Revered Before Release
Ah, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. So many of us loved this game long before its release, for good reason: How many big-budget, single-player PC exclusives do we get each year? This game stands alone in that regard, so it’s easy and maybe even necessary to put the game on a pedestal – to regard developer CD Projekt as the lone soldier standing tall against the consolized hordes, waving its witcher banner back and forth, drawing reverence. But does it really deserve our support? As a game, does The Witcher 2 really deserve such adulation? Well, it’s not without its problems, but it is nevertheless amazing.
Right and Wrong
To begin, you should know that The Witcher 2 deals with racism, drugs, rape, and – as the game’s subtitle suggests – regicide. This is a mature game, and through it all is politics. Everyone you meet, from hired assassins to fringe leaders to monarchs, has their own agenda. They all have grandiose views on the goings-on of cultures and kingdoms, on who should rise and who should fall and how it all should be done. And they work against each other in the most convoluted, back-handed manners possible. It can be hard to follow every character and their desires as there is so much deceit.
Basic conversations alone are so rich with detail – with ancillary events, people you will never meet, history, and overall exposition – you really have to pay attention to understand everything. Fortunately the voice acting is so done well that it’s not hard to pay attention. I can’t think of another recent game that has such a detailed backstory and complex cast of characters. (Of course, the game being based off of a series of novels and short stories helps in that regard.)
Geralt, our witcher, our monster hunter, is much simpler by comparison. He is a very straightforward, no-nonsense guy with a very dry sense of humor. His concerns are more intimate, and he is content to be left out of all the politics, but he’s thrust into them nonetheless. To achieve his much humbler goals, he must weave in and out of these characters’ lives and weigh his own intimate concerns with those of kingdoms, choose who to side with, who to rescue, and whether or not to kill someone on multiple occasions. The decisions you have to make are the highlight of The Witcher 2, as they were in the first game. When it comes time to choose to side with person A or person B, you may not know who the good guy is. Neither, in fact, may be the good guy. There is no morality metric to tell you what’s right and what’s wrong, and you don’t learn the consequences of your choices until hours later. You have to live with the decisions you have made, and sometimes that sucks. Actually, it often sucks because there usually is no good choice.
Still, this is real replay value, not the sort we are used to where you can just reload the last save and choose the other door to see how it plays out. To figure out what would have happened, you actually have to replay the game, or at least a significant chunk of it.
Complex narrative, thoughtful combat, mature content done maturely.
Minor bugs and not enough storage.