|Dev: CD Projekt RED STUDIO|
|Pub: Atari, CD Projekt|
|Release: May 17, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs|
by Becky Cunningham
Geralt of Rivia is a Witcher, a professional monster-slayer created by genetic experimentation and harsh training. His nature sets him apart from humankind and has given him a strong, albeit slightly twisted, sense of personal ethics. Still, Geralt is only human at heart, prone to snap judgments, vulnerable to desire, and perfectly capable of making mistakes with catastrophic consequences. If this seems like a particularly deep characterization for the protagonist of a computer game, that's exactly what sets The Witcher 2 apart from anything else on the market today.
The Witcher 2 is not a game for the faint of heart. It's based on a series by Andrzej Sapkowski, the Fritz Lieber (or George R.R. Martin, if you must) of Polish fantasy literature. The game's developers have done an excellent job recreating that world in the game: it's one where life is brutal, war is frequent, and intolerance quickly boils over into hatred and violence. The game is rated M for far better reasons than the occasional sex scene: the player will encounter scenes of brutality, rape, torture, murder, and genocide during the game. As Geralt is only one man, he will not be able to prevent all of these crimes from occurring. It's not that the game takes away Geralt's power in order to shoehorn in plot development; in fact, Geralt tends to be fully able to take action at any time. It's simply that the world is one that lives and breathes around the player, and the story marches on as other characters take action at the same time as Geralt.
And what a ride that story is. Geralt begins the game imprisoned for a grave crime that he did not commit, and is thrust into a tangled web of war and regicide from which he knows he can't escape until he clears his name. Through the story, Geralt must deal with the complex politics of the human nations of the North, in which nobles and peasants alike squabble for wealth and power. In the meantime, many of the oppressed non-humans have taken to guerrilla freedom-fighting, and their peaceful urban counterparts are suffering for it. On top of all that, Geralt is dealing with the slow return of his memory, which he lost when he came back to life from a death-by-pitchfork at the beginning of the first Witcher game. He's in a relationship with the sorceress Triss, who loves him but also has her own goals and intrigues. It's up to the player whether to keep her close or push her away during the course of the game.
Despite all these complex threads woven through the story, the game's plot rarely lulls, and the player will be given important choices to make on a regular basis. The world of The Witcher 2 is filled with shades of grey, and the choices to be made in the plot are real choices, not simply "role-playing" between being good or evil. The consequences of choices may not be encountered until much later in the game, and often choices lead to both good and bad consequences for Geralt and the world around him. The player's choices have a major impact on the game; characters live or die, a town either feasts or riots, and Geralt either woos a woman or does not. At the end of the game's first act, Geralt will make a major choice that results in one of two completely divergent stories for the rest of the game. This is probably the most obvious in Act II (out of three acts), where the locations and quests are completely different.
Of course, playing through a choice-filled story in a brutal fantasy world involves a lot of action, and The Witcher 2 isn't sparse on combat. Fans of the first Witcher game will need to adjust, as this system is completely different from the original's timing-based mouse click combat. Instead, The Witcher 2 features a full-fledged action combat system in which positioning and strategy are crucial on any difficulty setting past "Easy." Geralt will need to use swordplay, alchemical concoctions that provide various buffs, and magical Signs to defeat most of the game's foes. He even has traps and bombs available to him, and preparing to combat the kinds of foes Geralt is going to find tends to be very important. The monsters in the game are part of a larger ecosystem, and the player can learn how to best combat them. This can be done by reading books about their natures or doing "field research" by fighting and killing weaker members of a species, which will cause a journal entry about the creature to appear. Even simple monster-slaying quests will often require Geralt to learn about the monsters in order to destroy their nests or drive them away from the area. The player will usually have fair warning before taking on particularly difficult foes, which is good because drinking potions and crafting traps/bombs requires Geralt to be out of combat and in a safe place.
Combat controls well and is usually challenging yet fair, though sometimes it spikes in difficulty enough that the player may want to turn the difficulty setting down to easy. It's possible to change the difficulty setting at any time, but the easy combat setting is usually too easy, while the normal setting can be just a bit too difficult. Players may wish instead to reload the game at an earlier juncture and spend more time preparing for the upcoming fight instead of turning down the difficulty. Beyond the difficulty setting issues, which may be changed in an upcoming patch, the only complaint about the combat system is that it suffers from a bit of input/animation lag. It takes Geralt too long to execute certain actions, especially casting Signs.
Beyond straight-up sword combat, The Witcher 2 features a few stealth segments, which provide some nice variety in gameplay, and a QTE-based fist fighting minigame which is fairly easy and fun to watch. Geralt is also able to compete in arm-wrestling and dice poker tournaments, which are a useful way to make money. There's a full-featured crafting system in the game as well, with Geralt using materials gathered and skinned from monsters to create potions, bombs, traps, swords, and armor. Crafting (other than the frequently-obligatory potions) is mostly optional, but it produces some nice looking equipment for Geralt and can be very useful at higher difficulty levels. Although Geralt can carry 250-300 pounds before he has problems, stacks of iron ore and wooden planks weigh a fair amount, and the lack of a storage option in the game can be frustrating.