The Witcher 2 vs. Skyrim: A Different Kind of Fantasy

These role-playing games have less in common than you might expect--and that's why you should be excited for The Witcher 2.

The Witcher 2 made its original debut as a PC title in May 2011, well before all-conquering Skyrim came along, but Polish studio CD Projekt has been readying its game for a second bite of the cherry. An "enhanced" version for the Xbox 360, with half an hour of new cinematics and an extra four hours of questing*, is on the way, and it still looks pretty tasty squeezed onto a console, resembling the PC version with medium graphics settings.

That Xbox 360 adaptation is due in April, set to arrive in a genre landscape where the fifth Elder Scrolls game now casts a long shadow. But though these fantasy role-playing games share a genre (and a GameSpot review score), they have less in common than you might expect.

If you fell in love with Skyrim but didn't catch The Witcher 2 on the PC, you owe it to yourself to try it this time--not because it's more of the same, but because it's a stimulating contrast. And if you were one of the eight people who couldn't stand Skyrim, don't write this off as more dragon-swatting sword-and-sorcery nonsense. The Witcher 2 has some important differences that might just win you over. Here are five of them.

He's a Witcher and a talker.

(*PC players of The Witcher 2 can also expect all the new Xbox 360 content in a not-too-shabby free update.)

1. No More Choose-Your-Own-Adventurer

As much as we love noodling around with sliders in a character creation menu, there's something to be said for a character designed by a professional. Geralt, The Witcher 2's white-haired, cat-eyed hero, makes the case particularly well. But it's about more than looks. Where Skyrim's generous choose-your-own-adventurer approach lets you be whoever you like, the Witcher 2 tells you who you are: the sardonic titular monster hunter of Andrzej Sapkowski's Witcher books. He's a world apart from your blank-slate Dovahkiin and, wonder of wonders, he can talk. If unvoiced protagonists leave you cold, here's a welcome change.

2. No More Guzzling Potions

Even at the normal difficulty setting, there's an agreeably stern challenge in much of The Witcher 2's combat. The controls have been reworked for this console release, and the camera and targeting have been tuned up to make enemy selection easier, but the proper toughness remains. Not least of all because you can't just pop into an inventory menu and quaff health potions in the middle of a fight, a la Skyrim.

The Witcher 2's alchemy and meditation systems mean you have to prepare yourself in the calm moments before a fight, drinking the potions that will confer the right long-lasting buffs to keep you alive. You can't knock back your whole stash, either--these concoctions are toxic, and Geralt can stomach only so much poison.

3. Narrative Focus

The game story is delivered in three definite acts, with the entire final act determined by your choices leading up to it. That is to say, The Witcher 2 pulls off the neat trick of a nonlinear game with a single-minded narrative focus. By CD Projekt's reckoning, the new Xbox 360 version adds about four hours of play to the last act of the game in the form of two new adventures, introducing new locations and characters. True to the game's branching structure, these two adventures are along alternate paths, so you'll have to play the act twice to see all the new material.

Fewer dragons, more kings.

Temeria, the land in which The Witcher 2 is set, isn't quite so sprawling as the nation of the Nords, but on the other hand, it is home to a tighter plot: a tale of kings, assassins, political machinations, and adult situations. Speaking of which:

4. Adult Situations

If Skyrim without the nudie patches was too chaste for your liking, The Witcher 2 has you covered. But no one buys a game on just the promise of a handful of steamy cutscenes and painstaking boob modelling (right?), so it's not for those The Witcher 2 gets the nod. Instead, it's for treating sex like something not outrageously out of place in a grown-up game about grown-ups.

Geralt is a lusty young buck, but as CD Projekt's Marek Ziemak puts it, The Witcher 2 isn't about sex: "Sure, it's there, but it's like in the movies or in the books--it's just a part of this world because this is a mature storyline. It might sound pathetic, but in many cases it's more about the relationship between those two people." Though that's not to say it's not also engineered to be titillating, or won't be given disproportionate attention.

5. Dark Fantasy, Not High Fantasy

Without getting bogged down in definitions for "high" fantasy and "dark" fantasy, The Witcher 2 leans heavily into the latter. There's still magic and elves, but if you're looking for Tolkien-style demarcation between the forces of light and darkness, you've come to the wrong video game. As Ziemak tells it, Sapkowski's books were ideal source material for CD Projekt because the studio didn't want to make a high fantasy tale with a "zero to hero" saviour protagonist.

With its equally flawed civil war factions, Skyrim dabbles with some of the same moral ambiguity--but it also has an evil dragon who eats souls and brings on the apocalypse, given the opportunity. With conflict a shade more complex, The Witcher 2 will be a fun change of pace.

The Witcher 2 for the Xbox 360 comes out on April 17.

Written By

Want the latest news about The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings?

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

Follow

Discussion

162 comments
mattdadragan
mattdadragan

The Witcher is a great game, I love it. As a whole, Skyrim is a better game. The Witcher is the first "true" adult themed game. I believe the developers of the game meant to make this game for adult gamers but Skyrim has a lot more to it. If they somehow take the huge world of skyrim and freedom with the story and theme of Witcher, that would be the PERFECT RPG!

vadagar1
vadagar1

if witcher 2 was as big as skyrim I would throw skyrim in the bin

lucky for me witcher 3 is just that

moonslick
moonslick

Skyrim is different to any other RPGs because of something different that Skyrim offers that no other RPGs can do the same. It lets you buy houses ie settle down. It has the fewest cut scenes than any other RPGs. Only Fallout 3 has fewer cut scenes (actually none I can remember). Cut scenes are an easy way out to tell a story and today we see a lot of games with too many cut scenes, which is annoying at times. Fewest cut scenes in Skyrim means they made the game almost seamlessly, and the game is much more complicated to make without many cut scenes. Complicated also means more bugs, can't have the best of both world. And it also offers both first and 3rd person view. No other RPGs out there can do this. And because of both view offered, it limited its combat system as well. Not so sure Witcher 2 can beat Skyrim in combat system IF Witcher 2 would offer 1st person view, due to the same limitation. Skyrim or Bethesda is unique on its own for these reasons. Sorry for the late comment.

jcis44
jcis44

Dragon's age origins is much better than these 2 games because it allows the player to use different characters at the same time (up to 4) the tactical stuff you can get by doing this is impressive, story is also better.

WillyChong
WillyChong

Both game rocks on PC, simply because as long as you get yourself a decent good hardware and tweak the software, you can get the maximum out of both game. 

SuperAxilla
SuperAxilla

Definitely not TES V, or even remotely close, but still an awesome game. Just very different.

g1rldraco7
g1rldraco7

Who wouldn't be afraid of spiders?! They're icky and they jump! I have both Skyrim and Witcher 2 and they both rock.

d_kell411
d_kell411

@Dasim64 Well said! Skyrim's charm lies in its open-endedness. Players love being able to explore vast landscapes. However, Skyrim's storyline is also open-ended. The Witcher 2 is focused...your landscapes aren't as vast, but they are highly intricate. The storyline involves in depth political struggles (similar to Draon Age) so the storyline is more enjoyable for those just watching it being played.

Hiraishin
Hiraishin

Why put either on a competition pedestal? They're both good games in their own way. I don't understand why people have to compare games like this all the time. You like what you like.

branko13
branko13

Skyrim sucks. It has no story line whatsoever. No intriguing characters. No element of surprise. Generic quests. All you do is gear up and kill the same monsters over and over again on different locations. No matter how hard I tried (and i did for about 40 hours), I never found something to grab my interest. Even killing dragons got tedious after i killed about 500 of them. The Witcher series (and DX:HR is a worthy note) is the first in a very long time that reminded me of my favorites: Baldurs Gate, Fallout, Planescape, Arcanum etc. - it had an involving storyline, characters that felt alive, and a real impact on the world, and I couldn't care less about the gear I was packing or the spells I was using - they were just means (true, fun means) to an end. BUT: that's just me - I prefer a good story over free (pointless) roaming. Maybe Skyrim's more suited for the MMO generation, because that's pretty much what it is, only in SP. I just never saw the appeal. I just hope there will still be games like TW2 in a decade or two.

wizardboyus
wizardboyus

skyrim put more attention into the free roaming aspect of the game, and totally half assed the main story line imo. witcher 2 us the opposite

wizardboyus
wizardboyus

@WindsweptSpy yes, they are, because that's what it is.

WindsweptSpy
WindsweptSpy

Gamespot made sure to remind us multiple times that sex is for adults... Are they assuming that their userbase is consisting largely of pedophiles, or children seeking video game sex?

Dasim64
Dasim64

I've put a few hours into Witcher 2 and so far it feels like a big mix of elements taken from games like Uncharted, Fable, Assassin's Creed, and especially Dragon Age. It's nothing at all like Skyrim which I've put several hundred hours into. There's really no reason to be comparing these games. Certainly both are very popular and extremely well done but that's about where the comparisons end for me.

Sunuva22
Sunuva22

skyrim plot is nothing I wanted it to be more linear and even though witcher 2 isnt linear its a heck of a lot better all around I didnt even finish skyrim I got bored trying to finish all the same looking moldy dungeons with all the same monsters and I ended up losing interest : ) at least you want to know what happens next while playing the witcher 2 wish they ported witcher 1 too the xbox and didnt cancel it

mickomania
mickomania

nyran125 what a load of nonsense you speak. Of course bethesda care what you think about it. I think you missed the point.

nyran125
nyran125

The Witcher 2 is like a grueling interactive fantasy novel that cares about what i think about the world. SKYRIM is an interactive exploration existence that doesnt care what i do. Both approaches are valid. But it has to be said, i was more interested what was going on in The Witcher 2, than what was happening in SKYRIM. CDProject wanted me to care about everything, so i did care. Bestheda didnt care what i thought about it, so i eventually stopped caring and stopped playing.

nyran125
nyran125

i finished the Witcher 2 withotu stopping and playing through the second time right now and enjoying it just as much as the 1st play through. SKYRIM got 20 hours through, bored as hell and will return to it later. If a game is so open ended to the point you dont even bother finishing it, then whats the point?

BowmanKCMO
BowmanKCMO

Both great games. Both utterly different. Witcher-style games appeal to those who like to have a character created for them, and to enjoy a fully-realized, linear world. Skyrim-style games appeal to those who do some of their gaming in their own minds, with open-ended characterization and non-linear gameplay. Both have their place (although in this new world of conforming games to work equally well on both consoles and personal computers, we'll be seeing more of the former rather than the latter, I think). I enjoy both types of game, have been playing computer RPGs since the late 1980's, they have definitely come a long way. But I'll always prefer the open-ended style. Linearity annoys me. But I can settle into a linear game as well. Witcher, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, they are like living cinematically. But Skyrim, Oblivion, Fallout - in these I can try to live a personal virtual life.

sknight175216
sknight175216

If you were just comparing these two games on paper the obvious better game would be the Witcher. Better characters, combat, story, atmosphere, technical execution, graphics, and all of these things. Yet I've invested almost 300 hours into Skyrim. Why? It just has that "it" factor. It's fun. Despite the bad textures, uninspired character, TERRIBLE engine (ha ha ha in my opinion), among other things, it's just plain fun. I love Bethesda games because they're fun. They've never been particularly *deep* just open worlds that you get to make your own story in. Both great games for completely different reasons. The Witcher 2 is good because of the culmination of all of the great individual factors working together to create a masterpiece. Skyrim is great because the big picture and overall gaming experience is greater than the sum of it's very flawed individual parts. Just my perspective ha ha ha.

BluesElwoo
BluesElwoo

@dabomb790 , Hey man, There isn't one single game on xbox that looks or runs as well as its counterpart on PC. Its unfortunate that the Xbox has fallen so far behind, but its the truth. If a PC version of a game doesn't have "enhanced graphics", it simply looks better because of a higher resolution. And if your machine is powerful enough, it runs at a higher framerate.

maybock3000
maybock3000

You can't compare these two games with each other. They are both incredibly different.

wiouds
wiouds

They do share one thing and that is poor combat.

OurSin-360
OurSin-360

The Witcher 2 should have been in contention for game of the year last year. I don't even understand why it's compared to skyrim, they have little to nothing in common. Just play both of them, they are great games in their own ways.

CodingGenius
CodingGenius moderator

Thanks a lot for the comparison. I've played quite a bit of Skyrim and just purchased Witcher 2. Can't wait to crack into it!

ShadowofSonic
ShadowofSonic

These games are completely different in many ways. There is no direct comparing them.

starfox15
starfox15

What is this? Damage control for Witcher 2? I don't mind attention being given to a good title, but then don't belittle it by comparing it to Skyrim as though people need more persuasion to make a purchase. The market can safely stomach at least two western single-player rpgs. Damage control and advertising the presence of the 360 version in this blatant fashion seems kinda... shameless?

ebonized
ebonized

@20years It's called being overrated, people are catching on thankfully

ebonized
ebonized

@JMcN76 I'm not sure you're fully aware of how ironic your statement is

JMcN76
JMcN76

First it was Skyrim vs. Dark Souls, now it's Skyrim vs. The Witcher 2...Can't people just say that all 3 games are fantastic and not compare them? That being said, I love how it's always Skyrim vs. "something else." Kind of telling, isn't it?

chkmode
chkmode

I am one of the eight who did not like Skyrim.

Szeiden
Szeiden

@dinslacck Play the Witcher 2 first simply because it is a story that does have a definite end. If you play Skyrim who knows when you'll get around to playing the Witcher?

dinslacck
dinslacck

ok jane.. now i have no idea what i gonna play first. skyrim or the witcher 2?

NadCAtarun
NadCAtarun

Very interesting comparison. One thing both games have in common, though: they were both released with a severe need for patches. Skyrim was so full of bugs as to be barely playable, whereas The Witcher 2 had more problems in the optimization area, but in both cases, I had to stop playing them after a few hours and shelve them to try to come back to them after 3 or 4 patches.

TrueGB
TrueGB

Darn good year for RPG's, as of August of last year with DX: Human Revolution.

nocoolnamejim
nocoolnamejim moderator

I love both games for different reasons, but the Witcher 2 is objectively the far superior game. It's more intelligent, has more meaningful characters, and far superior impact of your choices and the branchings therein. Skyrim is very good. Witcher 2 is Game of the Year material.

dabomb790
dabomb790

I realized I immediately had to comment after reading the first few sentences of this article. I mean, Jane... are you serious? You said that the Xbox 360 version looks the same as the PC on medium settings. You gotta be kidding me. Not true whatsoever. First of all, I've looked at the graphics comparison that your beloved website put up displaying the different between the Xbox 360 and the PC on medium and high settings. The 360 version looks a lot similar and contested with the PC on high as oppose to the one on medium. In fact, if anyone watches the video carefully, it beats the PC on medium settings by a large margin. The medium is the ugliest depiction of the game. Not only that, but if anyone checks out the recent review given by Gameinformer, even they claimed is that there are small little details that differentiate the two and that the Xbox 360 port doesn't look strongly unlike an high-end PC. I'm not sure where you were playing the game Jane but maybe you need to look at the game a littler closer. But yeah in essence The Witcher 2 looks virtually identical to the high end PC. There's not much of a difference unless you're a tech fanatic and notice small differences. Otherwise, I'm pretty sure the average, casual or even hardcore gamer will barely notice a disparity between them.

ParisSun
ParisSun

Oh Jane. Everything else is meaningless.

ayonpatra84
ayonpatra84

having played 60 odd hours of witcher 2 and 130 hours of skyrim, I would say these two rpg are the two of the best games ever made. Though for me I cannot pick one over the other :).

2bitSmOkEy
2bitSmOkEy

Witcher 2 > Skyrim. You 360 guys are in for a real treat.

VGjunkie87
VGjunkie87

Coming out tomorrow, can't wait this game looks great. CLARKYDM - Skyrim for the most part, runs fine on my 360 and Dark Souls is an incredible game, I recommend trying it again and buying the official guide. They are both must-have game's in my opinion.

clarkydm
clarkydm

I am looking forward to trying this. I played about 60hrs of skyrim on my ps3 before i sold the (POC) never did finish it and have not decided if i want to bother with it on my 360. Playing dragon age again because it so well written and a bit more linear. The Witcher 2 might be a nice change ( i just hope its more playable than DarkSouls i just dont get that game )..

Mariner32
Mariner32

I picked this up on PC and then found out that I have to set everything on low at 800x600px to eke out 20+ fps. Needless to say I need a new rig but in the meantime, I think I'll pick this up for 360. OT: At first, I laughed at "no more guzzling potions" as I was drinking potions left and right in this game. Combat can be punishing if you don't prepare properly. However, I am glad you can't drink potions mid-combat in Witcher. It doesn't really make sense that your enemy would let you pull out a vial and drink the contents, much less three of four potions (looking at you, Skyrim).