known to you. This leads to interesting situations where you have to make certain choices whose consequences will not be clear to you. This gives the game a very realistic touch which is hardly seen in other games. And the game and the story changes based on these choices. Its not a game where you can load a save to see what happens if you choose otherwise. The repercussions of your decisions don’t show themselves until several hours later in the game. This really makes the player think while making critical decisions. And its not just the story that will change; your decisions can affect the next city you visit, the bosses you will fight and also which side of the war you will fight for. Neutrality is less redundant in this game compared to the first. And this makes for a fascinating adventure.
First and foremost, let me get this out of the way. This game is challenging. Don’t expect to go all swords blazing in a fight involving more than two opponents, because you are sure to get clobbered to bits in seconds. The first half of the game is going to make you play many of the fights over and over again. As the game progresses and you upgrade your powers, it gets easier. The combat system has been completely redesigned from the previous game to make it more action oriented. Now you have to lock on to a target to hit him. And for most of the game you can only hit one enemy at a time. Combos consist of timed button clicks which do additional damage. I liked the combat but I found it to be unstable. Enemies don’t level up as the game progresses, so when you reach the end, it becomes a bit too easy for my liking. Also, the lock on feature is unstable and doesn’t work that well when you have many enemies surrounding you. As in the first game, you have a variety of magic powers which you can use in battle. Out of these, you will probably end up using Quen the most. This power grants the user a temporary shield which lasts for about half a minute. As you upgrade this power, it becomes a tool of invincibility which was quite a turn off for me. You have other powers too, like the Igni sigh which throws fireballs and the Axii sign which can let Geralt control a foe in battle. These are all very useful, but not as overpowering as the Quen sign. So I would suggest using a combination of these which can make the game more interesting.
In addition to using swords and signs, the game also allows you to use certain other weapons such as throwing daggers, traps, and bombs. Especially, in the first half of the game, these prove extremely useful. You can also create potions and oils using alchemy. These give Geralt certain temporary stat boosts which can really help in the difficult fights. There are a huge number of potions to choose from and all of them prove to be pretty useful at some point or another. Whenever Geralt wants to drink a potion, he has to meditate and you cannot do this in the midst of a battle. Hence, the game encourages you to prepare beforehand which adds to the realism, well, at least for the first half of the game. Thats another problem I have with the combat. It becomes so easy as you level up, that you will rarely use these additional items in the later half. This makes the combat a very monotonous affair and by the end of the game, you will get through the fights just for the heck of it.
All the items in the game can be crafted using crafting diagrams. The diagrams are available at all the vendors, and whenever you need to craft an item, you need to take the diagrams to a craftsman who will craft them for you for a price. Although there are many good items available throughout the game world, the best ones can only be obtained by crafting. The one thing they should have added was the chance of failure while crafting. But still, its a good addition nonetheless.
The Witcher was criticised for its use of repetitive textures for characters and environments, and CDprojekt has made sure that its not the same with the sequel. In fact, they have created their own engine for this game, and it looks phenomenal. Without wasting any time or space, let me put it this way. Its the best looking game out there and it does not have any equals. This is the ‘Next Gen Tech’ that is being employed on current PC’s which really shows how far the Computer Gaming Technology has advanced in comparison to the consoles. New innovations such as Ubersampling and the advanced SSAO will even make the newest and the most powerful graphics card cry for mercy. Textures, shadows, and especially the lighting has been amped up significantly over the first game. The character models are still a bit off with broken textures clearly visible on some of the characters, but the facial expressions are mind blowing and really make the characters come alive. Even if you’re not a graphics enthusiast, after watching this game in all its beauty, you just won’t settle for anything less. And if your PC is anything more than a year old, then it will struggle with the game at the highest of settings. So an upgrade is definitely in order. Thankfully both Nvidia and Ati have released new drivers specifically for this game which improve the frame-rate to a certain extent.
The one thing I really liked about the Witcher was the soundtrack. It was well composed and really fit the mood of the game. While the soundtrack of The Witcher 2 is not as good as its predecessor, still its decent enough not to deter from the experience. The voice acting has certainly improved over the first game, but it still cannot match the standards set by games like uncharted and mass effect. The lip synching is poor, and certainly takes away from the realism portrayed by the superb facial expressions. Other sounds on the other hand are done very well, and whether you’re browsing through the city or hunting animals in the wilderness, the sounds really make the world come alive.
CDProjekt has really gone to great lengths to create an AAA game and it shows. The menus are easy to navigate without being confusing and are equipped with plenty of options that one might expect from such a game. The graphics are the biggest hit to the game and the developers know this very well, hence the huge number of options to tweak the graphics. The in game hud is packed with sufficient detail without being distracting. The controls are neatly mapped and the game runs perfectly on a keyboard as well as a controller. The digital version does not contain any DRM mechanism and CDprojekt have released a patch which removes DRM from the retail version as well. Loading times were a huge problem in the original Witcher but are completely non existent in the sequel. Overall I would say the presentation is of top notch quality which comes as a surprise from a relatively unknown developer.
Role playing games have evolved a lot over the years. Many games of the genre have traded the traditional role playing aspect for a more action oriented approach. But somehow The Witcher 2 manages to keep both and comes away as a definite triumph. The story is presented very well, the graphics are simply sublime, the sound manages to keep up with the high quality, and the presentation is top notch. Overall, I would say this comes as close to being a game made for the fans as any I have every seen. CDProjekt analysed the first game, and improved upon nearly all the aspects that the fans did not like, and in the process have created a true masterpiece. This is probably my favourite RPG of the last five to six years and is right up there with the likes of Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins. After the huge letdown that was Dragon Age 2, I was starting to believe that RPG’s are losing their charm, but i’m happy for the existence of games such as the witcher 2 to remind us that there is still hope for the genre. Its not without it’s faults, but those are very minor in comparison to how good this game is. A single play through will last you around 30 hours, but with all the different choices to be explored, a second run is a must. Even though am mainly a PC gamer, am happy that this game is also coming to the consoles so more people will get to enjoy it. But if you have a PC good enough to run it, then buy this game as soon as possible. Not that you will run out of copies to buy; just that its never too soon to experience something great.
So what do you people feel? Is this the RPG of the decade? Or the biggest bummer of the genre?