The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Review

By Darryl Kaye on May 29, 2011

Over the years, the PC exclusive has become something of rarity. The platform still gets plenty of games, but they are often an after thought, nothing more than a port from the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. But many times, when a developer really pushes the boat out and sticks to their guns, it's a triumph for gaming. And that's really what The Witcher 2 is, a triumph. The original title was hit and miss for some, but the sequel is definitely a hit.

The story kicks off directly where the previous story ended, with King Foltest attempting to get his children back. Even if you haven't played the previous title though, it's written in such a way that you can get straight into the action without having to know all of the back story. And it's still engaging due to the interaction that's possible.

It's mostly non-linear, so what you do and say will have an affect on how events transpire. And you'll learn this more and more as Geralt goes about his quest, trying to get to the bottom of a conspiracy to kill the various kings of the realm. The dialogue and the choices you make really help to connect you with Geralt, who is still trying to piece his memory together. There are only three chapters, with a prologue and an epilogue, but there's more than enough story content here to keep you busy. However, it's not an open world, even if the realm does seem rather expansive, so once a chapter is done, you can't go back and take on uncompleted quests.

At first glance, the combat in The Witcher 2 might seem rather standard. Geralt can now only perform two attacks, a light and heavy swing, but it's very deceptive. First off, you have to use different weapons for different enemies. Geralt carries a standard melee weapon, which can be a sword, axe, etc, and needs to be used for killing humans. But he also carries a silver sword, which must be used for killing monsters.

Geralt then has different spells he can use, and how you use them will depend on what type of person you are. For example, you can use Aard to shock people out of the way and disrupt groups of enemies, or Yrden to trap enemies and go behind them to deal critical damage. Or, you can use Axii to mess with their minds. In any case, Quen is your safety net as it's a shield that will absorb all damage while it stays up. Each fight, even random ones while walking around, will present its own challenge. You can't just run into a pack of 3-4 enemies and expect to hack your way to victory. A strategy is a necessity, especially against the various bosses.Even on the standard difficulty, the boss fights in The Witcher 2 are rather testing - they really ramp the challenge up. You need a solid strategy and a stroke of luck here and there, to even think about winning - sometimes that isn't even enough. It's great that the developers didn't feel they needed to hold your hand though, as it seems to be a common trend within the industry right now.

To compliment this natural challenge, The Witcher 2 has a fleshed out potions system, and they can make life a little bit easier. You can make potions to restore health, but also do things like increase your Vigor regeneration - what you need in order to perform Geralt's various spells. When in the open world, Geralt can also find hot spots, which will boost his combat proficiency.

There's also a decent amount of crafting and a few mini-games to keep things interesting, such as arm wrestling using the mouse. And quick-time events are splattered about in generally unimportant places to mix things up a bit.

Graphically, The Witcher 2 is a beast, but if you have a gaming rig that can run it, you're in for a treat. The character models and animations themselves aren't up there with the best, but the amount of detail visible in the game's environments and the lighting/atmosphere that CD Projekt's custom engine creates, are sublime. The voice acting is also top notch, with a mixture of accents that doesn't feel strange.

In terms of replay value, that's really in the eye of the beholder. Given the game's non-linear approach to the story, and the fact that once a chapter is complete, you can't go back, there is plenty of opportunity for playing through again. But, you might also think that you'll just make the same decisions again. It's certainly not a short experience even with one play-through though, so there's plenty of bang for your buck.

Final Thoughts

The Witcher 2 shows that PC exclusives still merit a very respectable place in the video games industry. It has beautiful graphics, but it's backed up with a story that's more than capable of holding its own. Add to this, a game with an challenge that's rewarding and a combat system that rewards a methodical approach and you have one of the best RPGs you'll see this year.

It's a graphical beast.
The combat is difficult, but very rewarding.
The world is very engrossing, it'll suck you in.
You can't go back to previous chapters to complete quests.
The difficulty may put some people off.
The animations could still do a with a bit of work.
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