The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Review by solaris32
"Stands among the greatest RPGs of all time."
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is a game that originally came out for the PC a year ago. Now it has been ported to the Xbox 360 as the Enhanced Edition. From what I have played you do not have to have played the first game in order to understand and enjoy this one, but I'm sure it would help. Unfortunately my computer can't handle the first Witcher so I didn't get far at all in it. The EE comes with some changes and new content and, to be honest, I'm not sure what all exactly has been added. I know that new hairstyles and a few new quests have been added as well as difficulty tweaks and balancing changes.
The game is played entirely in third person. You move Geralt, the man you play, around and can adjust the camera position whenever you like. As expected this game takes place in medieval fantasy. These games are actually based off Polish books with the same man as the main focus in them, two of which have been translated to English at the time of this writing. The game starts out with a very well done CG intro of a king getting assassinated. Through circumstances you will discover at the beginning of the game you get blamed for an assassination and the main focus of the game becomes you seeking the real killer to clear your name.
Besides the excellent storytelling and characters, the main reason everyone should at least look into this game are the real meaningful choices. I'm not talking about cliched good or evil choices where you either kill the bad guy or join him and become bad yourself. Instead all choices, and indeed people, have morally gray areas. A man may fight for his country and wish to avenge his people, but doesn't mind getting his hands dirty to accomplish it. Do you help him? There are other such things which I don't want to spoil the fun in discovering them.
Now I will go in depth in the various things about this game like combat, story, choices, etc.
I've already given the basics of the story and I can't reveal much more without giving away spoilers. There is a prologue which is decent in length, a chapter 1 and 2 which are fairly long, a chapter 3 which isn't quite as long, and a very short epilogue. Yes this game has linear story progression, but each of the numbered chapters (hereafter called chapters) puts you in a town and its large surrounding area. From here you can run around and do what you want completing side quests and the like.
The story itself is rather long and not filled with fluff that tends to plague JRPGs (not that there's anything wrong with that). You can expect the story and characters to get to the point in the main quest and everything progresses logically. I can't find anything wrong with the story to be honest, but it did get abnormally confusing at the end, though that may have been me.
The only difficulty with the story is the vast amount of information conveyed to you and you have little idea what all of it means. This is not a fault as the game has lots to tell and this is the only way to tell it. The information sinks in as you play it and future playthroughs will be much easier. There is also a very in depth codex system which tells you everything you've done and all the information you've learned. This is a big help and it has its own section later.
The bottom line is this game's story is not the cliched fantasy fare of saving the world. In fact, Geralt isn't really a hero either. He makes it quite clear he doesn't like politics, and if he wasn't the one getting blamed I have little doubt he would have ignored the whole matter. Does this mean Geralt is a bad guy? Absolutely not, but the details of his character you will discover as you play the game.
SIDE QUESTS: 9/10
In the chapters there are several side quests in each, and I don't mean the kill X of Y monster, or gather X of Y item type. Although in each of the chapters there is a single quest (or two in the case of chapter 1) to rid the area of a certain type of monster, but it's not so simple! You can't go and kill a whole bunch and expect that to be the end. Instead you must always learn more about the creature either by fighting enough of them or reading books about them. This will tell you what you must do to get rid of the monster. You are a witcher after all and this is what you do.
Other side quests you can expect in each of the chapters is dice poker, arm wrestling, and fist fighting. It's not as dull as it sounds as the developers give the people their own small personality. Even though you're doing the same thing, this man you're arm wrestling still comes off as this real tough guy and you look forward to beating him and hearing what he has to say. Dice poker is almost entirely luck and I don't like it. Fist fighting is extremely easy QTEs (quick time events) where you must press the button the screen says. It never gets higher than two prompts. At least in arm wrestling and dice poker the opponents seem to get slightly harder the further you get.
Of course this isn't all the side quests there are. Besides these you will come across varying kinds from bringing a drunken man to his friends to helping a troll. There aren't as many side quests as I was hoping, but the game makes up for it by having the quests have more meaning and substance than usual. And of course you get at least two choices in each of these quests here.
My only real complaint is the lack of out there quests I tend to be fond of. Anyone who's played Divinity 2: Dragon Knight Saga knows what I'm talking about. This is more of a personal complaint and not everyone has the same tastes I do.
This game doesn't have as many characters as certain high profile RPGs, but in my opinion they are much better fleshed out. The main thing is that the characters feel real and act realistically. Nearly every person you meet you form an opinion about and remember them and their personality. The characters are also not two dimensional, even the smaller rolled ones. The characters have varying layers and things that make them who they are, especially Geralt.
Geralt has a lot to him and many of it is explored in the game. The various choices you get Geralt explains as if he was the one who made the choice even though it was you. Despite Geralt having a predefined role and personality, his character is written so well that despite how wildly choices may differ from one another it never feels unnatural for him to do any of it.
The various other characters you meet and interact with in the game are also very well done. No one in this game is simple and everyone has parts of them that are not always nice. You can choose to talk to and learn more about nearly everyone. After doing certain things in quests you can converse with the right people and learn more about either them or the quest you're doing.
I'm very pleased with the characters and I don't really have anything bad to say, except just one small thing. The smaller character's models, the people who generally only say a few lines, are reused all throughout the game. This isn't a big deal as I don't expect a unique model for each and every single NPC in the game.
I'm the last person who would judge a game solely on graphics, and that's not changing here, but it should still be brought up for those who might be interested. No this game does not look nearly as good as it does on the PC at max settings, big surprise. It still looks really great for being on the 360 however. There is lots of detail in the scenery and characters. Everything looks great, but there are a few problems.
Clipping of items characters wear can be pretty bad. What this means is that the clothes and such they wear will go through their body as they move. It can be distracting at times when it's a close-up of a person and his headwear is clipping into his head.
An even bigger issue is texture pop-in, generally during cut scenes. It's a little hard to explain, but what it means is that initially you won't see all the texture of an object, and then suddenly the rest of the texture will pop-in. Say you've got a person wearing a gold coat. Sometimes when the scene is on him he will be wearing a yellow lump for a second, then suddenly the proper textures of his coat will pop-in and you can see the details of it like you're supposed to. This can get very distracting during cut scenes, especially when it happens to the same person several times during the course of a single cut scene.
They use the standard trick of not showing items being exchanged by positioning the camera so you only see their arm move forward. It's also funny to watch them drink, humorous more than distracting.
I'm not very bothered by these. I hold much greater importance to virtually everything else. I would much rather the developers spend their time and money on the things that actually matter like the writing, which they did. Ignore these problems and keep paying attention to the dialogue and you'll be fine.
Not much to say about this. The sound effects are well done and do what they're supposed to. The music, while forgettable (as is standard these days in this type of game), still does its job to prevent complete silence. I think the voice acting is great and the actors are varied.
The combat in this game is very difficult at first as there is a very high learning curve and unfortunately the tutorial doesn't help much. It is done in real time and you can actively move your character around and attack at will. Health does not normally regenerate during combat, and opponent's attacks can be brutal especially if you're hit from behind. There aren't usable items like in most games, instead you must drink potions and use oils on your swords before a fight as you cannot use them during a fight. You can block and roll to avoid danger, but I always rolled.
You have two swords, steel and silver. Steel is used for humanlike creatures such as humans, elves, and dwarves. Silver is used for all monsters including the semi-intelligent trolls. You also have access to 5 different signs which are basically a lower type of magic. Signs are controlled via your vigor. Your vigor does regenerate during combat, and you can increase its rate using skills and potions. And finally you have access to traps and bombs which are more useful than you might think.
All of these are governed by 3 skill trees (and a 4th training tree). When you level up you get a skill point to put into any of the trees. The 3 main trees govern your swords, signs, and alchemy which include bombs and traps. Each skill tree has several skills and each skill can be upgraded once beyond the initial point. As you can imagine this allows for a high amount of replayability combat wise, as all of them are completely viable ways to play.
The reason I give this a 9/10 is because the combat could still use a little work. For example, sometimes while you're fighting in a cramped space the camera will move and a wall or tree will block your view. Never a good thing! The combat itself isn't as fluid as say Kingdoms of Amalur, but you get used to it. Using everything at your disposal, your sword, bombs, signs, and potions is very fun.
In this game, choices have much more meaning and impact than literally every game I've ever played, and I've played a lot. For example, a certain choice you make at the end of chapter 1 will affect the entirety of chapter 2, including what town you go to, the characters you meet, and the quests you get. Further, that choice affects certain things in chapter 3 as well. In most games with choices you're lucky if it affects more than the dialogue immediately after you make the choice. Here, some choices affect the entire quest changing its outcome and what you learn.
That's not all though. Some choices made will affect how certain side quests get handled, with small dialogue changes and outcomes. In a few instances it can get fairly complicated. It's quite profound that this kind of effort was put into the game's choices and consequences. To really get a feel for this, glance at the quest handbook that comes with the game for quests you completed to see all the different ways they can be done.
However I can be very picky and the choices here are not without their faults. My main problem is that if the choice you make gets the quest giver killed because you chose to help someone else in the quest, the quest is failed and you don't get the experience for completing the quest. This isn't common, but I don't know why it's there in the first place. Make sure to save a lot for this and combat reasons.
Another small issue I have is that I wish the choices had even more impact in the side quests, changing them even more and changing what future quests you might get. This is a lot to ask though and I'm amazed that any game dares to block off a significant amount of content to you depending on your choice. Therefore I can't really complain because what we have here is amazing.
There is a very thorough codex type thing in the various menus. As you progress the story, meet new people, talk to people, go to new places, etc. your journal and such will get updated. The journal tells you what you did for the quest and the codex thing in the different menus will tell you more about the characters and places. But this isn't some boring text full of pure facts. The writers put real effort into it! All of the stuff is written by a character in the game you will soon meet, Dandelion. It is done in his style and even has his own thoughts thrown into it. It's well worth it to read the journal and codex entries for this.
This game is rated M for Mature for very good reasons. There is violence, language, sex, nudity, and mature themes. The violence actually isn't that bad for the most part. Creatures bleed and die, but the blood and bodies very quickly disappear. Strong language is present all throughout including the use of the F-word, however the word plough is used in place of the F-word about 90% of the time. You can have sex in this game with certain women and even prostitutes you can pay. The game has no problem showing naked breasts, but nothing is explicitly shown in the pants area except some hair. The sex is more graphic than most games, but also shown more maturely. It also doesn't last long in most instances. Mature themes include racism, death, rape, politics, and in some smaller instances certain social taboos.
PHYSICAL GAME CASE AND CONTENTS: 11/10
For the standard price of $60 USD you get a phenomenal amount of physical goods. You get an outer paper slip cover which slides over the sealed game case and the 90+ page quest handbook. Inside the case you get a real instruction manual around 40 pages or so long, a map, the 2 game discs, and a disc containing music from the game. The discs are not stacked on top of each other but have a flip insert thing. My only problem is the quest handbook has various spelling errors and inaccuracies in how to do some of the quests, but for the most part it's great. Plus you can't argue with free. These days you're lucky if you a get manual that's more than 10 pages long, and sometimes you don't even get one!
This game has massive amounts of replayability for two reasons already discussed: the choices and varied combat styles. The choices alone are worthy of playing the game a minimum of 2 times, up to 4 because the different paths have quests which can be completed differently. Unfortunately the game does not record how long you've played, but I know my first playthrough was a minimum of 30 hours.
FINAL SCORE: 10/10
Despite some categories getting less than 10/10, this game as a whole deserves nothing less than 10/10. It is truly amazing in everything it does; even its faults can't bring it down. I've played many RPGs and this game has become top 3 in my book, alongside such games as Planescape: Torment and Baldur's Gate 2. It's that good. Of course, if you're fans of those games, know this game is different from them in many ways, the exception being they all have great writing.
If you are at all interested in RPGs, this game deserves a rental at the very least. And if you like it, buy it new from Amazon or some place to support the developer, CD Project Red, who truly cares about you the fan (and no I don't mean as a customer but as a fan). I could write a page or two on how great CDPR is, but you need only look into them yourself and the things the developers have said and done.
Buy this game!
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 05/07/12
Game Release: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (Enhanced Edition) (US, 04/17/12)
Got Your Own Opinion?
You can submit your own review for this game using our Review Submission Form.