Monday, January 2, 2017

Witcher 2 Review

 A worthy successor to the original and an engrossing RPG experience

In almost all respects, The Witcher 2 takes the solid foundation of The Witcher 1 and expands it into a faster-paced and more polished game. I was having such a good time playing this game I actually ended up staying up all night to finish the final act before my relatives started arriving for Christmas. I did have a few small quibbles, so I'll get those out of the way before getting into what made this game great.

As I had mentioned in my impressions post, the menus and interfaces in this game felt like a step backward, at least for those playing with mouse and keyboard, when compared to Witcher 1. While I eventually got used to them, the layout of multi-layer menus and sub-menus was less than intuitive and made getting the info I needed more of hassle than it needed to be. Especially glaring was the fact that when buying weapons and armor, there is no way to directly compare the currently equipped gear with what you're about to buy. Thus, I found myself having to perform the following procedure many times: open the equipment screen, note the specs of all my equipped gear, close the equipment screen, talk to a merchant, and then compare the specs of his/her wares to those I noted down from the equipped gear. Why is this so cumbersome? Most Super Nintendo RPGs I've played handled this better. On a related note, for some reason the game's auto-map doesn't label landmarks and some of the side quest text can be fairly cryptic, so I had to consult a guide several times in order to be able to do everything. Another confounding change is that unlike Witcher 1, Geralt can no longer drink potions (The Witcher's version of buffs) during combat, meaning that the player must predict when a big boss battle is about to happen and drink the potions in advance. This seems counter-intuitive to me. Lastly, the dice poker and fist-fighting mini games return from the first game, but at this point have gotten pretty stale.

For the positives, I'll start out with the most obvious upgrade: combat. The battles in the Witcher 2 are much faster and more dynamic than they were in Witcher 1. Geralt has a much larger variety of weapons and moves at his disposal allowing for the player to pick a combat style that suits their tastes. For me, playing on Normal, I found that rolling around like a crazy person, doing back attacks, and using the Aard (stun) spell to break an enemy's guard, got me through pretty much every enemy encounter. However, it's nice that other options such as ranged weapons and parrying are there, even if I personally didn't find much use for them. There were also several epic boss fights that were a real treat, though I  could do without the mid-battle QTEs. Plot was another strong suite of The Witcher 2; after having done a good job establishing the characters in its predecessor, this game further fleshes out the world of warring kingdoms and political intrigue in grand Game of Thrones-esque style. Furthermore, this tale of alliances and betrayal forces the player to make some very difficult decisions that seem to have real impact on events going forward. I probably won't replay the whole game to explore the alternate paths I could've taken, but just knowing that opening one door in The Witcher 2 closes several others definitely gave the decision-making some real weight. On top of these positive features, the thing that kept me hooked the most was how well the overall flow of the game is handled. Gaining access to new areas, meeting new characters, and completing a variety of quests is a formula that never gets old to me, especially when it's pulled off as well as it is in this game.

Overall, in spite of a few technical/design hang-ups, I found that The Witcher 2 was a hard game to put down and a really satisfying experience from start to finish. I'd highly recommend it to any fantasy or RPG fan as long as they can handle some of the graphic imagery. After playing parts 1 & 2 this year, I'm really looking forward to playing The Witcher 3 at some point in 2017!

Score: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Completion Time: 48 hours, 25 minutes (Main story and nearly all side-quests on normal difficulty)

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