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The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Review
publisher: CD Projekt RED
developer: CD Projekt RED
|ESRB rating: M
release date: May 17, 11 (released)
|» All About The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings on ActionTrip|
In a day and age when single-player RPGs are somewhat of a rarity, CD Projekt RED releases a sequel to The Witcher, a game based on Andrzej Sapkowski's fantasy themed stories. The Polish author created quite an immersive world and CD Projekt managed bring it to life back in October 2007. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings continues the story, brings a variety of new features, both graphics and gameplay wise.
The main character is one Geralt of Rivia, a gray-haired witcher, who awakens in a Temerian prison cell and is subsequently questioned by a Temerian Special Forces officer called Roche. Having been charged with regicide for the murder of King Foltest. In the first game, Geralt was assigned to be the King's protector and he eventually saved him from assassination. The questioning scene slowly starts to illustrate the events that transpired before Geralts capture. The flashback serves as an intro and kind of a tutorial.
This battle is a nightmare you want to get out of quickly.
How many more...?
Okay, let's cut to the chase. The Witcher 2 kicks off with a lengthy prologue sequence mainly put forth to acquaint players with some of the characters and, more importantly, the new-fangled gameplay mechanics (which have very little to do with what we've seen in the previous game). The first thing is that Geralt has to battle his way through swarms of soldiers, most of which are well-armed and wear heavy armor. The game tries too eagerly to lure the players with grandiose battle scenes and intense combat. We got the impression that the developers misunderstood what the point of a game tutorial is. The idea is to provide gamers the straightforward means to learn how the game is played, while gradually telling the beginning of what's bound to become an intricate and epic storyline. Instead, they've incorporated a series of various difficult battle situations or rather a pointlessly long intro segment, which causes a great deal of frustration very early on (that's with the game set on 'Normal' difficulty). In this instance, CD Projekt made the same mistake BioWare had in Dragon Age 2. The beginning of a decent and complex RPG is not supposed to overwhelm the player with action. That's not what the genre is about. It's clear that this introduction was made as bait for younger audiences.
The combat mechanics of the game were altered since the original. This time, you don't have to wait for the sword-shaped pointer to light up, marking the opportunity to strike. What worries me is that The Witcher 2 doesn't exactly improve upon deep RPG-style gameplay of its predecessor, but rather features a full-on action-oriented combat system, closely resembling games like Assassin's Creed and Gothic. I cannot claim that The Witcher 2 doesn't have any RPG facets. It does, although you may find that it's less of an RPG than the original game and that becomes apparent right after the frustrating start of the game and continues to bother you all the way through.
What really bugs me is that The Witcher 2 doesn't entail the subtlety we've come to admire about the previous game. Everything seemed right in the first title, from the storyline, characterization, quest structure, all the way to the beautiful graphics and, naturally, a cool new world to explore. The feeling doesn't carry over to the sequel. It's like we're looking at The Witcher's extravagant twin brother. The developer's aim was to satisfy a different audience and that's painfully apparent throughout the entire game.
So, now that The Witcher has made its first step into the realms of third-person action games, let's see if it has what it takes to compete. Well, on the surface it sure as hell looks like it could easily tackle some of the best examples in that particular domain. However, the system used to fend off foes hasn't been tweaked to perfection. Far from it, in fact. You'll either play this by frantically clicking away and slashing at whatever comes your way or you'll attempt to pull off whatever combos your character has mastered. Either way, the awkward combat mechanics won't allow for a smooth clash of swords; instead you'll watch as waves of enemies effectively deplete Geralt's health bar in the flash of a witcher's eye. Things get better when you level up, unlock more powerful moves, improve damage, resistance to blows, poison etc. Even with a high-level character and better weapons, the combat rarely proves satisfying - except maybe when you pull off a chain of execution moves, successfully taking down multiple opponents at once. So, yes, I'm afraid the game has assumed a console-like ambience, especially in terms of gameplay. More cinematic moments and arcadish combat. Another aspect of the game that was changed, was the consumption of potions. Potions cannot be used during combat or gameplay. Geralt now uses them during meditation. Although you can mediate anywhere you want (as long as foe are not nearby), it's still a bit strange not to allow the use of potions when you need them most. This wouldn't be such a problem if the effects of potions were a bit longer.
The Witcher 2 has a few redeeming features, which save it from being a throwaway. The visuals are captivating to say the least and were clearly the work of dedicated and talented artists, designers and animators. Exploring one of the sections of the forest just outside the small town of Flotsam, I walked slowly through the undergrowth admiring the lush world around me - the tall, mighty trees that stretch their branches into the sky itself, a vast array of plants and wildlife, bubbling brooks, small ponds and rivers delicately reflecting faint sunlight and so on. It truly is a living and breathing world and a home to many characters, all of which lead their own lives regardless of your actions. In addition to this, The Witcher 2 boasts an incredible soundtrack, accompanied by top-notch sound effects and, more importantly, excellent voice acting.
Absolutely gorgeous graphics, great soundtrack and voice acting, a lot of eye-openers in this one and more stuff explained about Geralt's background, an amazing variety of characters, more items and weapons to toy around with, story keeps you going, cool and intriguing moral choices;
Combat system's flawed, not the in-depth RPG experience we were hoping for, what was unique and appealing about The Witcher is gone, the franchise is hopping on the bandwagon of dumbed down single-player experiences that are being stripped of their RPG complexity (not the first time we've seen this happen and by the look of things, it won't be the last).