(Originally written July 25, 2012)
The Witcher 2 is based on the Witcher series by Andezej Sapkowski and is a well known fantasy series in Poland. Now I had never heard of the Witcher series till I saw youtube’s Angry Joe review the PC version on his show so needless to say I had never played the first Witcher and wouldn’t have gotten to play the sequel had CD Projekt not released the game for the Xbox 360. This is going to be a review of the 360 version since it came out this year and my PC would explode if I tried to install it on here. I should say that I’m not that big a RPG gamer and most of the RPGs I’ve played in my life have been Japanese made and that was back in the 16-bit days so this was my real first time playing a Euro-RPG. What’s interesting is that is the most successful video game Poland has ever made and for good reason. In May 2011, the Prime Minister of Poland gave a copy of this game to President Obama on his visit to the country. But that’s enough of the history though, on to the review. I really liked this game and it really sucked me in. Now the 360 version is known as the Enhanced Edition which includes 10GBs of new content and also comes packaged with a journey book which is basically a mini players guide and the game’s soundtrack which I am actually listening to as I write this review. It’s really good! The game and soundtrack.
STORY: You play as Geralt of Riva, the Witcher. What is a Witcher? Witchers are mutated men that possess greater strength, speed, and agility than most humans and the use of magic. They also have animal like eyes that allow them to see in the dark. They are few and usually work as mercenaries. The game starts with Geralt in a dungeon in a castle in the kingdom of Temeria. He is being interrogated by Vernon Roche the leader of the Blue Stripes, the Temerian Special Forces. Geralt is the only witness and believed to be the assassin of King Foltest but Geralt knows it was really another Witcher who committed the crime and other assassinations of kings in the kingdom. Through a series flashbacks, we learn of the events leading up to the assassination, about the characters, learn of Geralt’s relationship with the sorceress Triss Merigold, and the attack of a dragon during the battle that took place on the day of Foltest’s assassination. You then break out of the prison with the help of Vernon and Triss and head out on a quest to clear Geralt’s name and find the assassin. Oh but things are not as simple as they seem. As the game progresses a massive conspiracy unfolds that could change the fate of the entire kingdom.
The world this is set in is an immersive one filled with the usual fantasy elements and races such as magic, monsters, sorcerers, elves, dwarfs, demons, ghosts, and dragons but unlike other fantasy series like Lord of the Rings per say, the world is very dark and gritty. There is strong racism in this world as humans tend to hate and mistreat non-humans. Elves are seen as bad guys, depending which path you take. That’s something I’ve rarely seen in fantasy. This is also a VERY ADULT game. There is very strong language throughout (you will hear the word ‘plowing’ used a lot and they are not talking about plowing a field), graphic violence, and there are sex scenes with full female nudity. You can find prostitutes and sleep with them as well as courting some of the female characters. The established relationship you have with Triss is done very well, one of the best adult romances I’ve ever seen in a game. There are a lot of interesting and developed characters throughout the game and tons of side quests and branching paths. It is a pretty long game, took me a couple weeks the first time to beat and about a little more than a week the second time so it’s about 30+ hours depends on the quests you do. Far better than the usual 4 to 6 hour games you run into these days. Chapter 2 is the longest part of the game but the last chapter is much shorter so some might be disappointed in that. You don’t have to have played the first game to understand what’s happening in this one. If you like games with deep complex stories of political intrigue and lots of twists, you’d love this game’s story. It’s well written and well thought out.
GAMEPLAY: When you first play this, I highly suggest you got through the tutorial first. It’s not the best tutorial but this is the only place you’re going to have the game tell you the basics because once the game really starts, it’s not going to hold your hand like most games these days. The tutorial will make the combat system seem more complicated than it really is though. You’ll notice that you can be armed with two swords, a steel sword for killing humans and a silver sword for killing monsters. You have six magical spells most only two of them I used most of the time, the fire blast and the telekinetic push thing. You also have a spell that can cause enemies to turn against each other but it rarely works, a spell that boosts your defense briefly, and a magical trap that you can place on the ground that I only really used during a boss battle. The game expects you to strategize your battles, don’t just run blindly into a battle or you will get your ass kicked. You gain EXP points two ways, fighting enemies and completely quests and side quests. Completing quests will give more EXP than monster fighting so you want to try and take on as many side quests as you can when you get to a new area. When you level up, you can branch out into 4 different areas, training (You’ll have to fill this out first), fighting, magic, and alchemy. However, you’ll mainly want to develop the fighting and magic branches more over the alchemy branch other than to get health and vigor (your magic bar) upgrades. Alchemy deals with the making of potions which there are many that you can make throughout the game and there is also a limit to how many potions you can take. You can actually OD on them which I find to be an interesting and realistic twist on potions in gaming. There are also some mini-games you can take part in such as fighting which is basically a simple QTE that is almost impossible to lose at, arm wrestling which is also pretty easy till later in the game, and some dice gambling game that I have no idea how it works so I just avoid it.
The inventory screen is a bit of a mess. When you pull it up, as default it shows you the list of everything in your inventory and you gather A LOT though out this game and will need to clean it out often as to not get weighted down. Yes, you have a weight limit and it sucks when you go over weight so sell and store items often. The map screen isn’t very helpful but you do have a in game mini-map that is more much more useful. The quest management screen is also a bit confusing because you will be given so many quests that it can be hard to keep straight which quest you are trying to take on at a time. The boss battles are few but epic including an awesome battle with a dragon. One last thing I’ll say is that the game has high replay value and warrants at least two play troughs as at the end of chapter 1 you will be required to choose sides and it will dramatically affect the rest of the game. Like a lot of RPGs these days you’ll be required to reply and direct conversations that you have by selecting answers and this game does it very well. There have been times where I have sat there for a few minutes trying to figure out which answer I should give to an important question. Unlike Skyrim or other RPGs, there is no morality system or anything like that so in theory there is no right or wrong answers but they do weight in on the story. The conversations are engaging and very well written so don’t think you’ll be bored listening to all the talking that happens in the game.
GRAPHICS: The graphics are good but nowhere near as good as they are on the PC. On the PC, the environments are drop dead gorgeous, on the 360, not as much but still very good. The game recommends that you install the game on your system (that goes for both discs) to improve the graphics and load times and it does. If you don’t do that, you’ll be seeing almost constant texture pop in. I noted some frame rate slow down in a couple places in the game but for a game this long, it’s an extremely minor issue. The character models look great and there is a lot of detail put into them and the creatures of this world. It is a very beautiful game.
SOUND: Like I said before, this game comes with the soundtrack and it is very fitting. It’s beautiful and epic at the same time with a medieval, Celtic feel. The sound design is also very good. You can walk through towns and forests hearing all kinds of life all around you. The voice acting is really good. Even just average villagers are well voiced. Geralt’s voice sounds kinda like a medieval Solid Snake. Most of the voices are English and other European accents however Triss and Dandelion (your bard friend) have American voices.. They’re done well but they really stand out among the European voices. All the music and sounds perfectly compliment the world the game is set in.
Overall this is one of the best RPGs I’ve played in a long time. It has a really good story (which is one of the most important things in an RPG in my eyes), interesting characters, a fun combat system once you get used to it, and plenty of quests. It’s a long game but not impossibly long. Well worth the money for it. If you’re an RPG or fantasy fan I highly suggest this game and even if you’re not a big RPG gamer I suggest this game, it surprised me and I can’t wait for The Witcher 3 which is currently in the works.