After destroying Dragon Age 2 multiple times, I’ve been hungering for a new Fantasy RPG with an epic storyline to keep me hooked as I’m slaying bandits and un-dead monsters with my two handed greatsword. Skyrim was a great RPG, don’t get me wrong, but it was a little lacking in the story department. So, I decided to take a chance with the Witcher 2 and buy it on its Xbox 360 release day, hoping that it’ll fill the fantasy shaped void currently in my life.
"Looking forwards to killing some more monsters, that's for dam sure."
Meeting The White Wolf
After a half hour tutorial, I found myself being thrown headfirst into what begins as a slightly confusing story. The thing is, events from the first game are hardly explained and it takes a little while to get a grasp on what’s actually going on. Truth be told, I felt a little hypocritical actually. 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 yet. I guess that saddened me slightly, but that could be because I’m such a fan of well written characters. That’s not to say I didn’t start to get attached to them however....
So the story revolves around Geralt, the gruff, white haired monster hunter who wakes up in a dungeon after being charged with the murder of some king or another. Actually, 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 grip with the games mechanics. However, it was only once the game got going with its first chapter that I really started to get into it.
"Because smiling is totally overrated in a protagonist."
Swords, Sex and Surprised Parents
One thing that I’m sure you’re probably already aware of is that this game is very much adult orientated. There’s swearing, sex and violence...and lots of it. Personally, I actually found it kinda refreshing to play something that doesn’t really hold back. Yes, there’s lots of colourful language, and while some may argue it’s not really necessary, it sorta feels in place with the setting. At the moment, I’m surrounded by peasants and sailors, so you expect to hear some f’ing and blinding every so often. And they like to talk about ‘ploughing’ a lot too....but then again, I’m not one who’s easily offended anyway. So just a heads up if you’re playing in the same room as your parents or relatives or you’re not down with bad lingo. And there’s a fair amount of boobs too, so be mindful and have a pair of headphones on you...just in case.
As for the game play itself? Well, there’s tutorial at the beginning instils that mechanics of the game into you quite nicely. You’re taught all the basic things you’ll need outside of combat (meditation, alchemy, dialogue system and all that jazz) then 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 (admit it, my lingo is amazing). 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 game 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). 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 seem to be like this also. 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. As for the fight itself? Well 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 sense of achievement when you finally slay your target and it feels like your hard work paid off. I made Geralt wear that trophy with pride.
Let’s move away from the combat now and talk about what you get up to outside of all the monster slaying. Even though 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 – 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, 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. The Witcher is actually pretty good at that, and I enjoy having that 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 kinda enjoyed trekking through the forests, tracking down my targets as I carefully covered areas I thought they’d might have nested. I did manage to track down three out of the four, but the last one began to get on my nerves a little bit.
"No, Geralt. The last remaining Nekker nest isn't there, so no, I'm not letting you have a closer inspection."
Oooooooodrin! Where are youuuuu?!
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’s dialogue. The dialogue itself is really well written and well delivered, but when you’re running around in the village, you often overhear people talking about this and that. 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 on you 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 kinda reminds me of my Metal Gear Solid playthrough – 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 it at frequent intervals because of the multiple times I had to reload it. It’s not that they’re difficult, but again, 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.
"The Stealth Mode...my least favourite mode."
As much as I’m enjoying the Witcher 2 so far, it doesn’t seem to have that certain pull about it that makes 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’m only really playing it for an hour or so at a time, with regular intervals. What’s the reason for that? Well I can’t quite put my finger on it. 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, which is a little weird. The rest of the characters are also quite a cool bunch – Vernon Roche is one of my favourites at the moment. The story is a good, old traditional fantasy tale with a healthy dose of kingdom politics thrown in there. It is engaging and it does its best to try and avoid the usual clichés, which is nice. 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. I personally love games like that. Usually that’s an element that draws me into the game and makes me want to replay it, but at this precise moment in time, I’m not really that fussed. Maybe once I finish the game and see the whole thing come together then I’ll be inspired to see how that ending might change with the other choices. It’s 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. So would I recommend this game? If you like traditional fantasy RPG’s then absolutely. If you only like FPS’s where you can shoot other players in the face, then perhaps not...unless you wanted to branch out or something. But in my humble opinion, this is a dam good, solid game and definitely worth your investment.
A couple of other points –
· It’s definitely not an easy game, that’s for sure. It punishes you for your mistakes and makes you learn from them, but there’s something satisfying about killing finally defeating your opponent. It feels like all your efforts paid off.
· It’s very pretty, if graphics are something that determine a game purchase for you – the opening cut scene is really something spectacular (I’ve watched it multiple times.)
· The control system is pretty neat and easy to get to grips with. The only thing I found tricky was when trying to select a different spell – my cursor wouldn’t stay on the one I actually wanted, which was a little annoying.
· Everything is done in real time, including combat, some cutscene button inputs and even when you’re changing weapons or spells. In fact, changing a weapon in combat is pretty cool because instead of pausing the fight, it slows it down instead, so you can watch some pretty cool slow motion.
· The levelling up system is solid, as well as character customization (if only I could chop off that blasted mop of white hair though...) You can’t really fault the RPG elements to the game if I’m being honest.