The Games of Christmas ’11: Day Four

By RPS on December 4th, 2011 at 10:36 am.


It is, apparently, the season to be jolly. So which is the season to be deadpan? And the season to be sardonic? It seems like who ever is deciding on which season is which attitude really hasn’t thought through a fair system of use, or considered the roles they play in our society. I honestly think a poll for the use of seasons is the only fair way to decide.

Anyway, which game is day four? Which, indeed?

It’s… The Witcher 2!

Jim: When it began to make itself available to me, The Witcher 2 was a tease. I had seen nothing of the game, avoiding most of the coverage in anticipation of having the kind of unspoiled, time-loss RPG indulgence I’d hoped it would be, until I had to play the preview code. That was the prologue and the first chapter – just up to the point where the plot splits, and where things can go very differently for you indeed. On my first playthrough of the preview code I didn’t realise quite how differently it would go after the events of that chapter, and I was sceptical that this was anything other than another essentially linear RPG, carefully disguising its lack of choices with a few branches of dialogue.

The truth is, however, that The Witcher 2 was one of the bravest RPGs in years, at least in terms of the way it delivered its story. The choices you made in the first chapter not only have serious consequences for the people in the small town you were adventuring in and around, but they also decided how you’d experience the second, and main, chapter of the game. This felt incredible to play, particularly once you realise that you were going to be able to go back and see all those events from a totally different perspective, in a different environment. Of course you got to glimpse both areas of play from wherever you went through the game, but two paths were nevertheless distinct and inspiring. If only we got more RPGs of this sort of ambition, I thought to myself. If only they were all as deliberate in mapping out the results of your choices. If only.

From an even nerdier perspective, I was also glad that The Witcher 2 looked so good and demanded so much of PCs. 2011 has been the first year since around 2007 in which I’ve seen people seriously discussing their need to build new, dedicated gaming machines to make the most of the games that have been coming out, and The Witcher 2 was one of those that caused the biggest flapping open of wallets. Rightly so, because it was one of the most beautiful videogame creations we’ve ever seen. Not, sadly, as open as many games this year, but making up for it in lavish density of detail and a rich, diverse, gritty, believable world.

The Witcher 2 came close to being my game of the year, but sadly missed the target and sailed several places down the list. There are numerous reasons for this, but it’s not all to do with the quality and content of other games. The Witcher 2′s bizarre inverted difficulty curve, its doors, and its stuttering plot, all led to some dissatisfaction on my part. Having completed the game I felt that with just a few things done differently (including a better map and interface) there might have been no contest.


More recently, though, I’ve found myself pondering the ways in which The Witcher 2 seemed to managed to put off lots of gamers, despite being such a heavyweight RPG, of the kind we seem to keep on asking for. The opening trickiness (and the likelihood of being thrown into the confusing and deadly dragon-attacking scene almost as soon as the game starts) seems to have deterred many. Indeed, a few people I know – John for instance – gave up in annoyance and frustration after the first few moments. Others still were put off by the game’s seediness – the male sex focus of it all, and the way in which it forces you to play as one character, the titular Witcher, presuming that we can have little real influence on the role that he plays.

Some of the people who sidestepped The Witcher 2 were expecting a repeat of their experience with The Witcher, and the opening parts of the game seemed to confirm it. Indeed, there’s plenty here that does shadow the original, but I feel it’s an improvement in so, so many ways. The most important of these is simply in the story it tells, the elegance with which it tells it, and the range of events which it contains. As a whole, however, even this felt like a stopgap.

The endgame was, as is so often the case in games now, not really an end at all, but more like a signpost to the next game in the series. This irritated me at the time, but actually I feel like it could be beneficial, if CD Projekt don’t take too many years in getting to the next game. We could, when more of Geralt’s saucy adventures are done, have one of the most spectacular and satisfying RPG tales ever told, with The Witcher 2 simply being one of the middle chapters. A segue, pointing to the real adventure to come.

That’s a future I truly hope we get to see. CDP, you’ve come so far, please don’t let us down.

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112 Comments »

  1. TooNu says:

    The sooner porno sex becomes the norm for games the better, then we can just ignore it because we take it for granted. Though it would make things worse.

    • Tuco says:

      I couldn’t really point nothing shown in TW2 as “porno sex”.

    • CaspianRoach says:

      It wasn’t porno sex, it was erotica sex, you know, the kind where they don’t really show penetration but it’s implied, late night TV ‘porn’ and the like.

    • Dominic White says:

      It’s the kind of sex you see in pretty much any 18-rated action movie.

      I also only saw one sex scene in the first 7 hours of play, which is a rate approximately a quarter (or less) of what you’d expect in the equivalent film. Somehow the game has gotten this reputation as this rauncy no-holds-barred fantasy fuckin’ experience, but… no. It really isn’t.

      The press got used to people in movies getting naked about 30-40 years ago. Perhaps we’ve got another 20-30 years before it can happen in a game without people freaking out about it?

    • John Brindle says:

      I have not played the Witcher 2 (miuch as I’d like to), but I hope I can be of some use by nominating the following seasons for different attitudes:

      new year – the season to be pensive
      january to february – the season to be grumpy
      early spring – the season to be zealous
      easter – the season to be manic
      may/spring proper – the season to be perverse
      midsummer – the season to be childlike
      dog days – the season to be deadpan
      first falling leaves – the season to be wry/sardonic
      slushy autumn – the season to be ghoulish
      early winter – the season to be officious
      Advertising Christmas – the season to be kind

    • John Brindle says:

      Well, that really wasn’t supposed to be in this sub-thread!

    • DickSocrates says:

      Until graphics and animation get significantly better, they’d be better off not showing sex at all.

      Even in most movies it’s there just for titilation and could be completely implied and the whole product would be better off.

      I don’t understand why anyone would want to watch a sex scene in a movie or a game. They can’t really be ‘enjoyed’. When I sit down to watch something that isn’t porn, I don’t really want to be put in mind of pulling my pants down. There’s a time for that, and if that time was now, I’d be doing that, not watching this movie or playing this game. Has anyone ever dispassionately watched a sex scene? “Hmmm, yes, I admire the cinematography on her bobbing arse. It really adds to the character development of this ‘Witcher’ fellow, I now know he likes sex and that he has sex. I even know how he looks while he’s having it. Invaluable information which makes the experience so much richer for me.”

      It serves no purpose 99% of the time. You can have sex and sexiness – which is vital for some characters – without resorting to showing them doing it. If they show sex they should show people taking dumps, or realistic eating animations that take 10 minutes to play out.

    • StingingVelvet says:

      @ DickSocrates

      Nudity is a tool for art, like anything else really. It can be overused and exploited, but there’s no denying it has its place. For example, Helena Bonham Carter nude at the end of The Wings of the Dove makes that scene much more powerful when the lovers are reunited after their scheme predictably causes emotional chaos. She is giving herself to him completely, even though their bond might be broken. It means something. There are similar examples all throughout art.

      Even in less artistic films it can make sense for a scene, even if it means titillation. For example, portraying the randy teens in horror movies using sex and nudity makes sense, it’s not like that’s a completely out there method of getting a point across.

      I think the core issue with people who dismiss it in videogames is that it’s not used effectively. When God of War shows boobs it’s just to show boobs, there is no artistic value or even character definition value there, it’s just boobs for boobs’ sake. When it’s being used more effectively people will stop complaining about it. Whether The Witcher 2 uses it effectively or not might be subjective, but I got along with it better in TW2 than any game before I think. It especially made sense in the Triss scenes.

    • Dozer says:

      Re arbitrary romance in films, games, etc:

      http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/zero-punctuation/284-Silent-Hill-Homecoming

      Skip to 2:40 if you don’t care about his opinions on Silent Hill and Americans.

    • iainl says:

      A big fuss was made about Avatar having, for the first time ever, two CG characters touching each other and it not looking embarrassingly fake. Until they can get it working better more often, videogame sex will still be a bad idea to depict.

  2. HexagonalBolts says:

    The difficulty was bizarre, I remember the final battle being the easiest one in the game. I do hope they give the game the same treatment as the first one, polishing it up with time. It MUST have been better than the first one for me because I finished it in days and was hungry for more, whereas my enthusiasm always trailed off whenever I tried to complete the first game.

    • Gnoupi says:

      *potential spoilers*

      Yeah, the game doesn’t really scale up the enemies. My toughest fights happened in the Act 1 (and a bit in the prologue, too). Because the more you gain skill points, the easier it gets. The (optional) end boss is particularly laughable because it’s exactly the fight you already had in Act 1, only without the space constraint, and with a stronger Gerald.

      In general, as soon as you get the skill allowing you to hit multiple targets at once, everything becomes MUCH easier.

    • mwoody says:

      Further spoilers

      I agree somewhat, but I did like an aspect of it: by having the same fight twice, it really served to showcase Geralt’s growth in power. Bitch-slapping that guy who had crushed me so many times 20 (or howeversomuch it was) hours earlier made me feel like a god.

      In terms of difficulty, the real endboss was the hidden one near the game end who let you reset your talents. That fight was a serious pain in the ass.

  3. DrGonzo says:

    I think most of my favourite RPGs involve playing a predefined character. Planescape, Risen for example. Still need to get around to playing TW2 through as when i first tried it it made my pc poo itself.

    • Jumwa says:

      I’m exactly the opposite.

      Try as I might, I could not get into or enjoy the first Witcher. I hated Gerault, I hated his stupid douche face, his annoyingly limp white hair that made him look like an over-bleaching rock fan. I hated the sound of his voice. His personality Everything about the guy seemed to irritate me. I didn’t like playing as him. At all. Screw him.

      All the same, I love the idea of what the developers are doing with their game, and their approach to DRM. In fact, I love them for that so much, I very nearly spent the full $60 on the Witcher 2 at launch, fully knowing there was a 99.5% chance I’d never in my life get more than a couple hours into it, just to throw some money behind good developers.

      But ultimately, it’s not a game for me, and I’m not so well-off I should be throwing that kind of money around in support of other peoples dreams. Not, at least, other people who are doing so well on their own, and kudos to them for that. They earn success, I just wish it was something I cared to be a part of.

    • tormeh says:

      I’m exactly the opposite of Jumwa, Geralt is a big part of the game the way I see it. Alongside Roche he’s the greatest character in the game. I just love the knight-in-sour-armor trope. I love how he never wins, but at best makes the least worst out of it. Ultimately, the game is about Geralt, with everything else being the background. He’s sterile, so he can’t have family, he’s distrusted by almost everyone and as he says himself “no witcher has ever died a natural death, I know I’m going to end up as a macabre corpse in some forgotten dungeon with a huge and ugly beast eating my intestines”. Yet he lives on, taking whatever hollow affection he can get and fighting for a love he consistently fucks up, trying to make the best of it.

      Find me a more likeable character, I say. I don’t get how it’s possible to view him as a douche.

    • paterah says:

      I have to agree with tormeh. I love everything about Gerald and even find him more interesting and realistic than Commander Shepard or other iconic heroes in the RPG genre. I like that there are many moral dilemmas throughout the game, that he is no knight in shining armor, that he can’t just help people out of the kindness of his heart. While I love forming my own character I think Gerald has been one of the strongest figures so far.

    • Jumwa says:

      Well that was kind of my point, Tormeh. I’m sure the character–as the rest of the game(s)–is fantastic. But I hate looking at him.

      I have been playing and enjoying Dragon Age 2 because I at least got to have some selection in my characters looks. But had I been saddled with the default character that’s adorned the boxes? I’d have never even bought it, honestly.

      Call it whatever you want, but the matter just remains: if I don’t like looking at my character, I don’t like playing them in a RPG. Customization or at least some selection is a must for me in RPGs.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I dislike premade characters because they are usually pretty humorless, which annoys me. Commander Shepard, Michael Thorton, and Geralt to a lesser extent are uber-masculine humorless blocks of wood that are almost out of place in the well written world around them.

    • Kevin says:

      I really liked Geralt for his politically nihilist nature, though for me the character that really stole the show was Iorveth. First of all, he ain’t exactly Legolas when it comes to looks, which is rather refreshing for an elven character, and you can have equal amounts of admiration and disgust for him.

    • DocSeuss says:

      @InternetBatman: Don’t confuse an underplayed sense of humor for not having one at all. Geralt has a wicked-cool sense of humor. He’s funny, but he’s not SILLY, like a Tim Schafer game. If you’re not listening to him, you might not even notice all the jokes he makes. It’s a very wry sense of humor.

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      @Jumwa : Just an FYI, the Witcher 2 lets you change his hair.

    • Dominic White says:

      @DocSeuss – Yeah, a lot of his jokes go over the heads of the people he’s mocking, too. Dude knows pretty much exactly what he can get away with without getting punched or stabbed. The novels are a pretty good read, those of which have been translated in to English. The times when he’s just chilling with Dandelion and getting into trouble are great, because you don’t often see him completely at ease and unwound.

    • Saiko Kila says:

      I wouldn’t call Commander Shepard ubermasculine. She was tough, but not as much.

  4. Meat Circus says:

    You know, on first release this game absolutely infuriated me. It contained more dim-witted design decisions in the first couple of hours than I had seen in a long time.

    No tutorial. It spams you with enemies, without giving you the slightest hint how to counter them, block or even do half of them damage.

    It throws an insta-killing DRAGON at you whilst you battle enemies you don’t know how to kill.

    It asks you to solve puzzles without explaining what your five Signs are actually for.

    It has a control system that responds to button presses half a second after you press them, due to some really stupid queuing of button presses, meaning you take hits and die because of it.

    It has a dreary stealth section.

    And then, to top it all off, throws one of the worst boss battles in history at you. Where the game actively lies to you about how to defeat it, and then the killing blow required the use of a bomb the game at NO POINT ever mentioned you had and could use.

    GRAAAAAAAAAAAGH!

    By all accounts, this would have done for this game for me… until they released the 2.0 patch.

    Suddenly, all of the hatred and malice this game had instilled in me evaporated. It was a glorious day. The greatest patch in gaming history.

    • bill says:

      Is it now patched up to remove most of the complaints people had?

      Is the difficulty curve more logical now?

      Mind, I still haven’t played #1

    • Meat Circus says:

      The game still gets easier as it goes along, but most of the stupid that built up in the first two hours has been ameliorated.

    • Dominic White says:

      There were two mods for V1.0 that addressed the difficulty curve issue very nicely (early game was easier, end-game was harder), but only one of them has updated to V2.0, which sucks.

      One key issue was that your gear became exponentially more powerful near the end, with it handing out godlike magic swords like candy that completely trivialized many fights. The gear rebalance mod has been updated, thankfully.

      http://www.witchernexus.com/downloads/file.php?id=89

    • yoggesothothe says:

      Hmm. I have to ask, did you player Witcher 1?

      I think that was sort of the primary mistake CD Projekt made (if catering to returning players can be called a “mistake”)–they kind of assumed that you’d played Witcher 1, and at the harder difficulties. Because if you had, the usage of the signs and bombs and everything else came very intuitively and naturally.

      Anecdotally, the game for me felt about right in Hard mode (tad on the easy side, even) on my first playthrough (pre-2.0), and I didn’t even bother with the Swordsmanship tree until level 30 something, after I’d filled out the Alchemy tree.

      I wonder what percentage of players with complaints about no tutorial and the beginning being frustratingly difficult felt this way because they weren’t familiar with the mechanics that carried over from the first game. As a returning player, personally I appreciated that they built on the skill level that could be expected from someone that had exhausted the first game.

  5. President Weasel says:

    I loved them for putting out a free patch to turn the Witcher into the game they wanted it to be in the first place. I loved them for it so much that I decided then and there to give them money for the Witcher 2 when it came out. I did that thing, and I still haven’t got round to playing the Witcher 2 at all. Curse my lack of endless free time.
    Hooray for CD Project though, seriously.

    • Meat Circus says:

      Problem is, having done it twice, they now have a reputation as the company who releases a broken, incomplete game and then renders it playable six months or a year later with an ultromegapatch,

    • Paul says:

      I started playing TW2 the day it was released on GOG, and finished 6 days later. Zero crashes and about 2 bugs during 45 hours playthrough. From my experience at least, the amount of polish in TW2 is way beyond most other RPGs.

    • DarkerFate says:

      I have to agree with Paul here, Started playing in version 1.0 and the only thing that I remember noticing was 1-2 game crashes, and walking into an area while the game was obviously still loading and seeing houses with rooftops and no walls.

      Everything about the game I loved and every patch since release has been a bonus, not a necessity.

    • FriendlyFire says:

      Haven’t had a single crash with TW2 but Skyrim crashes like it’s built out of duct tape and prayers.

      I guess “your mileage may vary” is the name of the game here.

    • Feriluce says:

      The game wasn’t broken. The difficulty curve was a bit off, and that was the largest problem with it. It was a great game on launch, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    • Archonsod says:

      Got a bug in a sidequest in Chapter 1 which 2.0 still didn’t fix. Stopped playing at that point.

    • iucounu says:

      Skyrim runs as smooth as butter for me, with about 2 CTDs in 50 hours of play. TW2 crashes about once a session, often catastrophically with BSOD. I suspect this has something to do with some shonky RAM issue in my rig, but I thought I’d mention it.

    • mwoody says:

      Yeah, sorry MeatCircus, but your experiences there really aren’t common. My only real quarrel with the first area was that it asked you if you wanted to skip parts of the tutorial, but did it in a way such that you didn’t know you were doing it. (For those who didn’t play: A character asks Geralt to explain what had occurred earlier on, stressing that he should focus on the important parts. If you select anything other than the first option in response, you’ve now skipped an hour or more of the game, including the associated tutorials.)

  6. MuscleHorse says:

    I’m still wanting to play The Witcher 1 before starting on this… but as some may have noted in previous posts of mine, I struggle to get past the prologue. The dialogue and voice acting is horrendously clichéd and poorly delivered. I remember the point that stopped me in my tracks last attempt was the introduction to the first chapter proper, with the ‘generic’ american accent of that child being possessed. Obviously I can see that something enjoyable lies within (and that it comes so highly recommended by the RPS faithful) but I never seem to be in the right mood to look past these annoyances.
    Oh, and as a post script, I guess I should mention I also find the whole sex top trumps thing fucking odious, so that doesn’t help.

    • Tusque D'Ivoire says:

      I planned the same thing. before the Witcher 2 came out, i tried to play part one but got stuck very fast. I decided to have a look at a walkthrough at some points throughout the story (it’s seriously like a weird adventure game) and had a jolly good time with the Witcher 1.

    • suibhne says:

      I liked the English dialogue and VO just fine, but here’s a suggestion: you may find the dialogue less troublesome if you set it to Polish with English subtitles.

    • Feriluce says:

      when I tried the witcher 1 for the first time, I finished the prologue and immediately got bored and put it down. Then I did another try just to get a grasp of the story before witcher 2, and suddenly I really enjoyed the game, and played it through in 3 days or so.

      No idea what happened, but maybe its worth giving it another try.

    • DocSeuss says:

      @MuscleHorse: The game’s very visibly a learning experience for all involved. It’s pretty bad (but with solid ideas!) up through act 3. Then, suddenly, there is an Act 4 and everything from then on is absolutely glorious.

      You’ve got a lot to slog through, but once you get to Act 4, you won’t regret it.

      This is coming from someone who hated the opening act and the swamp.

    • Wut The Melon says:

      If voice-acting is your issue, I DEFINITELY recommend putting it on Polish. I played the demo for TW1 in English, currently playing the game in Polish with English subtitles. Whenever I see a youtube video of the English version, I am reminded once again of the enormous difference. Though IMO the Polish voice-acting isn’t the best ever (that possessed child will still make you wince…), it makes a huge difference. (Have you ever seen TW2 in German?)

  7. Andy_Panthro says:

    I’ve played a couple of hours since I bought it. The interface annoys me so much, so I ended up waiting for them to patch it or something. Haven’t tried 2.0 yet, so perhaps that will make things better. I hope so, because at the moment I kinda regret paying full price for it.

    Took me ages to finally get going in the first game though, so I hope I end up liking it as much as I do TW1.

  8. Paul says:

    Even after Skyrim, Witcher 2 is my GOTY. Doors is a uberminor complaint, 100% insignificant for me. Difficulty? I found it fine, playing on normal first time. I am used to games being harder in the beginning (Gothic, Risen..hell, even Skyrim was much harder on level 3 that it is now on level 42). Stuttering plot ? What does that even mean? I found writing in TW2 pretty much the best I have seen in a game since Torment.
    I will admit one “flaw”, and that is the fact that last chapter is not as meaty and huge and the preceding two. But as far as story resolution goes, it was perfectly satisfying.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      “Stuttering plot ? What does that even mean?”

      Mostly it means the extent to which some quests and stories were interesting, and others were rubbish. Plus the highpoint of the end of chapter 2 vs the whole of chapter 3? The awkwardness of the entire prologue? You can’t argue it was a smooth or consistent ride, not matter how good the best bits of writing are.

      “as far as story resolution goes, it was perfectly satisfying”

      It didn’t resolve anything!

      That said, to temper defensiveness, you’ll note that we *are* saying it’s one of the games of the year.

    • Lacessit says:

      Game of the Year for me. No contest. I absolutely love Skyrim and Portal 2, but nothing beats this. The world, the characters, the tone of it all would have been enough, but to have it delivered in such a stunning way was amazing. The incredible amount of content and choice… I could go on gushing.

    • Paul says:

      Jim – Which ones were rubbish? I found most quests and sidequests to be of very high quality..especially compared to most other RPGs (cue fetchquest #39). What was awkward about the prologue? I really feel like you played different game :(
      How did the ending NOT resolve anything? It resolved the main theme of the game, also contained in the freaking name of the game – Assassins of Kings. You get to know what happened, you find out who Letho is and his motivations..and you can kill him..or not. How is that not resolving anything?
      Are you angry about Empire Strikes Back not resolving anything? I really do not understand this.

    • Feriluce says:

      I dont actually remember the ending completely to be honest, but I remember feeling like I’d only played the first half of the game, and would have liked to see the second half. It just didnt feel like a conclusive ending.
      I get extremely frustrated by cliffhangers though, so maybe thats why I didn’t feel like it ended properly.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      I agree. GAme of the Year for me as well. I’m shocked to see it appear so early in the Advent calendar (wtf RPS?). To me the Witcher created the most believable world and it populated it with the most believable characters of any video game this year, and many other years, for that matter. No game this year beat it in regards to that, at least (and, again, I think there is only a small handful of games that have done it as well in the past).

      And I thought the writing was very good. In fact, I almost always have to qualify things when it comes to video game writing and say “This had good writing, for a video game” (Deus Ex 3, for example, had good writing for a video game–or, maybe just “average to competent writing for a video game” is more accurate, lol), but Witcher 2 is the rare game that doesn’t have to be qualified. Especially, putting the plot aside, the “writing” as far as the characters and the general “World building” are concerned–which is really revolutionary, I think, as far as video games as storytelling devices go. The most inconsequential side character in a Witcher video game has more depth and nuance than 99% of the main characters in most video games (well, maybe not the prostitutes in the Witcher 1, lol, but most of the other side characters). And the best thing about it is that it trusts the player enough to just let these characters be without spelling every little fucking thing out. It creates a very complicated and interesting world and leaves you to make of it what you will without holding your hand–and the lack of hand holding is the key, I think, as its so rare in video games. It’s a revolutionary game not so much for the content of its “story”, but more for the sophisticated way that it tells this story and the demands it makes of the player in following it.

    • kyrieee says:

      I agree with you about the writing. Even random plebs have character, like the ones arguing with Síle on the docks the first time you meet her. I love the way the dialogue is written, just the choice of words, it feels so much more inspired than say Dragon Age where it feels like the writers are just following a template, even if it’s not deliberate. In Witcher 2 I enjoy listening to the dialogue even on secondary play throughs, while in a lot of other games (for example Skyrim, to not pick only on DA) it’s boring even the first time hearing it. Even that early scene in the prologue where Foltest is talking with Shilard, it’s not really furthering the plot, it’s just character building and it’s done so well, I love that scene.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      I think how well the characters are done might also be because they have the novels to draw from (which I confess I’ve never read). Since they have this huge unspoken back story, they can create characters who seem to have great depth with just a few small strokes. So even though they don’t elaborate on this back story in great detail, by simply gesturing towards it and alluding to it in certain ways it makes the entire world seem much more lived in and real just because you very much sense that everyone has a much more complicated history than the video game is letting you in on and that they all have lives outside of their interactions with the PC (which might be one of the biggest problems RPGs run into when it comes to writing: it often seems in other RPGs like everyone is just a “quest dispenser” who have no purpose in life other than waiting around to give quests to the PC).

      Plus, I do think CDP is pretty good at showing rather than telling–which is another thing that’s rare in most video games. Lots of games seem to be under the impression that “character depth” comes from characters telling you about them selves–the longer the back story, the more “deep” the character (Bioware is especially bad at this, character development to them is hours upon hours of characters brooding over their pasts in talking head fashion–it’s really tedious and stupid). The Witcher does have a little of this, but it’s also way better than most video games at showing you pieces of who characters are through how they act and via various sorts of indirect methods (like the scenes you mention, for example) other than just endless talking head backstory dumps.

    • Wut The Melon says:

      The Witcher 2 is GOTY for me, and I think it should at least be RPG of the year. That being said, I’m still playing through TW1 so I actually don’t have a right to judge…

      But I will anyway. Skyrim, as good as a game as it may be, is in my opinion truly amazing in the size of its world and its freedom. However, from what I’ve seen so far, the combat and storytelling are not nearly as impressive. Whereas it’s by no means a BAD game, I think TES:V is a more fitting name than Skyrim. Skyrim, for all of its budget, is not really daring, not really innovative, and will remain a good game – a great game – but it doesn’t really surprise. The flaws (IMO) of the franchise are still very much visible.

      The Witcher 2, however, is another story completely. I am admittedly biased because of CDP’s development philosophy: it really shows they’re thinking of the game and the players first. The Witcher 2 is a different from any other RPG and I feel the way in which CDP dared to make a NEW game needs to be rewarded. It is flawed, as any game is, but in a way CDP tried to make the game they wanted to make and they tried to make it perfect. Ultimately, they fell short of that, but the ambition to be perfect has lead to a more original and impressive game than Skyrim is – though mods will no doubt do a lot for the latter.

  9. Theoban says:

    I waited to play it until the patch, and then still managed to fail the tutorial.

    Maybe games aren’t for me :(

    • Gnoupi says:

      To be honest, the tutorial is, like the first chapters, in the hardest parts of the game.

      I was also afraid about difficulty in this game, but honestly, it’s a matter of time only. The prologue will have some tricky battles because of the number of opponents (then you mostly have to run around, and attack only one at a time). Act 1 is where things are shifting. You start not really strong, and getting out of the “civilized area” is difficult. So you can’t just go prancing around in the forest, you have to take it slow.

      But once you pass that, the game is easier. Fighting is seriously easier as you gear up and level up, especially once you get the skill to attack multiple targets at a time.
      Don’t worry about finishing the tutorial, the arena is actually quite hard, since you do it with a level 0 character or almost.

    • Soon says:

      I found the difficulty is less about levelling and gearing up and more about developing one’s own skill. On my second play-through, I deliberately chose not to advance skills for some time, and went around killing things using a ladle or a broom. I wondered why I ever had a problem at the start.

    • Gnoupi says:

      The main skill is avoiding. As long as you dodge, you probably won’t be hit. And don’t attack an enemy without being sure his mate won’t touch you.

      Then you play with the signs, too. The Yrden is incredibly useful and will make sure you never get touched by a powerful enemy. It’s a bit “lay a trap and wait”, so it’s less dynamic than the others, though. But it works marvels.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      I still don’t understand why people had such a hard time with the combat. To me it was more or less the same as BAtman: Arkham Asylum.” Like Arkham Asylum, it’s a bit tricky getting used to at first (especially on a keyboard and mouse), but once you get the hang of it it’s quite fluid and manageable.

  10. JackDandy says:

    That RPS bear is adorable.

    But I digress- I’ve just bought The Witcher 2 on some Steam sale, but I have a bit of a backlog to finish first.
    I’m kind of having trouble to see it as an RPG though, due to the fact you don’t create or design your character, but basically take place of a default one who already has a big backstory, personality, and all that.
    Maybe I should treat it as more of an in-depth action RPG game, kinda like Ys or Megaman Legends.

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      Infinitely adorable, you might say.

    • Gnoupi says:

      Well, you still play the role of someone else, only the base character is imposed to you at the beginning. But the amount of choices you make during the game makes him “yours”, with time.

    • Kadayi says:

      No different that playing a pre-gen character in D&D with a tailored storyline tbh.

    • FunkyBadger3 says:

      Kadayi: like, say, Planescape.

    • Feriluce says:

      A game doesn’t have to have an undefined character to be an RPG. Thats not how the genre works.

    • Kadayi says:

      @FunkyBadger3

      Indeed.

  11. Yosharian says:

    Posting in this thread to say thank you for not using the word bifurcation even once

  12. Kadayi says:

    I get where Jim is coming from. I think from a story line perspective and graphically it’s one of the better games of the years. However it let itself down through a complete lack of introductory combat tutorial (since patched in..but that’s after the fact) as well as any real attempt to explain the political landscape of the world setting to the beginner. People need to understand why they should care. I never felt that there existed a good argument to side with the humans Vs the elves & dwarves (unless you just want to be a dick), and not having read the books I had zero clue as to who this king or that king was, and why I should care.

    Plus the boss fights were on the whole exercises in frustration, given essentially the path to victory relied upon you dying several times in order to figure out the particular sequence of actions required to beat them. The Kayran was particularly egregious in this respect as you start the fight well within it’s reach and it will happily batter you to death within a couple of seconds before you can get your bearings and figure out the strategy. You’re just thrown in at the deep end with zero guidance as to how to swim to shore. I realise obviously for many people that kind of vertical challenge is appealing, but I think for the majority of people who want to play an RPG less so. A good boss fight puts you in a large arena and gives you room to manoeuvre(or take cover) Vs a more powerful opponent, allowing you as the player to be able to use evasion to figure out how to cut through the metaphorical armour of your opponent.

  13. Navagon says:

    It’s a damn fine game and no mistake. Took a while to get there though. No arrow keys in the release version. 2.0 hit me with a disc check even though it was the GOG version. I had to re-download the whole damn thing again.

    But now I’ve got it working properly it’s plain that it’s one of the greats. It’s not the easiest of games to get to grips with and it’s true that the opening sections were pretty punishing, given that you should still have been learning the basics at that point. But in my eyes it makes up for it with all that it does right.

  14. Demiath says:

    Apart from the bizarre difficulty curve, my biggest problem with The Witcher 2 is that in terms of the things I really care about in RPGs the game is emphatically not some kind of glorious return to the roots. At its core, TWT2 is a very reflex-heavy third person action game; and while that might to some extent be true of all modern RPGs CDP takes this approach to new extremes and hardwires the twitchiness into the very foundation of everything that the combat stands for. By comparison, a game like Demon’s Souls has a much more measured and tactical pace, and Bethesda’s latest open world title likewise doesn’t require remotely the same kind of action-based player skills (partly, it should be said, as a seemingly accidental result of the problems inherent in Skyrim’s melee combat). And for all its flaws, the somewhat underrated Dragon Age 2 stuck much closer to the established RPG formula which emphasizes stats, tactics and preparation instead of basing any of its challenge on the responsiveness of the player’s thumbs.

    Thus, the danger with TW2 and whatever effect it might have on the genre is that, unlike so many other undeniably flawed modern RPGs, it makes no attempt whatsoever to reconcile the demands and expectations of a contemporary teenage audience with the traditional elements of RPG gaming. Instead what we get is Ninja Gaiden (Xbox) with some stats and choice & consequences thrown in for good measure (and about the same amount of boobs)….which is kinda awesome in its own right, but not a development in the direction I would personally like RPGs to go in the future.

    • firefek says:

      Reflex heavy? Twitchiness? Were you really playing the same game as I was?

      I found Dragon Age 2 much more twitchy and more similar to a typical hack and slash than The Witcher 2. In fact, I kept dying in The Witcher 2 when I tried to rush things. It was only when I methodologically approached each of my enemies that I could slay mobs easily, especially since you take more damage from the back. In fact, a major complaint I heard was that The Witcher 2′s combat felt sluggish in the way that you had to wait for your attack animation to finish before Geralt responds to your next input unlike other action RPGs. Perhaps its because I played the game from a hack and slash perspective instead of a traditional CRPG. Maybe it cannot compare to Dark Souls (I haven’t played it), but I would definitely not call it twitchy. As for reflex heavy, maybe I’m just young, but I didn’t feel that any of the bosses or monsters required a lot of reflexes, even the Kayran, you just had to watch it and roll out of the way when it raises its tentacles. Unless that is considered reflex heavy…

      I guess you were expecting a CRPG like Neverwinter Nights or Baldur’s Gate so Dragon Age 2 seemed to mimic that a bit more in comparison. I would say comparing that to The Witcher 2′s combat is sort of unfair since you are supposed to play a swordsman that goes around slaying monsters so giving it a semi turn-based combat system would not fit very well. Ah well, I guess I just liked the game instead.

    • Wizardry says:

      It’s a “swords and conversation” game. It’s hardly the “bravest RPGs in years”, or even a “heavyweight RPG”. It’s a light nearly-RPG that focuses on all the things gamers seem to want these days; dialogue, branching plot and a cast of fleshed out characters.

    • StingingVelvet says:

      @ firefek

      “I found Dragon Age 2 much more twitchy and more similar to a typical hack and slash than The Witcher 2.”

      Whoa there… like… wow. Really? No way. The Witcher 2 is hack n’ slash action RPG, like Mass Effect 2 is shooter RPG. Dragon Age 2, no matter how sped up it was or what they did to the animation, is a tactical pause and plan RPG. They’re entirely different genres almost and you seemed to have flipped them backwards in some kind of bizarro world. Maybe you played DA2 on consoles where you have to hit the button to attack? Even though though, I still would guess it feels like a pause and plan game, because it is.

      I have found this consistently interesting since DA2 came out, that there is a subset of people who instantly associate its speed and animation with hack n’ slash and therefore insist the actual gameplay follows suit (when it doesn’t).

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Writing something so that it made sense to Wizardry would make RPS a very different site, I suspect.

  15. FunkyBadger3 says:

    Took me about three weeks to even get the bloody thing to install. Might try the 2.0 version after I’m done with Skyrim. Sometime in 2015…

  16. Robin says:

    I admit I didn’t like it too much. Never finished too (I plan to, but…). Bought this at day 1 on gog, and I will certainly approach next witcher release far more carefully.

    Game is too story driven for my tastes… but my actual major complain is that I don’t understand its identity, what it wants to be exactly: RPG or Action game?
    I definitively think that if they wanted to make an action game (demons souls-like), they had to go all out: it would have been better if it went wholly to that direction.

  17. jaheira says:

    It had fantastic costumes and I liked all the shagging.

    On the other hands the crafting was very fiddly and largely pointless since you didn’t need most of the traps and potions at any point. The combat was ludicrously easy. The stealth bits were awful. The story was explained by other characters rather than revealed by your actions. It didn’t have support for 4:3 monitors. The last chapter felt very rushed, they shouldn’t have bothered with two such different second chapters if it meant sacrificing the last.

    I much preferred Dragon Age 2, and Skyrim is obviously in a completely different league.

  18. Soon says:

    I think Letho became one of my favourite antagonists.

  19. TheGameSquid says:

    The Witcher 2: the only game I bought while knowing full well that my PC wasn’t going to be able to run it!

    • Network Crayon says:

      I did this to,

      Then i baught a new prosessor based on the premis that my old one was ‘broken’ last game i did that for was UT2003.

      Also I love this game, I dont find any of its flaws ruining at all (Difficulty, Boss fights, Sexiness) and i even love the sensible peacifist optional ending. game of the year for me.

      Also: Great Music.

  20. brulleks says:

    I’ll never understand how the boss battles in Deus Ex HR received such a lambasting, and yet the frankly woeful Kayran boss battle in Witcher 2 never even gets a mention in reviews / retrospectives.

    Even on easy it was no more than an unrewarding chore having to learn the precise movements/powers required at the right times, ensuring all essential potions have yet again been taken before beginning. After the tenth attempt at it I gave up, devastated that a game promising the player freedom of choice ended up bottlenecking them into unavoidable, claustrophobic, absurdly-designed set pieces such as this. It felt more like being transported back to the bad old days of arcade scrolling shooters like R-type rather than playing a supposedly immersive, emergent new-gen RPG.

    For all its flaws, I loved the Witcher, so this was a massive disappointment.

    • Gnoupi says:

      I guess because at least this one has a scripted sequence to follow, as opposed to DX:HR, which just throws a big heavy guy in front of you, and the only way to defeat him is to abuse firepower that you may not have.

      But I agree that the Kayran was incredibly frustrating. It’s mostly doing the right thing at the right time. It’s the kind of “classic boss”, that makes you realize that once you went through the usual “trial and error”, there is a way to defeat him without taking a hit…. But you have to learn the right tricks (and not screw up the 2 buttons QTE).

      Even more frustrating though was the first Letho fight, in my opinion. Because you are suddenly closed in a small space with a brute who can abuse the same powers as you, but is stronger in every aspect. The only way I managed to get past him was with a really tedious way: stun with aard, 2 strong hits, retreat, try to stun with aard before he puts the shield on. If he does manage to put the shield on or you fail your stun, you can go rolling around the small room until the shield goes away, to try again to stun him. And that for several minutes.

      I’m almost convinced they gave the second fight with him (who is exactly the same then), in a wide open space, as a “ok, we’re sorry for earlier, just have fun”.

    • Soon says:

      It’s another example of poor feedback in the game. The battle is so simple once you’ve done it. You don’t need very precise movements, potions or traps, but it’s admittedly a pain to work out the first time; especially since there’s enough time to hit the tentacles without magic (although it has no effect)… a lot of wasted time for me there.

      Maybe a lot reviewers had seen devs play through that bit, or something. It’s worth getting through.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Didn’t RPS mention it? I know it was lambasted internally a fair bit. I particularly loathed it.

      (Spending ages trying to stun the front two tentacles near you, while the wizard lady shouts STUN THE TENTACLES when they mean “stun the *other* tentacles” was a particular annoyance.)

      KG

    • Kadayi says:

      Yeah that boss fight was terrible. I did mention it in my earlier post in the thread, but the huge problem was that the fight arena was way too small and you didn’t have any opportunity for cover to at least gather your senses and figure out your options. You never really get the time to figure out what the hell you’re supposed to do aside from trial and error. Plus one hit from a tentacle and it’s practically game over because the odds are good that by the time you recover you’ll get hit again.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I’d agree with Gnoupi up there. The boss fights like the Kayran, while a huge flaw in an otherwise great game, were in a different class than those in DX:HR.

      I hate QTE’s, but you could tell that the dev team just had this spectacular, cinematic idea for one part of that fight (not going to spoil it), but the game engine wouldn’t support it using the normal movement and combat controls. So they made it a little mini-movie Quicktime event. Very annoying, but it still felt somewhat organic as part of the game. Geralt was still using his normal skills that you had developed up to that point.

      The DX:HR boss fights felt much more jarring and immersion-breaking, because I was suddenly thrown into a situation that the game hadn’t allowed me to prepare for. It felt like I was suddenly in a different game (literally the case, since an outside studio was involved). I enjoyed DX:HR overall, but those stupid boss fights, and the simplistic 3-button ending, pushed it lower in my personal rating of great games this year than Witcher 2. I guess Witcher 2 is my personal game of the year. Skyrim is fun in the way it’s so open, but I’m finding the game world very bland and uninteresting, by comparison.

      BTW, that first Letho fight was tough for me the first time I played through, but it was a cakewalk the second time, probably due to the way combat response was tightened up in the 2.0 patch. The sword block, in particular, suddenly got very useful when it didn’t take 5 minutes for Geralt to get the sword up.

    • brulleks says:

      @ Kieron Gillen “Didn’t RPS mention it?”

      I don’t think so. I re-read many reviews having hit this block to see if I was the only one experiencing it, and (RPS being the first place I flee to in time of peril) I don’t remember anything in the WITs about the boss fights, nor in other reviews across the web. Just in walkthroughs (notably!). It was a few weeks ago though, and the pleasures of Skyrim have wiped most of the experience from my mind.

      Having been forewarned about the DE:HR battles I made sure to keep hold of a rocket launcher so they posed little problem, but there are no tricks you can use to get through the Kayran fight – it’s completely restrictive. I would download a save game to get beyond it but of course, the many choices I’ve made before hand would then be rendered pointless and, unfortunately, I don’t have the time to commit to repeating the same moment over and over again in a game nowadays. It’s not enjoyable, so I just switch to playing something that is.

      Glad to hear I’m not the only person who found this part unbearable though.

      @ Zenicetus “The DX:HR boss fights felt much more jarring and immersion-breaking, because I was suddenly thrown into a situation that the game hadn’t allowed me to prepare for. It felt like I was suddenly in a different game”

      That’s exactly how I felt about the Kayran battle. In a (reasonably) open-world RPG, the last thing I’d expected was to be trapped in a tiny, restrictive arena in a fight to the death against an enemy that can only be defeated by the most regimented series of movements. Even the boss battles in the first game gave you ample room to move during combat. This just felt archaic, some lost relic of gameplay from the depths of gaming. Perhaps, being forewarned about DE:HR, it was less jarring, but I’m still surprised it didn’t cause more of an issue in The Witcher 2.

    • JackShandy says:

      DX:HR’s bossfights are annoying, but if you have a stun-gun you can stunlock every single one and kill them in under five minutes. It’d be better if they weren’t there at all, but they’re very easy to cheese through.

  21. Arglebargle says:

    I was very impressed with Witcher 1, and was all set to get Witcher 2 at release…..til I read up about the horrible design flaws, like no inverted mouse, poor monitor support, etc. There’s no way I’ll play a game with non-invertable mouse, so I just passed on it.

    Now, I understand it is fixed, but I have other irons in the fire, so maybe I will pick it up on deep sale. Deep mechanical failure by CDP in my opinion. Despite it probably being a great game.

  22. Advanced Assault Hippo says:

    I think the Witcher 2 was middling to pretty good.

    I was left with the feeling there was potentially a genuinely decent game buried in there somewhere, but grabbing hold of it wasn’t easy. It was much better than Witcher1 but I still feel there’s some issues with the way they design their games – as if they have all the ingredients but aren’t quite mixing them together properly.

  23. kyrieee says:

    The last chapter is poorly paced, but I don’t have any problems with the events that transpire. What started in the prologue is wrapped up in the epilogue and the things you might still have questions about are for the most part answered by a second playthrough. It doesn’t bring closure to most of the characters, but I think that’s because it’s just one story in a world which has a long past and future. It’s in line with the game’s general lack of exposition and explanation.

  24. Alistair says:

    Doors Jim, really? Well, it was fences in the first game I think…

    I thought it did lots of things superbly, that no-one else is doing. It really benefits from picking up the conventions of its source novels, rather than having them put together by videogame designers.

    I’m particularly glad CDP are not English speakers and are insulated from anglonet comments and just keep getting on with being awesome. See also Stalker.

    • Kadayi says:

      I’m fairly sure they’ll be reading this. Most Poles I know are familiar with English.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      CDP definitely read RPS, because they have got in touch a few times to agree/disagree with my sentiments.

      GSC can also speak English. (And I speak to them regularly, too.)

  25. Rinox says:

    While you won’t hear me say the game was perfect – there are some very valid criticisms, some of them mentioned in the article and thread – I feel that a game of its ambition deserves a higher place on the yearly overview. The choice-and-effects were unparalleled for an AAA game, and the game didn’t shy away from adult themes like betrayal, sex, racism. Characters that were actually round instead of cardboard figureheads of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, too.

    So, disappointed to see it here so early. :-(

    • Lambchops says:

      @ Rinox

      If I remember correctly from previous years there isn’t actually an order to the games of Christmas, with the exception of door 24 which is the Hivemind’s consensus choice for game of the year.

    • Rinox says:

      Oh, I didn’t realize. :-) Well, in that case people should just read it as a praise post for TW2!

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Yes, I should have mentioned that this is not an ordered list. Only the GOTY at 24 is rated above others. The Witcher 2 appeared today because I was around to write about it, not because it is number -4 best.

  26. Terics says:

    I’m currently playing the first Witcher in anticipation of this game. I saw the Full Combat Rebalance mod on DIYGamer so I’ve been playing it with that. I’m enjoying it thoroughly and I can’t wait for the Witcher 2.

  27. Lambchops says:

    Ah the Witcher 2. For a minute I thought it would be the game that my poor laptop couldn’t handle, but fortunately it became playable with one of the early patches (CDP do a great job of post release patching, so they do).

    Really enjoyed it but decided to wait for more patches/possibly mods until replaying to see the second branch.

    There’s definitely some flaws other people have mentioned. The odd difficulty curve, the unsatisfying end (either needed a better ending or to finish 20 minutes or so earlier), the stupid arm wrestling minigame that I had to change the difficulty level for (OK it was optional but still), the iffy boss fights (1st against Letho and the Kayran being the most egregious examples).

    However the good things about the game more than outweighed the bad and see that it’s a very bloody good game as opposed to Witcher 1 which is more a case of ambition and prommises of future excellence.

    Definitely high in my top 10 and I’m looking forward to giving it another run through at some stage.

  28. FCA says:

    This is my game of the year, with the caveats that I haven’t played skyrim or deus ex yet. It has flaws, yes, but the story, graphics and the gameplay are superb imo. It isn’t a traditional RPG though, but this game made me realize i love swordfighting action games. Going back to an older action rpg favorite of mine, divinity 2, was painful: what do you mean, there’s no block?

    It has it’s flaws of course, but these are not in the core. As for the difficulty: i’m a glutton for punishment, as supermeatboy and the various “tactical” mods for baldurs gate 2 have shown.

    • Zenicetus says:

      The sword fighting does feel good in this game, especially after the way they tightened up the lag in the 2.0 patch.

      Also, the feel of contact with the enemy is good, which isn’t easy to pull off. That’s something I miss in Skyrim. When using a sword or other melee weapon, I never feel like I’m really hitting something solid. It has that somewhat amorphous feel of MMO melee combat. So I switched over to more of a mage/assassin build; a heavy magic user with a dagger used only for stealth kills.

      There are things I don’t love about the Witcher combat style… all that rolling around on the ground you have to do in the early game. But on reflection, it’s been one of the better sword-fighting simulators I’ve played. They also avoided the “enemies in groups stand around and wait their turn” from the Assassin’s Creed series. Getting surrounded is properly dangerous for a swordsman (at least in the early game).

  29. TheTourist314 says:

    I like the way this is written.

    So much of what game reviews have tended to be only take things at face value; there’s nothing to be said of implication, scope or ingenuity. All anyone wants to see is where the graphics go, how shiny explosions can get and whether or not the game could trick you into thinking it had challenge instead of being outright overtly difficult.

    RPS, your writings give me hope for the future of games.

  30. Gary W says:

    Am I the only one who thought the art direction and music went down the toilet compared to the first one? OK, the graphics were better technically, but all the atmosphere had gone. Instead, we get a noisy, bombastic prologue and then a trip to a village on the moon of fucking Endor.

  31. Shooop says:

    This pretty much sums up my experience with it too.

    It had dizzying high points, but sometimes inconceivably frustrating – especially the draug in Act 2. Not being able to go back to areas in earlier acts was a buzzkill as well.

  32. cairbre says:

    I too hated the kaycan fight it drove me around the twist. I was playing the game before the patches so maybe it’s better now. I got to the second part of the game and kept getting lost trying to find my way around did any else find this?

    That said I really like the game and plan on returning to it and starting over.

    It’s been a really great year for gaming I don’t think I can remember a better one from men of war to the witcher to skyrim battlefield and batman

  33. cairbre says:

    Test

  34. Gozuu says:

    Can anyone tell me if the combat has been fixed or if it’s how it’s supposed to be in The Witcher 2? I played nothing more than 30 minutes before I found myself completely dissapointed in a game where combat is everything. I was more put off than Assassins Creed, which combat has only improved since the first.

  35. Frantics says:

    Love this game really superb stuff.

  36. New Player says:

    It’s a good game. There are not even a handful of those around recently (what most term good appear only well-intentioned at best or off-putting in their vacuous indie-feel-good-irony to me). Now I have to admit the difficulty and the minigames annoyed me much more than I anticipated (or boasted when I defended their “logic”). But then, my hardware sucked, so maybe it could have been more tolerable in truth…

  37. Frantics says:

    Simply amazing. :)