The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

 

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Witcher 2 was the first time I heard about this series. I learnt about it from a friend at school who knew I was into video games and he was super hyped for this game, so he was doing all he could to get me to play it so he could have someone geek out with. Unfortunately, we only had a Mac in my household and I wasn’t aloud to dual-boot it for games.

A couple of years later when a steam summer sale rolled around I was able to pick up the enhanced editions for Witcher 1 and 2, and I fell in love with the series as soon as I began playing.

The Witcher 2 Assassins of kings is such a great improvement upon the first game that it is no wonder it is where lot of people like me first heard about the series. Not to mention the Xbox 360 release gave the game a much wider scope than being a PC exclusive. Graphics played a big part in this as well, for a long time before I played the game I often saw it being used as a graphics benchmark for gaming PCs.

The Witcher series is similar to game series like Mass Effect, where you can take progress from once game into the next. In Witcher 2 you get to keep a portion of the money you had in your Witcher 1 game and whatever end-game swords you had, whether it is D’yaebl, Moonblade, or the Mahakaman Rune Sihil, as well as Ravens armor if you completed it. This equipment serves to give your character a boost in the early game. Although there is an annoying bug where during the intro to the game you are often equipped in the Temerian armor you would have otherwise had, even if you had already equipped your carry over items

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As is a Witcher standard, story telling is the main pull of the series and Assassins of Kings is no different. The game begins with Geralt being under interrogation for having killed the king he was serving at the end of the first game. Through this introduction you get to play through the events that Geralt is retelling to his interrogator, and you get to see the events that lead up to his incarceration. Needless to say Geralt is innocent and escaped to discover who the killer is and exactly why the king was killed.

Similar to the first Witcher game each chapter of the story has you exploring a specific area to further the plot. Although these zones feel far larger than they did in the first game. Witcher 2 has the added element that when you take a side with either the Scoia’tael or the Temerian Blue Stripes you get to experience a very different story to someone who chose the other side. In fact, unless you replay the game (or have a save at the decision point) you never see the other side of the story. This gives the game great replay value as you can be sure that you will be seeing something new if you play through the game again.

Combat wise the game feels much better than Witcher 1 as you can switch between silver and steel swords with far greater ease. Manoeuvring around enemies in combat is much more intuitive than in the first game. Witcher signs are still powerful and useful, although there is a new perk system when you level up that, for me, encourages more of a single direction, like spending points only in Swords combat, only in Signs, or only in Alchemy.

Combat in the Witcher 2 also removes the stances or fast, slow, and group, that I enjoyed in the first game, although it is possible to achieve the same effects with higher level combat perks. Due to the fact that I felt funneled into a single tree I don’t find myself using signs as much as I used Igni in Witcher 1.

A complaint I have seen on forums online is that the Witcher 2’s UI is designed too much around the use of a controller. This is true, however I played this game with the use of an Xbox 360 controller, simply because for an action RPG such as this I prefer to use a controller rather than a keyboard and mouse.

All in all The Witcher 2: Assassins of kings is a great improvement upon the first game in the series, and I can honestly recommend picking the franchise up at this point, as the story of the first game is a bit more stand alone, whereas the events of the Witcher 2 lead up to and influence The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in a large way, although it is possible to jump straight into the Witcher 3 without missing too much, I would still recommend playing The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings first as it is such a great game.

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The Witcher: From Books to Game

The Witcher

It wasn’t until I finished the Witcher for the first time and the credits rolled that I found the game was based on the world created by polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. I believe that this is the first game I have played that is based solely on a book series. I have played games that have supplementary books to add to their universes like Warcraft or Halo, but I have never encountered a game that originated from a book.

I was amazed to find after reading a number of the books, how faithful CD Projekt RED had been to the world and characters from the books. Geralt plays just like he reads, and even though you make many of them, his actions and choices make sense within the context of the world that existed before the games.

The first Witcher game uses the conceit that Geralt has lost his memories as a way to justify you being able to level up and get more powerful as the game proceeds. However as you meet Geralt’s old friends throughout the course of the game they tell you more about yourself and allow you to shape your own view of how Geralt should act.

The game has three different endings depending on which path or faction you choose to follow, do you side with the Scoia’tael (Squirrels) the non-human guerilla fighters who are at war with humans. Perhaps you feel like siding with the Order of the Flaming Rose the people fighting against monsters and non-humans. The final choice is the path of the Witcher, or true neutrality where your take no sides and protect yourself and your friends to the best of your ability against whatever comes your way.

In this world there is no real correct choice only shades of grey, and you find out about the light and dark sides of each path as you play through the game. The settings you play through also lend to this idea as well. Each chapter has you playing through very specific areas, chapter one has you gaining the trust of the people in the outskirts of a city so you can get permission to enter the city. Naturally the tasks you complete are those of a witcher, killing monsters wherever you find them.

The quests in this game, even if they are side quests allow you to find out extra things that will later apply to the main story, and these things can play out in interesting ways if you are paying attention. I won’t spoil it but the first chapter has you dealing with a number of locals whose motives aren’t quite what they seem.

The biggest hang up I have with the Witcher even in its Enhanced Edition, is with how incredibly dated the controls feel, eventually you do get used to them but they just never feel quite right. This game is also very difficult when you head in for the first time, it very much expects you to take advantage of all of the systems such as witcher sign’s (magic), or alchemy to enhance your combat abilities.

If you are just there for the story I would recommend playing through on the easiest difficulty, as you will not come across too much that will slow you down. If you do want the challenge I would recommend searching for some good level grinding spots, as they will become very necessary to make sure you stay on par with your enemies.

One of the great things about combat in The Witcher is the use of the witcher’s two swords, Silver for monsters and Steel for everything else. This plays into the fantasy of the world really well as the game allows you to switch at will between them, so you are always dealing maximum damage to your target. Witcher’s signs feel great to use as well, especially at high levels where you can set entire groups on fire as you dance your way through them with your sword.

I greatly enjoyed this game, I have finished it twice at this point. The first time was on an easy play through just so I could experience the story, and the second was a 100% completion play through on normal, because this is one of those games that allows you to pull your progress into the sequel.

If you are a fan of fantasy, dark or otherwise, I would recommend giving this game a try. However you must be aware that this game does feel dated in its combat sequences. It stays true to its source material very well and although it is not necessary to play this before playing the sequels, doing so will give you a deeper appreciation of the story and characters that you encounter in the sequels. So if this game sounds interesting to you pick it up, it is regularly on sale through Steam or G.O.G and often comes in a pack with its sequel making it easy to play the series right through.