the artistry and psychology of gaming


The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

I’m tired of having to choose the lesser evil.

Thus laments the Geralt of Rivia, when the fabulous game The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is nearing its end. And this sums the game up rather nicely, for this is what distinguishes this dark fantasy RPG from other video games of similar genre, RPG. In the Pontar Valley you don’t find any good; there’s no room for such a thing, you only find lesser evil; and therefore everything is real, sad, and tangible. Your choices are real and realistic, and that’s what’s so great about this game.

Why Witcher 2 is Such a Great Game?

It has been called by some “the Best RPG ever”, and I’m not to say that’s an exaggeration. Many games deserve that title and now definitely The Witcher 2 is one of them.

In many the games the choice system only results in a stupid label and maybe some new abilities or dialogue options; and most of the times they’re not tough choices as all. One path leads to absolute good and the other to absolute evil; and the game never asks youto sacrifice a thing, you are the sole hero of the game, and good and bad are defined. And I believe that it would be false to call the morality of Witcher 2 even gray. There’s no color but black, with hints of white. No one is innocent in the Pontar Valley. Both parties that you can choose as your main course have innocent blood on their hand; both are guilty of heinous crimes like torture and theft. And yet, both can be justified in their own way. Both have valid arguments behind their actions. So, which path is the “good” path? Which one is the lesser evil? There’s no answer. Not in the game.

Three of the main characters of the game: Triss, Geralt, and Roche

 In addition to the tough choices of the game which are incredibly hard to make; they also radically alter you path. No two gamer experience exactly the same game and it’s fun to see how the scenario has played out differently for each gamer. This is again something that many western RPGs promise but fail to deliver. This is not only true about your important scenario altering choices but also about what you at first may peg to be a secondary choice in a secondary mission. In short, you never know when your choices are going to bite back at you; and you never entirely realize the gravity of your choices and their consequences.

And also there are the smaller things, things you may not notice. The scar-ridden chest of Geralt; which looks like a real fighter’s body and not shining and clean like other heroes’ bodies; the scenes of poverty, hunger and malady in the cities, the dialogues people exchange as you walk past them, the beauty of the naked body of Triss, the realistic bleeding and death of your enemies, all this small details which most companies overlook.

However, we come to Geralt itself, and he seems like a hero taken straight out of a fantasy story. He fights better than all fighters, has supernatural strength, agility, and he can stomach all the pain he can get, and no man can match him in a fight. He can sleep with almost every woman he comes across; and then again, he’s perfect at making love as he’s perfect at making war. Plus, he’s wise and witty, and can overcome scholars with his sharp tongue. He’s the classic hero, coming out of ancient romances and teenage boys’ fantasies.

At the first look, it might look as a disparity between the realistic tone of the game itself and the fantasy portrayal of Geralt, but that’s intentional, and that’s where the main merits of the game are shown.

The game is truly about a lament, a requiem, on the heroism of the traditional world passing away and giving itself to the hardship of the modern one. The game clearly states that the age of the heroes has passed and this is a shame; and therefore the game has two genres, romance and realism, as it’s about realism taking over romance, and also about the last stand of romance. Geralt knows his time is passing, and he’s standing to at least clear his name. Therefore the game is at the same time deterministic and not, as the coming of the modern era is inevitable but at the same time, no one can take Geralt’s heroism away from him.

This game is deep, meaningful and complex, and that’s what makes it so great.

So tell me about gameplay….

The combat remains basically the same as the first Witcher, but it’s improved a bit. You still have your two swords, steel and silver, one for monsters and one for humans, plus your different fast and strong attacks. However, the feeling of action has increased a lot, as you can click for each strike, and since LMB is assigned to fast strike and RMB to strong strike, you can easily switch between the two, and cool animations have really vastly improved your fighting experience. Unlike the first game, you feel that you’re actually fighting. Yet, it’s not possible for you to rush into the scene and mash the LMB thoughtlessly, as teh enemies are really tough. Not only you have to upgrade yourself steadily and carefully but also you must resort into alchemy. You have to make yourself potions that enhance your abilities and help you fight better, and therefore you spend a lot of time gathering ingredients and finding formulas.

So, Witcher 2 is exactly how much action and how much RPG? That depends entirely on you, based on the difficulty level you play the game on. The easy difficulty is the most action you can get, and you can ignore alchemy altogether and go easy on upgrading. The hardest difficulty makes you life miserable as you can’t hurt a rat before ODing yourself on potions. To me, the best way is the middle; where you can enjoy  fighting like a badass and yet be challenged by the alchemy and upgrading.

Plus, not only you can upgrade yourself in different ways, and as you please, (you can become an absolute swordsman or alchemist or create a balance between them), there are many new small things which can enhance your performance considerably. You can use enhancements to upgrade your swords and armor, and mutagens to mutate your abilities and all this improves your performance in small but considerable ways.

And oh, you do have to closely inspect any sword you use and any armor you wear, as you can die pretty fast if your sword or armor is not suitable to the difficulty of the enemies you’re fighting.

You have all the signs from the previous game right at the beginning. Signs are magic, by the way. Although I can complaint why there is no new magic in this game, you can freely use these ones to help you in combat and they have a new use as well: while having dialogues you can use them to change the course of the dialogue, and they generally play a greater role in the plot and the game from before.

And now about the side-quests! Firstly, your side-missions, like the first game, are interesting and very challenging, and sometimes they’re a bit too important to be called a secondary quest. You have to play them and you will, as they are not in any way a distraction from the main plot. This leaves us with missions like monster contracts and mini-games. Like the previous game, you can accept contracts to take on a specific monster. These side-quests are greatly improved in comparison with the first game. You no longer have to “kill 10 drowners and bring their brains”, which feels mechanical and boring. Now, you learn an interesting fact about each monster and use it to destroy their weak point. For example, you have to destroy the underground tunnels of Nekkers or burn the dead bodies to disparage necromophs. Therefore these missions are now a real mission and care has gone into designing them.

As for minigames, the pokers and the fistfights are back. Poker is the same and as fun, but fistfights have changed to a series of QTEs and if you like such things, you may welcome the change. (I don’t). The animation of fist fighting is really cool though. And we have a new minigame as well; and that’s arm wrestling, which is quite fun. The minigames are optional (OK, you have to play poker once and fistfight a few times) and unobtrusive and they enrich your experience.

In short, the gameplay of this game is the same as the first one but improved and polished, and this means it’s really, really great. The first game was a flawed masterpiece, (at least before that historic patch), and this one? A masterpiece, polished, shining, and beautiful.

Any complaints?

There are some complaints. Firstly, this game is a lot shorter than the first game. Oh, it’s not short by any measure, but it’s still shorter than the first game. The first game was five chapters (plus prologue and epilogue), and this one is only three (plus prologue and epilogue). Plus, the third chapter is really short, so the game is about 3/5 of the previous game. This is not a major issue as the game is still pretty long, and it’s a lot more replayable than the first game. Oh, if you play Witcher 2 once you will automatically have to play it twice, as it’s so rich and so many different scenarios are possible that you have no choice but to play it again.

MY other complaint is major however. The game lacks something which the first game really, really missed, and so does this one. Fast travel! Yes, that cursed ability to directly jump to a place you’ve explored before. You spend a lot of time simply going from one place to another and this is NOT fun. No sir.

The other major complaint is that there is no real tutorial or guide within the game on how to play it and that’s not a challenging element but a design flaw. I’d love to play your system but first I’d like to know what it is.

Let’s put some sexy into the article

Now, one can’t talk about Witcher but not talk about sex. Let me announce with pride that the game has improved on this aspect a lot. Firstly, instead of stupid sex cards you get real sex scenes in this game, and they are beautiful and with real nudity, not clumsy clothed ones (we’re looking at you, Bioware). So, yes, they are sexy.

The first game also had a problem of objectification of women which is solved here. I’m a huge fan of eroticism but not when it involves cheap tricks and degrading of the women. Now, this has improved a lot. Firstly, you don’t get to sleep with any woman in the game and therefore it doesn’t seem to convey Geralt is James Bond. Here, you either can have sex with Triss, who’s your beloved, or with prostitutes, whom you pay (and their presence makes the game more realistic), or you have a few more options which you have to really woo and therefore are again realistic.

And the game doesn’t use cheap tricks at all. Triss doesn’t sport a massive cleavage and her clothing is no longer revealing and it’s practical. Therefore, the game, unlike its predecessor, has dignified eroticism and that’s great.

Letho, the main villain of the game


The graphics and sound are things that I don’t like talking about much, but as they are an important part of the game; here you are:

The visuals are great. The character models look fantastic and for the first time, Geralt’s dace conveys real emotions. Triss is bloody beautiful and so are all the main characters. The NPCs are greatly done as well, and the monsters are great. The landscapes are detailed. One can say that the Western RPG genre isn’t great when it comes to graphics but this game easily matches the best games on the market, and its graphics is the best of its genre without any shadow of a doubt.

The voice actings, unfortunately, are a bit flat and lack conviction, and also unvaried as sometimes they speaking is too formal and literary and sometimes not, however, it’s a huge improvement over the first game and that’s a great achievement in itself. Accordingly, music is not great but it’s acceptable.

You may have some problems running this game on your system. I have a GForce 260x and I could run it on high settings when I downloaded the latest drivers. However, if you’re looking for a reason to upgrade you PC, or hell, buy a new one, I have a great excuse for you: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.

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