Wednesday 25 April 2012

The Witcher 2 - Review

Released last year on PC, the ported to 360 version is a wonderful beast.  It's about as adult as games get, sex scenes and c-bombs abound, and a dense detailed story based on some soon to be translated books give it an edge on some of its competitors.

At times it's tough in an old school unforgiving way.  Being pinned down by a group of six harpies with nothing but a silver sword and no healing available during battle can be tricky at best.

As western RPGs, set in the fantasy genre, grow in popularity, in the wake of everyone falling for Game of Thrones, it makes sense for a dirty middle earth to come to the fore on a console.  Skyrim satisfied that need to some extent but the characters still had a 'charming' wooden quality to them and it's here that The Witcher really steps up.  You don't play as a nameless avatar, instead you are Geralt of Rivia, a mutant human with white hair, animal like senses and a talent for pulling the ladies.  He's gruff and grumpy, dry humoured and incredibly quick with a blade.  Best of all (and despite the awful game cover) he's likeable.

Caught up in a plot to kill the kings of several lands Geralt must, fight to clear his name, save the girl and, depending on your choices, crush or support a rebellion.  It all takes place in three beautifully realised hubs.  It's therefore not open world and although there are a shed load of side quests in each area, it's not as easy to get sucked into them as it was in Skyrim.  The main story is compelling, right from the opening cut scene and you'll want to see where Geralt and his companions end up rather than focus on the arm wrestling.

Once you move from one hub to another any uncompleted side quests auto fail.  Ouch.  There's no heads up either and you'll be happily moving the main story forward only to see a previously started quest suddenly end.  Cleverly though it does make sense within the confines of what, on the surface, might seem like a linear journey.  The non linearity doesn't come from a vast open world instead it comes from your choices, with the story playing out in different ways because of small on the hoof decisions.

Combat is tough, even at lower difficulty.  You have a selection of different spells available, all of which are upgradeable and two main weapon slots.  You can focus on magic or sword play, or put all your development in one area.  Come up against more than one enemy, or a particularly tricky boss and you'll be parrying, firing off a spell, striking with your sword or chucking one of the many items into the fray, such as a bomb or a trap, to buy you some time.  It all happens very quickly but compared to Skyrim's combat it's far more engaging and entertaining.

Sadly the menu system feels clunky on a console, clearly it was built with a mouse in mind, but it's a small gripe and slowly but surely you'll get the hang of navigating your inventory and upgrading Geralt.

There are occasional bugs, more than once companions failed to come through a door behind Geralt leaving him to face half a dozen ghouls on his own, suddenly appearing after he'd cleaned up.  Thanks lads.

The voice acting is great for the most part and the world feels reasonably alive.  The fantasy genre is played around with nicely, with a believable tension between the world's different races.  The density of the game's lore slowly reveals itself, political intrigue and double crossing playing as much a part away from the central characters as it does with them.

The sex scenes and language help to put more colour into the world leading to both believable dialogue and a genuine tone and weight to the lead.  Geralt might be one of the strongest characters in gaming it's just a shame they've made him look such a tit on the box.

A fine port from PC and one of the most enjoyable RPGs of recent years, The Witcher 2 might take a little while to love, but once you're hooked you'll be wanting to fight (and shag) your way to the end.

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