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Lost and Found: Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

December 17, 2012

the witcher 2

 

 

So finally I’ve managed to get play through Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings. As some of you might remember I was talking about playing through a lot older and some newer RPGs in October and discuss which features I think should be used more frequently in other RPGs and which features just really did not work out. Christmas, end of semester stress with exams and such have sadly delayed this post by a lot though, not to mention a particulat difficulty n actually managing to choose which game to play and stick with it. This problem seems to arrive from “clunkyness” or slow gam pace; more on that in my next post (hopefully at the end of this week). Other good news are that I have managed to almost playthrough Neverwinter Nights 2 now so that article should in theory be posted soon as well, if Christmas does not magic away all my time. So anyway here are my thought on some of Witcher 2’s features.

 

 

Story Setup

 

 

While the story in Witcher 2 has been praised a lot I think it has been praised for the wrong things. It is a good story don’t get me wrong, but as conspiracies go it relies on feeding the player small pieces of information to keep the player’s curiosity regarding the plot going, without revealing too much. In the Witcher 2’s case the information seems rather haphazard and there is no chance of puzzling anything together before the very end. Now some might say that s a good conspiracy plot, but to me there should at least a chance for the player to figure out what is actually happening from the information he gets. If we have a look at the information you get as Geralt before you get the grand master plan revealed to you, you know that :

 

–          Sìle is in Flotsoam for some other reason than the killing monsters, she has a heated discussion with Loredo about something, yet she seems to need the kayran for her own plans as well

–          The assassin is a witcher from the school of the Viper working together with Iorveth and later trying to kill him. He also seems to have no real animosity towards Geralt and says he knows him from before

–          Triss knows something about Síle that she won’t tell Geralt

–          Saskia is a leader of a rebel army and is in fact a dragon and wants to establish her own nation

–          Nilfgaard has something to win in this, probably in trying to sow discord before an attack

–          All the northern kingdoms suddenly want to fill in the vacuum left by Foltest’s death and are at each other’s throats

 

 

The fact that there are so many participants in this conspiracy with all their own motives adds depth to it, but it also makes the conspiracy something that is over and beyond the player’s understanding, so frankly why should he care about it? This could of course be a device by the developers to make the player see the world through Geralt’s eyes and that is fine, but we know from the start that Geralt is not really after revenge, he merely wants to know why Foltest was killed by a witcher and clean his own name in the process, this would mean that the conspiracy is the driving force of the game’s plot and it does not get off that well. To make matters more confusing there are the subplots of Geralt recovering his memory and what actually happened in those memories, which explain his real quest in the North. Also suddenly instead of chasing the assassin we are also chasing after Triss making me personally as the player wonder if the developers were not trying to force-feed the player motives for Geralt to continue the hunt.

 

 

What I did like about the story though and for which it should be applauded is that it presented two distinctively different paths to play the game. You could either join Roche or you could join Iorveth and the story unfolded differently within those two paths, making the choice between Roche or Iorveth a meaningful one, it also affected what happened to both these characters at the end of the story, some outcomes for Roche are only to be gained if you side with him for instance.

 

 

I also liked how, even if you could change how the game ended with you choices, it was an end no matter what choices you made and how you looked at it was a bloody and violent ending, the only difference was how much of it there was and at whom it was directed. This ties very well in with what Milady called for in one of her posts of making the hero more human and less omnipotent. No matter what you do Geralt can’t change that the outcome of the story is not going to be all rainbows and butterflies.

 

 

Sadly the overall story in the Witcher 2, like the one in Dragon Age 2, felt more like a prologue to the next game than a fully-fledged story that could stand in its own right. This is a notion I have difficulties at pin-pointing where it comes from. There is something with both game’s stories actually containing a rather unimportant main plot and more important subplots that lead on from the cliff-hanger-like ending, trying to explain what is to come, which give me a sense of it all having been a prologue blown out of proportions. All in all the redeeming factor for me in the Witcher 2 is that it features two distinct paths

to experience the story through and because that is so rare nowadays it made for an enjoyable experience. It was also refreshing that the fight with the “end-boss” was not mandatory and it gave the game a nice depth by stating that not everything has to be solved with violence.

 

 

Combat

 

 

When it comes to combat I am very glad the Witcher 2 has several difficulty levels. The problem the difficulty I’d like to play the game in is not featured. I ended up switching difficulty between Easy and Hard as I saw fit, Normal just seemed to have a rather arbitrary and weird way of distinguishing hard and easy encounters. Nekkers swarm like mobs where rather hard whereas single tough enemies like trolls turned out to be easy. The solution was to play the brain dead easy mode to keep the story flowing and switching to hard when I wanted a challenge. The problem I had with setting the difficulty to hard was that then suddenly the fights turned into a dodge and strike dance where single fights could last thirty minutes because I failed to dodge and get two-shot by enemies. Friends of mine also claimed that the controls were not responsive enough for that kind of combat. Personally I do not know, when I switched setting to hard, I used my age old proven technique of running away and throwing knives and placing traps before I actually wanted to engage in melee so that made me tax the responsiveness of the controls less.

 

 

A very downright underwhelming experience, were the boss fights though that required you to do timed-button-smashing in order to win. For me a boss fights are tests to see if you have gathered enough proficiency with the combat system in your encounters before the boss fights, but no other fights required that type of mechanics so instead the boss fights turned out to be something completely different and something rather easy.

 

 

The sign system could also have required some explanation, since it was hard to wrap your head around it and clumsy since you only could select outside of the game. This lead to me not really using any signs other than straight forward ones and just going swords all the way.

 

 

“Leveling”, Exploring and Gear acquisition

 

 

When it comes to levelling the game had a very good concept that was not fully backed up though. You only got experience form completing quests, which is good because it reduces the amount of pesky trash fights one has, which keeps the story flowing. It is good that there are trash fights so that you can have something to do when you just want to kill something, but they should not be forced upon you when you actually just want to experience the story.

 

Usually trash fights are justified as being central to getting experience and gear, well in the Witcher 2 gear is only gotten through crafting, to which the materials are only gotten through exploring and sometimes killing monsters and experience is, as stated before, only awarded through quests. The problem is: There are still trash fights and by this I mean trash fights in the way of I want to get from point A to point B but in doing so I have to fight hordes of enemies. Only a few of the fights could be avoided by running away. On the flipside though you only have to do these fights once. Once you have cleared the area the enemies will stay dead and not bother, which is great! I also liked how gear really did not seem to matter, you could get it fairly easily, but some of it still required exploration to get through and as such the game world got a bit more life to it, without succumbing to you have to have item X, Y and Z combined with set C in order to even have a fighting chance at killing this boss and experiencing the story. This way the game really embraced the fact that t was a single player game and that everybody should be able to experience the game for that is why it was made in the first place: So that the player can experience the game and it with RPG’s in extent the story.

 

 

Character development

 

I have not much to say about character development in Witcher 2 as there was not that much of it there, only that with time it seemed weird that if you specialised in a single tree you could almost get every perk of that tree and max it out. I missed out on the feeling that even in character development choice and consequence matter and you could not have everything. I do not know how important all those perks are on higher difficulty levels but on the lower ones they are not needed. Perhaps scaling the experience gained with difficulty levels in a situation like that would help? The higher the difficulty the more experience you get.

 

 

All in all I think the Witcher 2 did a very good job in bringing in a few not so often seen elements into the RPG genre; like more than one path to experience the story and a different way to level and acquire gear so that the story is the main focus not the fighting. Other than that it is a standard RPG but because of the rarity of the above mentioned features I really liked playing it. Of course it has its problems some bigger some smaller but all games have these problems. The only wish I have is that the story would not be so convoluted and would not feel like a prologue.

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