The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Review

Greg Tito | 26 May 2011 19:00
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I will begin by saying that I love this game. The Witcher 2 is that weird special gem that displays a fully functioning world with deliciously deep personalities that exist both within and beneath the plot. It is easy to get swept up in the breathtaking visuals and well-established characters, but that doesn't blind me to major flaws in the game design of The Witcher 2.

The fundamental problem is that the game is terrible at teaching you how to enjoy it. I have no qualms with offering players a challenge, but too often I failed in the opening of The Witcher 2 because I simply didn't have the mechanics properly demonstrated to me, not because it was actually challenging. My experience with the prologue carried through the rest of the game.

The first sign of trouble was when I chose a dialogue option that sent me to battle a dragon with little preamble. As Geralt of Rivia I had to defeat three well-armed individuals without any knowledge of game mechanics or tactics all while dragon fire rained down around me. Windows popped up with the knowledge I needed to survive, but stopping to read them only resulted in a quick death. Geralt, the famous Witcher, died so easily and so many times in the first seconds of the game that I began to wonder if I was just an idiot. I was so frustrated and pissed that any fondness for the characters I'd met so far was completely erased.

To make matters worse, after I finally made it past that section of the prologue - on normal difficulty, damn you, I'm nothing if not stubborn - the game brought me back to the first four dialogue choices. Clicking a different one sent me to the first part of the prologue, which calmly introduced that Geralt has amnesia and has thrown in his lot with the King of Temeria in a little civil war. It's not necessary to have played the first game because this section deftly explains the opening plot without the constant threat of death. Why on Earth would CD Projekt allow me to play the prologue out of order? Such areas are not the time to allow player agency because the choices are meaningless and playing them out of sequence seriously impacts the player's enjoyment.

Once I slogged through the prologue, and figured out how to use the five Signs or magic spells effectively in combat (Hint: Quen, the shield spell is your friend) The Witcher deposits you in the backwater of Flotsam on the Pontar river. In the town and surrounding village, you meet people like Margot, the madame who uses a little too much rouge, Cedric, the elf who drinks vodka to quiet his visions and a shopkeeper who may or may not be selling a poisonous and addictive "incense." This handful of examples illustrates the grimness of the setting, with humans mistreating the dwarfs and elves and violence only a misplaced curse word away. And there is a lot of cursing.

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