The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Review
Sequels really are double-edged swords. It’s absolutely heart-wrenching to see the sequel of a game that had so much potential make the same mistakes its previous installment made before. But when a developer addresses the mistakes made in the previous game while improving everything else, the world looks just a bit better. I’m happy to say that The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings belongs in the latter category.
The Witcher 2 picks up a few months after the end of the first game which if you don’t recall, ended with Geralt of Rivia foiling an attempt on the King Foltest’s life. Realizing that having a Witcher on call might be handy, the king appoints Geralt as his new personal bodyguard, much to the witcher’s chagrin. Of course, that doesn’t stop the king from being assassinated while no one’s looking, forcing Geralt to search for the killer and bring him to justice.
It’s worth noting that you don’t need to have played the first game to understand what is going on in The Witcher 2. The prologue does an okay job catching players both new and old up to speed, though some reading may be required to fully understand what is going on. Thankfully, the game offers an exhaustive repository detailing the game’s characters, locations, races, nations, monsters, history, etc. for those who don’t mind a bit of light reading. It’s a handy resource as the game tends to do a poor job explaining who a key character is and why they’re important.
Those who loved the deep, believable characters from the first game will be happy to know that they make a return in The Witcher 2. The dialogue is sharp as ever, and almost everyone seems to have an ulterior motive up their sleeve. Throughout the story you will be offered dialogue options that can drastically alter your experience, one of which decides where you will spend the entirety of chapter two. The beauty of these choices is how nothing is black and white. You won’t find “good” choices highlighted in blue and “evil” choices highlighted in red like you see in Mass Effect or Infamous. Most of the decisions I was offered were so morally ambiguous that I pondered if I made the right choice hours after the decision was made. The care and effort that went into crafting the narrative is one of the special things that makes The Witcher 2 truly shine.
Thankfully the sharp dialogue is accompanied by equally impressive voice acting with both Mark Healy and Mark Frost deserving special recognition for their roles as Vernon Roche and Iorveth respectively.
Combat is now much more action-oriented. Combat stances have been replaced with light and heavy attacks as well as the ability to block. Magic remains relatively unchanged, with the five spells from the previous game making their triumphant return. Overall the faster system is a welcome change that requires players to recognize openings in an enemy’s defenses and striking at the right time. Fighting one or two enemies isn’t a big deal, but groups of three or more enemies can quickly cut you down if you aren’t careful.
Unfortunately The Witcher 2’s combat is extremely frustrating during the first few hours of the game, as many crucial abilities—like being able to block an attack from any direction—are in the “training” part of the upgrade system and have to be unlocked. Granted, it doesn’t take long to acquire these abilities, but the combat-heavy tutorial would have been much more enjoyable if they were already available from the get go. The rest of the upgrade system is divided into three other categories, (swordsmanship, magic, and alchemy) with each “tree” hosting various upgrades and abilities suited for the field it’s in.
My one major complaint is with the new meditation system. Don’t get me wrong, CD Projekt made a great decision allowing players to meditate wherever they want. I still have nightmares of looking for a specific quest giver in The Witcher only to learn they aren’t available at that time, forcing me to scour the land for an inn or fireplace to meditate because Geralt just has to have his atmosphere. Unfortunately in exchange for this newfound ability, Geralt can no longer drink potions in the midst of combat. Now he has to be meditating if he wants to consume any performance-enhancing potions, which is a problem as you’re rarely given any notice that a particularly difficult battle is imminent. The issue isn’t game breaking by any stretch, but it’s irritating to have the issue present in the first place.
While the game’s narrative and gameplay are praiseworthy, the breathtaking visuals are what make The Witcher 2 really stand out among its peers. Individual strands of Geralt’s hair realistically shift with each step he takes. Bothersome monsters have caught me off guard multiple times as I gazed at the sun’s rays flickering between the leaves of an especially lengthy branch. It is 100% pure, uncut eye candy, and may very well be one of the most beautiful games I have ever laid eyes upon. Of course, this level of quality comes at a price. While The Witcher 2 isn’t going to melt motherboards like Crysis did back when it debuted, a seven year old graphics card isn’t going to cut it. The game’s recommended settings call for at least an Nvidia GTX 260 or something equivalent, though you’ll need something better if you want all the bells and whistles. Don’t let this discourage you if your computer is a few years old. The Witcher 2 is still a sight to behold on moderate settings, and gives you something to look forward to next time you upgrade your gaming rig.
The Witcher 2 is a great example of a sequel done right. If you absolutely loathed the first game, the sequel probably isn’t going to change your mind. But if you’re willing to look past a shaky tutorial and a couple hours of iffy combat, you will be treated to one of the best RPG’s released this year.