Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition Review

This review is for the PC version of the game and is majorly spoiler free for everyone to read, except some references which one might come across the various trailers for the game or if you have played the original/first game in the series, The Witcher. An honest, unbiased review follows with my opinions and views where stated. 



"There is nothing good or evil, only choices and consequences."

If I had to describe The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings in one line holding true to its meaning, then the above one would be it. Originally used to describe the first game in the series The Witcher, it completely holds true for it's sequel too, in many ways far surpassing it. The Witcher and it's sequel The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings are based on the books by acclaimed Polish fantasy writer Andrzej Sapkowski.  Witchers are professional monster slayers for hire, expert swordsman and combatants with knowledge of alchemy and magic alike and with unnatural gifts such as abnormal long lives, and enhanced body metabolism such as quick healing and immunity to most forms of sever poisons.
And you are not just any witcher, you enter the shoes of Geralt of Rivia - a legend who has a past of his own, being the primary protagonist.





The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings released on 17th May 2011 for PC and about a year later due to the critical acclaim and high demand by fans on 17th April 2012, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition was released for PC and Xbox 360, undergoing over 100 technical enhancements, 33 minutes of new cinematics, a new CGI intro made by BAFTA award winner and Oscar nominee, animator Tomasz Baginski, an extended outro giving a hint on the major story of what is to come in the next witcher game and over 4 additional hours of content, all based on fan feedback. Additionally all this content was released to people already owning the game as a free update which sprang more than 10 GB as a patch. This demonstrates the customer relation and the fan loving nature of the developer CD Projekt Red.


Maturity and Realism in game world

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is rated M for mature considering the huge amount of blood & gore, violence and sex depicted in the game and story line. Usually the word mature always brings these 3 things mostly to our minds, if so then be ready to be surprised - In such a case The Witcher 2 far exceeds this.

A game being primarily focused for adults for ages 18+ or 21+ depending on where you live, but what matters is not the age but 'maturity' itself. The Witcher 2 is not your average RPG where the narrative follows but requires more understanding of the events occurring in the game making it an intellectually driven game. The world of the witcher is filled with the brutal reality, corruption, dirty politics, racism, abuse, incest, rape, murder and all the other gruesome entities you can think of which exists in our real world. This is one of the very few (and first I must say) games which depicts a very real world filled with  fantasy, making it not just some fairy tale but an experience of a unique combination.


Choices do matter, and they come with a price

One of the core aspects of the The Witcher 2, the choices you make in game affect various outcomes throughout the events occurring as you progress in some form or the other, and ultimately certain important decisions affect how the game ends, that is how YOUR story of Geralt of Rivia ends. If a save from The Witcher is imported, it is heartening to see additional references (not to mention having a head start) and better understanding of the storyline, characters and events.

But regarding the importing of the save file from the first game is concerned, it becomes a weak point as it is not much satisfactory. So old fans may seem bit disappointed with this, but the plot and choices in The Witcher 2 manages to overshadow this issue and on the brighter side makes The Witcher 2 more independent and self standing, making it very welcoming for new players.

The world is dark indeed, but not black and white, but shades of grey as is the witcher Geralt of Rivia. Not an evil being, but not entirely good either as slicing a being double your size is as easy as slicing a mouse and the witcher doesn't hesitate to that resort when necessary. There is no morality in what choice you make, giving you full freedom to choose and accept the result of your decision later. This is well appreciated as you all choices are open to you, there is nothing to "unlock" thus the player having full freedom and no bondage based on any parameter.

The Enhanced Edition adds additional cutscenes while transition between chapters depending on player choice, and a short cinematic film in the epilogue describing the player choices throughout the game overall. This is very well done as one can see how the story took shape as one played and finished the game, with the music being very soothing and well matching the ongoing "decision film"


Gameplay and Combat

The gameplay of the The Witcher 2 is quiet immersive. Traveling and exploring the game world is a complete fun of its own, and with the meditation feature exploring the world in the day or night time can give you a very beautiful or spooky, combine it with the animals, the chirping of birds, the noise of crickets, the funny noise by the pigs, the very beautiful realistic nature and an occasional downpour of rain making it an experience of its own. Oh did I forget to mention the monsters lurking everywhere?

The combat in The Witcher 2 is fun, with 2 swords for monsters and non-monsters respectively and a variety of other weapons such as daggers, traps and bombs making you a walking weapon and how you choose to deal with your foes. If anything was missing, it was ranged weapons such a crossbow, but that is simply not a witcher's style.

The gameplay and combat mechanics are well adapted for playing with a gamepad as compared to the keyboard and mouse. The difference is very easily visible and having played (completed) the game for half a dozen times using both mediums, the combat is very flexible using a gamepad and more enjoyable, so I'd recommend playing with a gamepad if playing on PC. But I in no way imply that the keyboard and mouse are bad, but yes in comparison disappointing also considering the fact that The Witcher 2 is a game made for high end PCs

Stealth was very welcoming and fun, but it seemed incomplete. Wish there was an option of stealth approach than just in a few scripted sequences, thus giving a wider range of options of approaches.


RPG Elements and User Interface

The Witcher 2 is one of the best and true RPGs ever made. You might ask what is the definition of a "true RPG" according to me, I'd say it has everything a RPG lover needs. Amazing plot, choices do matter and have consequences, multiple approaches of dealing with foes and finishing quests, looting, potions, creating potions and crafting weapons and armor and some fun mini-games.

There is a lot of variety and options for armors and weapons to choose from and being an RPG the money, called Orens in the game world, and resources required to make a desired item is a quest of its own and maybe small to very large depending on the rare and power factor of what is being made. Additionally, the hardest difficulty called the Dark Mode features 3 additional sets of armors and weapons exclusive to that difficulty and have that respective quests of its own, making it a challenge with a fruitful reward.

What I felt missing and required was more armor customization, changing the colour of a particular armor to my favourite one for example. I am not a big fan of hoods in the game and was forced to be with the ones that had them, and wished we had an option to keep the hoodies on or not. Just a small note from my side, not affecting the game experience in any form except for my liking.

The Inventory system is satisfactory, found it better than the grid inventory in the first game. Though it was well done but still has some flaws. There is no way to keep track of things, books, formula, diagrams and others which are already purchased. Also the comparison between equipped armor/weapons with the ones in the inventory is not present when purchasing it, making it slightly inconvenient.


Graphics and Technical point of view

The other major aspect of The Witcher 2 apart from the narrative and choice driven story. The world of the The Witcher 2 is dark as stated but that isn't the end of it - lush forests and beautiful landscapes and scenarios, and not to mention the characters and monsters make up the wonderful world. The lighting, different weather effects combined with the different timing of the day add up to the brilliance.

Character models are pretty detailed and well done, doesn't seem generic and each NPC seems to have a individual presence rather then just same models placed all over. Hearing one liners and dialogues passing by is a favourite past time in game

As with the enhanced edition update, the numerous technical enhancements paid off. When comparing with the pre-enhanced edition version, patch 1.1 and patch 2.0, this time around faced absolutely no glitches at all! Yes hard to imagine but true. Well known fact this beast of a game requires beast of a machine to run it to its full potential, one might encounter one or two of them and perhaps a drop in FPS in certain locations like I did.

I play on my Alienware M14xR1 on a 2nd Gen i7 Processor at 2.5 GHz with 8 GB Memory and Video card 3.0 GB DDR3 NVIDIA GeForce GT 555M on most settings on high and Ubersampling off. The Witcther 2 ran beautifully, looks stunningly amazing with a decent FPS except on some locations with high amount of graphics/objects.

Bonus: If you play The Witcher 2 on PC and specifically play on an Alienware machine (or an equivalent keyboard with back-lighting) then you are in for a small treat. The Witcher 2 and also The Witcher both are few of the games that support AlienFX, that means the lighting on the keyboard change colours according to what one is playing, that is while playing The Witcher 2 the back-light dynamically changes from orange, yellow to red accordingly depending on the game start screen, exploring, nearing danger, combat or dying! A viewing pleasure indeed.


Story

The core aspect of what The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition is all about. A few lines or paragraphs of words won't do justice at all, it must be played and experienced, so as I said I will stick to what makes The Witcher 2 so special (spoiler free)

Main plot

Anyone who has just even a glimpse of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings could guess vaguely what the main plot would be about. As Geralt of Rivia you are on a mission to clear your name as you are branded as you are branded as a kingslayer for the mysterious assassinations of monarchs in the northern kingdoms, the primary setting for The Witcher 2. Through out the game you visit places trying to hunt down the kingslayer(s) and along the way visit people, make friends and foes, slay monsters all as part of witcher's job description where YOU the player have complete control of and your decisions and way of handling things which makes the story going.

In subsequent chapters, based on who you choose to ally with you end up being on one faction or the other in a place called the Pontar valley, a place of significant importance in the northern kingdoms influencing political power. Yes politics plays a huge part in the game whether you are fond of it or not, and in the end one can simply not disagree on the fact  that the writers of CD Projekt Red totally nailed it. And as the game progresses, depending on your decisions you might be pursuing dark secrets, or end up being a revolutionary... or simply mess things up. But that is not all of it.

Back story

Normally one would cal it a "sub-plot" or something like that, but there is a reason why I choose to call it a Back story. In The Witcher we are introduced to Geralt of Rivia as a witcher being affected with amnesia which is still present in the The Witcher 2. Parallel to the main plot of Assassins of Kings, Geralt's past and the returning of his memory form the "other half" of the story of The Witcher 2, prominently involving a group of spectral riders known as The Wild Hunt, which form the main aspect of this back story right from The Witcher to The Witcher 2, and quiet obviously will continue in the next to be announced title.

This back story is one of the most powerful plots which can be found in any video game, since it has so much significance. This is what makes The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings BOTH a self standing game making it welcoming to new players to the witcher saga and a very successful and powerful sequel. If anything this is what that won my heart and respect.

Apart from these some definitively must worth mentioning:

Along the sidelines

Not only does the witcher have an amazing story, being an RPG one of the biggest thing is the so called side quests and exploring. While exploring one can come across various NPCs or events that can trigger certain optional quests. The beauty of these is that they are somehow connected to the main plot, completing them might or might not affect the final output, but certainly have their own fruit. Helping people, slaying monsters, earning more orens and experience, more loot, searching for better equipments, all part of an RPG right?

The only complaint is that there were less of them, effectively making the game short on one particular playthrough. One or two are dull but that's about it.

Well written Characters, Incredible Voice Acting and Powerful Moments

As it says, characters and dialogues are very well written. Filled with great punch lines and one liners, there is no short of humour at times. Characters are memorable, my most favourite among them all being Dandelion the bard, the always-manages-to-get-his-ass-saved-and-in-trouble kind of guy, he is the (sort of) narrator of The Witcher and The Witcher 2 in whose perspective the game quest journal is written, adding a sense of personal touch and Zoltan Chivay, the dwarf who is also comic, at times furious and has always something great to say, both being Geralt's best friends and companions.

Being a guy, erotic and sex scenes are always welcome, which are prominent in medieval fantasy, but that doesn't mean it just end there inThe Witcher 2. This is the game where you will find a lot of Strong Woman. This is not your typical tale where you find a damsel in distress around and females being used as just sex symbols like in most media. This is yet another strong point of The Witcher 2 which I admire, where there are woman who stand equal to the ever growing list of devious men (and some surpassing very high...)
So although this game targets usually more male gamers, I might call that a misconception. Female counterparts who are gamers alike can look forward to The Witcher 2 and CD Projekt Red can be proud of this accomplishment, and I'm quiet happy for both them and female gamers alike.

The Witcher 2 is filled with many powerful and emotional moments - The reunion of friends, the death of a loyal person, even love, does bring goosebumps as they happen. These moments which fuel the protagonist Geralt of Rivia also have the same effect on the players which the dev very well executed.

Monsters

"Professional Monster Hunters" is the title bestowed to witchers. Well also freaks but that is a different story. As a witcher you quiet spend time in hunting down monsters as part of side quests helping people, earning orens and experience or for resources for crafting or alchemy. The Witcher 2 features variety of monsters, including HUGE ones, but still can be a let down when compared to The Witcher which featured a more wide variety. I just hope in future titles there are much more, as this is the part which everyone grows to love.

But that is not all. I haven't yet spoken about the biggest form of monsters in The Witcher 2 - Humans.
Yes that is right. Perhaps the most evil creatures in any video game, movie or others is not some dark filth soul, but us. That is one of the strongest points of the story of The Witcher 2.

Imagine combing two of the most epic fantasies, namely The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire, and the resultant you would get is The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. A unique combination of "both kinds of monsters", where as a witcher you slay beasts and humans alike, where the primary concern (well more or less..) is the latter. And if you have even seen a single trailer of The Witcher 2 then you will instantly come to know that the primary antagonist... is also a witcher.

That's (well another) beauty of this game. You, Geralt of Rivia being on a man chase for the kingslayer whom you know well from the beginning is also a witcher like you and that alone fills you with enough mystery that lasts throughout the game until the very end (quiet literally) and becomes clearer as you progress.

Combining all these together you get one hell of a mature complex non-linear role playing game, enough to blow your mind. But that is not all as there is still the most significant thing is still left.

The End is just the Beginning

If all this was not enough, then the most significant part of the game, after everything on goes through, blows one's mind completely away - is the ending.

The Confrontation - perhaps the best ending to any game, in fact, I dare say to any story, even if the game The Witcher 2 is considered "one of the best" and not "the best". CD Projekt Red really outdid themselves when they said they created a "choice driven narrative RPG." The freedom of choice is to such an extent that  you get to choose literally the last line of the game itself! Now who can challenge that?

If I have one word to say about the ending that would be - (abso-fucking-lutely) Satisfying.

As mentioned above, in the end, you get to see your version of the epilogue film, showing you all your in game choices throughout the game. Whatever the choices you made and the consequences take place, as a witcher you walk away, on the next phase of your journey, all of which trigger the next set of events which will take place in the next title as teased in the very end of the extended outro as a big cliffhanger leaving you very hungry and pondering as The Witcher left you in the end about The Witcher 2. War is Coming.


Lasting Appealing

To put it simply, what The Dark Knight is to movies and Game of Thrones is to TV, then without a doubt The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition is to not only RPGs but video games as a whole. To completely enjoy the experience what this has to offer, playing through multiple times at least twice is the minimum requirement and more quiet recommended, to see all possible combination of decisions which can be taken, thus making this a game with a very high replay value.

Put in numbers for those who see fit:

Gameplay: 8.5/10
Graphics:   10/10
Replay value: 10/10
Voice Acting: 9/10
Soundtrack: 9.5/10
Extras: 9/10
Price: 9/10
Plot: 10/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10

Overall:
THE WITCHER 2: ASSASSINS OF KINGS ENHANCED EDITION  9.5/10

Verdict: RPGs, excellent quality story lovers, non-linear choice driven, challenging, intellectual, complex or gamer, if even one of these hold true for you then it is a must buy.


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