RPG veterans have a lot to look forward to this year. From exploring the gorgeous landscape of Skyrim to kicking butt as an augmented security officer in Deus Ex Human Revolution, there’s something to satiate everyone’s appetite. But before you embark on all those adventures, there’s one waiting for you right now in the dark and gritty world of The Witcher 2. It is undoubtedly a journey worth embarking upon.
Developed by Polish developer CD Projekt, The Witcher 2 takes place nearly six months after the events of the first game. The prologue kicks off in a Temerian prison, where Geralt of Rivia, our protagonist, is being interrogated in connection with the murder of the King of Temeria. From then on, the game oscillates between Geralt’s prison break and the events that led to his imprisonment, where players find out that he was wrongly accused of murder. By the end of the prologue, Geralt manages to escape with the help of an unsuspecting ally, after which he must traverse the land searching for the real murderer, and a way to clear his name.
You really won't like him when he's angry
As a role-playing game, The Witcher 2 is a tad more linear than an Oblivion or a Fallout, but it does make up for that with tons of moral choices that affect the outcome of the game. In fact, after the very first chapter itself, there’s a decision that determines how the subsequent chapters play out, meriting multiple playthroughs. In between missions that propel the plot forward, there’s a ton of stuff to indulge in, from side quests that entail hunting monsters to certain quirky yet enjoyable activities like gambling, arm wrestling and brawling. Even though this is a European RPG, voice acting is surprisingly solid and all the cast members execute their parts with much aplomb. The story is also pretty interesting, weaving politics, deceit, sex and violence into one enjoyable plot that can thankfully be understood and appreciated by newcomers, as well.
Unlike The Witcher, which could be played from an isometric or an over-the-shoulder perspective, The Witcher 2 plays more like a conventional third-person action title, with the camera rooted firmly behind Geralt. Combat, in this game also takes place in real-time, which means you can’t pause the action to queue up attacks a la Dragon Age. It’s obvious developer CD Projekt went in with this approach to appeal to a wider sect of gamers, and I, for one, applaud their decision. The combat’s far from perfect, but now all those who weren’t fans of the original can finally enjoy this game.
Drugs are bad mmkay
Base combat in The Witcher 2 is very simple. You spam either the left and right mouse buttons to dish out light and heavy attacks respectively. Light attacks are a lot faster, but don’t inflict as much damage, while heavy attacks bring the pain, but leave Geralt vulnerable for a few seconds. Blocking is pretty non-existent, so your best bet would be to constantly roll out of the way of incoming attacks. Unfortunately, the game does not handle group combat that well. The lock-on system is a bit borked, so Geralt ends up attacking enemies you really didn’t want him to and chaining attacks isn’t as intuitive as it was in Arkham Asylum or Assassin’s Creed II.
Being a Witcher has a ton of advantages, one of which is being proficient in the dark arts. This allows Geralt to master certain magical signs and use them to his advantage in battle. You can set your enemies on fire, fling them off cliffs using telekinesis, stop them in their tracks by setting magical traps, or even hypnotize them to become temporary allies. Signs are as important as wielding your sword in combat, especially when Geralt is outnumbered. In most cases, you’ll be dealing with a mob rather than individual enemies, and in most mobs, you’ll have a few fast moving grunts as well as a few well armored enemies, so switching between light and heavy attacks is a must.
Playing a Witcher feels badass, no doubt, but this doesn’t mean you’re invincible, and even on the normal difficulty, Geralt can die extremely easily. This is partly due to the fact that health potions cannot be consumed during combat. In some cases, you can predict a battle coming on, so you could beef Geralt up with the necessary potions, but through most of the game, you’ll be caught unaware by creeps making every battle an intense one. Initially, I was a bit peeved at this gameplay decision, but it eventually made me play the game more carefully rather than recklessly rushing into battle. In that respect, The Witcher 2 is a bit like old school games that throw you into the deep end without a paddle. The most I died in this game was in the prologue itself, where I kept getting my ass handed to me by various mobs. But as the game progressed, I upgraded my weapons and abilities, making Geralt a force to be reckoned with. Even then, he’s not a super soldier, so make sure you spam the quick save button at all times.
Like the first game, Geralt can wield two swords – Silver and Steel. The steel sword can dish out mad amounts of pain to humans, but is pretty useless against supernatural foes. As you progress though the game, you’ll either come across or be able to purchase better weaponry from tons of shops spread all over camps. For some reason, every shop in the game is denoted by just a shop icon on your mini map, making it tough to differentiate between a herbalist and a blacksmith.
Geralt about to get his freak on
Another minor gripe I had was with the inventory system. Most games allow players to compare traders’ wares with their equipped weapons, as well as those present in their inventory. In The Witcher 2, you can, for some weird reason, only compare purchasable weapons with those in your inventory. This means every time I met a trader, I had to quit the trade menu, hop on over to my inventory, check out the stats on my equipped weapons, head back into the trade menu and then make a trade. And since I traded a lot, this tedious process did grate on my nerves. I also found it a bit odd that Geralt was never penalized for just strolling into anyone’s house and taking their money or belongings. I understand that he’s an intimidating Witcher and all, but it was weird that no one in any town had a problem with him wandering into their houses and stealing their life’s savings.
Visually, this game is just sublime, and is capable of bringing even the most powerful rigs to their knees. I had to tweak a bunch of settings to get acceptable frame rates on my modest GTX280, but once that was done, The Witcher 2 easily outshines most games on the block today. The game world has been painstakingly designed and every chapter brings with it a bunch of diverse locations to explore. There’s also an insane amount of detail present in every facet of the game, be it character models, creatures, environments or weapons. If you have a powerful enough rig, this is one of the few PC games out there that will push it to its limits.
Yup, running away from dragons is a good idea
As much as I enjoyed my time with The Witcher 2, it’s important to reiterate the game’s shortcomings. It can be a bit intimidating to newcomers with its erratic difficulty and steep learning curve, so if you’re the impatient variety, you may get put off really fast. It even has a few issues with combat, its inventory system and certain annoying segments that involve brain dead friendly AI. But all that’s balanced out by a solid adventure backed by stellar production values, intense and challenging gameplay, a myriad of diverse quests, and an engaging plot.
Unfortunately The Witcher 2 will not be releasing in India, so your only option is to pick up the game off Steam or GOG.
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