The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings 2-Years Later ReviewGuest_Jim_* - December 17, 2013
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The previous game featured some uncommon mechanics that are not present in any other game I can think of. In many cases, those mechanics have been changed or removed from The Witcher 2, creating an experience more in-line with modern RPGs. Possibly the most unusual mechanic of the first game was its combat system, which prevented a player from button-mashing. That has been changed this time around, so you can now click enemies to death all you want… until they kill you because you will want to dodge.
The fighting stances of the first game are gone as well, as light, quick attacks are now one mouse button, and heavy, slow attacks another. Attacking multiple enemies at once is now part of a skill to be unlocked. Before you would have to swap to the appropriate stance for the enemy or enemies you are fighting. While I am sure many people would say this is a change for the better, personally I kind of liked the previous system. It forced a greater awareness of your enemy(ies) as some attacks just would not be effective against some enemies. Now you can use whichever attack you want against your enemies, and just have to pay attention to timing. Some enemies can strike quickly during the swing of your heavy attack, so they can interrupt you. This is a more common design, which makes it easier for the average player to pick up and play, and can allow for some faster-paced fights, as a mouse click can be faster than a key press. I was simply happy before and did not need the change.
One thing that has not changed is the use of steel and silver swords. Steel swords are best against humanoid enemies, such as humans, elves, and dwarfs, while silver swords are highly effective against monsters of any kind. Using the wrong sword on an enemy will not prevent you from damaging them, but it will reduce the amount of damage you can do, significantly. You definitely need to pay attention to what sword you have equipped, as it takes a brief animation to switch blades. By the way, these are your only weapons, besides traps and ranged weapons. The additional weapon slots of the previous game have been removed.
The potion mechanic has changed and in a way I do not like. An important aspect of how Witchers fight is that they prepare beforehand. They will drink useful potions and apply powerful oils before combat to be as deadly and resilient as possible. Encouraging players to prepare for battles prior to initiation, instead of just letting them run in, sword swinging, is not a bad idea. However, The Witcher 2 forces you to prepare beforehand as you cannot use potions during combat. Even though the potions are shown in slots on Geralt's person, he has no ability to grab them and take a swig, as he could in the previous game. This makes saving often very important, so if you get caught in a fight you were not expecting, you can reload far enough before it to do what you have to do.
Do not go too far back though, because potions are only effective for a certain amount of time, and that timer does not stop counting down. You could be trapped in a cutscene or dialogue tree, and the time will still tick away. You also have to be able to meditate to drink a potion now, but at least you can meditate anywhere (if not whenever) and do not require a fire.
Wondering what those complaints were that I mentioned in the graphics section? They have to do with the geometry of certain arenas. You see, some boss fights take place in arenas, and some of these arenas are somewhat small. This means there is a very good chance you will run into the walls eventually, and potentially discover that the walls are not smooth. I found myself getting stuck against the walls because of how their geometry suddenly stuck out. This made it very easy for many enemies to just have at me, which is most infuriating as the reason is not something a player can really do anything about. You cannot avoid the geometry in such small arenas.
To be fair though, this is an issue I have with many games and is not limited to The Witcher 2. That does not reduce the frustration it causes, it just shows that issue is not limited to this game, in general. Although there was one arena where it was the floor that had the awkward geometry, making it impossible to run, walk, or dodge over a raised stone that I would put at about an inch high. At least that was only one arena Geralt could stub his toes in.
Coincidentally, the two bosses associated with those small arenas I just mentioned (Letho and the Operator, to be specific) are rather overpowered on Normal difficulty. By rather overpowered I mean they have attacks and defenses you can do next to nothing about, but hope you can dodge away fast enough or outlive their effect. I know that for the Letho fight, the next time I play The Witcher 2 I am going to unlock skills specifically in preparation of that fight so I will not have to drop the difficulty to Easy temporarily, like I did for this playthrough. (On Easy, he was a push-over. Not true with the Operator, though.)
Altogether, I spent just over 29 hours in The Witcher 2, playing the Prologue, Chapters 1, 2, and 3, and the Epilogue; completing each available side quest but one (I forgot about it until it was too late to complete). While thirty hours may seem like a nice amount of time for an RPG like this, you can double that time to get what it takes to have the full experience. Many side quests are locked behind the choices you make, so if you truly want to do everything, you will need at least two playthroughs. Some gear is also difficulty-dependent, so that could add playtime as well.
Personally I found this gameplay experience to be very solid in its mechanics and deep in its design, with its web of choice-dependent side quests. Yes, The Witcher 2 has some gameplay flaws, but these can be overcome with enough time and patience, and are either not common or serious enough to be real issues.