Return To The Witcher 2: Part 1 – The Good Bits

'You know, I should grow a beard. Just thought of that. Will get started soon.'

Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re really looking forward to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt [official site] later this year, and you need to go to the gym a lot more. In anticipation of the first and avoidance of the second, I’ve been replaying the second game to refresh my memory and see a few things that I missed the first time round. With the benefit of hindsight, and a big update, where did it go right and where did it go wrong? Let’s do the negatives tomorrow and start with the positives today, of which it has so many to choose from…

1) It had high ambitions

What stands out about The Witcher 2 is that everything about it feels like an attempt to do one thing: to be the best RPG in the world, whatever it takes. You don’t get two completely different Chapter 2s – that only hardcore fans are going to go back to see the other side of – in a game where anyone is simply going through the motions. You don’t get production values like this in a game willing to make compromises. I’m not going to rave about the graphics and sound too much individually, because there seems little point. This game would look great released right now. I do however want to just take one moment for the details that are so easily overlooked but which add so much to the experience, like the realistic way that villagers run for cover when it rains and the first village being redressed with lights for a party after a successful operation (or set on fire, elsewhere).

There have been many, many great RPGs over the years. Very few have felt as immediately special, or as deeply loved by their creators. It’s a warm aura that flares early and never really fades.

2) It improved everything about the first game

While the number 2 in the name does rather give it away, it’s hard… in the best possible way… to look at The Witcher and its sequel and imagine them being from the same company, never mind the same series. The original was distinctly ropey in just about every way, from its writing to quest design to its production values, particularly before the Enhanced Edition came along to salvage the slashed up script. Even with its problems, it was a game that marked CD Projekt Red as a company to watch, but Witcher 2 instantly made it a top tier RPG developer. It was a confident game in a way that few others without major backing can dare to be, from its high system requirements that harkened back to Origin in being based around what the game needed rather than what the majority of the players were going to have, to a powerful start that set both the mood and expectations with a very tight series of vignettes ranging from dragon attacks to non-glorified torture.

On top of that, it’s hard to think of a sequel that seemed so willing to learn lessons instead of doubling down. No longer demanding things like buying books before hunting monsters. Making alchemy a higher-skill level thing to worry about so that the game wouldn’t constantly stop to search for flowers. Nowhere near as much backtracking. Far more attention given to the characters and the flow of the story. An opening chapter that kicked everything off with a bang, rather than the original game’s two or three chapters of pure tedium before the actual game starts.

Looking at the early materials for the third game, Wild Hunt, it seems unlikely that we won’t see an equally impressive jump with its move to open world design (hopefully a little deeper than Bioware’s implementation in Dragon Age Inquisition). Even now, another game using The Witcher 2’s engine, approach, and its graphical fidelity would be more than enough to be a AAA game. The fact that CD Projekt Red has actively avoided churning something out to prove that fact is a great sign. The changes made in the Enhanced Edition also show a willingness to learn from mistakes.

3) It gave you choices which felt important

Rarely are your decisions in The Witcher 2 even close to black-and-white ‘do you want the evil ending or not’ affairs – instead, Geralt is stuck between forces as conflicted as any you’d find in real politics and rarely if ever knowing the whole story. That has its issues (see next time), but it also puts you in a really interesting position as a character – knowingly working from limited knowledge, and not from a position of authority or particular strength. Geralt is a fine soldier for any faction to have, but that’s all, really. It’s through accident more than fate that he ends up in the right place at the right/wrong time to swing things in various directions.

The same applies to much of the plot, with the big sweeping second act variant getting the headlines, but so many characters recurring and little decisions paying off in small ways throughout the game. Aryan for instance, from the tutorial, able to reappear later during a dungeon escape. In practice, there aren’t actually that many big choices to make, but the ones that there are and the effects that they have make every small interaction potentially meaningful. That’s important, especially in a world that feels far more fragile than the average RPG setting.

'Okay, so this might be the wrong time, but I don't suppose you have one of those cards on you? Just as a souvenir, you know?'

4) It handled its mature content maturely – mostly

Okay, we’ll be back to this next time because there are absolutely a few points where Witcher 2 drops the ball hard enough to bounce it into space. After the unfortunate nonsense of the collectible cards in the first game however, it was a pleasant surprise to see The Witcher 2 take a step back and rethink and and try to improve how it handled that content.

Two particular scenes spring to mind – the first being the sex scene between Triss and Geralt in the Elven Ruins. It works not because of how much it does or doesn’t show, but because it’s true to the characters – her magical striptease, his awkwardness, a little joking around as she pulls him in with her, and an appropriate cutaway. Great. That works. It’s a scene that gets to have its fan-service while still feeling like an encounter shared by two people and built on something more than “yay, we get to show some boobies now.”

The second such encounter is later on, with Ves, one of the Blue Stripes. Here it’s not the sex scene itself that works, which is fairly generic, but the lead-up to it. Geralt is challenged with fighting in an arena, with Ves as his final opponent after a series of victories. It’s made clear that she’s desperate to win the fight to prove herself to the others, and so a generous minded player might consider throwing the battle. Instead of course the correct path is to win, and in doing so actually show her the respect that she’s trying to earn. (Technically, I suppose you could lose fairly, but by that point in the game Geralt is functionally invincible unless you go get a coffee mid-fight…) It’s a well-executed scene that again plays well to the characters involved and their personalities.

5) Its combat was personal

A little like the original game, it’s not the raw visceral nature of the combat that stands out (honestly, that’s often The Witcher at its weakest), but the flow of it once proper abilities have been unlocked. Geralt’s fighting style hits an excellent balance between actually fighting, and controlling someone trained down to the bones to do this for a living. Silly as the constant rolling around early on can look, it quickly becomes very satisfying just having a box of tricks at every turn, and to be able to execute often ballet-style displays of brutality against crowds of bigger, stronger enemies.

On the easiest difficulty levels, yes, you can bash through things without even thinking about it. Played on the tougher ones though, it’s very satisfying to be playing not as a glorified fighter or rogue that any other game might have, but a Witcher with very specific ways of handling problems. Even if you go all out for magic, you’re still a Witcher who uses magic rather than an outright mage, while an alchemy heavy Witcher still relies on his sword of steel and sword of silver. Having such a specific character, and one likely to knock all players at least a little out of their comfort zone, really helps the mood, as well as establishing in game and lore what you can do. In particular, this works well for the first and final encounters that you have with the villain, Letho, where he’s likely to trounce you with his Witcher-specific skill-set in the first and then you’re able to return the favour with interest at the end. The latter is a particularly fun fight because it doesn’t give you any specific big advantage. It simply demonstrates how much you’ve come since your first match, up to and including being able to just walk away.

'Would it help if I said I was really, really sorry?'

6) It showed respect for players

Now, this one has a sting in its tail, so we’ll be back to it next time. As a general rule though, The Witcher 2 has a rare and blessed confidence in its players to do everything from learn how to fight to picking up on the details of a story that they can’t even see a full half of during a single playthrough. Along with that, it goes out of its way to serve up good, complex quests rather than falling back on too much cheap collection stuff, to be willing to throw in tough fights from the very start, and to present its world without too much commentary. You don’t need to be told for instance that Roche and Iorveth the terrorist elf guy aren’t likely to paint the other in a good light. Nor is it ever really stated clearly (that I’ve seen, so it might be somewhere) that by mid-game nobody particularly gives a damn about whether Geralt actually killed a king or not. After all, they’re far too busy trying to take advantage of the situation. That convenient regicide? Pffft. So last week.

That willingness to dive into the political side of things, and to have the hero stuck on the sidelines without so much as a prophecy to boost their importance is just one of many reasons The Witcher 2 feels so different. It’s grimy, it’s cynical, and you know that whoever you help, they’re probably going to be a complete dick. Within Geralt’s head though, it still works because he has his own motivations, and picking the best of a bad lot is far more interesting than good/evil.

7) It had a sense of humour

And despite it all, it has a sense of fun and life too; in the dialogues, in the cut-scenes, in random interludes like Geralt’s unfortunate tattoo. Or CD Projekt’s generously patched in response to Assassin’s Creed 2’s ridiculous feather-hunting fetch-quest…

What The Witcher 2 really nails is that the people you meet live and have history in this world, and what happens will have serious effects in their future. The common people will get hurt, the kings and sorceresses will play their games, the fall of nations has effects for both the world and specific people caught up in it. This isn’t simply Geralt’s playground in a way that, say, Skyrim is for the Dovahkiin, but a world that feels like it lives and breathes and where life goes on where you aren’t. Just about every RPG tries to convey that feel, but very few actually succeed. With its political focus and close-knit group of recurring characters, The Witcher 2 managed it… even if it’s not always clear exactly what’s happened and what the larger implications of it are. (This, like many problems in the original release, was massively improved in the Enhanced Edition.)

And So Much More Good Stuff

I could go on, but we’re already at around 2000 words here. The Witcher 2 is easily one of the best RPGs of the last few years, both in its own right, and as something to be built on. I can’t wait for Wild Hunt to land, even if it does look like I’m going to need a RAM upgrade first.

But! Was The Witcher 2 perfect? No, of course not. Tomorrow, the things it got wrong, and more importantly, the things to hope that Wild Hunt has taken onboard and managed to fix…

This article was made possible by the RPS Supporter program.

75 Comments

  1. elilupe says:

    I have tried time and time again to get into this game, but I can never make it very far before I have to put it down from boredom and confusion as to why so many people hold it in such high regard. I can’t help but feel like I’m missing something

    • badmothergamer says:

      I’m in the same boat. I made the same mistake I’ve made before of playing the prequel a week or two before a game was released and subsequently burning myself out on the story. I’ve done it with both The Witcher 2 and Mass Effect 3, and despite multiple attempts have never gotten past the first hour of either game in spite of the rave reviews for both and thoroughly enjoying my experience with their prior iterations.

      I will add part of this is my inability as I get older to get into fantasy games nearly as much as I could in my younger and more formative years…

    • Robert Post's Child says:

      As someone who played through the whole thing (and mostly enjoyed it), not enjoying it doesn’t mean you’re missing anything. There are interesting parts, but it gets weirdly obtuse about things and you kind of have to just go along with it. If you’re bored and confused after the first section, that probably won’t change much as you go on.

    • RogerioFM says:

      Well, if you didn’t like the game, you’re not actually missing anything, I loved it and thought it ranks as one of the top 10 rpgs ever made, along with Planescape Torment, Arcanumm or Kotor 2. But if you didn’t like it, you didn’t like it, for example, I didn’t like Dragon Age Inquisition and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.

    • MisterFurious says:

      I finished it, but I also failed to see why so many people love it so much. I figured it must’ve been the tits.

    • garisson says:

      It’s not a casual game that you can turn your brain off and sail through. It asks a lot from the player from both a story and combat viewpoint. So no, it’s not for everybody, especially impatient or easily distracted players. The fact is, it’s on most top ten RPG lists and it’s there for a reason. The complexity is there by design. If you don’t like it, then you aren’t missing anything just like I don’t feel I’m missing anything for not liking Dragon Age.

      • elilupe says:

        It’s not that it’s a complex game, I love complex games! Games that aren’t for everyone, that take time to learn and make your way through, with interesting systems and characters. But that’s not what turned me off. I’m honestly not entirely sure what turned me off, which is why I think I feel like I’m missing something, since it seems like a game I should love

        • Grendel says:

          My advice is to read some of the Witcher-novels. It really helps to get in the world of Geralt (and they’re a good read too ;)).

      • Big Murray says:

        In general, I’ve never had a problem with The Witcher series. It has, however, always got my goat that if I ever express that I don’t like them as games, someone like this pops up and insinuates that I must be a “casual gamer” or “easily distracted”.

    • ubik says:

      It took me a couple years and a couple false starts to actually get into the game. The thing that did it for me finally and weirdly enough was to try it with an Xbox 360 controller. The controls finally clicked for me and I enjoyed the game from there. (Also on my first attempt, since you can choose bits of the prologue out of order I picked the dragon attack as the very first thing I did in the game and got creamed.)

      I liked the game a lot, even though I felt Geralt as a character was a total slug. Definitely looking forward to the third game. No pre-purchase for me though because that’s for suckers. (Forever smarting from Dragon Age 2)

  2. MiniMatt says:

    That bloody kraken…

    But yep, a staggeringly good game. With a few problems.

  3. Darth Gangrel says:

    “Return To The Witcher 2: Part 1 – The Good Bits” As opposed to the bad bits? The QTE’s and tedious bosses, the lack of separate fighting styles, the muted soundtrack and last but not least the “all around pandered to the masses as if they were Ubisoft” general feeling it gave me the first time. It was better the second playthrough, even improved in several ways from the first one, but I still think that The Witcher 1 is clearly better in most aspects that matter to me. That’s why I made my first mod for that game, youtube video available here youtube.com/watch?v=JTT9DyenU1Y.

    • Coming Second says:

      What, exactly, did Witcher 1 clearly do better than 2? Because for all that the second game had its flaws, I am turning up a complete blank. Unless you really like panpipes I guess.

      • Yukiomo says:

        CDP scaled back a few of the more unique aspects of TW1, some of which I thought were neat. I would have to say that Darth Gangrel is indulging in some rather extreme hyperbole, though.

        I liked how, in the Witcher 1, you had to use higher-quality alcohol bases to make better potions. That was kind of a neat system that got dropped for the sequence. I also really liked the bits in TW1 where Geralt got drunk with all of his friends, and then you had to guide him back to Triss’s so that he could go to sleep. I don’t think I’ve ever done that in a game before.

        TW1 also has what is arguably a better ending sequence? Chapter 5 and the Epilogue in TW1 are pretty tight, whereas most of Chapter 3 up to the dragon fight in TW2 feels noticeably rushed. Both games have issues where you get the Ultimate Weapons and Ultimate Armor shortly before the game ends, but TW2 gives you like seven ultimate swords like two hours before the game ends, quite possibly after the last difficult required fight.

        • Darth Gangrel says:

          Yes, that part about Ubisoft was probably uncalled for, CDPR and their games are as far from Ubisoft’s mass produced blandness and control freakiness (“Oh no, you’re leaving the mission area!”) as one can get. Even though I’ve played it twice and liked it much better the second time, I can’t get past the initial disappointment of playing it, my first impressions have forever tarnished my memory of what’s actually a great game. Witcher 1 was like a little known gem at the time, “this is different, but really good” I thought, and they mostly got rid of that uniqueness in The Witcher 2. It had then grown and wanted to be like other AAA games, including such things as QTE’s, gimmicked bosses and a general feeling of “this is like most other AAA games I’ve seen”.

          @Cinek, I thought the separate fighting styles were great. I was very annoyed that they got rid of the multiple-enemies-fighting-style. It took me a very long time to unlock a similar skill in The Witcher 2. I didn’t mind the rhytm-based clicking indicated by the flaming sword icon in The Witcher 1, I thought that icon was neat and the animations were so well done and varied that it never got old to fight someone. Although to be honest, I never went beyond Easy mode, because waiting for that flaming sword icon to appear was too comfortable. I didn’t want to have to fight without that assistance and since The Witcher 2 doesn’t have any of that, I might dive into higher difficulties. However, challenging fights/higher difficulties are not something I desire in any game. The combat in most RPG’s is usually the worst part and getting through that as quickly and easily as possible is best, but I have to say that The Witcher 1 has the most fun combat in many RPG’s.

          • Hainbach says:

            I agree. TW1 was rough, had strange control options, a long-winded introduction, but once you got into it it really came to life. It also had a better difficulty curve and a more open world feeling than TW2, which guided you like a lot.

      • Ptosio says:

        What, exactly, did Witcher 1 clearly do better than 2?

        Graphical style (matter of personal preferences, but it’s not only my impression than more grim, toned down pallete adds to the WItcher’s world atmosphere while too much bloom and cheerful oblivionish/jrpg-ish eyecandy destroys it), MUSIC, interface (while it was not ideal in W1, the one from the second installment was very consolised and clunky, clearly designed with controller in mind with disregard to m+k), combat animations, rolling-fest, signs balance, alchemy system, duration of the oil&potion effects, DURATION OF THE GAME…

        You could go on and on. While I enjoyed The Witcher 2 more than I did the first, saying that the sequel was an overall improvement in every regard is just travesty.

        • Darth Gangrel says:

          Wow, you mentioned several things that I also disliked about TW2. The awesome atmospheric music had become more muted and less memorable. Deus Ex 1, KotOR 1 and VtM: Bloodlines are all in my “best games ever”-list, partly because of their amazing soundtrack. TW2 had some nice tunes, but not as many and not as good as in TW1. I also thought that the voice acting was too mainstream, too smooth. I missed the dialects you could hear in TW1, even from nameless NPC’s. The interface sure felt like it was designed for consoles and the weak attack/strong attack combat too, which led to there only being a few combat animations whereas TW1 had lots of them, across three different fighting styles. In TW1 you could actually do a somersault over an opponent which meant that if they were blocking a narrow path and you were just passing through, not wanting to fight them, you could just pass over them and continue on your way. In TW2 it was all about dodging. It also sucks that oils/potions only lasted for five minutes, that’s not nearly enough time to make them useful or that you had to enter meditation mode to use potions. The world felt smaller in TW2 and less open. The final act was oddly empty of things to do.

          TW2 is still a great game, but it lacks many of the things I enjoyed in TW1 and while the additions in TW2 are nice, they’re not enough to counter the things that were stripped/changed from TW1.

        • Coming Second says:

          I’m sorry, but most of this strikes me as total rose-tint. I remember a game with a striking, greatly enjoyable atmosphere and very little else going for it.

          Its gameplay was awful. Utterly wearying fetch quests stretched across multiple zones and load-screens; opaque requirements to unlock further dialogue options which may or may not be important. (But because that made it longer it made it better! Right guys?) Endlessly respawning enemies that harass you as you trudge back and forth, requiring you to press the same series of buttons to defeat them – I do honestly find any claim that the battle system in 1 was better than 2 truly baffling, I remember it being unbelievably tedious and broken by about chapter four. A complex alchemy system which like so many similar examples in RPGs is tragically futile, because you basically only ever need to produce two different potions. Hopelessly balanced bosses, either teeth-grindingly frustrating or so easy you’re left wondering if it was a boss at all (a facet both games share, in fairness). In raw, having fun terms, it was painful.

          As for the story and the much vaunted choices: Very mixed bag. It’s a mess, a frustrating one because when the atmosphere and the sense of agency come together it’s great. But that happens infrequently. The choice between non-humans and humans, or intriguingly being able to choose neither, is decent enough, if hackneyed and fairly obvious where your sympathies should lie, but it’s sidelined in favour of some basically pointless romps around the countryside. At one point I seem to remember fighting Cthulhu, what the actual fuck did it have to do with anything? ME3 got dragged across the coals by forcing the player to feel emotion towards a child they very possibly did not; weirdly the Witcher entirely gets away with doing exactly the same thing, a child made even more annoying by being VA’d (animals and kids, guys, never forget). But it’s ok, because it turns out he was the main antagonist all along, or something! M Night Shyamalan eat your heart out!

          The VA-ing in general is all over the place, some of it good, most of it laughably bad. Geralt himself spends most of the game carrying on like a stroppy teenager to the extent it’s difficult to care much about him; he’s quite clearly asked to dial it in in the second game, with the effect that whilst he’s a bit more of a cypher he’s imminently more easy to relate to. The VA-ing in the second game is improved to such an extent that Triss, one of the few returning characters, stands out like a sore thumb with her jarring valley girl accent, which in the first game was simply one of those things. Not even going to go into the sex cards, it’s better discussed elsewhere.

          Now, I’ve got plenty of beefs with the Witcher 2 too. It’s not a perfect game, as undoubtedly will be discussed on this site at length shortly, and if I have the time I’ll lay out my frustrations with it there. But it’s a solid improvement on the first game, in my mind there is no question. Obviously this is all opinion, but a lot of what you’re saying feels like it falls into the “they sold out” brand of thought: the controls are better suited to controllers, and everything is considerably more glossy. We’re all sorry that games aren’t made exclusively for the PC anymore. But when I think of all the old-RPG problems that the first game had, I think that steps towards the mainstream aren’t always a bad thing.

          • Ptosio says:

            It’s not always “they sold out” per se, very often it was more of “they’ve lost their uniqueness” which was one of their strongest points (and I’d argue, selling points as well). Also, alienating the core audience doesn’t look like something to be applauded, especially if you don’t get much in return. I don’t mind certain elements, such as QTE (when done correctly which was not always the case in TW2) which some other people seem to hate just because, but if some element functioned good enough in the first game and then got broken in the second one, don’t expect me to pretend it’s alright.

            I’m not worshiping TW1 as the best RPG ever, in fact, in many regards it was mediocre or even subpar, but, more than anything else, it’s just one more reason the cherish the elements that made it unique and still fondly remembered in the minds of many. The very specific atmosphere of a gritty, unfriendly and unforgiving world made possible not least by music and graphic style was one of them. That it was, IMHO, in large part lost in the sequel due to unnecessary glossiness and a “console-feel”, is something more than some minor problem. For the Witcher to stand-out among the RPG crowd, it must remain the Witcher, otherwise it’s just another 7+ game soon to be forgotten.

            But then again, I’m Polish anb a long time Witcher books and old PC RPG fan so that might be my problem and the source of bias. It’s just, while I may acknowledge Assasinf of Kings to be a better game, I still see TW1 as a better “Witcher game” and want TW3 to be more like that.

            More old PC, central/eastern European feel and less Holywood/Playstation, I believe there is a market for that too, not every game has to look the same.
            —-

            So yeah, I cannot really comment on the VA and script as I played both games in Polish and both made an excellent job. For me, apart from the atmosphere in TW1, it’s the strongest asset of the games and the one that makes them stand among the best. I know not everything can be adequately translated, not every joke understood out of the cultural context and especially the first game’s translation was brutally butchered. The Polish original (at least he first part was original made in Polish, the 3rd, AFAIK, is made in English from the start. Something i may personally lament, but at least understand such “mainstreaming” moves make sense from the global market reach standpoint, while when it comes to other, well…not even that can be said) does not make much use of dialects, maybe except of some peasants which speak with a funny Eastern Slavic accent, but relies heavily on idiolects and the very specific, pseud-archaic tongue-in-cheek manner of speech devised by Sapkowski in his books. I don’t know how much of it survived in the English version, but that’s what makes the dialogues in the Witcher one of the best in gaming world.

            —–

            Quite frankly, I never understood the “cards” controversy, I treated them like quite tastefully made and toned-down sex cut-scenes replacement. I liked their graphical style, and together with the hand-painted flashback and hell, even loading screens(;D), they’re something that I missed in TW2.

            —-

            As for the combat, I still stand with the opinion that it looked much more badass in TW1, but I won’t try to deny that it felt…well, boring:P The system from TW2 had some potential, but it wasted it with lack of proper combo/animations, Quen-fest, rolling-fest and clunky UI (why the hell can’t I select a sign with a hotkey?). It was buggy as hell even in EE. If they wanted to make it more arcade, fine, but then at least look at some proper arcade/RPG games and make it enjoyable for the player.

            The boss fights were mostly a failure, done with the wrong “learn-by-dying” principle in mind that may suit Darks Souls universe rather than with the, more appropriate to the Witcher world, “survive-by-knowledge&preparation” design.

    • Cinek says:

      Lol, lack of separate fighting styles being a flaw? This was one of the most idiotic things in the first witcher. Right after “click when cursor turns orange” which in effect made whole combat from the first witcher feel like one long QTE. It was complete garbage. I’m super-happy they kicked that out of the window.

  4. Shazbut says:

    This is a series of games that I feel are always going to pass me by, seeing as I can’t run Witcher 2 with an acceptable frame rate whilst something like The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter runs perfectly smoothly.

    It’s like Crysis. I could probably play that now, but what’s the point?

    • MiniMatt says:

      I’d advise keeping an eye on it for future upgrades. As our Richard notes, if it were released today no-one would consider in the slightest bit dated, and I suspect the same will be true in two or three years time.

      Although I played it to death on a first (or second?) gen i3-530 and a very modest 1gb ATI HD7770, along with 4gb of ram – sure some of the shinies were tweaked down but it ran quite respectably at a consistent framerate and still looked very purdy.

    • Matt_W says:

      I actually find this somewhat frustrating, since I played TW2 several years ago and had no framerate issues. But now, I can’t get more than about 10 fps.

    • sonson says:

      Crysis still looks very impressive, and the point of playing it would be to play one of the best FPS’s in the last decade I guess : )

    • deadly.by.design says:

      Honestly, it’s not that hard to run nowadays as long as you keep “ubersampling” off.

  5. Advanced Assault Hippo says:

    A well-intentioned and graphically impressive game, but with its myriad of flaws resulting in it falling well short of greatness.

    Frustrating to play for large parts I think. At least it tries to be different though, which counts for something. But not enough to make up for the overall sense a lot of aspects don’t work particularly well.

  6. Matt_W says:

    Great article. I’ve been meaning to pick TW2 back up and play through the other Act 2 for awhile now. This may be the impetus I needed.

  7. SMGreer says:

    Such a fantastic game. Flawed for sure but so confident in so many ways that I can easily overlook its problems. Hoping the third game is another great improvement for the series. Everything I’ve seen, from the script to soundtrack, is bursting with character and confidence.

    For me, The Witcher 2 cemented not only that CD Projekt were a studio that deeply cared about the games they made but also that they had the talent to match their ambitions. Watching them grow from strength to strength has been almost as exciting as their games.

  8. montorsi says:

    Safe to say I’m nothing like you. TW3 = big yawn

  9. buzzmong says:

    Very good game is the Witcher 2, then again I really enjoyed the Witcher as well, so I am biased towards it. Need to actually finish it at some point.

  10. Jimbo says:

    Witcher 3 will be better.

  11. Laurentius says:

    I said that I’m very worried about Witcher3 and I still think that Witcher1 is my favourite game of the Witcher series. Yes, prologue was terrible and first act was pretty weak but since entering Wyzime game opened up its goodies, yes some bits were uneven but overall it was one of the best cRPG i’ve ever played. Yes, it wasn’t best video game, that’s obvious but it has ambition and batch of fresh airin it.
    Now to Witcher 2, I can say a lot about this game but let’s cut it to this. After 80 hours and finally beating DA:Inquisition I picked playthrough ( probably my third ) of Witcher2 I started like two years ago nad was in the middl eof second act and I completed the game in a couple of days and let me tell you it felt incredible. The story is million times better in Witcher2 then DA:I, the latter pretend it will be all about politcs and religion in torn by templar/mages war countires but no, /SPOLIER it quickly became story about this pantomime villian that isn’t menacing at all. Witcher2 story keep it together till the end. People said that third act is weak but omg how weak are last two mission of DA:I ? And how incredible is to not hava this final fight with Letho, just to say “Screw it, it’s not war, I’m not gonna play justice here” and just walk away./ENDSPOILER

    PS. Now pet peeve of mine, I like how Geralt in Witcher2 doesn’t really fight people that much, I slay monster in dozens but people only on special occasions, in comparison kill count of people in Bioware games goes into hundreds and I play as a good guy there but I end up as a multiple time mass murder. It’s so jarring.

    PS1. I play on pretty lower resolution monitor by todays standards but graphics in Witcher 2 with umbersampling on looks amazing to me. I just look at Geralt’s armors and holly hell fabirc looks/feels almost sensual.

  12. Pliqu3011 says:

    Half-on-topic question:
    Do you really need to play TW1 before 2?
    I started playing the first a while ago, but the beginning was so drab that I never continued. I haven’t even gotten to the swamp (IIRC) yet, which I saw people mention as being the most boring part of the game.
    I like to be a bit “time-efficient” with games, so what should I do? Push through because it’ll all be worth it, hope someone else on the internet is sharing a savefile starting after the swamp bit, or just start playing The Witcher 2?

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      No need. The story doesn’t have anything much to do with the original game.

    • Yukiomo says:

      Like Richard said, it’s not really necessary. But a lot of the subtler bits of TW2 depend on you the player having some political awareness of the various kingdoms and rulers. Playing TW1 is a sufficient course of action to gain that political awareness.

    • Anthile says:

      You can import a savegame but it will barely affect anything and it outright retcons some of your decisions.

    • Premium User Badge

      Thulsa Hex says:

      I played through the Witcher a couple of weeks ago and found it a bit of a slog at times. I don’t regret playing it, per se, but by three-quarters of the way through I just wanted it done so that I could move on to the sequel. It’s long (took me about 60 hours) and while it does have it’s moments, I’d say you’d be fine with just reading a synopsis and maybe some background information before jumping into Assassins of Kings.

      I’m well into chapter 2 of Assassins, now, and I’m loving it so far.

    • DanMan says:

      I haven’t played TW1 and I found some of the background story in TW2 hard to grasp which did impede on understanding why I was doing what I did – in the grand scheme of things. Not the “show the world I didn’t kill the king” part. That was easy.

    • cthulhie says:

      Came to ask exactly the same question! I have a dusty save in which I think I’m about done with the swamp. I’ve picked it up and put it back down now… three times? Maybe? So should I push through because it’s going to get arresting, or just jump to the sequel? OR I could aggressively tamp down on my completionist impulses (which were what got me in previous cases) and aim to finish?

      To be clear, I’ve always enjoyed it. It just hasn’t grabbed me enough to keep me from being distracted at one point or another. A comment above makes me wonder if, with where I am in the story, that’s about to change.

  13. Premium User Badge

    Thulsa Hex says:

    I agree with Richard about the world seeming full of life and I think that this applies to the monsters, too. Like outside of Flotsam; the way the endregas creep down from those huge trees, or when the nekkers pop their heads above the mist in the distance and screech what seems like a rallying cry before coming to “greet” you. These details give the feel that they truly inhabit the environment you’re exploring and makes the hunt much more atmospheric and significant-feeling (especially when compared to the first game).

  14. kament says:

    It improved everything about the first game

    Yeah right. Except movement, character progression, alchemy… you know, stuff that mattered (not to mention “immersion”, all the tiny bits like duration of the buffs tied to in-game time or medallion reflecting light accordingly and all that).

    Geralt just feels wrong in TW2 when he can’t for the life of him to sidestep or parry on his own (no attributes. Great improvement! And for a RPG), or when he goes blind in the middle of a fight in a dungeon crawl just because someone thought it would be great to give the player five minutes of night vision when the missions demanding it could easily be half an hour long.

    It was pretty damn great cinematic wise, though. Compared to the first installment, at least. Just strange to read it all rose-tinted here.

    And don’t even get me started on “respect for the players”. When you drop your players in the middle of a scrap with their weapons sheathed just because it worked when character was able to actually defend himself (and even then only just) you don’t care one wit for them. Full stop.

    • emptyskin says:

      Just had to comment that there are attributes in W2. Go to the character screen and in the lower right you can click the button labeled “Attributes” and, as you earn them in the game, they will show up there.

      “And don’t even get me started on “respect for the players”. When you drop your players in the middle of a scrap with their weapons sheathed just because it worked when character was able to actually defend himself (and even then only just) you don’t care one wit for them. Full stop.”

      I forgot about that. The UI regarding weapon switching is incredibly clunky. Sometimes clicks register, sometimes they do not. That is a pain in the ass for sure.

      • kament says:

        Re attributes: does increased dexterity (which ain’t even there last time I checked) increase Geralt’s chances to avoid enemy attacks in TW2? No. Does strength increase a chance to block incoming blow? No. But it does in TW. Building your swordsman right he’s a flurry of countermoves, in TW2 he’s not; nevermind that—you can’t do anything remotely as satisfying even in the full action mode that completely fails to mimick a proper RPG system of the first game. That’s what I was talking about.

        Don’t get me wrong: that they chose to go action doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is that it just doesn’t work. That playing TW2 is the exercise in frustration via decrapification. And even by the end of this frustruting process you don’t get to see anything near as glorious as full-fledged Geralt of The Witcher.

        I forgot about that. The UI regarding weapon switching is incredibly clunky.

        Just like it was in the first game, where it had a saving grace: Geralt, being a proper RPG character, escaped the attacks all by himself while you fought with that damned wonky UI. “Improved everything about the first game” my arse. More like “made worse things which were already bad, while throwing new things into the mix, but looked real eye-candy”. That’s all it was: a decent story-telling and damn good graphics, but a real pain in the ass of a gameplay.

        • Cinek says:

          Yea, cause you see, difference between TW1 combat and TW2 combat is that TW2 combat knows what it wants to be and plays consistently. Combat in TW1 on the other hand is a mix between QTE, memory game, grind and some stats that affect your combat sometimes in obvious ways, sometimes in random ways. Frustration is the perfect expression for what I felt when fighting in TW1. It was a decent game, but combat was utter shit.
          Sorry, but TW2 attributes > TW1 attributes. If you couldn’t do anything satisfying – it was problem with your mastering of the game. Yes, you can complete it with a mix of luck and few basic attacks on normal difficulty, but this depth to explore is there if ou know how to take advantage of it.

          • kament says:

            You’re right, TW2 is more consistent regarding combat than TW was. It’s an action game in that respect, see, much as DMC and the like*, whereas TW1 was trying to embrace (rather successfully) that strange inconsistent mix of genres known as action (not turn-based) RPG. I know. A ridiculous notion.

            *Except it’s nowhere near as clever and mindful of player. It wasn’t frustrating for me because I was inept in playing the game. It was frustrating for the lack of many good things that used to be there. A proper footwork, for instance. In absense of which Geralt does not look like a witcher, master swordsman—he’s just some old dude with the sword, and not a very impressive one at that. Sword, I mean. Although…

    • Henson says:

      While I’m a big fan of the Witcher games, I have to agree. Alchemy was a step back; I didn’t have to pay attention to the elements of each alchemical ingredient, I missed having to use alcohol as a base, and toxicity was completely dumbed down. And yes, the leveling system from Witcher 1 is one of my favorites in any game, so to see that changed into a very bland skill tree was disappointing.

      • kament says:

        Yeah. Alchemy in TW did need improvements, mind—at least so you can craft as many potions to your own specification as you like—which was done, but rendered pointless since you had to go the alchemist route at the expense of everything else, besides, their duration was completely miscalculated anyway.

        And again: okay, you ditched the RPG principles of character progression. But when you can’t even retreat to a safe distance without turning your back on the enemy it’s just… frustrating, again. It does look better in TW3, though, so I’m hopeful. Maybe this time they will get it right, merging best parts of TW2 (cinematics, storytelling and politicking) and TW1 (gameplay, immersion and witchering).

        One can hope. After all, they do bring back two different modes for each Sign with a vengeance even.

  15. emptyskin says:

    I’ve been replaying the Witcher 2 in preparation for the Wild Hunt and have been thinking how much I must have ignored its flaws the first time through. The game is stupidly frustrating at parts. Certain fights (Kraken, Letho 1) are dumb for the strategies the game forces on you. You basically just die and die until you figure out that they are pretty linear (read arcade) sequences. QTEs (fist fighting, Kraken) are a huge problem for me. The arm wrestling and dice minigames are a sort of relaxing way to earn coin and xp though. And what is with Geralt’s magic powers being so wickedly boring to look at? They look so much better in the Wild Hunt.

    However, the world, characters, and story are far better than anything Dragon Age has to offer. Triss is an awesome character as are Iorveth and Roche. I also like how you can either go in the woods and “kill” things for 30-45 minutes in order to “learn” about the various monsters or go to the “library” and “read” up in order to learn their weaknesses. I helped Roche the first time through so this time I’m helping the Palest…I mean Iorveth and the Scoi’tel. I was getting heavy eyed and had to hang it up after I met the first merchant in the Dwarven city. I’ll get back to it this weekend. There are definitely ups and downs to the game, but overall it is very high quality compared to its main competitors.

    Also, Richard, if you read this, did you run into the two guys in Flotsam that wanted you to be in their experiment ‘studying the long term effects’ of a mutagen? I said ‘yes’ not knowing they would give me a rather powerful mutagen, but I’m wondering if the long term effects of it will be borne out in the Wild Hunt as the endgame armor and sword from the first Witcher were the starting equipment in Assassin of Kings…

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Yep. I’m not expecting that to have an effect (though to be honest, I was hoping for some big sting in the first game that wouldn’t kick in until halfway or so. Oh well…)

  16. LuckyLuigi says:

    The Witcher 2 is a good game. I really missed a group fighting style which made fighting multiple opponents problematic. In many ways the combat in 2 was better but I found it cumbersome. The last part of the game feels unfinished. The city level is huge but there is almost nothing to do. Really feels like they ran out of time.
    The Witcher enhanced edition still reigns supreme but looking forward to 3.

  17. mactier says:

    I often thought Geralt’s head was kind of too big and prominent in that game. I’m not sure if it was actually a bit too big (or unrealistically proportioned) but it could take a too big part in the overall impression of the game, at least in some contexts or cutsenes. A bighead mode for Geralt might actually not always make a noticeable difference. I think the higher overall detail of the next Witcher helps mitigate that. It is of course just one of those weird little things sometimes, brought on by the beard remark in the screenshot, and not an important discussion to have.

  18. Mr Coot says:

    Ty for the article, which makes me want to give the series another go. I think I started with the No. 1 Enhanced first and spent a good deal of time floating along not quite sure what I was supposed to be doing – swamped a bit with choices and finding the combat combo mechanics unpleasant. I managed to get a character in the first major village who I was escorting home killed off, which left me wondering if I’d gimped my progress/plot reveals. I definitely want to see the later instalments after the write up, tho’.

  19. MellowKrogoth says:

    I liked the Witcher 2 and most of your points are true, but I think the first game remains my favorite. I find the TW1’s last act and ending much better, both in terms of locations visited and events, even if the story is a bit contrived at the end. I also like the art in the cutscenes better. The RPG system felt more engrossing.

    Regarding the sex content, I did like the three scenes you mentioned, those with Triss in particular had something tender about them. Can’t see why you insist so much on all of them needing to be meaningful, though, the game isn’t a sex education course?

    Honestly however I missed the sex cards of the Witcher 1. Silly though they may be, they actually looked much better than TW2’s rigidly animated scenes and had a lot of character. Geralt is a womanizer (and who wouldn’t be being such a legend, and resitant to disease on top of that!) and it made sense that he could try his smooth talk with many different women. Nothing’s forcing the player to sleep with them all in one playthrough either. Many possibilities mean you’re sure to encounter at least a few on each playthrough; all at the same time is as bad an idea as joining all the guilds in Skyrim or picking up all the brooms in the game. You can do it but it’s not gonna feel good.

  20. asadlittlepotato says:

    I cannot think about even one good point as far as the handling mature content is concerned. Even those suspicious moans coming through brothel walls in Fallout: New Vegas sound more appealing than any incarnation of sex in the Witcher series.

    • Yukiomo says:

      The bit in TW1 where you sleep with the girl in the windmill and guards here you and are all like “Oh man, the windmill is haunted again!” is pretty great.

  21. sonson says:

    One of the things that is often missed about the Witcher series is the emphasis it places on regional dialect. You’ve got Irish, Welsh, Scottish, Yorkshire, brummie and North East in there further to the usual unvaried fayre. It’s one of the few games where I can hear the accent of where I grew up.

    Just another detail which marks out an incredibly detailed and lovingly considered epic.

  22. Chaoslord AJ says:

    TW2 was a great game but it feels really heavy to play like Mass Effect 3 or Inquisition. After a break of a week you can’t get back into it.
    TW2 pro:
    -Good story, great characters – as long as there’s no Elric RPG I stick with Geralt. Not the average most powerful save-the-world guy Geralt makes mistakes, looses big time and gets tortured like all of us. Support cast is neat.
    -Dark and mature, I contrast this with Diablo 3 where human corpses are littered on the ground but the characters are always up for a funny banter.

    Looking forward to TW3 now but can’t decide whether GOG or Steam. It’s like support the devs directly vs achievements and stuff. Opinions?

    minor cons:
    -Battle system not really working, it all comes down to positioning in battle, not playing skill
    -Short, third act is rushed especially
    -Boss battles are aweful, second Letho, Kayran

    Compared with TW1: Less backtracking is good but feels overproduced like Bioware does games.

  23. Zaraf says:

    Disagree with #2. Alchemy was better handled, and more interesting, in the first one imo.
    And the 1st also has a way better interface. Can’t tell how much time I lost trying to sort my stuff in this game. I restricted crafting to the minimum because of that.

  24. Vesper6 says:

    I’ve tried to get into Witcher 2 a few times now. I really quite like what I’ve played, but then I get to the first major town, get a bit overwhelmed by options, and find some other shiny game to play. By the time I get back I forget what I’m even doing. I think I’ll give it another go soon, though, and try to stay focused.

    Would you guys recommend using the alternate combat mod that the developers released?

  25. udat says:

    I liked TW1, and thought TW2 was one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played, and agree with the article for the most part.

    Regarding TW1 and the “collectible” sex cards though – it has been a long time since I played that, but to my memory, the “cards” are not presented like a “collectible” at all. They aren’t even “cards” as such – they are more a memento of an event. To me they were more like a replacement for a cutscene of the consummation. And to be honest, considering how bad those kind of cut scenes are in basically every game I’ve ever played (*cough* Mass Effect games) I think I’d rather have a little bit of artwork than a cut scene.

    If they had been a brief little cut scene rather than a “card” do you think they would be as infamous as they are?

    • Cinek says:

      Sex cards are actually a cards in the game. There’s nothing wrong with calling them cards – that’s what they were. And they are collectible, from what I remember you even get a reward after collecting every single one. Cause you know… Gotta Catch ‘Em All

      Cutscenes are better than cards because of old infamous “objectification of women”. TW1 basically pushed most of women down to the CCG game, which is rather ridiculous.

  26. DumbparameciuM says:

    Those “joke” feather collecting missions where the straw that broke the camels back. I completed Dark Souls 1 and 2 before starting TW2 and the combat and fight mechanics paled in comparison. I also found the hexes fiddly and unsatisfying. Felt like a “fuck you” for not playing the first game to me.

  27. Bundin says:

    I really loved TW1 because of the story: ‘grey is an option’. Pre-ordered TW2 as soon as it was possible and started it seconds after release. And quit 2 hours later. Restarted a few more times, made it to the first village and quit again.

    For me, the combat was horrid and unintuitive, with Geralt sliding around sluggishly and unable to parry when some meter ran out. Alchemy being gutted. A UI that is a disgrace for mouse/keyboard users (hi DA:I!). Importing my savegame, but ignoring the Triss/Shani choice. Don’t let me import it if you’re retconning my story.

    For me it felt like a completely different protagonist in a completely new game. And because the combat and I never agreed, I lost interest in no time. I’ll “youtube it” some day, I guess, so I can see what happened… if I ever start caring.

    Not buying TW3, by the way. I’ll wait for Cyberpunk 2077.

    • Cinek says:

      I find it silly to call TW2 combat unintuitive right after the mention of TW1.

  28. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    This game is amazing. I just happen to be replaying it right now (close to ending chapter 2 on Roche’s side).

    You covered most about what makes this game great, but I think you left out one very important feature that even showed up in the original: “side quests” that don’t feel like side quests, but actually feed into the overall main plot of the game.

    It’s hard to explain, but so many games give you side quests that seem to exist separate from the storyline. With a few exceptions, The Witcher series doesn’t do that. It seems like everything you do, even playing poker and arm-wrestling, eventually circles you back around to the game’s story in a way that feels natural and unforced.

    • Cinek says:

      I think Richard didn’t even notice that there were any side quests in a first place, hahaha. Yea, you are completely right about that. the consistency of the world and how everything fits in places is really amazing in TW2. You got this feeling of living one huge adventure, one plot, instead of one corridor main plot and occasional side-quests as it is in most RPGs (even TW1 doesn’t do nearly as good job in that as TW2 did).

  29. mr archer says:

    Witcher 2 completely axed the alchemy system of the first installment. Can´t really forgive that. The inventory also was a let down. Otherwise great game in a very much beloved franchise.

    Regarding the complaints about the fighting system of Witcher 1 being to QTEish: play it on hard. Problem solved.

  30. Drunk Si says:

    “No longer demanding things like buying books before hunting monsters.”

    That was one of the things I actually preferred about the first one. I remember getting battered by this vine tendril thing in the swamp, an Archespore I think it was called, and I got sick of it so I went back into town and went hunting for books. I found out what sort of oil to coat my blade with, gathered some materials, did some alchemy and went back, drugged myself up, coated my blade and beat that thing into the ground. It felt great, I was able to find out how to beat the thing within the game itself, prepare for the fight like a proper monster hunter, and then go and take care of business.

    After that I made sure to hunt down any sources of info I could in the game and for me that did a lot for the immersion factor.

    While the first game was a bit ropy I think it gets more stick than it deserves. I felt like it had more of a soul than the sequel.

  31. skyturnedred says:

    So, is the second part only available for supporters or am I just blind?