The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
After destroying Dragon Age 2 multiple times I’ve been hungering for a new Fantasy RPG with an epic story-line to keep me hooked as I’m slaying bandits and un-dead monsters with my two handed greatsword. So, I decided to take a chance with the Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings for the Xbox 360 in the hope that it would fill the fantasy shaped void currently in my life…
After about half an hour tutorial I found myself being thrown headfirst into what begins as a slightly confusing story where events from the first game are hardly explained and it takes a little while to grasp what’s actually going on. Truth be told, I felt a little hypocritical as I always like to play games from the beginning of a series and dislike gamers who feel they can jump into them halfway through (Mass Effect springs to mind again….). However, I’m pretty certain my laptop would explode if I tried to install any games on it, so I begrudgingly had to skip out on the first instalment.
The game doesn’t really fill you in with what happened in its prequel, so newcomers to the series are left in the dark a little to begin with. I was introduced to characters that would be familiar to others but to me, I had little reason to care about them at this point. I guess that saddened me slightly, but that could be because I’m such a fan of well written characters. Nevertheless that’s not to say I didn’t start to get attached to them as time went on.
The story revolves around Geralt, a gruff, white haired monster hunter who wakes up in a dungeon after being charged with the murder of some king or another, (the narrative at the beginning of the game is actually quite interesting). You’re taken to questioning and a soldier/spy named Roche asks you to recount the events that led up to the king’s death. You can pick which order you wish to hear the prologue in and slowly get brought up to speed with the current situation. You play through the important events of a tide-turning battle between the King and some woman’s rebel soldiers.
Admittedly I was kinda bored during the prologue, but that’s probably because I didn’t really have a clue what they were talking about, (see above). There are some nice set pieces though and it does help you get to grips with the games mechanics. However, it was only once the game got going with the first chapter that I really started to get into the swing of things.
As for the game play itself? Well, there’s a tutorial at the beginning instils that mechanics of the game into you quite nicely. Here you’re taught all the basics you’ll need outside of combat, (meditation, alchemy, dialogue system and all that jazz), then it takes you into an arena where it teaches you about the combat. I got a little bit confused here as there’s actually quite a bit to take in, but then again I was playing this at three in the morning, so that could be why. The combat itself reminds me of Dark Souls a little bit – lock onto your enemy and choose strong attack or quick attack, or combine the both of them. The moves Geralt pulls off are pretty stylish and he dives and prances around the battlefield like a total badass. You can either take the offensive, or play it cool and make Geralt block and riposte instead.
One of the things I like about The Witcher 2 is the way you have to approach the combat tactically. Not only are you armed with two swords, (one for dealing with humans, and one for monsters), but you also have an array of traps, bombs and throwing daggers, all of which you need to utilize when dealing with the different types of enemies. At one point in the game I ran into this cave and straight into a group of Nekkers, (weird, human-like things for an accurate description), and suffice to say, I didn’t last very long once they’d swarmed me. So, I reloaded and set traps for them this time, learning from my mistakes the first time.
The boss fights also demand a tactical approach. Even though I’ve only had to fight one so far you have to research your target and then choose how you want to proceed. You can rush straight into the fight, but you’re better off utilizing your research, even though it takes longer. I had to fight the giant creature using a bit of trial and error, learning how to damage it and where to stay away from. Naturally I died multiple times during this process. Luckily for me, I just had to reload it, but I felt a little sorry for Geralt who repeatedly had the crap kicked out of him whilst I perfected my strategy. As a result there’s a real sense of achievement when you finally slay your target and it feels like your hard work has paid off.
While I’m still only on the first chapter the area I’m currently in is reasonably sized with a main town, a more rundown town area outside and a surrounding forest with many hidden little secrets if you take the time to explore them. You’ve got all your standard RPG elements in the town, from crafting items and weapons, alchemy and mixing potions, lots of little mini-games (arm wrestling, gambling and fist fighting). There are a lot of quests outside the main story (nowhere near as many as Skyrim, bear in mind), ranging from killing monsters to investigating ruins, to beating five people at arm wrestling.
One thing that annoyed me a little was the lack of direction when you take a quest. Now, I don’t normally like games to hold my hand through and tell me how to do everything without giving me chance to explore it myself, (and The Witcher 2 is actually pretty good at that), as I enjoy having that sense of freedom, but sometimes I think a little bit of guidance is necessary, especially when you have to explore the entire forest. For example, one quest I undertook was to hunt some of those pesky Nekkers and destroy their nests. However, I had no idea where said nests would be and the forest is quite a large area to cover without some kind of marker to point you in the right direction. That said there was part of me that enjoyed trekking through the forests, tracking down my targets as I carefully covered areas I thought they might have nested. I did manage to track down three out of the four, but the last one began to grate on my nerves a little bit.
Now, I’m all about hi-lighting the good things about a game, but sometimes you need to talk about the negatives as well and there are a lot of loading screens in The Witcher 2. Normally I’m not too bothered by loading screens, but for some reason I’ve picked up on these ones, which means there must be a fair few. Although it doesn’t generally take too long to load up new areas I just found that sometimes they break up the flow of the game and so gets a bit annoying. It doesn’t help when you accidently pick a wrong door, wait for it to load, leave it, only to have to wait for it to load again.
Considering my excellent navigational abilities I have to suffer this a lot. Plus it has to load every time I want to scroll through my menu windows (eg. from Items to Character Development). Since I spent a fair amount of time checking my quest objectives, and then having to look at my map, I get a little bit fed up of waiting. And while I’m talking about the menu, I found it a little bit messy. The items are sort of bunched together, and even though you can filter them into separate categories I just found it a little disorganised.
Maybe I have some form of OCD that I don’t know about yet, but I just wanted an option where I could clear it up a little bit and make it easier to work with. Your quests are all bunched into the same section – there’s no ‘main quest’ or ‘secondary quest’ distinction. I guess that’s not really that important, but it gets a little confusing when they’re all squashed together. Also, whenever you take a new quest it automatically makes that it your active one, regardless if you were currently doing something else. You then have to wait for the menu to reload itself before switching back to whichever one you were previously doing. It’s a small thing, yes, but it gets a little irritating after a while and I like to think myself as a fairly patient person.
Also, if you thought the whole ‘arrow to the knee’ was an incredibly overheard sentence of Skyrim, trust me – it’s got nothing on The Witcher 2’s dialogue. The dialogue itself is really well written and delivered, but when you’re running around in the village you often overhear people talking about this and that but the thing is they say the same thing every single time you pass by them. Considering you spend a lot of time going back and forth, finishing your quests and whatnot, you hear this same dialogue a lot. Yeah, as you can imagine, it does begin to grate after a while.
The game does feature a ‘stealth mode’ where you have to progress through certain parts of the game by sneaking around and trying to avoid being spotted. Some people may think it’s an interesting addition, but I actually find these sections rather tiresome. It kind of reminds me of my Metal Gear Solid play through – one minute I’m hiding with my back pressed against a wall when suddenly I’ll just skip off and run into the enemy without intending to. I just find the controls during these parts a little tricky and I began saving at frequent intervals because of the multiple times I had to reload the game. It’s not that they’re difficult, there’s lots of trial and error involved. Unusually I found myself wanting to run amok with my sword and kill everyone instead, but there are usually too many guards to even stand a chance with this approach.
As much as I have enjoyed The Witcher 2 it doesn’t seem to have that certain pull about it that made me want to abolish my plans for sleep and play it until my eyes hurt. I find that strange because it has everything I usually want from a game – an intriguing story, great characters, fluid and fun, yet tough combat, a good selection of quests, good tactical element – yet I only really played it for an hour or so at a time, with regular intervals, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on.
Geralt is a good main character and, although I’m not really that fussed about his appearance, (yes, I’m a vain gamer), he’s both interesting and bearable enough for someone with a built in personality, (although I have noticed that for a monster slayer he doesn’t really fight that many monsters). The rest of the characters are also quite an interesting bunch with Vernon Roche being one of my favourites. The story is a good old traditional fantasy tale with a healthy dose of kingdom politics thrown in that manages to be engaging while doing its best to try and avoid the usual clichés.
There’s also the ‘branching off’ element to it where your choices determine the outcome and there seems to be some hefty differences in the story depending on the decisions you make.
Usually that’s an element that draws me into a game and makes me want to replay it, but at this precise moment in time I’m not really all that fussed. This a little frustrating in a sense because it’s a great game and one of the better new releases I’ve play this year so far.
Nevertheless, if you like traditional fantasy RPG’s then I would absolutely recommend The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings as, faults aside, it’s a damn good and generally solid title that’s definitely worth your investment.