Friday, 23 March 2018

Review No. 139 The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition - PC (18+)

Strong Points:
References to the original game
Great graphics
Lots of customisation
Lore and story
Great voice acting
Choices in the game have far-reaching consequences
A brilliant array of characters
Dandelion's journal
Great combat when it works...
Preparation is key

Weak Points:
Some frame rate drops in battle
... although a sometimes clunky battle system
Certain difficulty spikes
Some choices are hidden behind dialogue I wouldn't have linked together
Can miss quests if not careful
Preparation is key

Some spoilers ahead:

In-depth Review:

Release Dates:
World Wide: April 17th, 2012

Controls: can change in-game. Source:
Arrow Keys: move
Shift: walk
Right Shift: interact
Z: use medallion
Control: quick menu
F: special action
1: draw steel sword/additional weapon
2: draw silver sword
3: next sign
4: next quick-slot
5-9: cast sign
0: sheathe weapon
Left Mouse Button: interact/swift blow
Right Mouse Button: strong blow
Q/Middle Mouse Button: use sign
R: use quick-slot item
E: block
Alt: lock-on
Space: roll
I: inventory
J: journal
M: map
C: character
F5: quicksave

The Witcher 2, is unsurprisingly, the second game in The Witcher series, chronicling the Witcher Geralt's journey to recover his lost memories. Alongside this personal tale is a world of epic proportions, full of duelling kings, monsters and questionable moral decisions. With so much filling this game, it could be easy to be overwhelmed, and to be honest, you might be. However, the game's versatility when it comes to combat and choices is what makes it a great game, so if I could suggest one thing it would be - just keep going. It may look impenetrable, but honestly, you'll grow to love the systems and world.

Talking of the world, The Witcher 2 is slightly bigger in scope than it's predecessor, encompassing a town, a city and a massive fortress as well as other, smaller locales. This allows us to see just how deeply some of the themes of discrimination and religion run, with clans and hanging posts all over. Most of the characters have a slightly less morbid outlook than the world itself though, so the game balances itself nicely, with every scene involving hanging being balanced by a scene involving a peculiar Geralt dream...

Now, I don't want to go into too much detail about the characters, as just like in Lady Bird, it's probably better to go in blind. However, something I can talk about is the combat. Taking a more hack-and-slash approach to combat this time, The Witcher 2 still retains the two swords, magic system of old. Basically, use a steel sword for humans and a silver sword for monsters. Oddly, I found myself using different signs (magic) to the first game, with Axii replacing Aard, and Quen replacing Ignis. This is mostly due to the brittleness of Geralt, especially in the first few hours, so having someone else fight the enemies for you is sometimes the best option.

The landscapes really are beautiful
Overall, I did like the combat, especially when the combos worked, with Geralt flying all over the place along with whatever monster part he's just hacked off. However, be careful not to get overwhelmed - you can quickly become incapacitated by multiple enemies at once or suddenly lose a chunk of health from a lucky shot. It doesn't help that the viewpoint and scale of the world make for some quite clunky movement, with Geralt being larger than you think and not as responsive as his move set would suggest.

The combat's not bad, as I said previously, I do like it, although it's definitely not the strongest point of the game. You can either prepare for every fight with potions etc. or constantly scramble - skill does play a part, but quite a lot of the time it all depends on the spreadsheet numbers behind the scenes. This can be good if you like preparation, as I do, although if you've been doing the same thing fifteen times and have to set up Geralt each time, it can be frustrating. Remember to quick save!

Now, about the stealth sections in the game... Actually, the less I talk about this the better I'll feel. Just play through it and move on. *shudder* Just why CD Projekt Red? Why!?
Surprisingly, one of the calmer moments of the game
As is the fashion of games right now, The Witcher 2 has lots of choices. These range from the insignificant to the world changing. You can decide to take up quests or not, save or kill people, and try and change other peoples choices with an Aard sign. All of this is twisted up in The Witcher's token grey morality. Many a time I had to turn the game off and think through a choice, once over the course of many days, such is the weight the game lays on you. This is great, allowing you to really make the game your own, if only it worked all the time.

The original Witcher game allowed you to see exactly what you'll say in each dialogue choice, allowing you to really plan your answers. The Witcher 2, on the other hand, gives you a general idea of what Geralt will say. This works for the most part as there aren't too many ways to interpret 'I'm going to kill you'. However, it does become a problem when you start thinking the game is smarter than it actually is. Sarcasm, lying and general trickery doesn't translate well onto a page and I had a couple of instances where a quest would go a different way than I thought because I misinterpreted what Geralt would actually say. This is a problem for most RPGs, and one which can be easily remedied by simply showing us what they will actually say.

Ah, the classic bottleneck approach
The Witcher 2's graphics hold up surprisingly well. Released in the same year as Skyrim, while Skyrim focused on scope, The Witcher 2 took the opposite approach. It focused on density, and wow, is there are a lot crammed into the environments. Lush forests, busy streets, and gorgeous lighting make the world feel alive. It does have the slight problem of incurring claustrophobia in certain sections especially with the clunky movements but it is incredible to look at. The character models are also detailed and unique, with emotions gleaned not only from the dialogue but the facial features as well. In terms of PC performance, I ran into little trouble besides a couple of framerate drops at ultra. There's plenty of options to alter performance, although the game is quite resource intensive - I am playing 6/7 years after the game was first released.

I've tried to reference the previous and future instalments of The Witcher as little as possible, Assassins of Kings is, after all, its own game. However, they are also intrinsically linked, so much so, that I'd thoroughly recommend playing them in order, on the same console. You can then, much like in Mass Effect, carry on your previous saves, keeping some choices and items along the road. It doesn't change the game too much; the weapons are early game and the choices are minimal. However, the pure personalisation of such an epic is great to see, and little reference here and there always brought a smile to my face. It really makes the game series your own and for a game littered with choices, to have such far-reaching consequences is simply amazing.

Conclusion: an odd middle child between the old-school RPGness of The Witcher 1 and the refined modern take of The Witcher 3, Assassins of Kings is a product of its time, even more so than the original. That's not to say it's not brilliant, however, calling it anything but would be a disservice.

Rating: 87%

Thanks for reading, Satamer.

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