Review by Superfreak8

"Choice is your ultimate weapon."

When "The WItcher" was first released it was simultaneously praised and maligned by critics and gamers alike. On the plus side it featured a mature story in a mature fantasy world where you decisions carried much weight. The decisions you made didn't fall into distinct categories of right and wrong and the implications of your decisions weren't always clear. These features elevated the original game above its shortcomings which were quite numerous such as the myriad of technical problems, poor translation, clunky combat, and the infamous sex cards that stood in contrast to the mature world that was created. Many of the problems with the original were corrected in the subsequent Enhanced Edition and it is now a modern roleplaying classic. Thankfully the sequel comes out of the gate much stronger than its predecessor.

As was the case with the original CdProjekt has crafted another beautifully realized world that draws the player in with a strong atmosphere. The world that Geralt lives in is a brutal one that is full of danger and tension. The story further enhances the atmosphere by exploring political matters, political intrigue, and the racism between humans and nonhumans. All of these themes are used to great effect throughout the story and it leads to a mature, believable tale. The one issue with the story is that it does end in a relatively abrupt manner that indicates a sequel is imminent.

Where the real strength of the story lies is in your ability to influence it. Decisions play a huge part in how the story plays out and there are no clear "good" or "evil" choices. The choices you make all have consequences that affect Geralt either long term or short term. With the incredible amount of meaningful decisions you have to make you'll have to play through the game multiple times to see all the possibilities.

Combat in The Witcher 2 is a vast improvement over the original. Gone is the clunky, timing based system of the first game. Instead we get an action heavy combat system that emphasizes quick reaction and strategic thinking at least in the early going. You have access to all of your signs at the start of the game and you're going to need them all in order to survive the challenging early encounters. Each of the signs adds something of interest to the combat. You have a sign that stuns and pushes your foes back, another sign snares your opponent in place, a shielding sign, and a traditional fire attack. Explosives and traps add another layer to the combat giving great crowd control and good damage which really rewards the players that put time into crafting them. Alchemy is also another important facet to the game. Potions are brewed during meditation and they can't be consumed during combat. The buffs provided by the potions usually last for quite a while so you can drink them intermittently to prepare for potentially dangerous situations. More formulas are discovered as you progress the game, and the ingredients are available quite readily in the wild as well as in stores.

As you unlock more abilities and gain better equipment combat become significantly easier and you really do feel more powerful. But with this increased power a major problem with the combat becomes apparent, and that problem lies in the scaling of the difficulty or I should say lack thereof. Tense encounters early on in the game are replaced by click-fests by the end-game. By the end of the game Geralt is a killing machine and none of the enemies he encounters provide any real challenge. This robs the game of tense encounters and memorable fights when you can just mow everything down. It's a shame that more thought wasn't put into scaling the difficulty more because it keeps it from perfection.

Character development is a fun process that has been streamlined in this sequel. There are 3 separate trees that allow you to focus on either swordsmanship, signs, or alchemy. You have access to these trees after putting some initial points into the initial training tree. You can focus entirely on one tree and specialize or you can cherry pick from each. Each of the upgrades has a noticeable effect that makes leveling quite rewarding. The level of customization allowed is quite impressive and is another part of the game that adds to its significant replay value.

Another issue with the game is its interface. Specifically its inventory management and crafting mechanics leave much to be desired. Large amounts of ingredients, herbs, and other loot are everywhere in the game and soon your inventory becomes bogged down with large amount of items that you are not sure you'll need. You'll always be flirting with your max weight capacity and too much time is spent navigating the inventory screens. Another issue is that many vendors also craft important items as well and in order to switch between crafting and shopping you'll have to leave the shopping or crafting screen and then talk to the vendor again to switch to the other screen. It's a minor quibble but annoying nonetheless.

Visually The Witcher 2 is near perfect. The environments are incredibly detailed and really draw you in. The lighting effects are all top-notch. Gone are the rigid character animations of the first game and they are replaced by fluid and varied animations that lend authenticity to the characters and really bring them to life. The only downside is that you will need a powerful pc to see it in all its glory, but the engine has the ability scale back quite a bit which allows players with older pcs to still enjoy the great tale.

Another resounding improvement over the original is the dialogue and voice work. Translation issues are almost nonexistent in this game which is a huge plus considering the translation issues in the first game. The voice work across the board has seen a vast improvement. Each actor lends a distinct flare to the characters they voice that helps to establish their personalities. As a result the characters are more memorable and distinct than in the previous game.

The Witcher 2 is a huge step up from the original and establishes itself as a roleplaying classic. A few minor gripes with the conclusion to the game as well as some flaws in the combat and inventory management, but it is not enough to drag this game down substantially. A must-have game for your collection.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 07/08/11

Game Release: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (US, 05/17/11)

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