By Ford_Dent 12 Comments
Hey so remember when I said I was going to run this series? Remember when I was like "hey see you in a month or two?"
Well. Life, as it happens, had other plans. Namely, a bunch of other games came out and somewhere in there I upgraded my video card and look. Look. I love writing, and even writing about Video James, but sometimes finding time is hard, especially when I think November is when I started writing the serialized fiction thing I do, so I didn't actually get back to the Witcher 2 until like, last week? I was halfway into act 2 when I stopped, so I had basically half the game to finish. Once I sat down to do it, the game was suitably fun to allow me to stick with it and finish it off without much fuss. So hey, let's talk a little about the Witcher 2, huh?
The Delivery got Better
Or more accurately, the dialogue got better. Which is to say, they had a budget to hire actual voice talent and probably even do multiple takes of lines! The NPCs sound a lot better, the quality of writing is vastly improved (and there's no weird like, 'we definitely re-wrote and re-recorded this line over skype' moments, at least none that I saw), and even in the year of our Lord two-thousand-nineteen, it's actually pretty gorgeous?
The other big change is making the combat twitchier. It's still got a very particular feel to it, which is to say it still wants you to pay attention to the way you're moving and I found that just mashing buttons to attack was less-effective than waiting to the end of an attack animation and chaining it together, but you actually can mash buttons, on a controller even, which is what I preferred to play with (mostly because I have my TV wired up to my PC and I like playing on the couch). I did find the controller to be a little fussy - sometimes I felt like I needed to press a button twice to do stuff like open doors and loot corpses and the like, for example - but it worked when I needed it to, which is to say it worked when I got into big fights with lots of monsters. I did, surprisingly, run into some framerate issues in a couple of the bigger fights, which is either because my PC is old or because the engine wasn't quite up to the task of rendering like twenty dudes all swinging swords around (I'm inclined to think the latter, given the way the Witcher 3 looks and runs on my PC, but who knows? Maybe there was some setting that just kills PCs I left toggled on). The combat though! It's good! Not quite as good as it is in Witcher 3, but still an improvement over Witcher 1 (although I do kind of think that if they'd kept stance-switching in I would've been cool with that).
Also changed: Potions! They don't last quite as long, generally. Plus, you don't need to find a place to meditate to take them - Geralt can just kneel down and meditate basically anywhere, provided there aren't monsters skittering about. There's still an emphasis on preparation with Witcher 2 - you can still buy books and learn more about monsters to boot - Geralt hasn't remembered everything, apparently - but as reading books to learn about monsters and the rest of the world was one of my favorite parts of Witcher 1, it's good to have it in Witcher 2. The potion making interface is improved, although it's largely unchanged beyond one key detail - it no longer takes time. In fact, nothing Geralt does in the meditation state takes time, which is kind of a bummer if I'm being honest. I liked that brewing potions required you to advance the clock, even if the clock advancing didn't really do much beyond move the locations of NPCs around. Which, hey by the way, the NPCs still move around in Witcher 2 and have their little schedules and all (did I spend a lot of time waking people up from slumber to turn in quests? I SURE DID), which I mean, if they'd taken that out it would have been a bad decision.
The Story is Bigger but the World is Smaller
So here's the thing: the Witcher 1 involves a plot to fuck up a kingdom and establish a sort of survivalist's wet dream, but it's largely a story of revenge. Someone fucked up the Witchers' fortress, and Geralt is going to fuck them up in return. Yes, there's also some stuff about destiny and time travel and all kinds of ill shit, and whether or not the world will end in fire or ice, but Geralt sort of stumbles into saving the day as a consequence of the villains having been complete pricks to him earlier in the game. Also, the world is Giant, at least by the standards of 2007, giving life to an entire city and its surrounding countryside in a way that is incredibly fucking impressive.
Witcher 2 is full to the brim of political intrigue, and while Geralt's involvement in said intrigue is once again sort of down to "this dude got me accused of a crime and so I've got to clear my name," it is not quite as personal as it is in Witcher 1. That the titular Assassin of Kings also happens to be a witcher himself, and seems to know Geralt's whole deal, is important - of course it is - but a lot of what Geralt does is because someone asks him nicely. Or less nicely, but promises to provide Geralt with important information so he does it anyway (and then, depending on how you want to play it, murders them for being kind of a prick about it). It also forces you to take a side - quite literally, as there are literally two separate act twos. That's wild, and from a narrative perspective, it's expansive as all hell. Except...
Well, except the world itself feels more restricted. There's a lot more walking down narrow paths in Witcher 2 - far fewer big fields where you can wander anywhere - and even the cities you visit feel far more compact. This extends to side quests, of course: there's just not a lot of them! There are a few really excellent ones, but do you ever get shitfaced and steal an old lady's pickles? No you do not (although you do have the option to get blind drunk and wake up with a neck tattoo which, if you don't choose to get it removed by the time the game is over, will show up on Geralt in Witcher 3 if you import your save). The best quests are mostly in act 1, while acts 2 and 3 have maybe one really good sidequest apiece and that's kind of it. There are a lot of monster contracts, and you can uncover some shady doings here and there and either leave them be or Fuck Them Up, but there's much fewer of the weird side-events you could get in Witcher 1. There are also, blessedly, no pin-up cards to collect, although Geralt can of course sleep with numerous folks if you so choose. The sex bits are, surprisingly, Not Awful (Bioware could learn a thing or two), with one in particular being downright romantic. They fit the fiction and the world, is basically what I'm trying to get at, though I don't know, they weren't a big part of the game for me. If you're just playing for sex bits though, might I suggest just watching some porn?
Goddamn the Story is Good Though
At least, the story I played is good. See, I chose to go with the elves, continuing my Geralt's trend from the first game of kind of relating more to the Scoia'tael than the humans, and hot damn does shit pop off when you do that. I became a dude involved in a fight for Freedom, whatever that means. That it also includes a callback to my favorite Witcher story ever
(it is the one with Borch Three Jackdaws, who fucking rules. That you end up chatting with his daughter about how she's attracted to dwarves which she writes off as "maybe a dragon thing?" is fucking delightful)
and allows for the final (well, depending on how you play it) showdown to feel like it has even more stakes than it already has, is tremendous. I quite simply can't fathom how they could do something similarly cool on the other side of the split (and honestly, some of the things I've heard about the other side of the split's handling of some things sounds like a Big Yikes, though I obviously can't speak to it as I've not played it nor seen it), but I'm kind of curious to go see how it plays out. Apparently there's some pretty Ill Shit that happened as a result of my choice, and I wonder what awful fates await my Scoia'tael friends if I let them run off alone. Probably nothing good!
Damn You Weight Management
I regret to inform you that the inventory still kind of sucks. You no longer have to play tetris, and everything stacks forever, but there's a weight limit and it can eat my entire ass. I spent too much time dropping stuff on the ground so I could pick up other, cooler stuff. By the end I was leaving tons of stuff on the ground because I didn't want to bother with it anymore. It just became something of a bummer by the end, although to be fair by that point I had all the gear I wanted and just wanted to see all the quests and figure out how the story turned out. Gear wasn't a problem, is what I'm saying, but my inclination to hoover up anything that isn't nailed down in games like this proved Troublesome.
In the end, I think Witcher 2 is pretty fucking good, and way more accessible in a way that Witcher 1 just isn't. It provides you with a Geralt who is slightly more competent than in Witcher 1 - which is to say he knows all his signs again, and is able to grab monster parts from most creatures without any fuss (some monster hunting quests will require him to kill a certain amount of monster/read a book about them before he figures out precisely how to solve the problem). You feel more capable, which makes sense because you also have regained some of your memories by now, so hooray for continuity. It was a nice improvement on what they attempted in the first game, and certainly worth the praise heaped upon it back when it released. It's sleeker, and a little friendlier, but without sacrificing too much of the features that made it feel like you were, in fact, a Witcher, out there Witching.
One Last Thing (spoilery as all hell)
Oh yeah, and the fact that you can just... let Letho go? Like, it gives you the setup for a fight, but then Geralt is kind of chill during the conversation, and so is Letho, and you could fight him, or you could just decide that really, what with the massacre that's just happened, and the fact that you just fought a fucking dragon (and, if you're me, what with the fact that Letho thoughtfully went and rescued Triss for me), what if you just skipped that shit. In essence, it kind of gives you the chance to forgive Letho for getting you mixed up in the mess, and you kind of part amiable... well, not friends, but not enemies either. It would be like if at the end of Metal Gear Solid 4, Snake and Ocelot just had a drink and were like "eh, fuck it, let's go bowling."
I liked it quite a bit! I sincerely hope there's similarly cool things in Witcher 3, which obviously I'm like 10 or 12 hours into a new playthrough of, because obviously I needed to play through with an imported Witcher 2 save, come on. I got a shitty tattoo! I want to see what happened to all my friends who, you know, took part in that rebellion with me that one time!
In three years, when I've finally finished Witcher 3 and its expansions, you can look forward to another one of these. Why not?