The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings Enhanced Edition is the second in the Witcher game series from CDProjektRed. While it feels like an evolution in many places, a few parts feel like they took a few steps back.
In the sequel, Gerald of Rivia is an adviser to King Foltest when a man with golden eyes–a trademark of a witcher–kills the king and frames our protagonist. You spend the rest of the game looking for answers and trying to clear you name.
Also Geralt has still not recovered all of his memories from the AMNESIAAAAAAA from the first game, but with Triss’ help, he starts having more flashbacks. They still lack some detail and go by so quick that is makes some of his conversations about politics and the surrounding regions hard to follow. It’s not so bad that reading the novels is necessary, but it wouldn’t hurt either. You can still follow the basics of the story without understanding the details though, and if you’re like me, you’ll love the graphic novel style of the depictions of his past. Gerald is one of my favorite game heroes but still remained a mystery until now. It was good seeing his past, and the art style made it great.
The number of decisions you make in the Witcher 2‘s story are fewer but have more impact on the direction of the game. For example who with which you choose to side at the end of the first act gives you two different quest lines for the rest of the game. this adds replay value that many games with similar choice mechanics tend to lack. The Witcher 2 is essentially two separate games with only the beginning and a few boss battles in common.
Other times you make subtle choices. There were a few ultimatums I was unaware I was being presented with. While this is a huge improvement for RPG choice mechanics, my guilty conscience left me replaying one or two later sections to rectify my actions.
I think I’m in the minority here, but despite its low-level of difficulty, I prefer the combat from the first Witcher game. Three words: group style combat. The fast and strong attacks made it to the sequel, but the style geared towards attacking hordes of enemies were cut. In this swordsmanship branch of the character tree are group finishers, but they require you to fill up an adrenaline meter; they act like limit breaks from JRPGs.
Outside of that, it’s not so bad. Parrying and counterattacking–called riposte here–are simpler to do, and blocking in all directions is an ability you can get rough leveling up. Instead of having to select attack styles manually, fast and strong are assigned to the left and right mouse buttons. It’s easier to use items like daggers, traps, and bombs as well as your signs. You select whatever you want from a wheel mid-combat, and you’re good to go.
The difficulty spikes are rough and impossible to predict until late in the game. At the end of each act is a boss battle so hard it feels like you are meant to lose. Once you’re in the midst of the battle, you know what you need to do, but you can’t do it without reloading a previous save. Why? You can’t drink potions and craft the necessary attack items without meditating. No constantly knocking back swallows for vitality regeneration, no using white afford’s decoction when you’re close to death. This one small tweak added all the complexity the first game lacked.
The inventory system was also overhauled. Instead of being accessible from the main game screen, you exit out to a separate one to handle everything. From there, you have unlimited inventory slots but a limited weight. So replacing the rationale that Geralt only has so many pockets but is strong enough to carry whatever he picks up is the Elder Scrolls way of thinking where a single plate leaves you moving like molasses. The first was clunkier but was a nice change from the weight-based system that writes its own jokes. Also the new system has everything broken down into categories, some overlapping. It works decently, but sometimes bugs out if an item fits into multiple categories, especially if it is a quest item. I’d pick something up, and when I went to use it, it was nowhere to be found. I had to go to forums just to navigate the menu. For example you have to use warrior nekker’s blood to break a spell for a quest. I had some but couldn’t find it anywhere in my alchemy screen. Turns out that even though the other ingredients for the quest were found there, this one was only under quest items. These silly issues were headaches that the last system never were.
If there was an aspect of the Witcher 2 that left me more conflicted, it was the quests. Like the Witcher, the quests are divided into chapters and must be completed before continuing to the next. Unlike the first, the chapters are then divided into smaller parts without ever telling the player. Multiple times I failed quests halfway through a chapter for some arbitrary reason that I couldn’t have figured.
Outside of this poor choice, the quests themselves are outstanding the main ones are strong and multi-layered. You never know if what you’re doing and for whom you’re doing it are good in the right, but you know it needs to get done regardless.
The side quests have variety–witcher contracts, investigations, debates in philosophy, and riddle-solving. The intermittent battles and conversations tie these radically disparate adventures together.
Despite much of this sounding like complaining, I loved this game in its entirety. I can’t get enough of the characters, the story, the quests. Even with the changes to the sequel of which I’m not a fan, I can’t recommend this series enough. It’s definitely my favorite Western RPG in a fantasy setting.
Also a favorite game series period.
[Note: This being my one hundredth post sort of snuck up on me. I have a list prepared for a certain special and self-deprecating post.]