People are still talking about The Witcher. Despite being almost five years old, CD Projekt’s ambitious and ever-so-slightly odd action RPG is still passionately discussed, online, all over the world. Perfection was never its claim to fame, but so many of the elements were perfect that the imperfections became completely irrelevant; or in several instances, downright loveable. It was a compelling and singular (though flawed) endeavour that got so much right that it was consequently very, very easy to forgive the hammy acting and the poorly translated dialogue, and the strategic but predominantly unsatisfying combat. Though the instantaneously nostalgic were keen to defend those foibles on a technical level, the fact that the game had real, tangible character as a result of them is what was most notable.
It’s a mark of a truly special game when it is still constantly discussed five years after the fact, and that brand of covetous fanbase activity is probably the truest way to gauge the impact of a fresh IP. And yet somehow, despite the loftiest of expectations, this feverishly anticipated sequel executes a truly masterful balancing act; it addresses almost every problematic element of the original game, and yet the off-kilter charm – much beloved – still remains. It’s also even more unapologetically mature, and though infrequent, moments of nudity and some very coarse dialogue are utilised (sparingly) in precisely the ways that they should be; as tools to spice up and cultivate the game’s throughly uncompromising world, as well as the characters who populate it.
But be aware that The Witcher 2 has perhaps the most stubbornly hardcore opening tier of any videogame in recent memory, and yet because the process of actually learning the ropes yourself only drags you deeper into its universe, you won’t begrudge it. And whether or not you’ll find yourself having to modify the difficulty at any point – and this is far from unlikely – The Witcher 2 is part of that new breed of involved, uber-serious RPGs in which everything gets noticeably easier the further that you progress. If the story – and the choices that you’re forced to make in it – weren’t so studied and intelligent, this would be frustrating. But the fact that you aren’t constantly worried about gearing up appropriately before a skirmish or overly concerned with juggling save points, means that you are free to fully engage with the story.
And you’ll be gripped. The Witcher 2 is without question one of the most morally inscrutable RPGs ever made, and making the ‘right’ choice is almost never an option. Trying to accurately envisage the negative fallout that follows each of your decisions is extremely taxing, simply because there are sour and unfortunate repercussions involved in almost every scenario. You’re never forced to choose between dispositions as trite as ‘good’ and ‘evil’, because almost every choice in The Witcher 2 involves selecting the lesser of two evils. If you’re a sucker for playing RPGs as the indomitable hero – an aspect that games such as Mass Effect 2 very cleverly exploit – you’ll have to modify your game plan here, and fast. You’ll never be loved. You’ll only ever be regarded as morally ambivalent, at best.
The Witcher 2 has clearly been made to be experienced more than once, and the utterly gigantic skill tree, which is split three ways between Alchemy, Magic and Combat – and which surely can’t be fully maxed out in one sitting – is another big testament to this. But even if you don’t plan on losing yourself to it any more than once, it’s an experience that is absolutely not to be missed. It’s beautiful, absolutely massive and liable to excite some fans of the original game into an early grave. Right now, its place on the PC’s Game Of The Year throne looks positively insurmountable. At no point during The Witcher 2 does it ever feel as if it’s a game that’s grafting slavishly for your love. And that’s precisely why you’ll love it. Dearly.
Watch the trailer for The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings here: