After tragically falling to the Red Ring of Death, we finally got our Xbox 360 repaired and were able to complete The Witcher 2. Now only one question remains: is the game any good? Read on to find out!
There was once a time, many years ago, when games demanded a certain level of skill and attention to complete. It was a time when, as a gamer, your hand was not held as you prodded your way through each of the game’s challenges. It was time when you had to put forth effort to understand not only how to play, but also to fully grasp the story. Ultimately, it was a time when “hardcore” was the norm. Games were made for a specific type of player; streamlining the experience for the masses, the casual, was not needed. Quite frankly, it was not wanted.
Though those times are far behind us, we are occasionally presented with a gem that reminds us of gaming’s glorious past. The Witcher 2 is one of these gems. It’s a game that doesn’t care if it hurts your feelings by thrusting you into a hard-as-hell scenario without checkpoints and constant tutorial pop-ups. Even on the “Normal” difficulty setting, this game will unmercifully kick your ass. It’s a brutal experience aimed at serious, hardcore gamers; and it’s one of the things that makes this game stand out amongst the competition. Under all of its pretty colors and beautifully rendered graphics, this is a game with a retro soul.
The combat in TW2 is brutal and unforgiving. I played this game on the “Normal” difficulty. There is also an “Easy” mode, as well as a couple difficulties harder than the one I played on. Despite being on a middle-of-the-road difficulty, I found the game very challenging. Most of this came early in on, as I learned the basic combat mechanics. As mentioned, the game doesn’t bother giving you constant tutorial pop-ups to help you along; something that forces you to figure a lot out on your own. There is an optional game tutorial you can play, but it crashed my Xbox when I tried to run it. I didn’t want to push my luck, ultimately deciding to avoid it.
Though it took me the lot of my early hours with the game, I eventually began to grasp TW2’s combat. There is a very tactical feeling to the way it flows, something that combines nicely with the brutal difficulty, making victory all the more satisfying. In fact, once I became fairly good at fighting, I found it to be one of the most satisfying combat systems I’ve ever experienced in a game; let alone an RPG.
The tactical side of TW2 is present outside of combat, as well. Any use of potions has to be done before you enter combat, something that I recommend you get used to quickly as they can turn the tide favorably on your side. There are also enhancements (which can be activated from your inventory during combat) that can make your weapons temporarily stronger, as well as others that can be permanently attached to a weapon or to your armor. Like potions, enhancing your gear is something that you will need to get used to quickly in TW2 if you want to have the best chance of success in combat.
Aside from potions and enhancements, you can also gather information on enemies that can help you gain insight on the best strategies to use when fighting them. You gain a lot of this information automatically as you rack up kills on a particular foe. The rest can be acquired by communicating with NPC’s or discovering scrolls or books. All of this is optional, but recommended if you want to have the greatest chance of success. In fact, there is actually an early boss where it is pretty much imperative to gain insight in how best to face it before you actually do.
Similarly to preparing for combat, you’ll have the best luck with the game’s many quests if you speak to everyone, and carefully look into all of the documents you pick up. Many of the quests, including primary ones, expect you to be fully paying attention to know what to do. You sometimes are helped out a bit by being given a marker on your map and compass, which is nice though the marker location was incorrect for me on a few quests (bug?).
Speaking with NPC’s has a bigger role in TW2 than just in gaining monster and quest insight. In fact, conversations play out not too dissimilar from what you’d expect to see in a Bioware game; with decisions that have just as much – if not more – of an impact on the game’s story. Though similar, it also takes on a life of its own. There is no morality system to boot; just choices and their impacts. And let me tell you, your choices do have impacts; many of which can be seen fairly quickly after they’re made.
Another thing that’s nice about the conversations is that some of the choices are timed. You aren’t given the opportunity to sit there and ponder the outcome of your choice. You just make it, and move on. Also playing into this make-it-and-move-on style system is that there are some conversations where you’ll make a choice, and then lose access to some of the other dialogue options. This is not always the case, but I like it when it is. It makes the NPC’s seem more like real people, and less like lifeless avatars spewing out recorded dialogue as you interact with them.
I think I’ve driven the fact that TW2 has very hardcore gameplay, so I’m going to switch gears and move onto the story. I won’t go into a lot of detail about the specifics; I’ll let you experience that on your own. I will say, however, that it’s overall as hardcore and engaging as the gameplay.
You take on the role of Geralt of Rivia, a witcher who is striving to recover his lost memory while being caught up in the middle of important events that are reshaping the land. A witcher is a human that has been genetically altered for the sole purpose of hunting and killing monsters. The game offers several different paths that you can take – through dialogue choices – and multiple endings.
All of the dialogue, story archs, and characters are interesting and well thought out. The only main complaint that I can make about the story is that if you haven’t played through the first game, you will often find yourself lost. Several characters are introduced that you are expected to already know, and many events are referenced that you will not understand unless you played the original. This is an especially unfortunate issue for Xbox 360 owners, since playing the original is not an option you’ll have unless you own a PC that can run it; which shouldn’t be too difficult, since the original isn’t the graphical powerhouse that its sequel is.
The characters are brought to life by a combination of excellent voice work and convincing graphics. Yes, TW2 has absolutely beautiful graphics that have translated to the Xbox 360 port of the game well, for the most part. No, this version doesn’t come close to matching the powerhouse that is the PC version; but that is to be expected when running on a console with hardware that is now several years old. That said, it is amazing how well it does look on Microsoft’s console. The developers over at CD Projekt RED all deserve a pat on the back for what they were able to accomplish with the hardware at hand.
Not only complimenting the visuals, but surpassing them, is the sound design. This game is a real treat for your ears. The sound effects are realistic and well designed, the voice work is phenomenal, and the soundtrack is absolutely stunning. From start to finish, I was absolutely awed by TW2’s music. It draws you into the fantasy world of the game better than any other part of this already excellent package. If you’re someone who values a good soundtrack, you will not be disappointed with what you’ll get with TW2.
All of the game’s elements remain strong throughout the entire experience; and this is a meaty game. The campaign will give you plenty to do, and offers loads of replay value. I can’t wait to play through it again on a harder difficulty (a daunting challenge, to say the least), and test the outcomes of different choices. Though I have completed it, I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of what the campaign has to offer.
In addition to the lengthy campaign, the game features a fun arena mode. In this mode, you’ll do battle against various foes in a gladiatorial style arena; winning gold and items. For the competitive players out there, you’ll be able to upload your point totals to an online leader board. With so many low-on-content games being released lately, this is an excellent package loaded to the brim with value; and one that will keep you hooked for some time.
The Witcher 2 is an engaging game, with a hardcore soul that reminds me of a time from gaming’s glorious past. It’s an excellent experience that should not be missed by anyone that considers themselves to be a hardcore gamer. I’d personally recommend the superior PC version; though the Xbox 360 version is serviceable to those who do not have another option. Either way, you’d be remiss to pass up on this amazing experience.
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