I’ve probably talked enough about The Witcher 2 on 1up, but with the Xbox version coming out this week I really, really, don’t want this game to get passed over. Most places already have reviews up for Enhanced Edition, but this game is obviously not getting the marketing push of Mass Effect 3, and it would just be a real shame for the game to get completely overlooked.
TW2 carries a certain quality that’s pretty unique for console games these days. For starters it’s the first of those crazy Eastern European PC games to make it to consoles outside of Metro 2033. That different viewpoint alone should clue you in to how this game is willing to do things that you just won’t see from BioWare or Bethesda these days. I think one of the PC reviews from last year called TW2 a game that looks AAA but has an indie heart.
In my opinion TW2’s greatest asset over the competition is how well it presents its world, characters, and story. If you’re one of those people who used to play console RPGs mostly for the story, this is definitely the game for you.
Being based on a series of Polish fantasy novels (most of which haven’t even been translated into English), this game is already backed by an expansive universe, and you definitely get the sense of that as soon as you start playing. TW2 is its own story though with only a few callbacks to the first game. You should learn everything you need to know by reading the in-game codex or checking out some of the preview videos that explain part of the world and the first game’s plot. The game itself isn’t just gonna sit you down at one point and prime you up though.
I think Eurogamer’s original PC review explained how the first real town you encounter in TW2 perfectly illustrates everything that makes this game what it is.
First of all, the place is beautiful. On the PC version the technical effects are still mind-blowing, but outside of that the art direction feels very inspired. The explorable place isn’t extremely big – it’s kind of like Feros in the first Mass Effect, but it feels dense, colorful, and lived-in. Just outside the walls lies a dank forest that hides caves, hills, waterfalls, and ruins to be explored for quests. The forest itself is also not technically huge, but the way the trees, bushes, and roads are laid out makes it feel just organic enough to get lost in.
The other thing to get lost in here is the people and your dealings with them. This is where TW2 absolutely tramples all over anything BioWare has done in recent years – the conversation system and player choices. In and around the village you pretty quickly encounter several interesting characters and factions – crime bosses, monsters, mysterious sorceresses, special forces agents, terrorist guerillas, etc., all with their own beefs and histories that intertwine. You gotta navigate all that, and TW2 doesn’t have nice choices and dick choices or anything like that, just choices weighing factions against each other. The game isn’t afraid to lock out or dramatically change content due to your choices either, and without warning you at all, which is what makes the dynamic so interesting. During this first chapter of TW2, one quick, seemingly miniscule choice actually splits the main quest in two from that point onwards. This whole system repeats with two other locations before the game’s epilogue.
TW2’s combat is its own interesting beast as well, taking cues from console games like Demon’s Souls and Arkham Asylum. It’s an action RPG, but the combat is very much based on timing with your offense and defense. It’s definitely not as hard as Dark Souls, but it does ask a little bit more of the player than Mass Effect or Elder Scrolls.
You have a lot of mobility and you’re expected to use it, but the real thing that sets TW2’s combat apart is how important preparation is. When you take a contract out on a monster for a side quest, you must first go to the book store and buy a book explaining that monster’s elemental strengths and weaknesses. Then you probably gotta harvest ingredients and craft a potion accordingly, either to ingest or apply to your sword. You can’t even use potions in the middle of combat.
As long as you get those crucial things down combat shouldn’t be too much of a problem, though I don’t know what the Enhanced Edition’s balance changes have done to the game. Some of the bosses though are tough as hell, and require timing with attacks and spells that reminds me of the 16-bit days.
That’s really just another part of the world that TW2 does such a good job of displaying to players. That’s the main reason why I think people should buy it – because it’s a different kind of fantasy RPG. It handles things in ways that Dragon Age and Elder Scrolls just aren’t willing to try and handles them with tact and maturity.
I don’t expect TW2 to do anywhere near the numbers of those games. At the very least I’d like it to do numbers similar to Dark Souls and get the same kind of word-of-mouth. Few other games deserve it this much.
If you need a first-hand impression before buying the game – you can actually play a demo on Facebook now.