Monday, January 1, 2018

The Witcher 2 - Thoughts and Review

There are most definitely spoilers ahead.

I finished The Witcher 2 the other day and I was shocked. I didn't expect it to end there, not like that! Ok, I had expected it to end with a showdown between Geralt and Letho but as the cutscene before the fight was playing out I even turned to my bf and said "well, I really thought Letho would be the final boss of the game but since I'm only half-way I guess I was wrong". The fact that you can choose to spare him further threw me off. Turns out I was wrong, the encounter with Letho is indeed the end of the game (unless it does a Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and only pretends to be done when it's actually at the half-way mark?). But it left me feeling like I hadn't actually accomplished anything yet, like all the plot threads were still hanging in the air waiting for me to get to their end. The Witcher 2 felt more like a prequel than a stand-alone game and I can only hope The Witcher 3 will give me the closure I so badly need now.

Otherwise The Witcher 2 improved on the first game in the series in many ways but also changed a couple of things that did grate on me quite a bit. So they made it so that you could craft potions anywhere and not just by a campfire as in The Witcher, also you didn't need to meditate to remove the toxic effect like in the first game. Finding herbs for said potions was also easier, although I didn't find any of the above a big issue in the first game. But a couple of Quality of Life changes worthy of a sequel, that's great. But who the heck decided that Geralt would only be able to scoff potions out of combat? This must be one of the most annoying gameplay decisions I've encountered in a post-2000 game since ever.

While you can't meditate everywhere, Geralt is surprisingly ok with sitting down in some weird stuff.

I can imagine the idea was probably to add a bit of challenge and maybe tactical thinking, and in reality potions weren't super-necessary in normal mode (except for the healing one) - but in practicality this turned out one of two ways; you're stingy and don't want to waste potions when you're just running around gathering herbs and not doing anything special... BAM! Surprise attack by five endregas that you weren't expecting and you're dead. Reload and now you know they're coming so you can prepare, yay! Or you're stingy with your time and don't like the trial and error attitude of the game because it's not 1989 anymore and decide to run around with the most essential potions active pretty much all the time. Add to the problem that potions only last around 10 minutes (you can add a couple of precious minutes with talents) and you spend a lot of time preparing for fights you're never going to have. Or dying in fights you never thought you were going to have. Either way, as you may understand from my rant, bad design choice.

Surprise mothafakka!

They also overhauled combat quite a lot, and since I didn't have any problem with it the first time around this took me some time both to get used to and to accept. I died a lot in the beginning before I realized I could take a page from Dark Souls and run in-stab-stab-dodge-stab-dodge-stun-stab-etc. Basically, don't get greedy and think you can go in like it's some hack-and-slash. It also feels like you fight a lot less types of enemies in this game compared to the first. The first introduced you to a lovely plethora of monsters, but here I found myself mostly fighting Rotfiends and Harpies (and of course, humanoids). Just as in the first game though, only two of the signs are useful - fire and stun. I did use the shield one for some fights so I guess that one is alright but I literally never touched the hex and trap sign. I didn't use traps at all in fact. Maybe they're more needed on the higher difficulties.

Gone are stances, which I actually missed, but at least they kept the fact that you need to use different swords for different enemies. I guess that one was too rooted in lore to remove entirely. Just as with The Witcher however, once you had gotten the hang of the combat I rarely found the game difficult. There was a boss guarding a chest that gave me a headache, and an ambush by a couple of dwarves and elves, other than that I found the game to be well balanced difficulty-wise.

Graphically it's a massive improvement to the first game, but it's an unfair comparison because pretty much anything would've been an improvement. While the Witcher 2 still reuses some character models it comes nowhere near the level of the first game, and I played the enhanced edition for that so apparently it's even worse in its original make up. That being said though, I somehow still found the first game to be more immersive and inviting than the sequel. There was something about the sequel and the places I visited (I only did one of supposedly two different ways of playing it through) that didn't make them seem as open and "real" as they were in the first game. This probably added to the feeling of the game ending at the half-way point, I was always expecting to get to that one big area to run around in but was mostly cramped up in cities.

It aint pretty.

While the story in The Witcher 2 takes a turn for the very political and talkative, I overall enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Personally, yet again, I preferred the first game where Geralt was more of a free spirit and less entangled in the machinations of kings and sorceresses (or rather, the way that game made you believe you were less entangled). The Witcher 2 puts you smack in the middle, for better or worse, and I think I would've enjoyed it more for Geralt to be the joker, out-of-nowhere-player that he was in the first game. I also felt that this game had a lot less of the extremely well-designed choices that the first game had, where I genuinely wracked my brain about which way to go and often just had to choose what felt like the lesser evil. This game gave me a couple of choices but they rarely felt anywhere near as difficult. Do I save Triss or Philippa? Well considering Triss is my long-time friend (and lover) and Philippa just betrayed me...

I thought we were friends!

Though I enjoyed most of the characters, I also felt they got less build-up than in the first game. Zoltan Chivay makes a return but the game assumes you know everything about him from the first game (which you probably do, but still) because this game adds practically nothing to his character. Same thing with Triss, who spends most of the game being kidnapped anyway. Gone are the way side-characters got a lot more love like in the first game, like Shani, Thaler, Raymond and Vincent to name a few. We get an option to befriend either Iorveth or Roche. I chose Iorveth to make up for my sins of siding with Siegfried in the first game (while I really liked Siegfried, I didn't like the way they killed a lot of non-humans). Iorveth is one of the few characters that is well realized, even the main antagonist Letho feels too anonymous when you finally fight him in the end.

Overall I really liked The Witcher 2, although it might sound like I was just annoyed it wasn't as good as the first one. While I do think the first one was more fun, there were a couple of things the second did that I felt moved the series forward rather than making it feel like a step backwards. Most importantly, it made Geralt feel more personal and real and not just like a really cool game protagonist but like a really cool person that I want to know more about and experience more of. He has a lot of the sassy, gritty persona showing through already in the first game but through all the political intrigues and dialogues of The Witcher 2, you get an even better idea of what kind of person he is and in the end it is definitely someone I'm happy I spent all that time with. Also it is pretty telling when I think a game is too short, rather than thinking it's a blessing it finally ended. If you enjoyed the first game I would still definitely recommend this, with the caveat that you shouldn't expect them to be much alike.

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