The Witcher 2 is a truly mature game. Not because of its content. Nudity, sex scenes and gratuitous violence doesn’t automatically make for a mature game. The Grand Theft Auto series has shown that, typically offering some pretty cartoonish demonstrations of so called adult themes. No, The Witcher 2 is a mature game because of how it treats the player. It doesn’t hold their hand in any way, it’s happy to punish foolhardiness and decisions are rarely black and white. It’s immediately refreshing because of this but it does make for a rather intimidating early few hours.
The Witcher 2 is a direct sequel to its predecessor so players would be wise to play the original beforehand if they want any chance of fully understanding what’s going on. Based upon the book series of the same name by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, The Witcher 2 centres once more on Geralt of Rivia, one of the few remaining witchers – witchers being humans who have been trained and genetically modified from childhood to fight monsters. Geralt is a flawed hero indeed, to the extent that sometimes he doesn’t even feel like the hero. The Witcher 2 might provide a lot of morality in its decision making but by no means are the decisions easy nor clear cut. It’s all much like real life in that respect with a world of shades of grey rather than black and white.
The game offers a series of multiple paths to take which not only demand multiple playthroughs to truly appreciate but players will find themselves desperate to see how things could have gone if they’d gone down a different path. The consequences themselves are a curious mix of subtle and world changing. The story focuses heavily on political intrigue which can get pretty heavy with a hefty dose of moral ambiguity. It also makes for a tale that’s tricky to truly explain without spoiling anything but it’s certainly impressive. The first Chapter offers up two entirely different acts depending on the player’s decisions, right back from the early stages of the game, with the second Chapter providing two different towns to explore depending on the decisions made. The basic idea might be the same but the perspectives feel all together different. It’s the kind of thing that players of Dragon Age and Mass Effect have been desperate for and now it’s been truly realised. Unfortunately the third Chapter is a slight let down, ending all too quickly and making players eager for more but perhaps that’s a blessing in disguise rather than outstaying its welcome.
Storyline aside, The Witcher 2 still maintains its non-existent attitude to guiding the player along. There’s a tutorial at first but there’s not a huge deal to it. Players would do much better to read through Geralt’s journal to learn what’s going on and that’s an underlying theme throughout the rest of the game. If the player wants to figure out something then reading and studying is needed. On a slight tangent, it made for an intriguing juxtaposition to the other title I was playing at the time – L.A Noire. While this console title was so desperate to guide me through every single step that I felt molly coddled to an irritating degree, The Witcher 2 takes all the stabilisers away and waits for me to fall flat on my face. And I did. There’s a big leap between difficulty levels with Casual not really worth bothering with. Once playing on Normal or higher, The Witcher 2 was all too happy to scold me for my silly actions. I deserved it too. Combat for instance is difficult to get to grips with, especially early on.
While CD Projekt has simplified combat removing the rhythmic style of the previous game and allowing players simply to click the mouse to swing their weapon, that doesn’t mean that combat is easy. Tactics and careful positioning is still vital to success. With standard attacks possible with the mouse and casting signs (the game’s version of spells) and blocking controlled via the keyboard, controls alone can get intricate. It’s perhaps blasphemy to say this about a PC game but a gamepad does come in handy here. Button mashing is possible but it’s really not advised with careful blocking and manoeuvring being a more intelligent idea.
As Geralt levels up, the ability to acquire new talents and skills unlock. Talent points can be distributed across skill trees in order to enhance existing abilities and unlock new ones. A good mix of the different trees seems to be the best idea but as is always the way with RPGs, it does depend on the player’s style. Creating potions is also a big thing here thanks to the ability to collect plants and the grisly task of dissecting corpses too. It’s not possible to drink potions mid fight and they’re also toxic, restricting the amount that Geralt can imbibe at any one time, adding another strategic layer.
It’s not quite plain sailing with The Witcher 2 thanks to a few bugs and annoyances. A few times while playing, the game decided to freeze or crash on me and the journal doesn’t always update properly leaving players stumped as to what needs doing next. There’s also the hefty system requirements that quickly remind you of just how aged your PC is getting. But it’s not hard to forgive when the game is so enjoyable. Really, it’s the storyline that makes it so memorable and the lack of hand holding. Much like no one would expect Call of Duty to cater for the casual gamer, nor should they expect The Witcher 2 to pander to twitch gamers. It won’t be for everyone, requiring some patience and a real love of the genre. It’s uncomprising in its approach, not backing down for the sake of every single gamer loving it, but nor should it. It’s a triumph simply put.
MLG Rating: 9/10
Platform: PC Release Date: 17/05/11
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of The Witcher 2 for review purposes by the publisher. The title was reviewed over the course of two weeks on PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.