Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

I've completed the game twice now. The second time was really only the second half of the game replayed to take the alternate path, but altogether I probably spent 40 hours with the game, though I have no way of verifying that estimation. This is very likely my game of the year. No other 2011 release has been or is as highly anticipated by me as The Witcher 2, and it delivered on all counts.

Assassins of Kings not only took what was great about The Witcher and ran with it, but completely revamped the combat system to great effect. It was pretty difficult at the beginning of the game (a patch in the time since I last played the prologue and first chapter did some balancing), but after getting the hang of it and investing some skill points into the various development trees, I became a formidable master swordsman/mage/alchemist hybrid.

The role-playing choices to be made in the Witcher games absolutely shame anything I've seen in any other games. Not only are the consequences truly meaningful to the development of the game's plot, the choices are rarely set up in a neat black/white good/evil dichotomy, and it's almost never immediately obvious what the ramifications of a choice will be. There is no spectrum on which your character mathematically drifts one way or the other depending on these choices; there is only the often harsh realization that a decision you made hours of playtime ago has just now come back around to you through an elaborate chain of cause and effect.

One key decision near the end of chapter 1 completely changes the plot, availability of quests, and mission objectives for the rest of the game, not to mention many of the locations visited in chapter 2. This is the point from which I went back and replayed from after finishing the game initially. Without spoiling too much, you choose to align (but not necessarily ally) yourself with either the elvish guerilla Iorveth or the vengeful special forces commander Vernon Roche and where you are and what side of the conflict you are on in chapter 2 plays out accordingly.

I can't imagine how CD Projekt Red will be able to carry over all 16 possible end-game world states to The Witcher 3. Most likely they will leave behind entirely many of the characters of this game. The overall political situation of the world of the game is pretty much the same at the ending of the game no matter what choices you make, but major characters (to this story) live or die, and individual kingdoms may be with or without a monarch or at peace or at war. Geralt though, is likely bound in the same direction with the same objective no matter how the saga of the kingslayers has played out. The ending of the first game in the series was similar; no matter who you allied with, Geralt's job was done and he was leaving the kingdom with a fat coin purse when things got real complicated all of a sudden. Something ends, something begins, they said, and if I had to guess the same is true here.

I just hope it's not a 4 year wait for the next game in the series. The Witcher 2 uses a new engine that the developers built specifically for this game, and so now that that groundwork is laid, here's hoping they can get The Witcher 3 done in closer to 2 or 3 years. The way the series is built so far, there is an overarching story arc of Geralt recovering lost memories of his adventures before the events of the games (including those that happened in the popular series of Witcher novels that the games were inspired by), and each game is a self-contained story of the witcher becoming embroiled in grand schemes and political maneuvering while just trying to do his profession (monster slayer for hire with a peculiar warrior's moral code) and earn some coin.

Two games in, and The Witcher has become one of my favorite series in gaming, and Geralt himself one of my favorite characters, right up there with the likes Solid/Naked Snake, Ezio Auditore, FemShep, and the cast of Uncharted. The wait begins for the next entry!


Greg said...

Man, the Witcher 2 pics you posted look awesome. I know it won't be as pretty on consoles but I definitely plan on picking this title up when it hits Xbox 360.

Count Elmdor said...

Do it! I think you'll like it. It's not necessary to play the first game to enjoy the second, but you may be kind of lost with certain characters and backstory stuff.

Hopefully they'll include some kind of recap for series newcomers explaining why Geralt is missing parts of his memory and letting you determine some of the major story choices from the first game, similar to how ME2 on PS3 did that.