Developer: CD Projekt Red
Release Date: 5/17/2011
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Action RPGs these days are real iffy due to the fact that they tend to feel too formulaic. They usually have good stories, but the graphics are horrible, the combat is clumsy, and the quest system is yawn-worthy. The Witcher 2 takes what was great from the first and makes it even better to form one of the greatest action RPGs of this generation.
You play, once again, as Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher, who got framed for assassinating King Demavend and must prove his innocence. The story is heavy in politics, but is also very deep and feels just like the novels. Triss Merrigold also returns with her beautiful red hair and all. You will also see other familiar faces such as Zoltan Chivay and Dandelion. The new faces are strong, likable, and memorable characters that you will grow to love or hate respectively throughout the course of this 20-30 hour game. Geralt himself is even stronger this time around with more problems than you can shake a stick at. You learn to respect him more and see just how much this poor man can take. CD Projekt really shows you the roots of both good and evil in humanity in such a realistic fashion, and that’s what really drives the characters home.
The combat in The Witcher 2 is better than the first game because gone are the timed sword swings and stances. You now just have light and heavy attacks, but can block, and counter-attack (when you unlock the skill), and you still use the steel/silver sword combo. Steel is for people and silver is for monsters. The combat was very hard to do when the game first launched, but patches as of late have fixed this for multiple blocking, and faster responses. The combat isn’t great and is clumsy especially early on when you aren’t very strong and towards the end of the game. Combat will make you smash your monitor in frustration in the beginning because you have to learn to just hit once or twice, dodge, run around, hit another couple of times, rinse and repeat 50 times. Yeah, it’s one of those games in the beginning. After you level up enough you can cut down enemies in just a couple of swings and groups of 7-10 won’t really bother you.
Of course, you can equip better armor, weapons, and so forth, but The Witcher lets you do other things like equipping trophies that are found on bosses that increase stats, using sword enhancements such as oils, whetstones, runes, and armor enhancements (kind of like Monster Hunter?) This adds a lot of depth to the customization of your loadout which has endless possibilities. I think the biggest improvement is resource gathering and alchemy because it’s so simple and easy now. Just gather resources as you go and you can meditate and create potions that increase your vigor (for signs; more on that later), vitality (health), a potion that lets you see in the dark, damage-increasing potions, etc. The only problem is you can’t drink them from the menu, but you have to use them before a fight. This is my biggest beef with the game because if you are low on health in a fight you’re screwed unless you took a Swallow potion beforehand. The premeditated potion drinking is a big flaw in the game, I think, but some hardcore RPG players may like this.
The Witcher is also famous for its Signs use because Witchers can’t use magic like sorcerers or mages can. There are six different signs and they use chunks of vigor but recharge over time. These Signs are vital to winning in combat, especially against bosses, so learn to use these in tandem with sword combos and you can win even the toughest fights. One last thing you can use in combat is Places of Power which you find with your wolf medallion. Activate it and you may find, out in woods or wild places, signs of power that give you temporary stat boosts. These come in handy early in the game (especially in Flotsam) when you are at a low level.
The story also has moral decisions thrown in there that really change the outcome of the story. Of course, there are multiple playthroughs (but no new game+ sadly) so you can see what each decision will bring. There are a lot of plot holes in the story that aren’t filled until the very end during dialog which I found odd, so if you get confused just hang in there until the final moments of the game. Overall my biggest issue is the potion use, combat, and the huge difficulty spikes. The graphics are groundbreaking with gorgeous lighting, highly detailed textures, amazing landscapes, as well as varied environments with nice weather effects. The character models look superb, and the voice acting is top-notch. This game just shows that indie developers can make games look great. You do need a monster rig to run the game on high settings (especially with Ubersampling enabled you to need probably dual GPUs and a high-end quad-core CPU). Other than that The Witcher 2 is amazing in every way and should not be missed by anyone.