The first thing every gamer is going to notice when they boot this one up is that the graphics look amazing. I definitely believe they are among some of the best available in gaming today. You may need an expensive computer to run it at “high” settings, but if you do have that equipment, you will be granted a very solid experience visually. On “low” settings, the game doesn’t look terrible or anything, but there’s quite a noticeable difference between that and “high.”
The Witcher 2 opens a bit differently from its predecessor, in that you are treated to a few “chapters” of the opening act, all of which you must complete before being treated to the main adventure. Your objective is to hunt down the assassin of King Foltest, a returning character from the first whose appearance here is much more of a cameo, obviously. The sequences, which act as “flashbacks” to the ongoings right up until Foltest’s murder, come heavy with action, and difficulty, to boot. The sense of tutorial is pretty non-existent here, as all of the enemies feel like they have more health than you and are stronger than you. And there’s more of them, too.
For lack of a better way to describe it, a large chunk of the entire first sections of the game feels like a game from before the year 1995, where you basically go into a fight/encounter not knowing what is expected of you, there’s been no tutorial, and you don’t have the instruction manual. Instead of getting your hand held a little bit and easing you into things, this game goes full-boar and expects you to survive encounters that even on “Normal” difficulty will kill you more than once. And this is just within the first hour or two of gameplay. When you continue to die, you don’t feel like the reason you are dying is because you are making mistakes, you feel like it’s because the game isn’t telling you how you’re supposed to succeed. So you keep re-loading the same save over and over, trying to learn something from the last time, and eventually through a distinct set of circumstances (random chance, your experimentation, etc.), maybe after 4 or 5 tries, you beat it. Now, granted, eventually you start to get used to things and eventually you will start dying less, but it feels much more like you are winning fights by “cheesing” the game than actually skillfully beating opponents (I don’t classify body-rolling in and out of packs of soldiers, using magic a few times then avoiding enemy contact until the spells recharge, or otherwise using a sort of “shoot it and boot it” philosophy, as any sort of “strategic” tactic). But that’s what seems to work in this game. In addition, the level-up menu screen where you select skills/stat improvements after leveling up just doesn’t feel like it changes gameplay much at all. Although the improvements are there and eventually you do start to feel like you are winning fights more than you are losing, it doesn’t feel like you are being offered new and inventive ways to engage in combat (I admit, I am saying this only with knowledge of the Swordsmanship talent tree, and I am not sure how it is for the others). And have I mentioned that it takes the game a few seconds after combat ends to respond and let you interact with things again, such as items or doors? It’s quite a shame, because the majority of complaints there were about The Witcher were directed at the combat system. So, while I appreciate their efforts in giving it a full overhaul, it just doesn’t work here and actually I dare to call it worse than the first one’s system.
Even though the combat is broken, I kept playing on because the storyline was very interesting at first. That’s another area where this game improves from The Witcher. The “immersion factor” is very high here, even moreso than the first game, because of changes they’ve made to the way characters gesticulate and articulate their words and actions during cut-scenes or dialog scenes. On that note, the voice acting is a noticeable step up from the first one, as well.
The problem is, the game is so rough around the edges in between fight scenes and cut-scenes that it becomes tedious and painful just to get yourself from one to the next. For starters, the compass used to navigate is pretty bad, and twists around in ways that you don’t want it to, so it’s very easy to get lost even when you’re only trying to walk 20 steps through a town. In addition, for reasons unknown, certain quests don’t even use the map to display the location they should be done in, which seems odd being that many of them will do it correctly. This led to a lot of “alt-tab” requests to minimize the game and go to Google.com for help, which I was able to get sometimes but not for others, due to the game being so new. Also, at the time of me playing through it, two quests were broken altogether, and could not be completed correctly. Hopefully they have plans to patch this (or maybe they’ve already done it), but that was certainly unwelcome.
Another thing that The Witcher 2 attempted to change from the first game, possibly also in response to complaints from the first one, is the inventory management system. In the first game, you needed to access NPCs along the way to store your items because you were limited to how many you could carry. This led to a lot of trips back and forth to manage your inventory, which was cumbersome. So they set out to improve on it in this game by eliminating the NPCs altogether, and in theory, they set out to create a sequel where you wouldn’t feel like you even HAD to store items. The problem is that they don’t succeed on this level at all. Items are everywhere in the game. Pretty much every room you go into will have them. And in The Witcher, you were generally rewarded for picking up as much as you could (even if you only planned on selling the items soon afterward). You generally were not “penalized” for trying to pick up too many things, as long as you were keeping your bags relatively cleared by using the aforementioned NPCs. In The Witcher 2, though, you feel like the game DISCOURAGES open exploration/item looting. This is because, for reasons unknown to me and probably countless other people who’ve played this game, they implemented a “weight” system (think of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, only that one actually sort of… you know, worked) where after you loot too many items, your movement becomes very slow and you cannot fight effectively. This change, while a serious “question mark”, wouldn’t have been so bad if not for the fact that they took the inventory storage NPCs out altogether. So you feel like you are constantly battling your own mind on whether “this is more important than that” so you can free up some weight, or pondering “I think I will use this soon, whereas this I don’t think so.” I seriously would like the hours of my life back that I spent either walking slowly because of being weighed down, or deciding on what I would keep and what I would drop.
And again, that in it of itself would not be a deal-breaker if the game offered you some sort of direction on what you should be picking up. But it doesn’t. This is because the majority of the items you gather are focused around a crafting system that is new to The Witcher 2. While the original game had an Alchemy system (and this one does too), there was no system for actually crafting equipment, and they attempted to “spice things up” I guess by adding it to this one. The problem is two-fold though. First, you have no idea what you really want to hold onto until you see that you want it (such as for a crafting recipe you just got, and maybe by then you dropped a material hours ago and have no idea where to find it again), and second, it’s a painful, time-consuming process that doesn’t seem to offer much “bang for the buck”, so to speak. Usually in games where a crafting system exists for equipment, it makes sense because you are expected to use that equipment for some time, and this justifies the time or expense you used up to do it (such as in an MMO where you might use a sword you just crafted for at least 10-20 hours of gameplay). In this game though, you have no idea on whether what you are making will be phased out soon or not (maybe you’ll find a better sword 30 minutes later?), so it never really feels like an inviting process.
Going along with this, they decided to make the use of potions a completely “out-of-combat” process, which baffles me to this day. You cannot use potions inside of combat. So, think of the way The Witcher was, where if you start a fight and you find yourself getting your ass kicked, you can turn the tides a little bit by drinking a potion and powering up. In this one, you’re somehow expected to know “in advance” whether or not you will need a potion. Usually you don’t get this knowledge until after your ass ends up on the ground a few times, and after clicking “Load Most Recent Save” a few times. So the game leads to this sense of “paranoia” where you are literally auto-saving every time you exit combat and every time you anticipate entering it, which cannot possibly be a healthy game mechanic.
I think you all get the point. I could talk about other minor things that detract from the overall experience of this game, but I think I could sum up this game’s experience in a mere sentence for you, "CD Projekt took what wasn’t broken and attempted to fix it, leading to clumsy design decisions and the delivery of poorly executed gameplay mechanics." The game just simply isn’t very fun to play. It pains me to say that, given how well the storyline begins (although I’ll admit it sort of starts to go into “WTF” mode about halfway), how good the voice acting is, the visuals being so strong, and the overall sense of immersion seeming so inviting. But none of that can make up for the severe steps backward that this sequel takes. I believe there might still be some enjoyment here for select individuals, but I believe that this game’s potential (and there is a lot of it, for sure) will only be
fully realized through a major patch, or maybe an “Enhanced Edition” a couple of months down the road.
Final Score: 6/10
Written by Joe K