Tired of role-playing games that treat you like a six-year-old? Sick of being an errand boy, carrying messages and killing X number of monsters, while painfully familiar dungeon walls blur in the background? Does your finger hurt from clicking?
In Temeria, things are done differently. Here, characters swear like sailors and drink like fish, heads roll and ladies lose their clothes. Kings wage bloody wars, cities burn and mages perpetrate mass murder. This is R-rated RPG goodness, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. And here, choices made by player shape the entire world. This is The Witcher 2. Sit back and let yourself be entertained.
The hero of this story, Geralt, is a witcher – a professional monster hunter, genetically altered for this task. His craft is dangerous, but, hey, it pays the bills. After taking part in an Elven uprising, uncovering an anti-government conspiracy and stopping an army of mutants in the first game, Geralt finds himself at the court of King Faultest, temporary serving as his bodyguard. Witchers never get drawn into politics, but before Geralt gets a chance to refuse the king’s hospitality, Faultest is assassinated by another witcher.
Guess who gets accused of regicide? The game starts in a dungeon, where our character awaits execution. Luckily, one of the deceased king’s advisors doesn’t believe the official story. He offers Geralt a deal - to prove his innocence, he must track down the real king-slayer.
Developed by CD Projekt RED and based on the books by Andrzhej Sapkowski, The Witcher 2 is something of an underdog. Who would have thought that a small Polish developer team (with some serious investment from Atari and Namco Bandai) would come out with the best RPG of the year so far? Yes, I have said it, it beats Dragon Age II. Sounds unbelievable?
Wish you were here
The game looks stunning. It uses a completely new engine developed by CD Projekt RED, aptly named REDengine, together with Havok physics and what seems to be thousands of hours of motion-capture. It will require every bit of your computing power to run, but as payback you get to watch some of the most beautiful sunsets in history of computer games.
Days flow into nights in real time, and while outside rays of sunshine pass through moving foliage, the insides of caves and dungeons are pitch black. Several Bloom and Depth of Field effects make the game feel truly cinematic. NPCs are so varied you will struggle to find “clones” wandering the streets. Every single important character is a work of art, every bit of dialogue is voiced. NPCs don’t talk exclusively to you, they also chat between themselves. The illusion of life is impressive – in the evening shops close and taverns fill up, while outside you will find girls selling their virtue for coin. Witcher 2 leaves an impression of a living, breathing world which stretches far beyond your monitor.
The fighting system is original, fast-paced and fun — but it has its flaws. Geralt is a master swordsman and a somewhat talented mage, by Temerian standards. In practice this means 2 types of melee attacks and 5 upgradeable spells. You can also parry and counter incoming blows, or dodge out of harm’s way. Sword attacks can be chained into combos, and the Signs – spells of the witcher – each have unique effects. Aard is a telekinetic push which can break a wall or send an enemy flying. Quen forms a protective barrier, while Axii will mess with the target’s head.
When used with rhythm and skill, these abilities make for some beautiful fighting, but while playing Witcher 2 you will inevitably die oh-so-many times. Even on normal difficulty level, some boss monsters are extremely hard to beat. The key to fights is balance between offence and defence, and a player attacking without concern for his own wellbeing will not last long. Yes, some fights are downright frustrating, but the rewards often justify the brain cells lost in anguish. A thing to remember: QuickSave is your best friend. Use it every time you have finished a fight or reached a key location, and definitely use it if the wolf medallion starts vibrating!
As Geralt levels up, he can spend points in one of three schools: sword, magic or alchemy. It is best to focus on just one of these. Being a jack of all trades might be fun for a while, but only a specialized witcher can unlock those sweet final skills. Alchemy and crafting are an important part of the game – most of witcher’s weapons, armour and consumables are made from organs of dead monsters or local plants and mushrooms. It’s the same with potions, which Geralt can drink before the fight to enhance his abilities. Note the complete absence of any kind of healing items. That’s right, there’s nothing to replenish your health when it’s gone except for veeeerry slow regeneration. Have I mentioned some fights are very difficult?
The number of recipes is huge, and soon it will be impossible to find anything in your inventory. That’s a big downer, since a lot of the game involves gathering ingredients. Recipes are also used to create lures, traps, grenades and throwing knives. These add to the number of combat tactics. Want to fill a room with flammable gas, then set it ablaze with a click of a finger? You can. Want to create an elaborate trap system, then lure the enemies in and watch the carnage? You can. Throw a bomb to knock an opponent off a cliff? Yes, indeed.
The best feature of The Witcher 2 is its system of choices. There are 16 (!) endings, and replayability value is immense. Siding with different factions will change your starting locations, your quests and your equipment. There are several games’ worth of content in here, and all of it is enjoyable. There’s a price to pay – by the end, the story gets so complex it trips over itself. The amount of possible scenarios makes every ending feel abrupt and unimpressive in comparison with the rest of the game.
Choices player has to make are never between “good”, “neutral” and “evil”. They are between friendship and love, justice and peace, revenge and loyalty. People will die, and Geralt can’t save everyone, so make your decisions wisely. During your travels you will save or condemn a king, negotiate with a drunken troll, turn the tide of several battles and defeat a dragon (although you can choose not to kill it, because dragons are a rare breed facing extinction). This is an adventure of truly epic proportions.
The Witcher 2 is a pleasant surprise. Loud, bloody, with lots of swearing and heaps of fun. It doesn’t rely on sex and violence to carry the gameplay, but uses it to tell a story. This is entertainment for those above the age of 18, which makes me glad I fit in to this age group. Released on PC in May 17 and coming to the Xbox 360 at the beginning of next year, this could be the new benchmark for role-playing games.