The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is the second game in The Witcher series inspired by the world and characters created by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski. It is also the only game of this series I have played as the first one is on PC, and my PC doesn’t want to play it. But, I thought that with the knowledge of Blood of Elves and The Last Wish on my side, jumping head first into the second game shouldn’t be much of a problem.
The Witcher 2 starts the player and Geralt in a dungeon, as a prisoner about to be questioned. The prologue is played as Geralt recounts the events that lead to him being imprisoned after the murder of the king he was supposed to protect, and who he is supposed of murdering as the assassin jumped out of a window to escape being caught. Geralt subsequently escapes his captivity and embarks on a journey to find out the truth behind the ‘assassins of kings’, as well as looking to regain his lost memories.
Geralt’s amnesia is actually a pretty useful plot device that not only drives part of the plot forward as Geralt seeks to regain his memories, but it also the players that have not read the books to be introduced Sapkowski’s world efficiently.
The game takes the player to several locations during the three acts it takes place during. Flotsam is a small village on the edge of Temeria where tensions in between humans and non-humans are high. After that, the game gives the player two very different ways to spend the rest of the game, depending on the decisions made during the first act. I have only played one side of things so far, but I have no doubt that the other path I could have taken would have been just as intense, emotional, and powerful as the one upon which I walked.
The game handles much any RPGs of that kind, although the fighting system can be at times be a little convoluted. The menu that you are forced to bring up to to change the sign you want to cast, or what item you want to throw is fiddly at best, and damn annoying at worst. The game goes into slow motion when the menu is up but, especially at the beginning, when you’re learning which sign does what and have to rely on reading the description, it can lead to a few mishaps, not least of all being an untimely death. The throwing of knifes and other projectile is as equally fiddly and the pointer is so small you might as well forget about using it to guide your aim. On the converse, the swordplay is amazing, and the movements that Geralt pulls off during combat are amazing.
I have to admit to having played the game on easy, as I was more playing it for the story than wanting difficult fights but some bosses were still fairly challenging and required more thinking and less hack’n’slash than more of the monsters you encounter. It is also wise to remember that Geralt can make and consume potions that will help at several intervals–I survived on the cat potion for a good portion of the underground levels.
The story itself is a very powerful story and probably one of the best plot I have come across in video games. The political implications of some of the decisions the player is forced to make are immense. The relationship created or already existing are deep and come with expectations from the people around you: if you give your word to them, they will expect you to keep it, and if you don’t, there will be consequences.
I really don’t want to give too much away about the plot, so I won’t say too much, but towards the ending, the game had me in shock and horror, staring at the screen in horror as the events unfolded, out of my control, and me unable to do anything about it. The very ending itself ties things nicely for this installments but leave things open for further games in the series. I particularly liked the fact that the player can chose whether or not to fight the ‘last boss’ of the game.
Another little aspect of the game that I really enjoyed was that some answers are timed: you have to make your mind up quickly otherwise hell knows what will happen and you might well not be in charge of it. Obviously, the timed answers are some of the most important decisions in the game. It means that you have to stay alert during dialogues to make sure you don’t end up making the wrong decisions.
The game offers a couple of decent enough mini games that involves fighting people hand to hand through a QTE system, playing dice, or challenging a variety of people to arm-wrestling fights. They’re fun and give a good amount of exp as well as money for the players that are willing to invest the time in playing them. There are also a good number of side-quests to every part of the main quests that are all enjoyable and mostly come with their own little plots.
The graphics are stunning, although perhaps not to the level I am used to though. Nonetheless, the city and landscapes are smooth and stunning, the characters well detailed and animated and everything, in general, looks actually quite real. The passing of time comes in the form of the sun rising and setting which offers some very nice lighting effects and some pretty skies to look at.
Overall, both in gameplay and story, the game is a dark, very grown up experience, certainly not for the faint of heart. But it is also a wonderful experience where every decision will have its consequences and where every character is much, much more than a bunch of pixels thrown together. From Triss to Dandellion the cast is full of incredibly deep, complex, believable characters that are more human than any I have before in video games.
This game had my soul from the second I started playing it to the second I put it down. Despite moments that scared the hell out of me, made me look away in disgusts, or heart-rending decisions, this game was probably the best I have ever played, and I think I will be hard pressed to find one that can put me through the sheer range of emotions this one did.