Review by ShinesmanOW
"Not for everyone, but an outstanding game for what it tries to do."
The Witcher 2 is a worthy sequel to the original game that has a few warts but is, over all, an outstanding experience. It continues more or less where the original game left off with the same convoluted plots in a world filled with the same black and grey morality where sometimes the only ethical thing to do is not get involved. The interface is awkward and the game is frustratingly difficult until you learn the controls and develop your character, making the beginning exasperatingly hard and the end too easy.
There are many things the game does exceedingly well, and for the target market it's an exceptional and memorable game, but it has frustrating controls and a steep learning curve that will scare away many players. "Normal" difficulty is closer to the "Hard" difficulty setting in most games, at least at first.
--- The Good ---
Graphics and visuals: 9/10 - Very well done
Other than rare texture pop-in, some strange issues with townspeople appearing out of thin air, and a couple of odd animation problems, the graphics are very well done. One thing I particularly noticed is that there are ugly people in the world, and I don't mean shrunken heads and disproportionate bodies, I mean some are fat and warty and scarred and unattractive the way people are in real life. There are a couple of supermodels roaming around, and not all of the proportions on some of the character models are realistic, but the people are actually dirty and stubbled as you would expect for a bunch of peasants in a medieval setting.
Setting and plot: 9/10 - Gritty and credible
Speaking of peasants in a medieval setting, the characters in this game are far more credible than your typical fantasy game in that they are foul-mouthed, ignorant, and petty. The game goes beyond the idealized fantasy world and tries to create a setting with credible characters and understandable motives. For the most part it succeeds, though in many cases the characters are more interesting than the plots they take part in. Like the original, a fair portion of the game is sidequests, typically monster-hunting, that aren't relevant to the plot. There are less than the first game, though they generally involve finding and destroying lairs instead of just collecting a bunch of monster parts.
The game makes a lot out of the "mature themes" but it's not much different from the first game thematically. Some of the content is a bit more, shall we say, graphically explicit. Some of this explicit content, however, isn't very well done, and a mob beating a man to death with water splash sound effects and a boatload of red stuff that doesn't even start to look like blood ends up being awkwardly amusing instead of dramatic and mature.
Technical issues: 8/10 - Demanding but functional
Other than a few release bugs, the game is stable. Unfortunately, it's also a very demanding engine that causes substantial problems for anyone who hasn't upgraded their graphics card in a few years. Be sure to check the technical specifications before buying the game, because it simply will not run on older cards, and may take some settings tweaks to work properly.
--- The Bad --- (It's really not that bad, but it's not as good as the good stuff)
Gameplay: 7/10 - Steep learning curve and balance issues
One thing the gameplay does right is that nothing is dumbed down. There are complex options and a lot of hard decisions about what you want to do with the resources that you have. You have a lot of options in combat, almost none of which are totally useless.
The abilities that you can develop in the game have serious balance problems, some of which trivialize the game's difficulty if abused. Most abilities and items have at least some theoretical use, but there are some, such as the vast majority of the mutagens, that are just a waste of time.
The major flaw in the gameplay is the steep learning curve and the backwards difficulty, where the hardest part of the game is the prologue and the game becomes progressively easier. You start with almost all of your basic abilities unlocked, and you have to make use of most of them to get through the prologue.
The crafting system is typical MMO fare, but the lack of storage makes inventory clutter with heavy components annoying, especially since many of the components aren't used to make anything worthwhile and the game throws literally hundreds of cloth and leather at you when you might use twenty during the game.
Sound: 7/10 - No complaints, but no great praise
The voice acting in the game is decent but not excellent. Geralt is tired and cynical and plays that part well, and none of the acting is bad, but the performances simply fit the bill and nothing goes above and beyond. Armin Shimerman's portrayal of Andrew Ryan is probably the last voice actor that actually impressed me, and there's nothing anywhere near that good here.
The music works well for the game, as part of the setting. As a soundtrack, I would never listen to it by itself, but I'd rather have appropriate background than great listening tunes.
--- The Ugly ---
Controls and interface: 4/10 - Frustrating and awkward
Targeting in the game is dicey at best, with Geralt frequently switching targets during combat to bounce between enemies, which looks awesome but is extremely impractical since a switch to a different enemy that happens to be in the middle of an enemy group will get you surrounded and killed. You can lock on to enemies, but the fluid enemy movements often mean that the enemy you locked on to has moved to the back of the pack and continuing to mash the attack button will get you surrounded and killed. There is no way to cycle targets or target the nearest enemy, it's all mouse-controlled and trying to target a specific enemy can be rather frustrating. While there is a learning curve to the system and it's eventually manageable, it's never good.
The inventory system is annoying, particularly since there are so many items in the game that might be needed for future crafting but in the short term are just useless clutter. Not having a way to alphabetize or sort individual inventory lists or filter out junk items for quick sale are obvious omissions.
The crafting system interface is fine, but only if you already have all of the parts. To see the components required by a recipe you have to talk to a crafter or mouse hover over the item for a couple seconds and scroll instead of being able to see at a glance how many more eyes of newt that you need.
The alchemy system interface is frustrating at best, with the game, like the first, still automatically filling the component slots instead of continuing to use the component you previously selected. In this case, this means you may accidentally use an important crafting material instead of the mountains of other components, because you're trying to make another big batch of bombs too quickly. That several of the ingredients use very similar colors and symbols is also unnecessarily awkward.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 06/01/11
Game Release: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (US, 05/17/11)
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