Upon reading that The Witcher 2 was a considerable improvement over its predecessor, The Witcher, I decided to play them back to back. I usually don't like doing this with series in the event I get fatigued with a particular story and style of gameplay, however, Geralt of Rivia was an intriguing enough character to make me curious about what was next. With the first game fresh in my memory, it did make it easier to make comparisons between the two.
The story picks up where the last game left off with its cliffhanger. Having saved King Foltest from the assassin, Geralt finds himself co-opted to act as a personal bodyguard. It seems he cannot escape the politics he tries so hard to avoid. The prologue takes us through a major battle and ends with the assassination of the king regardless with Geralt being accused of his murder. But Foltest is not the only king to be targeted and one of the main quests of the story throughout is Geralt's pursuit of this group of assassins in order to clear his name. This game is much more politically oriented than the first and involves different factions vying for the vacated crowns. Geralt will once again have to choose sides and there is a particular point called Crossroads where this will totally change the balance of the story you play. There are two paths to choose from, Iorveth and Roche, and if you save here, you can go back and have an entirely different experience going forward from that point. This is a good thing as the game is in fact quite short with only 3 chapters, less side missions, and less variety of monsters. The game also feels a little more linear than the first.
The Witcher 2 is considerably different than its predecessor, but not all of the changes are good. What is good is the much improved graphics and combat. It looks amazing, although Geralt's new face is not always rendered completely consistently. People seem to like his new look, but I didn't particularly care for it. His hair looks terrible and the potion drinking animations are ridiculously immature. The same can be said with the hand/arm waving during some conversations. I also thought that the voice acting was not as good, even though it's the same person. I came to expect a certain tone in The Witcher 1, which reflected the character, but this seems like a different Geralt and actually, I would not have recognized this was the same actor if I hadn't read that it was. I thought he didn't have nearly as much conviction and sometimes even sounded quite wimpy. Although the voice acting and conviction are better in the Roche path, inventory items are harder to find and you don't face very many monsters. In fact, it feels rather like it was tacked on as an afterthought with Chapter 3 being quite disjointed unless you've played Ioverth first. The overall story also seems to lack a strong thread of purpose throughout like the Witcher 1 where no matter what Geralt did for side quests, his mind was never far from his goal, the Scoatael. In Witcher 2, he seems somewhat more personally aimless, just going where the tide takes him.
It seems the developers took to heart the complaints over Witcher 1 and the combat is much more traditional with more control over the character, although this has resulted in one or two slight glitches. If there are several enemies, the game will hijack control making Geralt automatically focus on the nearest danger after each kill, but there are times when you would rather have the option to back off as this can land you in a pickle if you get surrounded. Getting hit in the back has major consequences and often results in instant death, although you can level up some protection in this skill tree. The combat is quite hard on normal with lousy weapons in chapter one even if you import a save. There does not seem to be much benefit to doing this as the imported weapons are considerably dumbed down from the previous game. Another change is that swordplay is not enough to win the battle and you often don't have time to prepare ahead with potions, traps, bombs and enhancements, so you will die often as winning relies heavily on these alternates. The potions are also timed and will run out, although once again you can level this up. Typically, in games that use a combination of user input and scripted animation, sometimes the controls are unresponsive and will miss a keystroke. The dodging reaction is slow and occassionally you don't have control of what direction you want to go in and end up rolling into the middle of a group of enemies instead of away from them.
The method of collecting herbs and objects has also changed. You must activate Geralt's medallion which will cause objects to glow for a short time. This, in fact, is often the only way to find something as you can't see many items in most of the environments. The act of picking up objects is also too sensitive and you can find yourself twirling about trying to get the search prompt. Geralt must be out of combat mode to get this prompt thus creating a delay which causes some cut-scenes to interfere with your ability to pick things up.
The navigation between menus is a bit convoluted. There are different interfaces for the journal, meditation, levelling and character stats. The inventory screen is too cluttered and hard to read. The map screen totally sucks as it's too small and although you can zoom in, it pushes it off the screen and often there is no indicator of where to go. The mini dice game is also totally borked. Dropping the dice works, but throwing them makes them fly off the board making you an instant loser. However, the boxing animations are a huge improvement.
Although I seem to have touched on a lot of negatives, it's tough love and overall the Witcher 2 is a good game and a fun experience. If you were to take the best of 1 & 2, you would have a truly amazing game. I'm definitely keeping my fingers crossed for the next installment, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
CD Projeckt RED, the developer, is also to be lauded for their appreciation of their fans. The following is a quote from an Open Letter from Marcin Iwiński, co-founder and Joint CEO.
"We love games. We love collecting them, playing them, and everything connected to that experience. Every time we reach out for a new release, we expect to be taken care of. We expect support if we encounter any problems, we love updates constantly improving the experience, and we feel really special when we receive free content that gives us more than we initially paid for. It doesn't have to be huge, it can be an awesome skin for a character, or an extra sword, or armor.
Unfortunately this treatment is quite rare these days. As gamers, we nowadays have to hold on tight to our wallets, as surprisingly right after release, lots of tiny pieces of tempting content materialize with a steep price tag attached. Haven't we just paid a lot of cash for a brand new game?
As CD PROJEKT RED, we strongly believe this is not the way it should work and, with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, we have decided to do it differently. Cutting to the chase, everyone who buys Wild Hunt will receive 16 specially prepared DLCs absolutely for free, regardless of platform. You don't have to pre-order, you don’t have to buy any special edition to get them -- if you own a copy of Wild Hunt, they're yours. This is our way of saying thank you for buying our game."