The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Review

 The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Review

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Review

NARRATIVE

The Witcher wowed gamers with its groundbreaking delayed consequence system, back in 2007. Few games since, especially Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas have successfully built upon it, but The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings takes the idea of the dynamic narrative to completely uncharted levels, never seen before in any medium of entertainment. Like a traditional RPG, The Witcher 2 lets the gamer select from a choice of responses in conversations, and this forms the basis of the choice / consequence system. Depending on your actions and choices, the game can branch out into completely different strands of narrative. Every choice, every answer, can have consequences. Sometimes, the seemingly most banal and casual responses can ultimately lead to major turns in the narrative. And that is the beauty of it – the dynamic narrative system never calls attention to itself. Unlike other games which hype up and dramatize the moments of major choice (many of whose consequences are largely insignificant), The Witcher 2 never tells the gamer – “Think carefully, this will change the course of the game dramatically.” The occasional choice happens in tough situations with strict time limits. In fact, one of the most significant responses in the game must be made in the matter of seconds, in the heat of a battle, and based on this choice, you play a different game altogether. Indeed, The Witcher 2 must be played multiple times to see the magic of the narrative system at work. Based on your choices, you could play a completely different game, with different characters, land up in different locations. While the gamer’s present actions will decide the future course the game takes, the past is set in stone. There is a vast amount of history to the game world, with clear and precise detail. Through the course of The Witcher 2, well executed flashbacks partially resolve one of the continuing mysteries from The Witcher. There are some continuity bugs. For example, you may be shown the odd cutscene which should really have been shown if you had chosen a different dialogue. So, the narrative system is so complex the game engine itself gets confused! Hopefully, these will be fixed in future patches.

The Witcher featured one of the finest ending cutscenes in gaming, teasing an intriguing narrative for its successor. The Witcher 2 continues from there. In The Witcher 2, there are no “heroes” or “villains”. It is a cruel world where everyone has their own agenda, no one can be trusted, and everyone is just out for themselves or their communities. Everyone is deceiving each other, even the best of friends. Yet, somehow, everyone’s actions are justified. The Witcher 2 shatters any expectations for the clichés of “character sympathy” we are conditioned to so often in games and movies.  There are no silly “good” or “bad” choices to make – it is all about the “lesser evil”, and in a recurring theme of the game, even the concept of “lesser evil” is proven to be completely relative and subjective. Often, in hindsight, you may regret your previous decisions, even though they appeared to be right ones at the time.

Despite the incredibly fluid and dynamic nature of the narrative system, The Witcher 2 displays a remarkable poise and expression all the way through. At no time does the plot of the game show any signs of weaknesses and despite the choices I made, The Witcher 2 kept me hooked from start to finish. Of course, Geralt’s own story continues to unfold in the background, resolving several mysteries from the first game. A special mention for the deadpan humour and colourful expletives that is present throughout the game.

In conclusion, The Witcher 2’s narrative is a remarkable and revolutionary achievement which single-handedly takes form of storytelling in the medium of gaming to uncharted heights.

GAMEPLAY

At the center of The Witcher 2 is of course the groundbreaking narrative system (which is discussed in detail in the above section). Beyond that, the combat is sword-oriented and revolves around four buttons – strong hit, fast hit, dodge and block. While this may seem like a shallow system of button mashing at first, it is surprisingly rewarding. The Witcher 2 often throws multiple enemies at you, and button mashing will only get you swamped by enemies. The gamer has to use a clever combination of not only the four buttons but also the mouse. The mouse is crucial in moving around and chaining attacks together between multiple enemies. Of course, the signs are back and often form a crucial part of the combat, depending on how one approaches it. In addition to signs and swords, Geralt can create potions, get bombs and traps crafted, weapons and armors upgraded. Potions, crafted from herbs, are extremely effective, but a limited number must be carefully chosen before combat. (they cannot be consumed during the combat)

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Battles in The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings are fierce, and combined with a neat combat system, form a great synergy.

The leveling system is simple, streamlined, and effective. Amazingly, the entire leveling is present on a single four sided tree that offers upgrades in overall training, magic, alchemy and swordsmanship, respectively. It is extremely clear, precise and allows for no confusion.

There is not much in the way of variety in combat, however, but the overall experience is so engrossing I simply didn’t realize till the game was over!

VISUALS

The Witcher 2 was created as a PC exclusive with no compromises, and it shows. CD Projekt’s new RED engine is a stunner, only surpassed today by Cry Engine 3. However, while it is very scalable, it does require a lot more power than Cry Engine 3 to scale up to the highest IQ. Ubersampling is virtually unplayable on today’s hardware. Still, even on Low settings The Witcher 2 offers a superior level of IQ to the highest settings of the myriad of console ports released nowadays.

The character models and textures, in particular, are extremely detailed and offer incredible clarity. The character animations are convincing at first, but do get repetitive after a while. The worlds offer a remarkable depth and detail, aided by terrific world design. A special mention for some really nice rain effects. Some of the light transitions between different areas are often abrupt and distracting, however.

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Environments in The Witcher 2 are lush and have neat lighting effects.

There’s a clear focus on creating a cinematic look – mimicking the look of cameras. Vignettes, depth of field effects, motion blur, desaturated color, mist filters and limited exposure latitude all contribute to the cinematic look.

DESIGN

Taking advantage of the new RED Engine, The Witcher 2’s world is extremely diverse and detailed. Inspired by Norse architecture, some of the buildings are breathtaking. The interesting thing is that many buildings have its own subtle quirk – there are fewer repetitions or procedural generation within the cities than expected.

While The Witcher 2 is not really an open-world game, it encourages a lot of exploration. Once dropped at a location, you are free to explore the vast expanses within as well as outside the main cities. The worlds contain a lot of detail and you are bound to find important details even in the most obscure of locations. Within the city, we have a large variety of characters gossiping, chatting, or stating their opinions as Geralt passes by. Sometimes, fans and children will follow and ask questions. The cities really do feel alive, closing in on Grand Theft Auto IV’s Liberty City, and there are several characters, quests, inventory, puzzles and locations as well as important information that can be uncovered simply through exploration.

The characters and their costumes and equipment are well designed and feature a lot of detail.

SOUND

The cities and camps are full of bustle with a variety of sounds, including a lot of gossip and conversations. Sometimes there does seem to be too much going on, and the forest soundtracks are too dense, but it adds to the charm of the game. However, sometimes, the sound is out of sync with the visual. The combat sounds are surprisingly detailed, determined by the kind of sword used, as well as the enemy NPC’s armor.

The voice acting is somewhat uneven, but acceptable given the scope of the game. The main characters, though, are voiced very well, and a massive improvement over the original The Witcher, where defaulting to Polish audio and subtitles was the best option. A nice touch is the wide array of European accents used through the game, which really gives The Witcher 2’s world a grand feel.

Like the original, The Witcher 2’s music is beautiful – an eclectic mix of orchestral and electronica.

SEX APPEAL IN THE WITCHER 2

Much has been made of the sex in The Witcher 2. As far explicit cutscenes go, they actually are few and far between. As filmmaker Jean Luc Godard once said, there are two things that can’t possibly be filmed realistically – death or sex. Explicit sex scenes in mainstream cinema has been rare, but game developers have clearly been more open to the idea. Sex in games is nothing new, but I always find watching a bunch of pixels getting intimate utterly laughable. Many games have avoided such cutscenes altogether – including The Witcher and Grand Theft Auto IV. With The Witcher 2, CD Projekt RED took on a new challenge, and amazingly, it works! There is a lot of restraint to the scenes, and are very tastefully executed. The scenes also develop bits of character, and clearly have been given a lot of attention, down to the subtle gestures and movements of the character – it is not just procedural generation of pixels. As far sex in gaming goes, The Witcher 2 sets a new benchmark.

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The Witcher 2 scores big points when it comes to sex appeal. A mention should be given to the subtle details in love making scenes. No other video game has gone this far when it comes to this department.

In my playthroughs, I only came across 2 such cutscenes, excluding visits to the brothel (of which there are many in The Witcher 2’s world). Based on your playthrough, you may come across more, or none, if you fail to seduce the female NPCs with your conversation choices.

VERDICT

Summing up The Witcher 2 is no easy feat. It is a truly unique experience that can’t be compared to any game I have played of late. The Witcher 2’s biggest strength is also its weakness. While the dynamic narrative system means thousands, if not millions, of possible permutations the narrative could take, it also means one would experience maybe a fraction of the game in one playthrough. The Witcher 2 must be played multiple times to be fully appreciated.

So, whether you’re an RPG fanatic or just someone who likes playing the latest, biggest games, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is definitely one game ILL GAMING recommends you to pick up, NOW! Its a unique experience, and sets itself apart and is miles ahead of the RPGs currently in the market. Nonetheless, if you’re just a horny teenager and if ‘love making pixels’ fuels your automobile, The Witcher 2 is one of those games which you would keep.

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