criticalt3's The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (PC) review

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The Witcher 2 - What a Journey!

Let me start by saying that I find The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings to be superior to The Witcher in almost every way. One minor annoyance drug on with me through the entire game.

When I first played The Witcher shortly after it came out in 2007, I fell in love with this series. I had desperately hoped there was going to be a sequel to The Witcher, and when I heard the news about a sequel, suffice it to say, I was excited. I was in a very long anxious wait for it to release, and it exceeded my expectations. I enjoyed The Witcher 2 very thoroughly, so here goes my review.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings blew me away. The game-play was remarkable, the dialogue was still excellent as ever, the story took my breath away, and the graphics made my jaw drop.

Let's start with game-play, shall we?

The game-play was phenomenal to say the least. They added and changed elements of the game-play that made the game retain it's "Witcher" feel, but still be new and fun, which is hard, it seems, for companies to accomplish these days. Let me start with the combat system. I think the combat system in The Witcher left much to be desired, it was an interesting idea, but it never really sparked with me, and it got sort of repetitive after awhile, leaving me wanting more from it. In Witcher 2, they took away the "click at this certain moment to increase your damage" mechanic. Which I liked, don't get me wrong, but it got tiresome after awhile to deal with, though I have to admit, it kept you on your toes. All in all I'm kind of glad they removed it, I was surprised it was gone though. It's still the standard attack, parry, dodge as seen in The Witcher. Eventually as you progress, you can upgrade Geralt's skills to unlock the ability to counter an attack as-well. In the Witcher 2, you don't have as large of an arsenal as you did in Witcher, however. Which was interesting to me, but I don't feel as if it took away for me, only because I never used the extra weapons in The Witcher anyways. Now instead of equipping the various weapons in different slots, you can equip an axe, dagger, short sword, etc, in the main weapon slot. There is still the standard fast light damage attacks, or slow heavy damage attacks, which you can mix and match and combine to make a pretty deadly chain. They added throwing knives and traps also, as well as keeping bombs. Bombs, traps, and throwing knives are equipped through a new "quick slot" system, which allows you to quick slot up to five items. The selected quick slot is by default bound to F, which makes using the items simple and quick. You choose what you want to equip for active use through a menu where the signs and weapons are also changed. This menu gives you access to your five quick slots, all of your signs, and your two equipped weapons, in addition, you also choose to meditate through this menu, which gives you access to the screen that allows you to meditate, brew potions, drink potions, and spend talent points. 
The signs are by default bound to Q. Upon casting a sign, you use up a "vigor" bar, which you start out with two of. You can increase the numbers of these bars through skills and some gear. Parrying also uses one of these bars, which personally I didn't exactly like, but the dodging made up for it. What I couldn't parry I could evade.
Also to add to this area, Mutagens. Mutagens are items you apply to certain advanced(?) skills that are farther down the skill tree, that enhance certain attributes of Geralt, including but not limited to Vitality/Regeneration, Vigor/Regeneration, Strength (defense), Damage, and various random effects attacks will cause.

Now on-to the bad:

When attacking, Geralt loves to switch targets out of random and charge right into the middle of eight guys to attack some dude all the way in the back, only to be stabbed by all of them and die quickly. This was a minor annoyance for me, and made it grief to deal with more than four enemies at a time. You can however, press alt and it will lock on to the currently targeted enemy, but this can be bothersome if you need to switch targets quickly. The combat can get overwhelming at times, where there are ten or more enemies, and it's very hard to stay alive, and attack without getting cut down, also when hit in the back you take double damage, which is no help to this, though you can purchase upgrades that will reduce the damage taken from the back to 150%, or level 2 of the skill which reduces it to standard damage. Though there are some bombs that stun the enemies, which can come in handy in these scenarios.
All in all the combat is enjoyable, unless there's a lot of enemies and you don't have the greatest gear or skill upgrades yet.
Now on to the thing that really annoyed me when I first started fighting in Witcher 2... The potions. I quickly realized that potions could not be consumed quickly or during combat, unlike The Witcher. I really didn't like this modification to the combat mechanics, because I was an alchemy enthusiast of sorts in The Witcher, and spent a lot of time brewing myself potions for all types of scenarios. Instead, Witcher 2 brings you the pleasure of having to drink the potions while you are in the meditation mode, which when consuming a potion, it skips to an animation about 10-15 seconds long (for two potions) of Geralt drinking the potion. So the potion system is much slower in Witcher 2, and cannot be accessed during combat, which disappointed me. Now you are forced to apply the potions before combat, which is impossible to predict in some cases if you haven't played the game previously. So the entire game it kind of annoyed me, but I just dealt with it and learned to play without them for the most part.

Otherwise, I loved the new combat system and all in all, had fun.

Walking and running was pretty much the same concept, though they gave Geralt the ability to climb and jump down small cliffs or hills, and for some reason, made opening and walking through a door a static animation.

The dialogue selection was still great as ever, maybe even a tad better than The Witcher, with lots of dialogue options that changed a lot of things in the story or character's opinion of you depending on what you chose and when, which is one of the main reasons I fell in love with The Witcher in the first place. This is the type of game that makes you ponder before selecting your response, which is what I love the most about these games. For me, the character's opinions of Geralt mattered to me, and I wanted to make the best image of Geralt as I could, essentially playing the "good guy" role, even though there is no active meter that displays your alignment, your good or evil actions affect the story in some parts drastically, which I love. The dialogue had new features added to intimidate or persuade a target, and added the ability to change the person's mind on something in certain scenarios with the Axii sign.

Now for the story.

The game was much shorter than The Witcher, but it's story never ceased to push out more content. Almost the entire game, every completed quest or dialogue led to more and more story, which never set a boring moment in Witcher 2 for me. I enjoyed the story the entire time and never got bored or displeased. It was very consistent and was there from start to end, unlike The Witcher, where sometimes you were stuck doing side quests until something happened, or sent on exceedingly long missions that only completed one step at a time through long, sometimes annoying, processes, but I loved The Witcher regardless for that. The Witcher 2 really delivers in the story department, in my opinion. There was never a dull moment.

Time for the characters.

The characters were excellent, I loved seeing some old friends back into the mix, and actually having a part in the story later on, though I won't explain to spare spoilers. Some of the modeling jobs disappointed me though, kind of... Let's start with Triss.
Triss didn't disappoint me really, as much as she shocked me. She appeared in Witcher 2 looking younger, actually honestly to me, appearing as a completely different character. I couldn't find any resemblances between Witcher 1 Triss and Witcher 2 Triss, aside from her red hair... At first I didn't recognize her at all, until Geralt uttered "Triss" for the first time. She also had a different voice actor which also made her sound younger. At first when I discovered it was Triss I was left wondering if this was a prequel to The Witcher because of how young she looked and sounded compared to The Witcher. That's not to say I didn't like the new Triss though, but it threw the feeling and character of Triss off completely, to be honest. She just felt like a completely different character, and not like Triss at all. Her personality seemed different, which bothered me a bit, but like I said, I did like the new Triss, to be honest. I just wish old Triss was there, I felt she would have made the game a bit better. Regardless she was still a good character and I still cared about her.

Now for Dandelion.

Dandelion to me really didn't look even close to what he did in The Witcher. He seemed pudgier in the face, and his whole wardrobe changed entirely, I don't know if it benefited him or made it worse.. I don't know. He also didn't seem as chipper as he did in The Witcher, more mellow and calm. He still seemed like Dandelion personality wise, just without the pizazz. This didn't really bother me, however Dandelion wasn't as large of a character in Witcher 2 as he was in The Witcher, which didn't really bother me either but it was a minor disappointment. Not much else to say about Dandelion, he's still one of my favorites.

Zoltan.

Zoltan was regular ol' Zoltan from The Witcher, which I enjoyed, because Zoltan is one of my most favorite characters from The Witcher series, and he always managed to make me smile, his dialogue was, and is, always great and he's always a fun character to interact with. He retained his voice actor fortunately, which pleased me. Nobody else could be Zoltan, in my opinion. Zoltan took an impressive position in the path I took later on in the game, and surprised me, in a good way, and it just made me like Zoltan more.

And last but certainly not least, Geralt. (I won't review any of the other characters because I don't want to spoil anything. This is purely just for reviewing the characters in this game compared to the first one.)

I have to admit, when I saw BETA footage of Witcher 2, I was extremely disappointed hearing a different voice behind Geralt, because Doug Cockle does an absolutely astonishing job at Geralt, and nobody could replace him. I was worried that the other voice actor was going to be Geralt's new voice, but... After watching a trailer and hearing Doug Cockle once again, I was very relieved.
Geralt was done perfectly in Witcher 2, and everything was dead on about him from The Witcher, with an exception of new facial scars. Did I mention Doug Cockle does great at Geralt? His voice acting never wavered in excellence, making Geralt my favorite character of The Witcher series. The dialogue was great, and they kept Geralt's personalty dead on with The Witcher. Good ol' Geralt, no fear of him being much different from The Witcher. I will say, Geralt at times seems a bit more enthusiastic in Witcher 2, but only a little in certain places, which I actually liked. So in the end, no complaints here for Geralt. He was still as awesome as ever, his moves, dialogue, intelligence, etc was not harmed.

Okay, finally, let's discuss the graphics.

I must admit to everyone, when I clicked "New Game" and watched, my jaw dropped at the level of graphical quality. From start to end, the entire game was absolutely beautiful, in every aspect. Water, post processing, textures, color filters, and effects. I was honestly shocked, and in some scenes, I dare to say, looked better than Crysis to me. I was shocked that this game ran on DirectX 9, seeing as the motion blur, sun/moon shafts, and effects quality were so breath taking. I enjoyed the graphics a lot, and I feel that it just made the entire experience better and more cinematic. The facial textures especially were amazing, most notably though are the sun shafts/rays, motion blur, fire, wetness and reflections. I loved it.

The music.

The music was pretty good, I liked a lot of it, and it meshed perfectly with the situations, making the game that much more cinematic.

Anyways, in the end, the game is absolutely great, and I had a great adventure, and massive fun the entire way through. The game also has a TON of replay value, with the apparently 16 possible endings. So I will be playing this for quite some time, just to explore all of the game's content, and labyrinth of story paths and dialogue.

I recommend this game to anyone who is interested in an RPG with a thick story, and unique but exciting gameplay and wonderful graphics. I rate this game 4 and 1/2 stars out of 5 only because of the weird targeting system and disappointing new potion mechanic. otherwise, it would deserve a 5/5.

Thanks for reading and I hope this review helps you get a decent idea of what to expect in Witcher 2.

3 Comments
Posted by TorMasturba

Just a note about the walking through doors animation. This's like a much better version of the Mass Effect elevator hidden loading scenes on the citadel, except it's quicker and stops the game from feeling like it's being broken up as much as older games used to. (5 minute loading screen etc...)

Posted by Stepside

Excellent review.

Posted by criticalt3

@Stepside: Thanks :)

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