Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition Review

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To stop beating around the bush, and immediately light it on fire, I did not like The Witcher 2 any significant amount.  In fact, after I got to the second of three chapters, the only reason I continued was so I could label this as a review rather than a first impressions piece.  However, seeing as how adorable the box back is, I’m going to use that as the centerpiece of the review, if only because I think it’d be more fun than I got from the actual title.

Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition Review
Release Date: 17/4/2012
Platforms: Xbox 360(Reviewed), PC, Mac OSX
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Publisher: WB Games

Before that, the prologue in a nutshell.  You play as Geralt of Rivia, a platinum blonde who was mutated into the ideal monster slaying machine, known as a witcher.  Because you would never capitalize titles, you boob!  Through events that I gathered like someone reading a book at chapter five, he was recruited by a king, who he served for a while, before he was murdered, along with a few others, as given away by the intro cinematic.  Being the only one in the room upon the king’s death, Geralt was accused immediately, and needs to find the true slayer of kings to clear his name.

But now for the fun part.  “A true hero forges his own story” the back of the box boasts in bold orange letters.  Which is far from reality.  I went through this fantasy regoremol of racism and factions as a pretty nice guy, but you can just decide to let people die if you feel like it.  Be so absent minded that you cause a city and its inhabitants to become victim to a cruel ruler I chose to not kill.  And gamble around using a completely random minigame where the highest level AI is programmed to win 80% of the time on the highest level, known as Dice Poker.  Yeah, claiming heroics in a game with choice is like claiming it to be linear.

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And the whole “forges his own story” bit is a load of crock.  Geralt is an amnesiac who is searching for his wife, who is made out to be a pain when you get down to it, while getting tied up in everyone else’s conflict.  Because a game where you forge your own story can rarely be very story driven.  If there are events that must happen, it is not really your story, now is it?  And wouldn’t it technically be the player’s when you get down to it?  Because of the choice system and what not?

On top of all this, I did not find much reason to care about Geralt as a character.  He is made out as a bitter old man who needs to look up and slay a handful of creatures that lurk the world.  And other than his missing wife and children, at least I think he has kids, I don’t see much reason for him to care.  It is flat out stated that he is not keen on being where he is, seeing as how he hates politics, which is what this game is primarily about.  A political struggle.  Now remember these thirty exquisite citizens, ten cities, and eight countries by next Thursday, young man.  Or we’ll break the codes of wars and use mustard gas on your stupid anus.

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I understand this game is part of a series of novels that have been going on for over 25 years now, but the plot is pretty impenetrable.  I can accept the “2” in the title being a good reason why things are hard to understand, but this is the first game in the series on consoles, so it would be the first introduction into the series for many people.  Yes, there is a very in depth series of logs on all the characters and factions in your game, but that is not how you tell a good story.  Or maybe I’m just being a dumb, smelly, idiot child.  Because the box declares that this game has an, “Immersive, mature, non-linear story”.

Well, the fact that the lore is thick enough to kill a frog certainly hampers on the immersive bit.  When I don’t understand what I am doing, why it is important, and why I can’t just go and live in the woods, you kinda flunked that one, James.  And things get especially immersive during the hub areas where NPCs stand around and spew the same line every time you pass by.  I honestly lost track of how many times I heard a guy talking about spuds, how humans are strange, falling women, or how mages should all die, because this game adore racism.  Fantasy racism, but still racism, because people adore recalling humans being the biggest bratwurst in the sausage factory.

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If there was one thing the game liked more than politics, none of which I managed to muster up other than territory division and working around people being arsehols.  It would be how it tries to be edgy by having Dwarves, Elves, Witches, and witchers, be viewed as lesser being by kings of the land.  I am not opposed to the idea, but this is the first time that I saw a racism stand in that made me want the racist people to all go and get a dagger in the gut.  Which is most characters actually.  Even the Elf I was with for most of the game decided that humans were scum, because some are bad.  Hearing a dwarf get pissed off at how many humans are in his regular bar is not immersive.  Its just mean spirited and lacks demonic penises to make it more appealing.

Not that the game needs just that to keep things edgy as most of the press highlighted, this is the only major title I know of to show bare breasts in sex scenes.  But during the infamous sex scenes, the game suffers from a notable tone shift, seeing as I would assume there to be rampant STDs in this ever so dark world.  That, and Geralt keeps on going on about how he’s old, making me think he just has grey hair, and he’s about 65.  Did I mention that the sex scenes are with women who look to be 18-25?  Yeah, that’s just kinda odd, more than “adult”.

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Although, I do appreciate the tonal shifts, because to make up a quote, “One who is truly mature can find enjoyment in things considered immature.”  Which, I suppose the game tries to do, crafting such exceptional lines as:  “I’m not one to tell your grandmother to suck eggs.” “My way of the highway.”  “What the arse fuck is going on?”  And, the term, “Lesbomancy”  Which, believe it or not, is a decent sized plot point.  However rather than making things feel less grim and mean spirited, they fall into the same categories as the massive Lord of the Rings reference in story dialog, cancer cell conversation, and “programmed” golems.  It really just makes the mythology more dense and flawed than anything, since I am not sure it knows what it wants to be.

Oh, and the “non-linearity” bit.  There is a point in the game where you can go on two mostly different campaigns, choosing to follow one person of the other, even though the game just kinda shrugs the whole idea off, instead of saying, “This will alter the rest of the game greatly!”  when you just altered the remaining 60% of the game.  But I must question if that is linear.  To me, a non-linear story would be one that jumps around over time periods, with my best example being Baccano, or at least the anime version.  Here, time moves forward except for oddly illustrated flashbacks to Geralt’s past, which are not quite linear, but I would never use the term “non-linear”.

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Bolly, two page in, and just two quotes!  I suppose that a good art direction could help save the game or an interesting world.  Yet claiming a “Realistic, vast, consistent game world” aspires confidence like saying that something is “shippable”.  First off, realism is not a selling point.  Realistic physics?  Yeah, nothing like natural looking water, cloth, or wind.  However, claiming the world to be realistic has become synonymous for meaning dull.  And, yeah, the world is not very interesting.  Peasant village, forest community, mountainous city with stone buildings, and some ruins… woo.  All divided into segments that hardly are “vast”, since you’re in one of four Hub worlds that I doubt to be more than a square kilometer big.

Although, I guess it is consistent, and consistently impressive graphically.  Given the hardware, there are a lot of nice textures and whatnot, but that means very little when met with a mostly uninteresting art direction with only a handful of monster designs.  It is not a bad looking game, just not very distinct with any visual style while having some especially nice models for characters.  Oh, and this was one of those games where the soundtrack felt like it derailed the experience more than it engrossed me in.  Not horrible, but there were points where I needed to shake my headphones off, namely after hearing the dice poker theme start up for the 120th time.  And I would not be able to recognize a single track if not for how annoying they got as the game wrapped up.

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Fortunately, there is a boast about the game having, “Spectacular, brutal, tactical combat.”  The main combat in this game is pretty much rolling around baddies while hitting them with one of your two swords, which you have because it looks cool, I guess.  Desperately hoping that you swing it right so it damages an enemy, despite not really feeling like it half the time.  And constantly rolling around is something I did for three reasons.  One, I always dodge like an ass in any game I can.  Two, the hit detection for you is pretty wonky, with no recovery time, so it is easy for enemies to take half of your health bar.  Three, the camera is often a load of crap.  In something that I see to be more contextual than anything, when in smaller areas, the camera is tighter in, so Geralt’s feet are near the bottom.

It is something that always gets on my plums.  In third person games, the camera has the job of showing the player what is going on, and letting them leave the right stick alone.  So, it’s not “Spectacular”, what about “Brutal”?  Blood is kept at a relatively low amount, with only a few sparks of it during combat.  Sure, you loot the stump left by monsters.  Yeah, I found a scene where a woman’s eyes were spooned out, but throwing steak on the floor and having a voice actor try to screech for ten seconds hardly sounds brutal.  Even if I could muster much of anything for the characters.  The robotic golem who I talked to death was the most compelling character in the game, for crying out loud.

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As for “Tactical”, I found the combat to be pretty simple.  You have five magic spells from the get go, but I eventually realized only one is worth a toss, the one-hit free shield spell.  Who needs fireballs, enemy brainwashing, or explosives when you can just not take damage most of the time?  Then there are throwing knives, bombs, traps, potions, and oils to buff up your swords.  But they all seemed fairly useless to me.  Geralt’s got a sword, that is good enough to kill anything, even a dragon in one of the least interesting fights with the camera that I’ve ever played as a final boss.  But maybe that is because I didn’t want to screw around with this game’s crafting system.

It is not the crafting system that gets on me, as much as it is how I need to go to the inn to access my perpetual storage chest, slowly scroll down the recipe that I bought for a fifth of my money, and see what I need.  It just gets downright dull after a while, and I only made about twelve things in the form of well textured armours.  Which didn’t feel overly effective most of the time, but I think that could owe to how I didn’t feel the need to level up, even after I died for the sixth time to a boss, because he hit like a truck.  Let alone bother with a metagame based on mutating your certain level up skills, half of which were viewed as unnecessary until the final battle.

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Instead, I was resetting the game and using a guide, because I was convinced the game was made by moon men.  There are hidden buffs to your various attributes that are hidden throughout the game, many of which are done by trivial things, and the game does not even acknowledge most of their existence.  As well as having a few of the ones listed in the game’s source code, not exist.  And some of them are quite large perks.  Like +10% experience for destroying ten training dummies, five of which you encounter in the prologue .  Or choosing an option later in the prologue, where you can get an extra 20% of maximum inventory weight.

This stuff took me a day to figure out, and the sheer fact that this is in here, and presented with no major acknowledgement was nothing short of baffling to me.  At least until I realize that one can skip out on part of the prologue if they choose the wrong dialog choice.  What do these gameplay decisions accomplish?  They just make the game even more inaccessible unless you utilize a walkthrough, which a good designer should never have a player even think about while playing.

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My long laundry list of issues might imply that I hate Witcher 2, but really I just view it as a bit pathetic.  It tries, it tries substantially hard to be a stepping stone in gaming, but for me, it is one of the least fun games I’ve played in a while.  The world, characters, lore, mechanics, none of it clicks for me.  It is a game where I was bored after fighting a dragon and meeting a man dressed like a chicken.  It is certainly well presented, but that’s all it is.  A well presented and ambitious title, that I found to be nothing more than a chore.

Subpar (6/20)
There are a few high point, yet the entire experience is hampered by issues that outnumber the good.  Not the worst, but not all that good.

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