The Witcher 2 Review

23 12 2012

 

X360-The-Witcher-2-Assassins-of-Kings-CD-Projekt-Red-Studio-Warner-Bros.-Interactive-Entertainment-2012-600x337

I know I’ve been absent from my blog for some time, well life and business has a way of catching up with you. Now that it’s the holidays, and I have some time to write, I want to talk about a game that snuck up me. Now, as a frequent user of video games, I want to talk about a game that came out of nowhere and had me completely enthralled.

If you’re an avid gamer, you know what I’m talking about. That awesome feeling when you stumble upon a game that resonates perfectly with you, and you find yourself playing nonstop. This is particularly amazing when you weren’t looking for that game the in first place. As the incident goes, I stumbled upon The Witcher 2 on a Steam sale, and picked it up with barely a mild interest, honestly, it was a drunken impulse buy.

With an hour or so into the game, I was completely hooked, and amazed by the overall experience that I was having. There are very few games that I can say this about, and The Witcher 2, definitely earns the prestigious merits and accolades. That being said, let’s dive a little into why I thought the game was amazing, and some of the issues I did run into along the way (nothing can be perfect). Join me, for a quick analysis of The Witcher 2, as we peel a few of the layers back and take a look under the hood!

Visual

Story, aesthetics, and fantasy universe, now with less spoilery-goodness! (Okay maybe a little)

Let’s start with the games strongest feature, and that is undeniably the story. You will find yourself in a rich fantasy universe, reminiscent of a medieval world; complete with all the trappings you would expect, and more. The world is full of the traditional races you have seen countless times, dwarves, elves, and humans etc.

There are several things that really stand out about the story and the environment with this game, that I felt were incredibly fascinating. First, and probably the most interesting to me, is that there are no real “Good” or “Evil” decisions that you make. Many RPG games follow the traditional style of awarding the player “Good” or “Evil” points for the decisions they make in the game, especially if the game has branching path decisions or not. At first, you feel that this is going to be the case, as you will have to make some pretty big decisions, who to side with, who to kill, who not to kill, what types of reactions you use, etc. Even though you can make seemingly “Evil” or “Good” decisions, you realize by the end of the game, that it doesn’t matter. As is true to reality, “Good” or “Evil” is simply a matter of perception, your choices in game have huge rippling effects, but the world goes on and you don’t transcend into some champion hero, or sinister villain.

I won’t spoil the last encounter, mainly because I enjoyed how the developers let you truly choose, especially against traditional game endings, but needless to say, you will probably be surprised.  Closing comments on the “Good” & “Evil” concept, I feel that not having to worry about what type of points that would be awarded for my choices, I was able to REALLY project myself upon my character while making the decisions on a case by case scenario with how I felt my character would really act. Overall, it allows for a greater sense of immersion in the story and the character you’re playing.

The next piece of the story, and the fantasy universe, that stood out was how pronounced and visible the societal issues between races were in this game, in fact, it ended up completely altering my decision making process to when I started. As spoiler free as I can be, you start out naturally allied with a specific race or faction, but as the game progresses, you see rampant racism, acts of genocide, and other tragedies commonly frequent in real life scenarios.

These issues, were well done enough that it led me to completely changing who I was allied with, which you get to choose eventually through pivotal decisions, and ended up taking me down a completely alternate story path from what I intended to go down from the beginning. In conjunction to that, the game has a particularly “adult” theme to it, so I don’t recommend letting your kids play this if you have any. Don’t let that keep you from experiencing the story though. The adult theme lends a very strong hand to establishing the fantasy setting, and doesn’t feel too over accentuated or gratuitous, as it can feel in some games.

That will segue into my next portion of the story, the romance plot! All at once, you can hear the collective clicks as all of the males reading this close the web browser! (I kid) Seriously though, it’s actually a driving portion of the game, which naturally leads to the “damsel in distress” story arc. Normally, I’d sigh with the thought of the story doing nothing new, but this time, it felt good to me. Plus, there’s a pretty solid twist at the end, which ties into it, so you won’t be let down.

witcher_triss

I do have one gripe about the romance plot, but I’ll leave that out, as I feel it might be a bit of a spoiler so I’ll just tease you with it instead!

Summary of story and universe:

Overall, I felt the universe was rich, well crafted, and very easy to immerse myself into. You’ll feel and see the obvious inspirations that the developers had from several sources, yes; some Tolkien is in there too. You’ll be greeted with gorgeous visuals, strong adult themes, societal issues, mythical monsters, a captivating story arc, and a hero cycle that feels great.

environment

Core Gameplay Mechanics:

So on to a few of the functional aspects of the game. To sum up the combat, it is pretty much a third person hack and slash, with menu based special abilities/items, which are used in real time but in a bullet time type mechanic. Confused? Okay in English, you can chop your enemies to tiny bits with your swords, or change your spell & item hotkeys during combat with a wheel menu layout, while you do this, you enter a bullet time state, thus giving you time to strategize without fully pausing the game or interrupting combat.

witcher_2_ee_mac.0_cinema_640.0

The combat mechanics feel pretty good, and are kind of fresh. You can choose to go all out melee, or you can bounce around setting traps, tossing magic, and throwing bombs/knives at your enemies.

I feel that there are some balancing issues with the combat, as far as correctly ramping difficulty throughout the game. For example, early on, I was fighting by the skin of my teeth, but I felt that once I crafted some nice swords and armor, plus a few points into my chosen skill tree, that I was unfairly pummeling my enemies after the first chapter. Perhaps this is on purpose, as when I started the last couple encounters, and the end game sequence; I was quickly on my toes again (and dying a lot). It also could have been because I was spending time exploring, crafting, and doing quests outside of the critical path of the story arc. (So maybe I was ahead of the curve a little, which that isn’t inherently a bad thing)

I did feel that on occasion, the combat felt a little clunky with specific encounters. Plus, the AI was a little too easy to deceive at times. Don’t let that discourage you though; you’ll have plenty of moments where you are too busy fighting for your life to notice small issues.

There are a few QTE’s (Quick time events) throughout the game, but they are spread out enough that they don’t detract from the combat. They are usually saved for fighting mini-games, and boss finishers.

witcher2_245081b

Overall, I felt the combat mechanics were different enough to be fun and interesting, but I think there are some balancing issues with the difficulty ramping, and the game didn’t particularly force me to use all of my abilities. I found I was using maybe 45%-50% of my available abilities. I found a few dominant strategies, and stuck with that for the majority of the game. Personally, this didn’t detract from my experience, but from a design perspective, it’s not really a good thing.

UI

Not too many issues, however, I will comment on the inventory interface. At first, when buying/selling, or navigating your inventory, you’ll probably feel a little confused. The interface does a poor job of properly highlighting your selection, and until you get used to it, you can easily become lost. It’s not game breaking, but I feel they could have designed the inventory UI just a touch better.

Bugs/Issues

The most issues I observed on my play through, was some minor AI pathing and reaction issues. Overall, nothing too obvious to the untrained eye. I have heard, from other sources, that there used to be some “blocker” type bugs that would prevent a player from progressing. I believe, that these have been addressed and fixed, as since I just purchased the game and I did not encounter any of these issues. Keep in mind though, there are different story branches you can proceed down, so maybe some of these bugs still exist, but I ran into none of them.

Summary:

The Witcher 2 was a sleeper game for me. I didn’t really know anything about it, but once I spent a few moments in the game I was hooked, and played practically nonstop through the game. Perhaps, the game just happened to resonate to me perfectly, but I feel that anyone who values a compelling story, fleshed out characters, and a rich environment will immediately take to this game. Besides, the game is probably on sale on Steam, so give it a chance and tell me what you think!

Hope you enjoyed my small review of The Witcher 2, and I hope I kept it as spoiler free as possible!

Advertisements