by Davneet Minhas
reviewed on PC
An Adult Game
Sex is included, of course, but thankfully no sex cards. There’s less sex in this game than in its predecessor, but here it’s presented more uniquely. The game doesn’t pretend that sex is some magical expression of a long-standing, well-developed relationship like Bioware wants us to believe. Nor does it present sex as crass or raunchy or something to point and ogle at, as so many other franchises, like Duke Nukem and God of War, do. Ok, maybe sex is something to point and ogle at but in The Witcher 2 it is presented more naturally and maturely than in most games. Sure, it’s nice and we all want it, but it’s not that big a deal. The same is true for profanity. There’s no poorly written character who feels the need to drop an f-bomb between every other word to sound like a badass. Instead, certain words are a part of everyone’s vocabulary and are properly brought out in emotionally charged situations, like when a king is addressing his troops right before battle.
The Witcher 2 is HBO programming standing apart from hundreds of channels of laugh-track network television. Thanks to its use of sex and profanity, it is a game for adults, not just a game with adult content. It refreshingly presents mature subjects in a mature manner.
Traps and Bombs and Swords
Throughout the first half of the game, monsters are tough. Typically when someone in an RPG tells you not to venture into that forest because it’s too dangerous, you laugh and proceed to embarrass him and the forest’s inhabitants. In The Witcher 2, you should listen.
Each monster you encounter early on can kill Geralt with a few hits and of course, they are never alone. All travel in packs and arrive suddenly, climbing down from tree tops or popping up from under ground or slinking out of a lake. So you have to use everything at Geralt’s disposal. In anticipation of a battle you can apply oils to Geralt’s sword and drink potions, both of which increase his effectiveness in battle. (I am very fond of the game’s potion system. Having to meditate and drink potions before a fight makes a lot more sense than pausing a battle to drink a concoction that instantly increases your health.) You can also set traps to fall back on when you are in trouble. In battle, Geralt can throw bombs and knives, employ his signs to protect him from damage, push enemies back, set them on fire, and even create traps. And of course, there are the swords.
Just like in the original game, Geralt has a steel sword and a silver sword, the first for humans and the second for monsters. But gone are the different attack styles – fast, strong, and group – and the rhythmic timing system for stringing sword strokes together. I miss these elements. The Witcher 2’s swordplay is simpler – you can block, dodge, and swing quickly or heavily. But the other additions to combat do make up for the loss. Fights, at least early on in the game, are very stressful and tactical, more so than in the original. Of course, as Geralt progresses, he becomes stronger, recovers faster, gains new abilities, acquires better weapons and armor. Strangely, combat becomes much easier. In the second half of the game, Geralt encounters new monsters, but they don’t seem to scale with him. A sword and the occasional sign are good enough to take them down – there’s no need to use potions or traps or bombs. The most difficult battle in the game occurs at the end of the first chapter. All the men and monsters in chapters two and three, even those the size of a bus, are comparatively lame.
I’m not sure what to think of this disparity in difficulty. On the one hand, it’s quite silly that the smallest, must mundane creatures provide the most difficulty. On the other, slicing through enemies without a problem was a relief after all of the early stress from combat. It did provide a nice sense of accomplishment: After all those early trials, my Geralt became a real badass. But shouldn’t he have already been a badass?
Don’t Make Me Steal
Crafting is a huge part of The Witcher 2 and much more important than in its predecessor. You essentially have to craft every single sword you want to use, every piece of armor you want to wear. Merchants rarely sell the best items – only diagrams for them – and enemies rarely drop them. Most of the time, monsters and men leave behind ingredients for potions and materials for items. And there are oh so many ingredients and materials. Each monster can drop any number of different parts, such as eyes and brains and hearts. Men drop ores and clothes and dusts. And of course, every large crate and small cloth parcel has something useful inside too – and these are everywhere, on the street and inside people’s homes. This brings up two of the biggest problems I had with the game.
Complex narrative, thoughtful combat, mature content done maturely.
Minor bugs and not enough storage.