Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
In Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, Geralt awakens to find himself in the dungeon of a castle, shortly after a major battle has been fought to take it. A pair of guards are having a bit too much fun at his expense, lucky for them Geralt isn't in much condition to strike back. One of the king's agents arrives to interrogate Geralt. The prologue of the game is cleverly laid out as Geralt explains himself to the agent, who turns out to have been one of the people he was working with during the assault. Each dialogue entry allows you to play out one part of the prologue, which functions as a tutorial for learning the game's mechanics. If you've already played The Witcher, you'll have little trouble easing back into things again as not much has changed in the gameplay system. Just be aware though that one portion of the prologue is unnecessarily difficult and if accidentally chosen first, may cast a major shadow over the remaining experience of it.
As with the first game, the combat UI can be very unforgiving and often an exercise in frustration. Fortunately it seems as though the developers learned from the first game and did not include a click-action to cancel a previous attack order. They've also given you a method for locking on to a particular target. So while it is still frustrating, some of the sting has been taken out of it. As the game progresses, it becomes less of a burden and you can get a pretty good feel for how to time things. There's still no jump key either. Though there are now spots in the game where you have to jump or climb, and the UI will tell you this. There's also still no lockpicking.
Changes have been made to the skill development system. Rather than using the original gold/silver/bronze distribution in particular talents, Geralt's skills are laid out into 4 distinct branch disciplines. In each branch, there are sets of skills linked together along a chain. Each individual skill has two levels, the second being generally far more powerful. You must first reach the end of the basic witcher talents branch before the other three will unlock: Swordsmanship, Alchemy, and Magic.
Swordsmanship is fairly straightforward. The more you develop it, the better you are in a fight with your swords. You can use either swift strikes or more powerful blows to bring your foes down. Do beware though that in between your strikes your enemies can hit back and sometimes that will be very painful, even frustrating if you happen to get into a situation where you're being "stun locked" and can't respond. One must not ignore the dodge ability which is folded in with Swordsmanship. It will save you. Your sword fighting in the game is split between using a regular steel sword on human opponents and a silver sword on monsters, which is a witcher's specialty.
Magic is conducted with the use of signs, all of the ones from the previous game are present and behave as they did before. The most useful among them will save your bacon time and time again in big fights, so don't ignore magic just because it's not your style. A common saying on some of the game forum's I've seen is "If you aren't using Quen, why not?" Take note that the Igni (fire) sign was very useful in the first game but has been nerfed badly this time around. Aard also is not as much of a friend as it once was. I suspect Witcher 3 will therefore nerf Quen as it proved to be an all powerful shield at higher levels.
Alchemy is as expected. The art of brewing potions and creating bombs and traps. Unlike the first game, I spent very little if any time messing with potions, bombs, or traps. They simply proved to be unnecessary outside of some very specific situations. It's still an interesting system with toxicity still being a factor but the way in which the UI for potion handling was changed it was just too much trouble to bother. As before, monsters are your main source of alchemy ingredients, and you still need formulas in order to know what to brew up.
As an added bonus, there are also special ingredients in the game called mutagens which can be used on skills in the later portions of the character development trees. Mutagens can grant extra bonuses in vitality, magic power, sword skill, critical hit abilities, and resistances. These mutagens can be used on any slot in any tree, they need not be related to the specific tree you're developing. There's also no shortage of them, but slots are limited, so it's wise to wait on getting the good stuff. Once a mutagen slot is used, it's done. No do overs.
Any decent RPG has loads of loot, and Witcher 2 has no shortage of that. There's all manner of materials to find, swords to drool over, and special trophies to enhance your gear. The big new thing is the addition of an involved crafting system. Just like with potions, there are items which are needed to create wondrous weapons and armors. Two of which play off of boss fights you'll encounter during the game - and the gear even looks cool too. There's some crossover on components too. Some of the alchemy ingredients can also be used in crafting. In order to create an item, you need a crafting diagram AND you need to find a blacksmith somewhere who will do the work. I personally would have preferred the ability to craft the items myself. Especially after the chapter 2 boss fight where it was a long time coming before the game got back to normal events where a blacksmith was made available again. It sucks knowing you're carrying uber items but can't capitalize on using them until much later.
All of the politics and intrigue are still present. Geralt will once again find himself in the middle of a major mess that needs to be sorted out. The first portion of which involves getting him out of immediate danger by escaping the dungeon he's held in. Before long, the plot reaches a point in which Geralt will be forced to choose sides in a coming war. The game apparently splits at this stage and you follow one or the other, experiencing entirely different content depending on whose side you choose.
Yes, as previously, the developers managed to sneak in strong references to real world issues. This time instead of rabid environmentalism in the form of Druids, they worked in a clearly obvious reference to the situation in Israel by forcing talk of terrorists and freedom fighters. While the situation is fitting to the game world's setting, they could have done more to cover what they were really getting at. I for one don't buy these things to have agendas pushed via the story.
If you're looking to continue your romance from the first game, or develop one in this game, you may be somewhat disappointed. Opportunities for doing so are not as numerous. If the sex scenes were your thing, there's nowhere near as many, and they're not as varied either. To put it in perspective, there were more of them in Dragon Age Origins, and those were far more... uh... detailed. That may be a good thing to some though, since the first game made such a big thing out of it. Although I have to admit there were plenty of nice looking female NPCs Geralt should have been interested in
Which brings us to graphics. Holy God these graphics are awesome. By far the most detailed, crisp, clean graphics you'll find. The surprising thing is it was all done using nothing but the DirectX 9 library. No fancy tesselation or anything. Lighting was gorgeous, shadows flawless, buildings realistic, and even the ground held up well. The developers created their own engine this time around and for a first outing, they've scored huge. It totally blows away anything else on the market to date. Not bad for a small group from Poland. They even managed to do a great job on fire, water, and rain. Yes, proper rain that doesn't fall through the roofs of buildings. Bethesda, are you listening? Give us PROPER rain for Skyrim!
They didn't stop there though. The audio in the game is unmatched. All of the wonderful clangs of swords, clanks of armor, screams of people in pain, blood, flesh being pierced, and general sound effects are some of the best I've heard yet. One particular part of the game hit home well when a deep booming base thundered the whole room, even rattling my window a bit. Not sure exactly what the sound was for, but it may have been a deep battle horn. Not to be outdone, the composers for the soundtrack have once more pulled off some of the best game music you'll find. Although there are only 23 music tracks, each one is unique and fitting to the area you're in, and/or the battle you're fighting. None of it ever distracted from the game as it was played, which is as it should be. To top it all off, their voice acting was perfect. Although the UI text for Geralt's responses was rarely what he actually spoke, every line was delivered flawlessly. There was some repetition but that was all mainly with the unimportant NPCs around towns.
Sadly, no game is entirely perfect and Witcher 2 has some flaws. Notably in the DLC area. There are two DLCs that came with the game. One you get for registering the product which was supposed to give you a merchant in each of the main chapters. While it appears to be installed and available, no such merchant ever showed up. It's as though it was never installed. The second, which varies depending on where you bought the game, also failed to work properly. In my case I bought the game at Gamestop so I got one called "Troll Trouble". While the quest notice board in Flotsam had the quest on it, once I took the notice nothing happened. The NPC you're supposed to talk to either didn't exist or was lacking the topics to progress with.
Some folks have also reported that the game fails to properly register, and yes, that the DRM often fails to initiate properly. On that front, they made the major mistake of using SecuROM. I can't tell if it's the uber invasive type, but the game required an activation code and doesn't need the disc. So you be the judge there.
There was also one annoying problem with the landscape itself in the forest area around Flotsam. Coming out of an underground area would often cause Geralt to be visually sunk up to his chest in landscape texture. It's as though the height was being pushed up. The game played on, and you could still get around, but the bug would not go away on transition to a new area. You had to quit completely out to the desktop to resolve it.
A patch is pending that should address these issues, and once it comes down the pike I'll be up for another play through to see if it fixes the DLC issues and so I can see what playing for the other side is like. I'll also be sure not to toss out my old saves this time since there's already word that a Witcher 3 is in the works. Yes, there's still outstanding story to be dealt with, so it only makes sense.
Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is easily going to reign as the best RPG of 2011. At least until Skyrim shows up to dethrone it. Enjoy it while you can CD Project Red. Go out and buy this one, you won't regret it.
"It is pointless to resist, my son." -- Darth Vader
"Resistance is futile." -- The Borg
"Mother's coming for me in the dragon ships. I don't like these itchy clothes, but I have to wear them or it frightens the fish." -- Thurindil
Well. I guess that's that then.
I held off on buying it for a long time because I had heard it was sexist - and being a woman I really didn't need the aggravation. But The Witcher was on sale for like $20, so I thought I'd give it a try because I had heard good things about the story and it looked damn good.
So is Witcher 2 just as sexist? Stupid question, I know
In other good news, Patch 1.1 finally came out and it fixed the troll DLC so I'm happy about that. Free or not, I was a bit mad about not being able to trigger it. Hopefully I'll be able to get the DLC that Gamestop was whoring to work now too.
Anyway I'll definitely have to pick this up and add it to my stack of un-played new games
Anyway, went out to GameStop today and bought it. As I said in my other post, it's all your fault, Samson.
These DLC's you speak of ... how do I know if I have them? Or are they a totally separate like Ob's?
@Andalaybay: If you're considering better to include "less sexism" then I suppose it is. Graphically speaking, it's vastly superior. Story line? Jury's still out but I'd consider it at least equal. It's been awhile since I played the first one.