The Witcher 2 seemed to be making waves when it was first announced, but the game has been buried under exciting E3 news and other titles to come. That’s truly a shame, as it really is one of the best RPGs I have played in quite a long time. I’m really happy to say this, because it’s coming this Fall to the Xbox 360, where many more can enjoy this great title. However, with textures as beautiful as these and graphics that should be highly praised, those with a proper gaming PC should be taking advantage of this opportunity now.
For an idea of what The Witcher 2 is like, picture a third-person fantasy RPG like many you’ve seen before, but actually done well. Like many before it, it’s a game filled with potions, elves, side quests, monsters and more tried dungeons. It’s the Witcher 2’s execution that sets itself apart from the rest. It doesn’t make attempts at being a revolutionary title in new and ground-breaking mechanics, but it’s an extremely well-thought out, well-executed adventure worthy of respect. The game simply comes together like others cannot.
The developer, CD Projekt Red, based out of Poland, claims that their game is an “immersive, mature, non-linear” experience. I can faithfully attest to that statement, as this really is one of the best developed stories I’ve seen in an RPG. While the adventure is indeed epic, its pacing defies the loftiness and overly heavy-handedness that many RPGs choose to incite. The story simply speaks for itself and doesn’t rely on outlandish drama and massive explosions that many games exploit.
The story’s main protagonist is Geralt of Rivia. Much like every aspect of the story and presentation, Geralt isn’t too much of anything. He’s not the good guy, and he’s not the bag guy. He’s simply the guy trying to clear his name of the King’s murder. Wielding an army slaying steel sword and monster piercing silver sword, Geralt takes to finding the King’s true assassin along with his lover, Triss, and cohort, Roche. Along the way, Geralt and his band are thrust into the sociopolitical struggles of the lands they travel, showing that a pure and true good or evil is hard to find; everything and everyone is a collage of grays not easily understood at face value.
What comes together is a mature story that tackles issues just as relevant today as ever was. Though, The Witcher 2 isn’t preachy. It simply doesn’t shy away from the facts of life – sexuality, violence, oppression, racism, and so much more. All the while, The Witcher is truly a non-linear experience. The same subtly found in the narrative as a whole is found in the differences between paths that Geralt takes. Where Geralt ends up is largely destined, but how he gets there can go many different and intriguing ways.
The non-linearity is something to be lauded, as its execution feels unique and more natural than in most games. There were times I was making choices that I didn’t even realize I was making. When being told that I should be sneaky, I failed at doing so. Instead of having to retry, I was simply set on a different path, knowing less about the characters at hand for not having the opportunity to spy on their conversation. There are also many deliberate choices, like conversation options, etc.
However, the open narrative can get to be a bit overwhelming at times. Sometimes too many options and very little direction can be a bit like being on a stranded island. Not knowing when I was really making choices made me a bit uncomfortable. I couldn’t imagine the consequences. That’s not an entirely bad thing, but I was often worried that I was missing something. With so many side quests and options that aren’t in plain sight, I was sometimes even apprehensive about moving on. The game is just so good that I couldn’t imagine not doing something.
It’s difficult enough as it is to be worried that the player’s missing something in the narrative, but The Witcher 2’s biggest issue is that the game presents an extremely vast learning curve and very little support and lack of a proper tutorial. I found myself stumped on how to do even the simplest things, and when the tutorial would finally explain something, it was in the heat of battle where I had no opportunity to read. I had to close the boxes just to see, and finding the entries again was hardly an intuitive experience.
Even so, the game does come with a fairly comprehensive guide booklet, and at some point – if players are anything like myself – players are likely to have that “aha” moment where the combat and functionality makes sense. It’s certainly worth it, as the game’s combat feels fairly unique for a third-person RPG. The game does also get a fair bit easier as Geralt’s skills progress and the player makes peace with the unforgiving gameplay.
The thing to remember during a player’s jump into The Witcher is that it’s a very deliberate experience, as far as the gameplay goes. Players must learn to use potions preemptively, fence instead of hack and slash, learn the names of obscurely titled spells, and play knowing that every action has a consequence. As a quick tip, save often, too. Dying can send the player back 20 or even 30 minutes back if one doesn’t save often. The game can be terribly unforgiving and requires the player to try different things and strategize in a profound way not often seen in a sword wielding game. Though, doing things correctly makes for an amazing sense of satisfaction.
All of this comes together quite nicely as a package, made stronger by its characters and setting. It’s the people that make this story palpable. The voice work is spot on, and the writing is just as strong in nearly every character as it is in the narrative. The developer really made sure that the characters – despite their place in a fantastical adventure – could be your friends, neighbors and enemies in real life. Though the time setting is not contemporary, the issues people face and archetypes they embody are as relatable as they possibly could be.
The setting is truly impressive. It’s extremely difficult to create a fantasy setting that doesn’t seem overly derivative, and CD Projekt Red did a bang up job making sure that theirs wasn’t. It truly is the amazing sense of depth and detail that turn a novel’s setting into living, breathing life. Creatures are amazingly unique and fantastical, buildings feel like monuments from undiscovered lands, and the people show their character via their beautifully orchestrated presentation.
The Witcher 2 is truly a product with strong details, yet its sum exceeds the value of its parts – it’s absolutely amazing. The struggle through the tedious and overwhelming bits of the game ends in an experience that is wholly satisfying. CD Projekt Red hit the mark in nearly every way, assuring that its narrative will be held to the highest regards of Mass Effect, Fallout, and many other great RPGs in the spotlight. With dozens upon dozens of hours in non-linear gameplay, this title is one that everyone looking for a great and challenging RPG should play and appreciate.
4.5 out of 5