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Review: The Witcher 2
What is a role playing game without its story? Nothing, that’s what… or maybe a boring action game. The point is that the primary aspect of an RPG should be its story. Before I continue though, I have to admit that this review is primarily for the PC version of The Witcher 2. I was one of many who were given a review copy of the Xbox 360 version, but chose to only put about 10 hours into it (so far). The reason for this is that I received the review copy when I was already about 20 hours into the PC version. I had just recently started playing it and, try as I might, could not pull myself away from the story to start all over again.
The story in the Witcher 2 was immediately engaging to me. This is partly due to a certain level of mystery surrounding the world you’re becoming a part of. The game, and by proxy its creators, do a brilliant job of feeding you crumbs of information over the course, only showing you its hand when it makes sense. There are many things about The Witcher 2 which make it an amazing game, but the storytelling alone should be what anyone who plays it takes away from their experience.
A large contributor to the impact the player will feel from the game’s story comes from the choices he or she will make. While games like Mass Effect are often noted as containing amazing stories and were among the first to give options in dialogue that have far reaching effects within the game, The Witcher 2 takes it to another level and forces you to change entire directions of your experience with these choice. These aren’t binary, good or bad choices either, these are like choosing between getting a million dollars (tax free) or the woman of your dreams (also tax free). Either one would be great, but you have no clue as to which you’ll end up enjoying more. I literally saved the game at one point, stared at the screen for about five minutes and eventually went to bed because I didn’t have a gut reaction to one of the choices I had to make. When the story was all was said and done, I wanted nothing more but to fire up the game again and make the other choices just to see how else the story could unfold.
Another motivation to start over was to see that amazing world again. Now, given the length of time that the Xbox has been on the market, and the fact that within the next couple years we’ll be seeing a new console from Microsoft, it’s understandable that the visual fidelity that it can produce is getting long in the tooth. The PC version of The Witcher 2, with all of the settings maxed, is by far the prettiest game I’ve played to date. So with all this in mind, it was impossible for me to expect that CD Project Red would be able to transition The Witcher 2 over to the console and have it look anything akin to its PC counterpart. They didn’t, but they did manage to make one of the best looking consoles games I’ve played since Uncharted 2. I’m honestly amazed that they were able to pull off some of the things they did.
I’ll be honest with you… I hated… loathed… despised the combat in the first Witcher game. It was horrid. It was the reason I couldn’t finish playing that game. Now, I swallowed the hard pill and made it through a decent portion of it, but just couldn’t finish it. As I played through The Witcher 2, I regretted the decision to not go the full mile. Do I think you need to play the first game to get a good experience with The Witcher 2? Absolutely not. It’s like reading a book before seeing the movie. The movie can be just as amazing without all the subtle nuances, but some things might make more sense if you had put in the work ahead of time.
The Witcher 2 has fixed the combat. Big time. In fact, the game feels so good with the controller that it reminds me of one of my other favorite games from 2011, Dark Souls. Between the punishing nature that forces you to use caution when fighting and the smoothness of the pop-up menu to select your spells and traps, combat becomes almost rhythmic once you understand the beat. The fighting isn’t perfect by any means, though. Boss fights are rightfully harder, but the means by which you take down the larger foes is just an extension of what you do on the smaller scale. When drawn out, it has a tendency to lose some sense of the immersion and reminds you that you’re playing a game. The upside of this is that, just like Dark Souls, when you do finish off a boss, you feel damn good.
So let’s review, shall we? The Witcher 2 looks amazing, feels superb, and has a great, diverging story with some of the most difficult choices that you’ll ever make in a game. I’m honestly mad at myself for not playing the game sooner and, if you have yet to experience this game for yourself, I suggest you don’t wait.