count_zero's The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings - Enhanced Edition (PC) review

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An improvement on the first title, but with lingering issues.

The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings is part of a series I bounced off of at first. Some of them were due to bugs – like one where The Witcher would crash whenever I walked into a particular quest-giver’s hut. Some of them were because of the combat, and how the game handled the combat with rhythmic mouse clicks (more on this later). Some of this was due to the re-use of character models and portraits to enough of an extent that it made the game lifeless and hard to navigate.

What kept me hooked enough to finish experiencing the game through a Let’s Play was the story. The narrative was engrossing (though the rampant misogyny was grating). So, when I saw that The Witcher 2 fixed the control issues, was less buggy, was on sale on GoG (and later on Games with Gold), I decided it was time to play this game all the way through.

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Iorveth of the Scoia’tael is one of the possible allies you’ll encounter.

The Witcher 2 is set at an unspecified time after the conclusion of the first game. Geralt of Rivia has been working for Foltest, King of Temeria. When Foltest is assassinated by another Witcher, with Geralt the only person left alive in the room, he becomes the prime suspect and is forced to go on the run to clear his name. The quest for the truth sends Geralt to an outpost on the edge of Elven territory, and to the front lines of an attempt to create a free homeland for metahumans through an uprising – before ending up at a conclave between three of the most powerful kings of the region and a new conclave of Mages and Witches.

More Intuitive Combat

Combat in the game is action based, like with the first game, but it’s structurally different. The first game handled combat in a very deliberate manner, but not in the way that Dark Souls is deliberate. Combat had the player moving through three stances based on the opponent or opponents they were facing. Attacks are done automatically, with timed mouse inputs indicated by an onscreen icon building a combo that also increases the possibility of getting critical hits. Missing an input ends the combo and drops the chance of crits back to normal.

On the other hand, combat in The Witcher 2 is reasonable and intuitive, and still active. You have heavy and light attack buttons and a manual block on a trigger (if you’re using a controller). Instead of having to press a button with an on-screen indicator to build a meter, you have timed counters. This comes up once you reach a specific point in the sword fighting skill tree.

As you reach the end skill in each tree, you’ll unlock a special move. The move can be activated once you’ve filled up an Adrenaline meter. Generally, this will clear some or all of the enemies in the area.

That said, it’s not entirely perfect – counter indicators only appear on targeted enemies. So, Geralt isn’t able to mow through foes like Batman in the Arkham games or various Assassin Creed protagonists. This wouldn’t be too much of an issue if there was a way to quickly change your target. There isn’t. Instead, you change your targeted enemy by re-aiming the camera. Unfortunately, because there isn’t any sort of indicator on the screen (like crosshairs), changing your target can get finicky.

Kinda Sleazy

Also, while the game doesn’t feel as openly sleazy as the first game, it’s still got problems. You’re not collecting cards with paintings of the people you’ve slept with. You’re not hiring prostitutes to the same extent as the first game. There isn’t a side-quest based around getting free favors from prostitutes. However, a lot of the men you’re going to end up encountering in the game have conversations about women like commenters on a porn site.

This is not to say that misogyny doesn’t exist (it absolutely does). It is also not to say that these views are depicted in a good light. Indeed, as in they definitely are not – the people spouting these views are generally assholes. A few of them are people who you get to kill the hell out of. It’s just if you want a break from that shit in real life – this game is not the place to go to find that.

Hard to Navigate

Also, the level environments in The Witcher 2 are more confined and constrained than the ones from the first game. This is not a problem on its own – there was a similar shift from Dragon Age to Dragon Age 2, and I was fine with those games. It’s just that the level environments in The Witcher 2 have more convoluted paths that you had to navigate. Dragon Age 2 had fast travel that let you quickly move between areas of the city and change the time of day. The Witcher 2 doesn’t have that option. If you want to move between areas in a hub, you have to hike there. It’s frustrating, and I can’t help but feel like the choice serves to pad the game more than anything else.

Still, I enjoyed The Witcher 2 a bunch, and I’m definitely planning on moving on to The Witcher 3. That said, I cannot make my recommendation without reservations. However, the issues I have are ones that could hopefully be fixed in the sequel.

(This review originally appeared on my blog)

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