Guest Author - James Shea
An action-RPG based on a Polish fantasy series, "The Witcher 2" expands the gameplay and setting of the first game, yet comes up short in some regards.
The Witcher 2 is set in a fantasy world molded more after real history than many of its contemporaries. The designs and plot are grounded in reality while still retaining fantastic elements, so period-appropriate Renaissance designs exist alongside elves and monsters. The player takes the role of Geralt, a semi-amnesiac white-haired monster hunter known as a "Witcher", who in this game's plot must contend with a globe-spanning plot involving one of his fellow Witchers. The game's writing is compelling, though it varies by character, so for some it may be enough to simply follow the story.
The Witcher 2's gameplay is more action-oriented than The Witcher's gameplay was. While the first game's combat was mostly rhythm-based, The Witcher 2 uses a more conventional light/heavy attack system combined with its existing spell-casting system. This is meant to make it seem more like an action game than the Witcher 1, and while it's certainly a more involved system, it's still not exactly good. The relative lack of responsiveness means that battles are in essence flailing messes; you can get a general idea of what's working, but the animation quality and general "feel" of combat leave a lot to be desired. It's not really tactical enough to be good RPG combat, and it's not reflexive enough to be good action combat.
The "RPG" elements of the Witcher are more of a background element, as befits an action-RPG. There are skill trees with different upgradable statistics and abilities, but it's not as involved as in a traditional RPG. Rather, the RPG concepts are more about affecting the combat gameplay, which ends up in a lacking experience because the combat gameplay isn't that good. It's possible to take ingredients from nature or fallen monsters in order to brew potions and oils, but really the application of that mechanic isn't too different from traditional crafting gameplay in other RPGs.
The game's aesthetics are probably its biggest draw. The game's setting is a Renaissance-level European-style fantasy, and accurate real-life armor and clothing is depicted in the game. However, this doesn't really have a huge impact on gameplay; swords easily pierce through plate armor, and the technology of the period never really matters, meaning that it's a standard fantasy game wrapped up in a nice-looking package at most. The game's graphics are well-executed, but models tend to clip into each other and animations can be somewhat stuttered unless your system is good enough to run it totally smoothly.
Overall, though, I didn't care for The Witcher 2. Its combat is average, its graphics are good, and its story is acceptable. It's not really worth praising per se, but it's not terrible, either. It's just sort of a hard game to get into because it follows the standard RPG formula of semi-linear story padded out with fetch quests. If you're into that, it's a good game; if you're not a fan of RPGs, Witcher 2 probably won't change your mind.
We purchased this game with our own funds for the purpose of doing this review.
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