May 6, 2012

The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings Review

A masterful, mature tale of grey areas.

The Witcher 2 tells the story of Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher: men taken in as orphans who are genetically and magically altered to be the perfect monster slayers. In the previous game Geralt contracts amnesia and struggles to regain his memory. In doing so, he saves the life of Foltest, the king of Temeria, and becomes his personal bodyguard. When Foltest is assassinated and Geralt is blamed for the crime, he must embark on a journey across the Pontar valley to find the kingslayer and uncover a plot that could spell doom for all the kingdoms of the north.  

To say Assassin of Kings is a dense, lore filled world, is an understatement. Made up of several kingdoms and empires with complex characters, the world of The Witcher comes to life. As you explore you’ll need to familiarize yourself with history, backstories of characters and the ambitions and goals of each party. One of the best things about The Witcher is its ability to suck you in and keep you there by submerging you in its depths.
As I played, I found myself reading every book, every character log update, every location's history, and researching every backstory I could find. Indeed I spent a great deal of time researching The Witcher’s history not only because I wanted to but because at times I needed to. Characters didn’t speak as if there was a third party there who had no idea what was going on, the game expects you to know and to learn as you explore the world and talk to its populace.

I say the story is mature and indeed it is, but not just because of all the blood and boobs, but because of the depth and choices that you’ll make. In a traditional, basic story, you have a protagonist who stands for what is right and good and just. This hero stands against a villain who is evil for whatever reason. While The Witcher does have this in a sense with Geralt and Letho (the assassin of kings) playing our hero and villain roles, nothing is truly that simple. In an RPG you’re asked to make choices; typically of the "good vs. evil" kind. Do you want to be a good guy and help people? Or do you want be selfish and just be a jerk for no other reason than you can be? The Witcher doesn’t work that way by offering you a choice of good and evil, but rather gives you several shades of grey. You’ll play politics a great deal in Assassin of Kings and will have to choose a party to back. There are no “good guys” or “bad guys” just different characters with different ambitions that may be dark but will have some good ambitions to them. Let me give you an example of a quest in The Witcher:
Early on I was informed that two men had gone missing while exploring an old decrepit insane asylum, that was supposedly haunted. Naturally, I went to save the poor souls, and upon arriving, one of the men informed me that they were looking for plants and his friend was trapped inside. I went to rescue him of course, only to find blood writings on the walls and ghosts abounding in the dark hallways. I found the other explorer who was in a fettle position muttering something. I tried to speak with him and learned a few things but I could tell he wasn't giving me the whole story, so I directed him to the way out. As I explored further, I can across a specter that, along with what I already learned, gave me the whole picture. The two men were guards from the asylum, which during the last war had been used to hold prisoners. One of the prisoners admitted to knowing the location of a lost treasure. In their greed, the guards, including the two men, tortured and kill dozens of P.O.W.s in hopes of finding the location of the treasure. One day a riot and a fire began just after the guards got the location of the treasure. Every other person, aside from the two, died and the map was lost soon after. I was now given a choice: kill the head specter haunting the asylum (he was the same man who first admitted knowing about the treasure), or lead the men to the ghost and allow it its revenge by killing the two men. At first glance this can be a good or evil choice as it simply comes down to kill or don’t kill. However, you must remember that these men were torturers and murderers, whose only justification was their greed. Did they not deserve to die? Would allowing the ghost his revenge not be justice? These are the things you struggle with in The Witcher; you must remember that every story has two sides, and dozens of details to consider.
This brings me to my next part: characters will lie to you. Seriously in other games a character will stutter or freak out or only do so if you know it’s a blatant lie. In The Witcher characters will lie, withhold truth and attempts to sway you though falsehoods. This required me to never take anything at face value and dig deep, always searching every nook, cranny, and corner, until I had sufficient evidence.

As far as combat goes, Geralt is a skilled fighter. He’ll roll, jump, slash, and cut through enemies quite nicely in the visual sense. Along with sword play, Geralt can cast spells, throw knives, hurl bombs, and lay traps. If you combine all this, Geralt can a walking death field. However, on the grounds of how it feels to the player, to start with, it’s sort of bad. The controls start clunky and uncoordinated as you’ll bend your fingers in so many weird shapes you’ll think you’re casting runes. However, the problem isn't the game it's the player; once adapted, combat is fierce, quick, fluid, and fun. You can slash at enemies, cast spells, counter attack and fling knives into the throats of your enemies quick as a flash and look absolutely awesome while doing it.

The Witcher does suffer from a few faults. Crafting potions and such can be confusing., there is no fast travel, and your inventory will inevitable end up filled with plants and potions. This is minor and nothing is game breaking, though I feel that some of these aspects could have used a bit more polish, though this does add to the "not holding you hand and making it easy" aspect of The Witcher which I did enjoy.

While The Witcher does suffer from some bumps in the graphics (most of which can fixed by installing it on your console) and it undoubtedly looks better on a PC. The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings, is an incredible story of schemes, plots, betrayals, and hard choices. I highly recommend this for anyone who loves RPGs or deep engrossing stories in general.


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