Review: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition

In the novel ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’, author Jorge Luis Borges attempted to create a hypertext that offered an infinite number of different narrative outcomes based on various moments within the text. It was the precursor to the ‘choose your own adventure’ novel. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition is the videogame equivalent to this.

Many games pretend to offer the player a degree of agency within its narrative; Mass Effect lets you choose which party member you’d like to romance, Skyrim allows you to tackle the various quest structures in whatever order you’d prefer. Whilst these games merely flirt, The Witcher 2 boldly allows you to change the entire course of the story based on split second decisions in dialogue or combat.

In The Witcher 2 a single choice in a conversation can determine the environment you’ll visit for the next 20 hours of play. As a consequence, complete towns and quests are locked out depending on how you behave. Some will moan that they’re required to play the game more than once to get a complete experience, but these people are a collection of limp minded cretins. The Witcher 2 is a step forward for narrative in videogames; it tells a tale that’s more mature, believable and engrossing than most, and gives you the opportunity to effectively structure it as you see fit.

The game’s story is based on a series of novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, adapted by Polish developer CDProjekt Red. You play the witcher, Geralt of Rivia; In the game’s fiction, a witcher is someone who was taken from childbirth and genetically modified for the purpose of hunting monsters. During the extensive prologue you are blamed for the assassination of a king, a plot which leads you to travel around the world of Temeria to clear your name.

The combat in The Witcher 2 is relentlessly unforgiving. A brief tutorial attempts to assimilate you into its unique blend of block and riposte sword play, but the only way to truly grasp the mechanics is to die continuously. The prologue is titled ‘A Trial By Fire’ for this very reason. Fighting more than one enemy at once is a surefire way to get yourself killed, and evasive moves like rolling, blocking and parrying are just as important as swinging your sword or throwing knives and bombs. Traps can be placed around the environment to help you divide enemies up, and spells can be cast to perform a variety of offensive and defensive actions, such as throwing fire or repelling sword blows.

Part of the witcher’s mutated skillset is the ability to handle toxic concoctions that buff their abilities. Potions must be consumed prior to combat, but they allow you to see in the dark, regenerate your health faster and resist poisonous effects, amongst other things. Alongside this you can oil up the blades of your swords with various poisons and lotions that allow for advantages in combat. Given the game’s punishing difficulty these actions are essential for survival, and add to the satisfying level of responsibility given to the player. The Witcher 2 isn’t afraid to challenge you, but it makes the payoff more rewarding when you fell a group of enemies or a particularly troublesome foe.

Visually The Witcher 2 is spectacular, especially the Xbox 360 version. As a port of a 2011 PC title, on 2005 console hardware, in 2012, it exceeds all expectations. Quite simply it’s up there with the best graphics on the system. Walking around the forest of Flotsam as streams of light filter down through the rich, dense foliage is a wonderful experience. Similarly, indoor environments are littered with minute details that combine to sell you the believable world described in Sapkowski’s novels. Finally, Geralt himself is littered with detail, from the scar on his face, to the realistic sway of his silver hair, the detailed mix of patchwork and steel on his armour and the lifeless trophy of some long felled creature dangling from his sword belt.

Dialogue trees shape how you interact with the world’s colourful cast of characters, and within that there are choices in how you wish to approach each conversation, from raw intimidation to bribery, and a jedi-like power that allows you to trick people into agreeing with your every whim. The voice acting is also stellar, Geralt particularly stands out with his cool yet firm tone that perfectly captures his fearsome personality.

The Witcher 2 is a peerless RPG. In a world where Skyrim can be lauded despite it’s atrocious combat system, a world where Mass Effect is held aloft as a bastion of player choice, The Witcher 2 shines even brighter. It’s a game built by gamers, for gamers, that doesn’t hand hold you through it’s mechanics or it’s plot.

In a ‘Garden of Forking Paths’, The Witcher 2 may not be the most obvious route to take, but if you walk in it’s direction you’ll wonder why you ever tolerated anything else.

 

10/10
10.

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