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The Witcher 2 review – A medieval world full of monsters, smut and anachronistic speech 
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Garth Holden
April 25, 2012 at 12:15 pm

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Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings takes the player on a dark adventure into a world of politics, racism, conspiracy and regicide. A terrifying world where monsters have invaded from another sphere of reality and now lurk in the sewers and swamps. A world where graveyards need to be locked at night. Where the fat, corrupt guards of cities ignore the pleas of the peasants and citizens, someone needs to rise up. And thus, many years ago, the witchers were born.

Forsaking their humanity, witchers train to fight the monsters of the dark, roaming mercenaries that are shunned wherever they go, their visits to towns lasting only as long as there are monsters to be slain or curses to be lifted. No one trusts a witcher, those enigmas with vertical pupils and two swords.
But the truth of them is closely guarded: while witchers possess strength and senses vastly superior to those of normal humans, they are not superhuman as the myths would make out. Witchers rely on oils, traps, spells and cunning to beat the deadly foes that are their quarry. An unprepared witcher is a dead witcher, something that is highly evident on normal difficulty in this game.

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You will die in this game. Not as much in say, Dark Souls, but you will die. So save often, because the game doesn’t autosave half as often as I wish it did, and sometimes it will autosave at the start of the action, meaning you have no time to make potions or drink them. Because in this game, potions can’t be quaffed mid-combat, adding to the amount of planning that players have to do before running in and swinging their swords. Thankfully a witcher is armed with many tricks. Geralt makes use of runes, magical symbols which allow him to channel basic spells. From shielding himself against damage to setting foes alight, or swaying conversations, there is always a rune for the job. Traps and lures can be set around the battlefield, ready to cripple, maim or incinerate those who unwittingly set them off. Witchers carry a steel sword and a silver sword, as silver is naturally attuned to magic. Oils can be coated on weapons to cause certain creatures to bleed profusely, or to take increased damage. Even so, some monsters will test your reflexes and patience, as you circle your enemy looking for an opening, waiting for a chance to strike at their backs or a soft, sensitive patch of flesh.

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Meet Geralt of Rivia, a white-haired witcher with amnesia. If this is your first time in this horrid world, which it probably is if you’re playing on Xbox, then welcome. A few notes on things that may not feel readily apparent: elves and dwarves, the non-humans, are treated as filth in this world. Racist actions such as human-only bars, residential districts and bars and the squalor in which they live paint a very oppressed picture of these once great races. There are those who wish to see their races returned to positions of power, and one violent faction who does this is the Scoia’tael, also known as squirrels. In the Witcher 1, Geralt spends a lot of time with these spurned races, as he understands the mistrust, disdain and hatred.

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The witcher is an adult game, more so than any other title I’ve played. I mean this in the sense that it tackles adult topics, not adult as in those movies and DVDs with opaque packaging that Geoff keeps in his office. Still, it should be pointed out, this game is not for children, and the age restriction, something I often disagree with in games, seems more than fair. Sexual themes and graphic language pervade the towns, with whores offering their goods and men relieving themselves in the street. Given the fact that women are naturally drawn to and curious about the, cough, increased stamina and strength of witchers, you can expect a lot of ploughing.

A lot. And naked bosoms.

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The game also treats the player like an adult, which may be off-putting to some. The game is dark and mysterious, offering very little in terms of assistance. Listen carefully when you are given directions, for example, because that information isn’t stored in a bullet listed quest log, nor is there a handy waypoint telling you where to go. The quest log is written rather as excerpts told by Dandelion the bard, adding to the flavour of the world.

Exploration, logic and knowing your enemy are key to survival and progress in the Witcher. Knowledge of when to fight and when to flee is paramount, as the odds are almost always stacked against you. Some mobs feel unbeatable without the correct potions and oils, and some encounters will require traps, lures and a lot of luck to survive. Magic is not as ubiquitous as in other RPGs, so expect to work for magicked items and equipment. In fact, in most situations, the monsters you kill are often the loot you seek, as both potions and armours can be made with the hide and organs of your foes.

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What I love and hate about this game, is the fact that exploration is both rewarded and punished. Money and crafting reagents lie everywhere for the observant player, but so too do bandits, monsters and ambushes.

Geralt is a nomad, and the game makes a great display of this. While the world around you doesn’t progress according to time, certain quests can trigger great upheavals, often resulting in several quests being abandoned as the political landscape and turmoil of events result in Geralt being swept away by both actions of his manufacture, as well as the schemes of those around him. As such, nowhere is safe. Nowhere is comfortable, and players need to spend more time evaluating their choices. Because not everything is black and white. In fact, Geralt is often beset with topics and choices that are subtle shades of grey.
Do you have the staying power to survive the monsters, the backstabbing political realm and the venom with which some spit your name? Can the assassin of kings clear his name? And what of his memory? Will he learn what he was running from?

Scoring:
Design and presentation: 8/10.

The Witcher 2, despite the dark, forbidding themes, is a beautiful world, artfully capturing the untamed beauty of the forests, the squalor of the non-human district and the, uh, assets of the many maidens. The minimap is rather tiny, and can’t be locked to always face north or tasked to show certain things. The menu interface feels clumsy, and often results in viewing several screens to see the one you want, especially if you forget which icon meant what (showing my age here). This 2-disc game really needs to be installed, otherwise lag and texture pop-ins reach intolerable levels, especially in conversations with more than two speakers. If only autosaves were just before critical cinematics.

Gameplay: 9/10.

The addition of QTEs adds to the cinematic action and feel of the game, and makes a huge improvement to the brawling in the taverns over Witcher 1. The combat isn’t perfect, with some monsters ignoring your blade swings as you watch the sword cut straight through them, or Geralt attacking or incinerating wild dangerous thin air, but it is rewarding, especially when downing a deadly beast.

Value: 9/10.

With close to a 30-hour playthrough while skipping many sidequests, expect to be kept busy. Add in even more unforgiving difficulty levels and multiple playthroughs to discover more about this dystopian world (and to bed other conquests), I foresee this game spending many happy hours in the Xbox.

Overall: 9/10.

If you don’t mind being tossed into the deep end of a dark world where monsters don’t pull their punches, the Witcher 2 is a refreshing look at the combat RPG genre. The flavour is rich and enjoyable, if at times putrid. Tough choices with far reaching implications will have you paying as much attention during conversations as when on the battlefield.

[Reviewed on Xbox 360, also available on PC]

Conclusion

9.0

The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition was reviewed by Garth Holden