The RPS Verdict: The Witcher 2

By RPS on July 22nd, 2011 at 5:34 pm.


It feels like a long time since Jim delivered his thoughts on The Witcher 2, and we’ve all meaning to come back to it. Now Jim, Richard, and Kieron get together to compare considered opinions (and bedpost notches) on one of the most important games of the year. There are many, many spoilers ahead.

Jim: The Witcher 2: this year’s witchiest RPG has been played by we three men, and now those men aim to discuss it. Kieron, would you like to tell us what you think The Witcher 2 is?

Kieron: The Witcher 2 is a role-playing game, of course, you big ninny, sequel to the successful previous game, it’s a single-character game – so you only control Mr Witcher. But it’s main “things” are the moral tone (generally dubious) and the wide available choices (generally general).

Jim: What about that dude in the RPS comments who says that anything that isn’t a turn-based RPG from 1987 isn’t an RPG?

Kieron: That guy in the comments thread is basically a spam-bot from RPG codex. It’s not a real person.

Jim: That makes sense.

Richard: Anyone who says that clearly used Intelligence as their dump stat. Yeah. You just got +2 burned…

Kieron: Anyway – Jim liked it. Richard, in your review for another place liked it. Guess what I thought of it?

Richard: Best platform game ever?

Kieron: After Rainbow Islands, totally. Actually, as an aside, it reminded me as some interesting half-way place between the western PC game aesthetic and Zelda.

Jim: It’s not as open as Zelda.

Kieron: Yeah, totally not. But with various bits and pieces plugged in. (The closest there’s ever been to PC-zelda, of course, was the 57th best game ever.)

Jim: But it is single character like Zelda. Let’s talking about that single character thing – I actually prefer that in this kind of game. I find managing parties a bit tedious.

Richard: I see The Witcher 2 as simultaneously a great example of what can happen when a company has complete creative freedom, and what can go horribly wrong. It’s really interesting like that.

Kieron: I’ll agree with Richard there.

Richard: The world, the attitude, some of the asides… no game from, say, Bioware, is likely to do that.

Kieron: And while I like party based RPGs, I also think the Witcher 2 works brilliantly with its single class. It goes deep into WHAT IS A WITCHER. And puts you in his splendid leather boots. Magic, multiple swords, alchemy, monster studying, being sterile and having sex with folks, etc.

Richard: At the same time, someone really should have been there to say “No, you WILL have a proper tutorial. You WILL explain this. You will NOT expect everyone to have read seventy books – in Polish – to understand the big picture properly.”

Kieron: Oh, man, Richard. Let’s come back to the story and its telling. I’ve got lots to talk about there. But on mechanics…

Richard: I think they’re connected. You’re not just playing some guy, you’re a Witcher. To them, that’s as obvious as being, say, a Jedi. But it’s not. And there’s that instant disconnect with the game where you don’t really know what you’re meant to be doing. A Jedi for instance is a melee fighter with some magic. But is Geralt? The game doesn’t tell you properly.

Jim: Well, the very basics of the thing are that there is no tutorial and it’s too hard at the start, even post-patch. Or perhaps not too hard at the start, but significantly harder than at the end, where you are clearing a sky full of harpies in a single sword swish

Richard: The problem with the difficulty curve is that Geralt is useless at the start. Most of the early skills aren’t about getting better, they’re about not being crap. Especially the backstab damage.

Kieron: Yeah – it’s both too hard, and also too hard if you know the Witcher and know “Yeah, I should be doing some magic”.

Richard: You think you’re playing badly, but you’re just utterly gimped.

Jim: Yes, the sword and melee tree is uncrapifying the character.

Richard: Similarly, it doesn’t make it clear just how important the timing is. If you’ve got a bad frame rate, you’re just going to die. Period.

Jim: It does make me think that CD Projekt were too close to it. It feels like one of those games where the developer has been playing it for four years and thinks that the process of it is obvious.

Richard: Oh, god. No ‘feels’ about it. I was at a preview event and had the Senior Producer (nice guy, don’t get me wrong) practically playing the game over my shoulder. Use the medallion here, walk down that road, use a bomb here, go right…

Kieron: Don’t start me on the one-button leap attack, which got me into all sorts of trouble.

Richard: There were several moments where I was saying things like ‘But why am I going north when it looks like I have to go south’, or ‘why did I just fail this mission?’ and the answer was very obviously ‘We didn’t think of that because we know what to do.’ And in the full game, it was such a pain. So many quests badly explained or map pins in the wrong place…

Jim: So the start of it is awkward, because it’s frustrating, but once you hit your stride, so does the game – by the middle of chapter one I was revelling in it (kraken fight aside).


Kieron: Heh. I was about to mention the Kraken fight. But I realised we’ve been very down so far, and I didn’t want to go down that particularly squid-fucker hole.

Richard: I loved the game, don’t get me wrong, but it sorely needed more of the dreaded focus groups to say “This doesn’t work.” The Kraken fight is… ugh… All the bosses are ugh, really.

Kieron: Really, what I came away from was “making an action game is much harder than PC devs realise”. There’s an implicit arrogance there. I mean, it’s possible they hired someone with experience of something a little more tactile, but it doesn’t come across.

Richard: I think it’s more that they made a system that made sense to them, and played it so much that they became blind.

Jim: That’s interesting though, isn’t it? That every single review was able to pin-point the main problem, which was that the combat was no fluid enough for the kind of experience they were trying to emulate. Yet it still arrived like that.

Richard: You see it in a lot of the responses. Anyone who says they found it hard just gets beaten up by fans saying they suck.

Kieron:Exactly.

Richard: I suspect a lot of arguments were crushed with some variant of “We’re for REAL gamers.” REAL gamers won’t mind. REAL gamers will understand.

Kieron: The flip of the power thing is that at the end, when you are that powerful, the game falls apart because it’s so easy.

Richard: At the end? Try the end of the first act.

Kieron: To the point where I get to even a slightly more challenging fight my skills have totally atrophied. And I have to remember all those other abilities you’re meant to be using.

Jim: Okay, so let’s turn that on its head: why does it have fans so turned on and rabid about it?

Richard: The thing is, I didn’t care about the combat being easy. What I loved was the other stuff, with the characters and the reactive quests. Something as simple as a character butting into an unrelated fist-fight to say “Oi! Remember what you did! I’ve been waiting for this…” does so much to make me like an RPG.

Kieron: Even with the combat’s slide into easiness, it manages a certain spectacular charm which few RPGs even dream of. Which I appreciate.

Richard: It also makes sense. You’re supposed to be awesome. They outright say it in Act 2 – a Witcher has no excuse not to be the toughest guy around. They fight MONSTERS.

Kieron: Truth.

Richard: I think it’s just notable that because the game is so political, you don’t really do that much monster-fighting after Act 1. At least, not the silver-sword type.

Kieron: Well, Richard, *man* is the real monster.

Richard: I’m still voting for the demon farm equipment like things.

Jim: Heh. Okay, what about that sequence at the end of chapter two, on the supernatural battlefield. I found that incredible. /That/ was monsters.

Kieron: This is also true.

Richard: It’s still mostly against ghost-men. Until the end. But it’s still an awesome sequence.

Jim: Are ghost men still men?

Richard: I vote yes. You racist.

Kieron: The thing is, while you fight monsters, it’s not a game about being a Witcher. It’s a game where being a Witcher is useful because of the enormous skillset they bring to bear. You kill shitloads of monsters to actually complete relatively “standard” RPG quests, with its own grim-twist. But you’re not normally there to just kill the monsters.

Richard: Part of the trouble I had, especially when the ending collapses into irrelevance, is that for the most part it’s not really *about* very much at all. Lots of stuff happens, but there’s no big quest or anything.

Jim: Yes, you play a Witcher caught up larger things. The monster hunting is incidental, which is a shame in some ways. And then suddenly the main assassination plot is incidental too, which is odd…

Kieron: It is a bit.

Richard: Geralt is there. But even his big plot kinda fizzles in Act 2 when Henselt says “Oh, we have bigger problems now.”


Kieron: The problem – which Richard touches on – is that it’s a game which is fundamentally political and never actually does a very good job at explaining the set up.

Richard: And it’s politics of a kingdom that we just don’t know. If you’ve read the books, you’re fine.

Kieron: Exactly.

Richard: If you haven’t, who is Niflgaard? Who is Redania? Where are these places?

Jim: Yes, even the in-game map has the names in cyrllic glagolitic, so English-installs like me can’t see which nation is which.

Kieron: I mean… I was actually watching the Game of Thrones when I was playing through this and that does a lot of work to try and create the relationship between the places. And coming to the Witcher, I found myself thinking “I wish they had tried even a few of the basic set-ups there to create the idea”. I actually did try with the Journal – reading all the kings, trying to map the relationship. But it’s just not *there*.

Richard: In my game, the big debate was whether I should trust Redania. I’d never even HEARD of Redania. Is that the local equivalent of Nazi Germany or Hawaii? I never felt I had enough information, even factoring in the Journal.

Jim: But then isn’t a more sophisticated plot and game world, like one that deals with complex lusty politics, actually what we are implicating every time we attack a weak fantasy quest offering? Don’t we bemoan exposition?

Richard: Yes, but I’d argue Dragon Age did it more successfully. Not necesarily BETTER on a technical level, but at least I understood the stakes, the people, etc.

Jim: CD Projket were *trying* to deliver what we ask for, even if it didn’t arrive.

Kieron: And yes, Jim. But the problem is if you try and do this stuff you have to bring more skill to bear on the implication.

Richard: In Dragon Age, if I died, the world is gone. In The Witcher 2… I could walk away whenever I like.

Kieron: Richard – I don’t think that’s a problem. Sorry – I’m sort of thinking what I actually meant by that. But I’m going to leave it hanging.

Richard: It’s not necessarily a problem, but it reminded me of an issue I had with Far Cry 2. The intro is the Jackal saying “You’ve failed, go home.” To which my response was “You make a good point.”

Jim: Okay, let’s change track slightly: the thing that impressed me most about the game was the bifurcation of the plot in Act 2 – there are genuinely two big threads of game there, quite different.

Kieron: Yeah, there were. Richard – which way did you go?

Richard: The scale of it is just ridiculous. In a good way. As before, it’s something NOBODY else would go near. I went with Roche, because I didn’t trust Iorveth as far as I could throw him. Whereas I figured Roche, away from his main power base, would be easier to deal with.

Kieron: He’s an elf. You could throw him quite a long way.

Richard: Yeah, but he’d keep *talking*. And I can never remember how to spell Scoia’tael, which would be a pain if I had to make any victory T-Shirts after we won.

Jim: I like Iorverth, the human bored me. He seemed indignant and at the same time a pushover.

Richard: For me, part of it was that Geralt had some history with Roche.


Kieron: I actually liked them both, but went with Ioverth as I thought Roche would be fine without me and I could make more difference with the Elf. And also hearing that this Virgin woman was leading his army. And I thought “not for long”, in a true Witcher fashion.

Jim: Heh. You felt like you owed him, Richard?

Richard: More that I felt I understood him, even if I didn’t agree. He’d already bent the rules to help Geralt, for instance.

Kieron: I’ll admit, he had a better hat.

Richard: And the interactions in the town were on a “I don’t agree with you on a lot of things, but at least I know how you think.”

Richard: Unlike for instance, the guy who ran Flotsam, who was a liar and a git.

Kieron: And bald. You can’t trust baldies.

Richard: Iorveth does however have the best End of Act 1 stuff. I love the bit where you escort him through the town. And he berates you for NOT letting the guards kick the shit out of him, since it’s damaging the illusion.

Kieron: How does the second act work if you go with hat-man?

Richard: For starters, they redecorate the town. Put up bunting and have a party. Which is one of those awesome little details I really loved.

Jim: Right, the town is on fire if you choose Iorveth.

Richard: After that, you work with Roche to take down the mayor guy, some bad stuff goes down in his house with Ves and another woman he’s kidnapped, and then you more or less leave by boat as before. But you end up at another king’s camp instead of Vergen. Either of the two paths would be awesome if they were the only option.

Kieron: That’s what I presumed. And, yes, that’s an incredible effort.

Richard: And it’s in the details. Redecorating the town twice, to burn it and make it a celebration. The subquests. Each path has its own ‘Witcher’ quest for instance. A Succubus on the Iorveth path, ghosts on the Roche one.

Kieron: Overambitious, I suspect, for the story they had to tell as well – which is why Act 3 and the prologue fail.

Richard: I… quite like the prologue.

Kieron: Er… epilogue

Richard: It has issues, but it got me in the mood. Aaah! True story about when I reviewed The Witcher 2:

Kieron: (But imagining what that would have been like if they had worked out a story that would fit inside their 3 acts could have been spectacular. As it is, it’s merely pretty awesome.)

Richard: I was playing it a couple of weeks before release, but I had the deadline coming up. I’d been playing solidly, and I pinged my editor to say “I’m (for the most part) loving this game, but I don’t see how I can possibly finish it by Monday.” Literally two or so hours later: “It just ended.” Opening the Journal in Act 3 to be told “Here is where the story of the Assassins of Kings came to an end…” is… what? You’re kidding? I thought I was… halfway through at most! You mean “So, you want a boss fight?” “Nah.” “Okay, we’re cool.”

Kieron: I was especially amused by the final conversation with Letho. “So – any questions?” “Nope” “Wanna fight?” “nope” “Bye!” “ooh – a ladybird” vs “So – any questions?” “Nope” “Wanna fight?” “yup” FIGHT! WIN! “ooh – a ladybird”

Richard: One of the complaints I had after the review was that I only saw one ending and maybe the others were awesome. No. Just… no.

Jim: The final act was an intermission, wasn’t it? It was the failing of the movie that doesn’t actually end, but simply sets up the sequel.

Richard: I saw about four of endings, and the main difference was that in one of them, Roche changed his shirt.

Kieron: I liked how Geralt was VERY INTERESTED IN A LADYBIRD

Richard: Well, he always did like the ladies…

Kieron: But he let it go free. Oh, Geralt, you sweetie. I admit, I was expecting him to kill the ladybird.

Richard: I honestly thought the final act was halfway through the story. So much stuff is set up or seems to explode, I couldn’t believe it when the words ‘Epilogue’ appeared. But I think it’s important to reinforce that most of my bitching about the game is disappointment that it let itself down. And I wouldn’t feel that if I hadn’t had a great, great time with so much of it. The choices, the character writing, the graphics – even the feel of the combat when you level out of being shit – are just brilliant.

Kieron: Yes.

Richard: I love that it was an RPG that made me actually *think* about my choices, and feel like it gave a shit what I chose, unlike DA2’s even worse epilogue sections.

Kieron: And it’s brilliant to see a large budget RPG which *isn’t* made by a developer who’s actually being limited by their 15-year experience by now.

Jim: Yes, i was sort of amazed when *big* consequences played out. It’s special in just that way. I also liked the troll.


Richard: And all the little details, from the tattoo gag to the call-backs, made it feel like anything *might* be bigger than it seemed.

Kieron: I liked the troll too! I liked when they turned up at the Siege.

Richard: The henpecked troll or the drunk troll?

Kieron: Henpecked.

Richard: What I love is that for all its budget, CDP really, really gets the importance of the smaller-scale moments. Nobody honestly cares about a war in an RPG. They care about the effect of the characters they’ve grown to love and hate. And every little detail…

Jim: Sometimes I feel like it’s really down to detail in terms of what wins us over in games. The bigger stuff almost doesn’t matter if the world is spilling over with bits and pieces to pore over and discuss. The fact that bits of The Witcher 2 feel like discovery, whether or not they really are, totally captured me. It managed elements of life within its scenes, it had things going on, the world was static but nevertheless full of action and events. I mean detail matters in a shooter, but in an RPG it’s literally life or death.

Richard: You guys didn’t do the Roche quest, right?

Kieron: No.

Richard: Okay. This isn’t a big plot spoiler, but it’s something I liked. One of the quests in Henselt’s camp is to have a load of arena fights with various guards, all of which are pretty damn easy by this point in the game. At first, your success amuses everyone, but then it starts getting embarassing. So, Ves (from the intro) puts herself forward as your next opponent, and the game makes it clear how much she wants to win their respect. You have the option to throw that fight. But if you don’t, she’s quick to tell you how grateful she is for that, that you actually took her *seriously* as a fighter. And then, this being the Witcher, there can be sexy-time. But it’s the bit before that that was just… yes. I really like these characters and this game.

Jim: Goddamn sexy-time…

Richard: In a way, The Witcher 2 reminded me a little of Hitman. You’re the monkey-wrench in all these plans, if you choose to be.

Jim: I was the least sexed Witcher ever. Nil sex.

Richard: I’ll actually defend the sexy-time stuff in The Witcher 2.

Kieron: Yeah, i’ll defend it in the witcher 2

Jim: Oh I am not criticising it, I just didn’t get any.

Kieron: And in the game?

Richard: Why do you think I played The Witcher 2? (sob) I thought it was pretty well handled, the scenes well scripted, and it took the time to make an emotional connection.

Jim: The only sex action I pursued was the elf in Chapter 1, and that was a trap.

Kieron: When Jim said he didn’t sex anyone, I took it as my mission to try and sex as many people as turned up. So I had sex with seven.

Jim: I just don’t play sexy.

Richard: But seriously. The one with Triss in Act 1 could have been awful, but I thought it fit their characters really well. I was then completely loyal, as far as the Quicksave button knows.

Richard: Although there’s some really, really weird sex stuff with the other characters in Act 3…

Kieron: I missed all that. I was sort of rushing by that point.

Richard: One scene with Deathmold. Really. Was not expecting that…

Kieron: Can I say the one moment which actually yucked me out? The sorceress’ eyes…

Jim: Yeah, there is some far out stuff. Oh God, yes, that was genuinely nasty.

Richard: A guy gets castrated on the other path.

Kieron: The sound-effects were the thing.

Richard: The Witcher 2 really does do squicky well. The concepts and the executions. Never too over the top, like many fantasy stories.

Kieron: We probably should be wrapping up.

Richard: So should Sile.

Kieron: Baddumtisch!

Richard: A one-woman war against the ‘mature’ rating. To wrap up, despite all my problems, I loved The Witcher 2 and I badly want a third game, right now. It really, really humiliates Dragon Age 2 especially, and while I think Skyrim will be great, it’ll be in a different way.


Kieron: Actually – before we go, there is one thing I want to say. As in a quick topic: The bugs. Fuck me, it’s a buggy messy at times and its UI needs a complete work-over. And the doors. The fucking doors.

Jim: Oh, God, the doors made no sense.

Richard: The doors are weird. So is the streaming technology.

Jim: They were tied to the animation, I think, like so much of the game. The animation dictated what could happen.

Kieron: (My favourite error was when I was dying at the same time as fighting the dragon at the end, but the cutscene cut in, I went through it, about 10 minutes of conversation and when it gave me proper control back in the prologue, my character just died.)

Jim: Okay, let’s put our critical cards on the table: how will gaming history remember this game? I think it’s going to be one of the great (skill-based, action-led) RPGs. A defining moment for the swords & conversation genre.

Richard: I don’t think it’ll stick in peoples’ minds as well as the original Witcher, simply because of how original that game was. But I do think it’s a far better game, and one that people like us will be referencing for years and years and years. But primarily on the story side, not as a game. It’ll be “Remember the Act 2 split?” rather than “Remember how awesome the Aard sign is?”

Kieron: The Aard sign is pretty awesome!

Jim: Well Aard, i say.

Kieron: Basically, if you liked the Witcher, you’ll love it. And if you had problems with the Witcher, you’ll probably like it, as it’s just generally a step up.

Richard: I so very, very, very badly want CDP to get more eyes on their next game. Not that it should be focus grouped to hell and back, but just to make sure someone has a bit of distance before it gets burned to disc. Or downloaded into our brains, if the development time of this one is anything to go by.

Kieron: I actually want them to be slightly less ambitious with the story. Which is a strange thing to wish for.

Richard: I honestly don’t think ambition is the problem. I think they consider it a great finale. It just isn’t.

Kieron: Really? They could have just done it around the Siege, and had as much detail as the game had, and it’d work.

Richard: And since John isn’t here, I can add “Just like Dreamfall”

Kieron: A siege is meaningful. Meaning=emotion, and all that jazz.

Richard: It probably could, but I don’t think that’s the issue. Flotsam is the disposable bit, really.

Richard: I just think they gave us Acts 1-3 of a 5 act game.

Kieron: Yeah? Well, budget isn’t going to get bigger, so better to make a plot that fits in 3 acts then. That’s what I’m saying.

Richard: Or, maybe, ‘don’t make 2 act 2s’ It’s a cool feature, but they didn’t need to do it. I’d have sacrificed one of those paths for a proper fourth act.

Kieron: And make another basically linear RPG? I think you’re throwing the baby out.

Richard: You don’t need two completely divergent paths for that. Look at Fallout. Or what Dragon Age 2 could have been, with its one location. For me, choices on their own aren’t the exciting bit. I want to see results from them.

Jim: To be honest, as I was playing I’d imagined that Iorveth and Roche were interchangeable, before I realised there were actually two different paths. You could have done that and had real difference in the story, while reducing the needs to duplicated so much content.

Kieron: That’s the thing – I think you’re losing some of the strangeness by doing that. What is most interesting about it is that it’s *different*.

Richard: It’s different enough already. And most people will assume that Act 2 is mostly copy-and-paste anyway. Which it totally isn’t.

Jim: But yes, the difference in that fork in the road is incredible. No one else dares do that. Any final words?

Richard: It’s awesome. But it’s the attitude, the world, etc that makes the game special. That’s just a cherry on the cake. If you haven’t played it yet, play it immediately. For all the bitching, it’s at least 89% of awesomeness.

Kieron: Yeah, thumbs up, play it.

Richard: You will not see another RPG like it for a very, very long time.

Jim: Yes, it’s the game I have to insist people play, even if they whinge about it being too hard to start with. (Like we did.)

Richard: Yeah. Hint: Aard to knockback enemies, Quen for shields, don’t get hit from behind. After Level 7 or so, you’ll never have trouble again. Oh, and sacrifice looks for framerate.

Kieron: And sex people with your albino penis.

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  1. Premium User Badge

    LTK says:

    You know what really stood out for me after playing Roche’s path, following Iorveth’s? Choosing one path makes you oblivious to what happens in the other. And yet, you never feel like you’re missing anything. Some epic spoilers:

    In Iorveth’s path, you need to make an antidote for Saskia, and that’s all you’ve set your mind to, but on the other side of the mist, Roche is plotting a conspiracy against Henselt. If everything played out similarly at the end, the Blue Stripes all get hanged, Boussy is killed somehow, and Geralt is none the wiser. At the end of Iorveth’s playthrough I was pretty satisfied with the outcome, but that completely changed when I learned about the other events. In a way, this is good, so you don’t feel like you’re missing out. But the world may be in deeper shit than you ever knew, having only followed one path.

  2. zin33 says:

    i like many games and almost every genre but this game (and similar ones such as dragon age, mass effect) just disgust me i dont know why. i guess they look kinda lame? ive watched lots of gameplay videos but its just a massive turn down.
    am i alone on this?

    • Zenicetus says:

      Well, these are “role playing” games after all (or hybrid action/RPGs, if we want to get technical). A big part of the enjoyment is supposed to come from seeing your character progress through skill advancement, collecting gear improvements, dealing with NPC relationships, making choices, and so on. That’s not easy to convey in a YouTube clip. Most will just show some fight sequences, which aren’t the core of the game. They’re just a mechanism for advancing the player character’s status and moving the plot forward.

      But hey, if you don’t like it, you don’t like it. I feel that way about certain game genres.

  3. John P says:

    Some spoilers …

    I didn’t have the same complaints that have been raised here, though I don’t necessarily disagree with them.

    I agree Chapter 3 is shorter, feels a bit lifeless, and peters out a little — though I loved the final meeting with Letho in the epilogue, and the way it turned the usual Final Boss Battle!! confrontation on its head. That final confrontation was almost poetic if you consider it to be speaking directly to Geralt’s choices and path through life.

    But it’s not the end of the story, and I think this is an important point. The Witcher 2 is The Empire Strikes Back: the second act of a three act play. The story isn’t over, and the central story of The Witcher (I haven’t read the books, but it seems to be The Wild Hunt) is not yet resolved, and is not yet meant to be. The third act has been set up, and I’m really looking forward to it.

    On difficulty, there should have been an optional combat tutorial in the first camp, though personally I found the difficulty fairly agreeable on Normal — and then on Hard the second time through, though it had been patched by then. What a lot of people seem to miss is that you have to dive — a lot. If you stand in place and clickclickclick like it’s Diablo you will totally die. Diving is the single most important part of combat, far more important then Quen spamming. A quick tutorial would have helped there. I agree some parts are noticeably more difficult than others, like that Nekker cave or the first Letho fight.

    I would be interested to know what the ‘too hard’ crowd thinks of, say, Demon’s Souls. That game uses its difficulty as a selling point, true, but I think there’s an expectation that RPGs will be more casual affairs. The Witcher 2 isn’t, though personally I like the effort required to learn it. It’s one of those games that gives back if you put in, and I think that’s why there’s a split between people who love it (those who really dig deep into it) and those who get frustrated (those who don’t have the time or will to go looking for info in the journal).

    That also extends to the plot and world exposition, or lack of it. This is also something I didn’t have a problem with, though I was also confused about these nations and rulers sometimes. The information is actually in the game. The journal is pretty comprehensive, and purchasable books (in-game I mean) help explain things too. Dragon Age might explain its world and characters more directly, but it had its codex too. And it also had those awful, awful exposition conversations which should be abolished from all games. The convos in The Witcher 2 generally feel like actual conversations between actual people, not info-spewing machines. I’ll take TW2’s approach any day.

    I liked the Chapter 2 split too. I like replaying games I enjoy, and you really need to play the game twice to get a full picture of events. There are totally different quests and characters. For instance, if you go with Roche you will learn more about the Kingslayers. If you go with Iorveth you’ll learn more about the dragon. And plenty of other things. You can’t do both in a single playthrough. Again, it’s giving back what you put in.

    I gotta say, my major complaint is something I haven’t seen mentioned yet: the sections where you play as different characters. Where you play as Roche or Iorveth as they fight, or where you play as Henselt at the beginning of Chapter 2. I really don’t like those segments in a game that’s supposed to be all about Geralt’s experiences. They really felt like a misstep.

    In short, I agree with some others here. It’s a highly accomplished game, and that makes its flaws stand out more strongly. But it remains excellent.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I agree about how jarring it was, to suddenly be thrown into controlling an NPC instead of Geralt for those brief sequences. That time with Henselt at the start of Act 2/Roche, I swear I sat there for a minute or two, wondering why the cut-scene didn’t continue.

      Still, in my personal list of minor annoyances, it’s way down there, compared to the QT events (fist fights, Kayran fight), and the way they botched support for any monitor that isn’t native 16:9 (which is still not quite right, even after the “fix” in the latest patch).

    • John P says:

      Oh yeah, the quicktime events were terrible. There is an option to disable the ‘hard’ quicktime events, such as in the Kayran fight, or the dragon in the prologue (which killed me multiple times). Disabling them makes boss encounters much less frustrating.

    • Soon says:

      I felt the switching narratives were actually a strong part of the game. Rather than just give a cutscene of what happened, let you play it from a character’s perspective. They may have been able to do it better, sure. But it’s another way of playing to the advantage of being a game and putting you directly in the story.

  4. Ravenger says:

    I loved the original Witcher, but the sequel was a disappointment to me.

    It’s obviously designed with one eye on the 360 version, because the combat system and menus are optimised for the 360 controller. That leads to some major issues with the way the game controls using a keyboard and mouse, and the ui feels clumsy and restrictive, especially in the inventory. Also at launch half the keyboard wasn’t remappable (including the arrow keys!), and some keys are still not usable, plus it’s taken them until now to remove the letterboxing on non-16:9 aspect ratios.

    The Witcher may have had rough edges, and it took a good few patches to iron out all the problems with the game, but it felt like a PC game through and through with not compromises to any other platform, whilst the sequel feels like a very good console conversion or multiplatform game.

    However, it makes some major mistakes you wouldn’t expect to see in a good console title: A lack of a decent combat tutorial in the camp at the beginning, and very clumsy interaction with ladders and doors where you have to hunt for the right position before the prompt to interact appears. Contrast that with more recent console games where when you move towards a ladder or door and the character smoothly interacts with it without you having to worry about exact positiioning or pressing a button.

    I’ve played through the game up to the third act, but it’s just not grabbed me enough to finish it. That’s in complete contrast to the original where I was hopelessly addicted from start to finish.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      The combat system issues are not to do with being optimised for a gamepad, but because everything in it is tied to how animations play out.

    • Dominic White says:

      Jim hits the nail on the head. In your average action-RPG combat engine, the ‘cooldown’ part of each animation can be interrupted and chained into the next action, so you could swing a sword, but rather than play the ‘get back into position’ animation, you can just chain it straight into a dodge, then another swing.

      You can do this with SOME animations in The Witcher 2, but not others. Dodge and attempt to cast a sign and Geralt won’t do anything until he has returned to a completely neutral ‘doing nothing at all’ pose. The developers insist there is nothing at all wrong with this, and have a legion of sychophants telling them that they’re completely right forever.

      Idiots. Don’t blame consoles. Blame the developers for being so convinced of their brilliantness that they can’t tell when they’re messing things up.

    • US_D3ltaF0Rc3Warr10r says:

      Indeed Dominic. But sometimes devs refer to this animation driven combat unresponsiveness, simply as unresponsiveness (hence “improved responsiveness” as in 1.2 patch notes),

      and yet sometimes it’s – working as intended “feature”.

    • Dominic White says:

      The problem is that it’s wildly inconsistent. You can chain a sword-swing into a block into a dodge into another sword-swing.

      You cannot chain a dodge into a sign. There’s this period of at least a second where Geralt will just do NOTHING – just stand around blankly – before deciding that his hair has straightened up enough to do something.

      That can’t be intended.

    • US_D3ltaF0Rc3Warr10r says:

      Well noted Dominic.

      It’s like using that fucking wheel or twisting my fingers to reach number 8, wasn’t enough to brake combat fluidness

    • Ravenger says:

      I agree the combat animation system itself is flawed, but looking at the way the controls are designed they’re primarily made for a 360 controller rather than a keyboard and mouse. Now I’m not anti controller – I have a 360 pad myself – but if you design a game around controller input then obviously mouse and keyboard controls are going to be sub-optimal by comparison, and it leads to compromises in the UI as the game has to be fully controllable by both control methods. That’s the issue for me – the focus was on controllers, not on keyboard and mouse, and as a PC exclusive game rather than a multiplatform or console conversion the game suffers for it compared to its predecessor.

    • Hug_dealer says:

      The problem with the combat is that there is not a problem.

      The only problems are the ones people create in their heads. Other than obvious bugs.

  5. US_D3ltaF0Rc3Warr10r says:

    Well at least there aren’t many here that got suckered by false Elite PC Title promises.

    But OTOH… here at RPS… so many prophets of what modern RPG should look like, when all they want is
    “OK lets quickload and see what happens if this time I chose b) answer” Mass Effect C&C new fad,
    with no regard whatsoever for challenging, fun and fluid gameplay.

    Reading RPS verdict, although interesting and fun, was like listening discussion between movie fans.
    A freaking interactive movie coupled with single button clickfest, slapped with an interface that simply forces you to smash something into the smaller pieces.

    It’s like developers spent all the money they had on graphics and story branches, and in order to finish the game, they had to beg on the streets of Warsaw.

  6. Kdansky says:

    If games are more about multiple paths and replayability and less about trying to be a linear movie, the genre will improve a lot. The Witcher 2 is a fantastic game, even though there are a ton of flaws.

    • Erd says:

      There’s nothing wrong about being an interactive movie if the gameplay is fun and engaging.

  7. kyrieee says:

    I was hoping you’d do one of these but I didn’t think you would and I almost missed it too! Yay for The Witcher 2, I should play it again

  8. Urthman says:

    This article seems like it has a whole lot more spoilers than I would have expected from a “Verdict” article.

    : – (

    • Erd says:

      I guess when you make experiencing the story an enjoyable part of the game then it will be mentioned when the enjoyable parts of the game come up.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      The original WIT was spoiler free. And we mention that there are spoilers ahead in the intro.

  9. Hawkwood says:

    One thing I would like to point out: The roots of CRPG, Pen&Paper supports the C&C definition. A pen&paper RPG is an RPG becaus it have character driven plots and a world reacting to your choices.

    If you remove the choices and player driven storylines from D&D it turns into a board game. If you remove stats and percentage based mechanics from D&D, it’s still an RPG, merely freeform one.

  10. Quirk says:

    @TillEulenspiegel:

    Yes, I’ve been stressing the characterisation aspect a little heavily, and that is something more heavily pronounced in some of the horror RPGs. Still, I think it makes its way into most RPGs at some level – whether it’s an RPG on kung fu and kicking ass or an adventure in a fantasy world, players tend to attempt to invest characters with enough personality to entertain their fellow players. Maybe they don’t want to plumb the darker parts of their character’s brain, but they generally want to make their part someone memorable. The meat of the game is the human interaction and the story; without it, you might just as well play a wargame.

    @Wizardry:

    You keep treading round the edges here. You seem intent on convincing us that if GTA were only turn-based, it would be an RPG. Of course when you create a character you do so to interact with other players. A good GM however gives you situations where you get to think about what that character would do in more than the most banal fashion.

    But NPCs in games such as The Witcher and Dragon Age are affected either through scripts (if player did quest in this particular way change their dialogue to this)

    And realistically, you’re unlikely to get past this in the next few decades. Someone competent has to write the story, and the dialogue, and they’re only going to be able to write dialogue within what they know of the character through the player’s interactions with the game. We still get great interactive stories out on occasion (Planescape); it’s a lot of effort but it’s the best alternative we’ve got.

    Therefore randomisation doesn’t have that much of an affect on the result of a battle, but what is does is bring an element of risk versus reward to tactics.

    First, randomisation absolutely can have a very large impact on the result of a battle. Take two identical characters and have them fight identically, and the only factor that will have a bearing is the randomness. As you add extra features – tactics, different weapons, etc – the randomness will be tweaked in one direction or another, but it will still be there. In fact, some features you might add will have vastly larger bearing on the outcome than others. If a mage has a single spell that halves his opponent’s health, whether that spell succeeds or fails will have a huge impact on the likelihood that the rest of his arsenal will be enough to take the opponent down if the outcome were even vaguely in doubt. Similarly with surprise attacks etc.

    Secondly, the averaging you’re talking about works strongly over very large numbers of rolls, but more weakly over a dozen or so. Even in the perfect case where all die rolls are equal in importance, it is not vanishingly unlikely that the randomness decides the battle in favour of the weaker party. It is entirely possible to reload the game when you’ve lost to an unlikely series of rolls, use the same strategy and succeed.

    Thirdly, you were originally arguing that player skill should factor in very little to the outcome of two characters fighting. Now you’re claiming that player skill is the dominant feature, and randomness is so slight as to merely add a little spice. It’s hardly worth my time to address a moving position, as I’m sure you understand.

    You’ve basically just said that D&D shouldn’t be used as a basis for what RPGs are because other games have sprung up that went in another direction entirely.

    Let’s put it rather this way: D&D started a movement in which it stands rather as an early hominid to apes and modern man. After that things diverged a bit. People who wanted to simulate another world did that. People who wanted to improve the collaborative storytelling did that. People who wanted a squad wargame campaign did that. Games like, for instance, the boardgame Descent (talked of on Cardboard Children not long ago) pretty much nail the squad wargame campaign, but in doing so are generally considered to lie just outside actual RPG territory. D&D does enough beyond this that it qualifies as an RPG, but its easily visible wargame roots are not what make us classify it as an RPG – it’s the attempts to do the other stuff.

    I’m happy to sigh and shrug and call a vast range of things RPGs. You are the one trying to claim the term RPG only for simulationist games; we already have perfectly good names for games that have tried to do that on a computer, like “sandbox games”. In addition to this you have some hangup that throws back to the squad-based wargame – and you are content to breath fire and thunder about how it’s not properly role-playing your character if player skill is dominant, but you are content to give up all attempt to actually let the player define a character in any but the crudest ways. This, sir, seems backward.

    You could come up with a fantastic RPG (and CRPG) that involves absolutely no combat and no conversations. No dialogue, no enemies. Just your character, a world, a goal and possibilities.
    We call these “puzzle games”. More seriously, RPGs are people gathering together to have a vicarious adventure through the medium of storytelling, and perhaps a few props. An adventure with no other people to talk to and no enemies is indeed entirely possible, but I think you would find it vastly more constrained than the “ocean of possibilities” you mention. In fact, if you reach out and grab a random fiction book off the shelves, you’re more likely than not to find pages with action or pages with dialogue making up the bulk of the book – particularly the latter.

  11. grimreapo says:

    About the background, they do infact have a fantaic primer to the Northern Kingdoms but its not in the game for some dumb reason, this should be the pre-title intro:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NB_1hGDuG58

    As for Nilfgaard its a very scary blend of the Habsburgs at thier hight (hence the Spainish and German sounding names for many characters) with elements of the Ottoman Empire…

  12. Perkel says:

    I have few things to say.
    I have seen a lot of comments and reviews and i can’t grasp what is so wrong with ACT 3…
    And i probably know now..
    Problem is that you people just are too customed to your tipical RPG that you can’t grasp that Witcher series and especially that Witcher 2 isn’t about world itself, kings, sorceress and all other things. It’s about Geralt.
    And what i mean it is realized in witcher 2 story and the fun part is that you are getting hit by it every once in while in head and you still don’t know that the real story of witcher 2 isn’t war nor the kings or aerdin revolution or nilfgard scheme. It’s story about how Geralt tries to remember his past and how next pieces are unfolded with story progression.
    HEAVY SPOILERS
    It’s right up there from very beggining where Geralt lies with triss in tent where he remember his dream with “Wild Hunt”. It’s a story started back in first witcher game.
    Next over few hours of playing you will know what Triss was hiding from you after mirror talk with other sorceress in TW1. You weren’t a blank card and probably there is someone on the world that you considered as lover. (serious geralt speach to Triss; before ending of prologue on ship).
    Next in flotsam main part isn’t Iorweth vs Roche deal but Triss trying to restore Geralt memories. And She is fighting with it because she fear that this can change her relationship with Geralt (elf sauna talk).
    After this is quest for trying to reach kidnaped Triss which resolves at the end of game.
    Meanwhile working busy to reach her you find hints that assasins aren’t that unknown ass supposed to be.
    Later comes Act 3 and all what you learned and most of you clues are laid out with one long extreamly informative Letho speach.
    And that’s it … Politics, kings, betreyals, rebels, nilffgard don’t have any meaning now. For loss of your memories and your girlfriend there is a single mind which has blood in veins…
    As of Letho , being hunted whole game by geralt he isn’t your enemy anymore. Moreover after things he told you You can name him as a true friend. So he walks free…
    As of Ledybug. It’s common for slavic people that ledybug symbolises return of lost love one. Ofcourze it’s hard to know it being other nationality than CZech,Pole …
    As of yennefer if they don’t fuck it (CDR) if they accuratly recreate her persona for TW3 as Triss for TW1&2 you will probably see example of best character of any sorcerres/famele in gaming.
    SPOILER END
    Considering all that above i really can’t get idea of my head that you people dived in witcher 2 world amazed by it’s vastness and lore and political stuff that you started to wear blindfold still thinking that what you see is the real story.
    Yes if you consider Witcher 2 story as story of geralt and how he influence world politics ACT 3 is just headshot for you witch all those shit abruptly ending without any real Geralt influence ala “BiowareStyleTMWorldEnding”.
    Yes Nilfgard just pretty much fucked everyone and now probably won’t have any problem with war but what it means for witcher ? Nothing.
    As for people demanding to be informed about everything in story… Sory I support CDR for it’s decision.
    You have witcher 1 it’s perfect game to feel the world. It’s not a bad game eather. Some of people remember it as cult classic.
    I’m tired of this “hold my hand” type of design where everything must be explained from A to Z and ending must be absolutly 100% sure undoubted.
    As example i can point at Mass Efect 1. If you start the game when you talk to other races everyone happily tell you his story and how he reproduce.
    As of example of opposite i can point at Witcher 1 when at the beggining you ask dwarf about Scoi’tahel andyou ask him if he trade with them he just say to you “Shove off !” And you can’t talk with him anymore … at all. He is mad at you.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HS1hLGyJvZ4
    Not knowing everything is part of Witcher atmosphere. First Witcher nailed it. You see first time elfs and dwarves as resistance group fighting for freedom. Well after you helped them then you see villge wiped out by them and only thanks to you … That was charm of witcher for many people.
    Considering above i wonder how new players see elfs and dwarves in Witcher 2.
    As i remember many of people commenting game choose Roche patch just because they thought that Iorweth is new Yevin from TW1 and these elfs are terrorist.
    Well you’ve been double fucked by CDPR now they are now obviously probably better side :)
    Knowing above how can anyone argue that knowing anything about game instantly is better that not knowing.