Preview

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Preview (PC)

There’s a naked woman in the first two minutes of The Witcher 2. I thought you should know that. Full, absolute, Fox News-horrifying female nudity with nothing left to the imagination. If you didn’t know this was an adults-only game before, you will do very quickly. Now then, on to the rest of the game.

The Witcher was PC-exclusive RPG made in Poland which had little advertising, poor English acting and frustratingly long load times. It should not have been successful. It was, amazingly so, and it was all thanks to one thing: choice.
 
That's Spymaster Vernon Roche. Handy, if not the friendliest of fellows
Yes, it had a deep story, a large game world to explore, unique combat and was deeply mature without just meaning having plenty of sex and violence (although it had that too), but it also made sure that any decisions the player made had consequences. The smallest action could have ramifications or rewards hours down the line. This was further complicated by having no obvious good or evil choices, with everything and everyone coloured shades of grey rather than blatantly black or white.

These consequences still make the original great (even more so after the Enhanced Edition), and CD Projekt continues that idea in The Witcher 2 and aims to improve it. From what I’ve played, they’re succeeding. Unfortunately that’s a bugger for me as I can’t really tell you much beyond the beginning. You won’t find any story spoilers here, just a little context.

It’s a little while after the end of the first game, where we saw titular Witcher Geralt of Rivia saving the life of King Foltest by stopping a mysterious assassin. Geralt’s now a trusted friend of the king and accompanies him on the opening chapter, a spectacular attack on a castle held by opponents to Foltest’s rule who are planning on overthrowing him.

Beyond that I won’t tell you much as so many great, wonderful things happen that it’d be a crime to spoil them, but also I can’t as it might change due to my choices – not just here, but also from my save from the first game. The naked woman I mentioned earlier was Triss Merigold the sorceress, but as I started a relationship with her in The Witcher it might be different for another player. Yes, Bioware’s not the only RPG developer doing the savegame trick. It’s not as vital here as it was in Mass Effect 2, but is still excellent.

The first chapter plays out very linearly, Dragon Age-like in fact, and I was worried it would stay like that after the fairly open first game. Those fears were dispelled once I hit the town of Flotsam, a soggy harbour in the middle of a forest, and it felt like that moment in Oblivion when you leave the sewers and find the whole of Cyrodiil available to you. It’s not quite as open as a Bethesda title, but that’s a good thing because it’s certainly better looking.

Hands down, if The Witcher 2 wins no other award this year it certainly stands out as being the best looking RPG available. Characters are incredibly detailed, forests are lush and overgrown, rain punishes the ground, and that castle siege at the start had me just standing admiring it for a few minutes. Seeing the huge trebuchets properly in motion, launching rocks that smash into the castle’s walls from a good distance, is utterly awe-inspiring. And that’s only after ten minutes of game time!

Forests are dank, opressive, and utterly believable...
The interesting but not particularly exciting combat system from the first game has undergone a radical overhaul. Geralt’s still got two swords, steel for humans and silver for monsters, and he can still use simple spells to give him an edge. The fighting itself however is now akin to Batman: Arkham Asylum, with Geralt pirouetting between enemies and making tactical decisions on the fly. Simple and satisfying.

Simple, but by no means easy. Combat is a bit troublesome at the moment admittedly and currently isn’t as smooth or refined as Batman’s, but I’m sure CD Projekt will be tweaking it a lot between now and the game’s release next month. Even if it stayed the same I wouldn’t have a problem with it. It’s just a matter of getting used to it.

The new quick menu certainly helps though, allowing you to easily switch swords, Sign spells, and other things beginning with ‘s’. This is also where you can Meditate to move time forward, upgrade your character, and mix and take potions. Like in the first game The Witcher 2 generally doesn’t allow you to heal during combat, you just have to take potions to boost your health regeneration rate and try not to get killed.

While not being able to heal during combat is still an unusual idea for RPGs, once you’re aware of it you learn to be more cautious and tactical during fights instead of just hammering the Left Mouse Button for quick attack. RMB’s a strong but slow swing, and there’s also Block, Roll and Geralt’s Sign spells to help you. Learn to use them all and think strategically during combat and you should come out fine.

The level of detail CD Projekt have brought to this game is impressive. Every single person you encounter in the game has their own unique name for example (“Baffy the Prick” is my personal favourite), and you’ll meet hundreds. Then there’s the choices and consequences that made The Witcher so loved. A throwaway dialogue choice early on yielded me an ally a few hours later, and my lack of subtlety during a prison break will have ramifications over the entire game I suspect.

There’s certainly a lot of gameplay here, with dozens of quests to find and all with some sort of consequence. If you’re just after quick cash and XP of course you can browse the job postings board that’ll be up somewhere in villages (usually outside the inn). Occasionally you’ll have a companion accompanying Geralt, which is good as sometimes it can get lonely tackling monsters and bandits alone. All the quests I encountered were interesting and action-packed, and it was often possible to find alternative solutions to violence even if it was just through dialogue.
 
KILL IT KILL IT KILL IT KILL IT KILL IT
We’re reaching the end of the preview and I’ve barely mentioned any of the small things I loved about the game, like the fantastic sequence at the end of the castle battle (no spoilers), the almost Thief-style animated cutscenes, and don’t even get me started on the troll with a love of vodka. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is out May 17th exclusively on PC, and just from the relatively short slice I’ve seen (about 10 hours) Bethesda and Bioware have a fight on their hands for RPG of the year – if not game of the year.

Most Anticipated Feature: Seeing just how wide-reaching my actions and decisions can be. Maybe I shouldn’t have told that guy to go f**k himself.

Comments

By PyrettaBlaze (SI Veteran Member) on Apr 25, 2011
PyrettaBlaze
This looks like a cool game, just saying
By Gyorn (SI Core) on Apr 25, 2011
Gyorn
I didnt even know the game was due until i read this (and i didnt realy care either). And now i want to play it ASAP...
Im gonna blame you if i fail my exams! >.<

(in short: Great Preview!)
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Apr 25, 2011
FoolWolf
I really want this game - now! The first game I bought the hotted version on a STEAM sale and that tore me away from Dragon Age with ease, and now I'm playing Dragon Age 2 and I don't need much to drag me awy from that one... ;)
By magicpeaker (I just got here) on Apr 26, 2011
magicpeaker
Game of the year, I can't wait.
By Nicolas19 (SI Core Veteran) on Apr 26, 2011
Nicolas19
What a game... can't wait for it.
By humorguy (SI Newbie) on May 04, 2011
humorguy
The article should have said the FREE Enhanced Edition.
By humorguy (SI Newbie) on May 20, 2011
humorguy
It's funny how a naked woman makes this a mature game, and yet it's okay to have games with fully clothed men and women but loads of bloody violence with no warning at all! What sort of world are we turning into when the naked body is seen as something so awful and yet violence is so acceptable?!
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on May 22, 2011
FoolWolf
For once that isn't the big debate here in over PC Sweden. Most critics like the game - which is weird since the game hardly starts for a majority of players, it has sever problems with setup, no inverted mouse, connection errors, and the first DLC can't be downloaded by a huge number of players. The SecuROM activation isn't written out on the box of the physical retail editions. The game is so far a bit poorly optimized.

No scantly clad women are the least of The Witcher 2's problem at this moment. Getting some credibility is...
Also, many players from the first game claim that nr 2 is...
dum dum dummmmmm
Console damaged and a bit dumbed down.

I can't say - I have had the connection problems and I don't play games that I can't invert the mouse - regardless of nothing! So I wait for patch before playing.