Takes a while to get into, but is actually worth the effort.
nait2k4 wrote this review on .
Firstly, for those of you who have played the original game you will instantly be familiar with the game world, characters, magic and combat style. For those of you who have not played the original, it would be a good idea to put your experience on hold until you do. Understanding the motivation of the characters in this game is a major part of the enjoyment, and attempting to immerse yourself without that background will be difficult.
Secondly, if you are running a medium level rig, make sure you patch to 1.1 and get rid of the DRM before you start playing. The graphics play a major part in creating a living and breathing world to explore, but a frustratingly poor implementation of DRM and a lack of optimization for mid range systems means that your game could suffer from serious stuttering frame rates, glitches, and even the occasional crash.
Thirdly, READ THE MANUAL. Attempting to play this game without a thorough knowledge of all the shortcut keys, equipment uses, and character development options will have a negative impact on your initial game play. This can be a real problem when facing some of the early enemies, so getting your character leveling and equipment load out right is essential.
Right, NOW you can play the game.
Visually, the game is extremely impressive, with a bright and vibrant world full of shadows, movement, color and texture. There textures are well drawn, and the environments are nicely developed. The character models are well proportioned, with expressive facial features and reasonable lip synching. There are some issues with the character designs when nudity arises, sometimes reminding you of those bad 'Naked Lara' Tomb Raider patches you could download years ago (or so I heard...). But, on the whole the graphics are a massive step up on the previous game - eclipsing most of the other current RPG and rpg-lite games out. Maxing the game out requires a super-rig, though, and the Uber-sampling (anti aliasing on steroids) is awesome but rather pointless unless you spend a lot of time standing still. The game looks pretty sweet on Low and Medium, so if you prefer frame rates over eye candy, you won't miss out on much.
Listening to the game is a pleasure, the music is dramatic and intense, nicely pitched and timed to suit the current on screen drama. It can get a little overwhelming at times, though, and turning it off will allow you to enjoy more of the nice ambient sounds that seem to make the world a little bit more alive. Voices are well done, with barely any stumbles. As with most games, there are elements of cheese and wooden delivery, but thankfully they are few in number. Geralt is voiced well, as are his companions. The Dwarf is a little OTT, and Dandelion does drain your patience a little, but these are minor annoyances. Combat sounds intense and dangerous, with the clangs, bangs, swishes and slices all blending together nicely to create audible chaos. Magical sound is a little tame, but works well in context.
The actual game play has a few issues. Combat has been sent to the Dragon Age II Hack'n'Slash (New Age!) school, which can make it aggravating having to repeat large scale battles, and will have your mouse screaming in agony after a couple of hours. The inventory system has been sent to the DA II school as well, and kind of sucks the fun out of looting. However, the items in Witcher II are pretty good, and the desire to find the next awesome sword, or piece of armor, or enhancement is definitely a bonus. Just be sure to read the manual before you start enhancing or crafting, otherwise you can make some nasty mistakes.
Character development is simple, maybe a little too simple, but is easy to use and reasonably clear in its onscreen explanations. You can't exactly build a unique character, but you can tailor the ease of the first couple of chapters quite well by focusing more or less on the combat side of leveling. Again, read the manual before applying mutations to your skills.
The plot essentially boils down to 'Wrongfully accused must clear name and destroy plot to take over world'. It sounds like a bad Harrison Ford movie, but it is executed very well. Lots of dialogue and exposition really work towards identifying characters motivations, and tie strong emotional impact to a lot of your decisions. Those decisions have a solid effect on the storyline as well, with somewhere on the end of 15 different story paths converging on the different endings. You can really forge strong relationships with some of the characters, including romantic entanglements that lead to the humorous nudity, but these add up to creating a real desire to make thought out choices. These can be difficult, as a lot of the paths you can take are morally ambiguous, creating unexpected consequences or having unintended effects that you may not enjoy once they occur. I would strongly advise against using the 'Save-Repeat' style of decision making, as it cheapens the whole process and will negatively impact on your enjoyment.
All in all, The Witcher II is a great experience, with a detailed game world, fantastic quests, strong characters, mature themes, and morally challenging decisions that will occasionally make you go 'Oh Snap!'. There are a lot of frustrations along the way, making getting involved in the game world not an easy job, but if you put the time in it is definitely worth it.
The reason why I have given this game a 8 instead of higher is down to this: an interesting story, wonderful graphics, fantastic dialogue and delivery, and a game world that is mature and challenging can be let down by not providing enough onscreen feedback and guidelines to the users. Added to that, the simplification of the combat, the consolization of the inventory, and the initial implementation of really bad DRM and the game becomes not so much as instant classic as a sum that is greater than its parts.