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Review: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings - PC

by Steven Williamson on 6 June 2011, 17:00 4.35

Tags: Atari (EPA:ATA), RPG

Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qa6aj

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The Witcher 2 begins only a month after the conclusion of the previous game, which makes the starting scene of Geralt, our hero, languishing in a prison all the more surprising. Thankfully this is all explained rapidly, with events in that month played out by the player as Geralt recounts his experiences. It’s a tactic that is also used in a few other places through the game, sometimes involving the control of other characters. It works well enough but isn’t much to my personal liking.

Player choices in the previous game (who’s saves can be imported) have a noticeable, though relatively minor and non-influencing, effect storywise, and items are carried over which can provide a little starting boost - though they are quickly outdated. Choices in Geralt’s recounting however have considerably larger effects, both immediately and in the longer term. This again sets the tone for the rest of the game, making choice-consequence one of the defining features of The Witcher series. Choices are more obvious in the sequel, and tend to be a clear either/or. Thankfully there is less of the ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ which the original was guilty of - not in pre-determined outcomes but that it rather overplayed the negative connotations of your particular choice. The consequences in the sequel are less damning and rather more predictable making it less of an exercise in blind trial and error, although there is the rare circling back round to a pre-determined outcome, which I guess is pretty necessary when you’re trying to tell a story.

And the story is worth telling. In the original, Geralt started the game suffering from amnesia, this was then hardly addressed, leaving one to question if it was just a convenient gameplay mechanic. The Witcher 2 proves that wasn’t the case, with a gradual exposition of the events prior to the original game and efforts to help Geralt restore his memory. It’s a shame then, that this interesting story is presented as more of a side show to the political events that dominate most of the main game, and in fact as welcome as they are, for most of the game the expositions don’t really seem connected to the gameplay or what Geralt is doing, appearing more like rewards for finishing a chapter. Not that this political story isn’t also interesting - it is, but it doesn’t have the same draw as the stories surrounding Geralt and the other characters close to him. It may also be a little confusing coming into the game fresh - many characters and events are mentioned in passing without explaining their significance to the player.

Some of these can be picked up from the first game, some from Sapkowski’s books (though few are translated into English). It’s not vital, but the sense of missing something is slightly annoying, and makes the case for the inclusion of more lore (even a glossary of characters) in book form rather than the game guide. The journal system might have been a place to correct this, but although excellent again, and rather humorous, it doesn’t contain quite as much historical or character information as it needs to to bring players up to speed on events and people mentioned in the game. Despite this, the game’s setting is as intriguing as ever, although the first game’s references to ancient real world myths (the fisher king for example) have been updated with more modern references which go just a bit too far - it’s fine to include the odd easter egg for players about contemporary games like Assassins Creed as long as characters in the game don’t react to it, but when two main characters have a discussion about the events in The Lord of the Rings it does jar the immersion somewhat.

Continued overleaf...