Review by gryphonosiris
"The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition - The Good, the Bad and the Kayran"
You are Geralt of Rivia. Monster slayer, mercenary, wanderer, hunter - a Witcher. You slay the creatures that give men cold sweats and are told about only in whispers to scare children at night. You take no sides except for your own, kill the creatures that normal men would run from in terror from and prevent these creatures from hunting the innocent; for a price of course. When you are blamed for the assassination of the King of Temeria you have only one option: escape from your cell on the eve of your execution and find a way to clear your name. For the man you hunt is as skilled and as deadly of a warrior as you; for he too is a Witcher.
The saga of Geralt of Rivia actually started off as a book series out of Poland written by Andrzej Sapkowski. It featured a dark, brutal fantasy world where humans put the other races into ghettos and sorcerers play chess with the lives of unsuspecting pawns. The same level of gritty detail has been brought to the game in both the story and in the visuals as well. Towns and cities that you travel to have an old, used feel to them. They seem as if they have both been occupied for centuries, but basic repairs have been neglected. No small detail is missed; such as ravens pecking at the bodies of recently hung criminals, fishermen going about their daily work, and soldiers patrolling areas where the non-human resistance have been seen. Characters react to Geralt with varied levels from respect to distain since many see Witchers as being just as monstrous as the creatures that they slay. Creatures and enemies will not just dance around you and attack one by one; if you turn your back on them they will swarm and overwhelm you very quickly. Combat itself requires the player to learn the fine balance of swordsmanship, magic, traps, and thrown weapons such as bombs or knives. Focusing on just the sword will not be penalized, but learning how to use all of Geralt's abilities, including drinking potions before a battle can turn him into an unstoppable weapon.
Story wise the game allows you huge freedom of choice on how you can proceed with character encounters. For example you may choose to bribe a guard who will not let you pass, intimidate him with threats, persuade him with rational logic, charm him with your magical signs, or just outright kill him. The plot of the game follows this same style as well and gives the game no less than six endings based on the choices you have Geralt make throughout his journey. Most of these choices are morally vague, with there being no 'good' or 'evil' choices to decide between. Many involve the player deciding which is the lesser evil to them, and can be as subtle as choosing between a non-human hating commando or a renegade elf who actively murders humans. Both of these choices are not as cut and dry as they may seem, each character has a reason for their bias that rationalizes but does not justify their discrimination. These choices also have long running effects and can dramatically change the outcome of the story in dozens of ways that the player may not expect. The world isn't the pretty one of Tolkien where elves are these lofty beautiful creatures and ignore the world of men. A resistance of elves and dwarves fight against the humans for the crimes men have committed against their races, but at the same time this resistance kills innocents out their blind hatred of humanity.
In game controls translates very well to the game pad from the keyboard and mouse. In fact I think it works better on this interface because combat is fast and kinetic; going from swordplay one second, to casting a spell, rolling to avoid an enemy, and finally blocking the attack so Geralt can parry then riposte the attack in a flurry on strikes. The button control is simple enough, you have a fast attack, a strong attack, a button for magic, one to block, one to roll away, and a quick menu you can bring up to swap spells or thrown weapons/traps. On a side note, after playing the Witcher 2 on PC and again on the 360, I find that the normal difficulty level on the PC feels harder than that of the 360. This could be as simple as the game controls are much tighter on the 360 gamepad, or that they may have knocked the difficulty down a tad. Either way on the 360 the combat felt satisfying, and watching Geralt swing his swords is a visual marvel.
Underneath all of the action and intrigue there is a very classic RPG character progression system where you earn experience from completing quests that can then be used to upgrade your skills in the sword, magic or alchemy. Along with this you can upgrade your swords or armor with stat enhancements, craft potions from ingredients that you collect from local plants or slain monsters. You also can have local smiths craft bombs, traps, weapons or armor for you.
The visual style of the game is what makes it stand out from other western RPG's, such as Dragon Age, or even Kingdom of Amalur. You regularly come across characters who are scarred from years, or even centuries of fighting. Both the armor and regular clothing of characters are both unique, and at the same time inspired from classic sources. Knights in full armor are designed not from the pretty tournament armor of the film Camelot, but more of functional German gothic armors of the 15th century. The clothing of characters such as peasants reflect their poor status, but not as simple as just ratty clothing and rags. Many wear items that would be suited to their profession or the environment where they live and give a feeling that you could step into the world and smell their need for a really long bath. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the nobles, sorceresses, and kings that wear these opulent and equally ridiculous looking robes and gowns that scream "I have tons of money so I can dress however I want."
To add a little variety, as well as a quick way to make some quick coin, the game has a dice poker, arm wrestling, and fist fighting mini-games in it. Each has its own interface style, such as using the right and left thumb toggles to roll the dice in poker, keeping the icon centered on the slider for arm wrestling, and a quicktime event for fist fighting. Each one adds a variety of distraction from the main quest and sometimes used to advance side quests found through-out the world. Also as a way to stand out from the crowd the developers added a difficulty level labeled simply as "Dark". In this mode enemies are punishingly relentless and if you die you die for good (i.e. your saves are deleted); however the unique loot is far more satisfying that anything else in the easier game modes.
Unless you do the tutorial before playing the main game, you will be very lost at how everything is done. The game does not hand hold players like other RPG's by giving you pointless little missions to teach basic skills. Instead it throws you right into the mix, with you fighting in open combat within 5 minutes of starting the game. Most players would not be used to this aspect of the game and might be put off by this.
There are some stealth and sneaking sections of the game, one that involves getting some valuable equipment for later encounters. Unfortunately the controls in the section are a little clunky and you may find yourself reloading a previous save if you get caught. As mentioned before, the game has a lot of choices that have long standing results later in the game. If you are a player who doesn't want to have to worry about the results of siding with this "person of questionable moral character" then this game is most certainly not for you.
One general complaint I've heard is that the merchant system pays you pennies for items you sell, but jacks up the price to anything of value that you might want to buy. I know that this is common in the RPG circuit, but considering how much of a tough guy Geralt is, I'm surprised that the vendors don't raise their selling values just out of fear of him alone. The interface for alchemy has been simplified compared to the PC version, but this is due to the limitation of using a 360 controller. It is also hard to tell sometimes what crafting components are needed for potions and traps until you are actually trying to make them.
As with the first Witcher game, this one pulls no punches regarding language and mature content. The game starts off with Geralt in bed with a very naked sorceress and it seems like swearing is a national sport in Temeria. Along with this, you come across mutilated corpses that either have been killed by monsters or soldiers, witness a double hanging, multiple sexual encounters, witness a character being raped, engage the services of prostitutes, and do attacks that spurt blood everywhere. It very much earns its M rating.
If you like your fantasy more in line with George R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire over the Lord of the Rings, and if you want a hybrid of third person action and classic RPG standard then go out and get this game. Unlike other western RPG series that are about choosing between good and evil, this is about deciding which lesser evil do you follow. The plot is dark and gritty with a more realistic feel to how humans would treat elves and dwarves if they were real. The combat system is fast, but requires you to think tactically about how you approach enemies types and what kind of preparation you will do before you enter the fray. It's not about saving a princess or protecting a benevolent kings lands, but murder, betrayal, and the seedy underside of politics. It is dark, gothic, mature, engaging, and fun. In a word it's "perfect".
A MUST BUY TITLE
Score break down:
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 05/07/12
Game Release: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (Enhanced Edition) (US, 04/17/12)
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