Return To The Witcher 2: Part 2 – The Not So Good Bits

'Geralt, what do we do?' 'I DON'T KNOW THIS IS STILL THE TUTORIAL HOW DO I DRAW MY SWORD AND HIT THINGS!?'

So, last time we looked at The Witcher 2 in all its glory. Today, we’re flipping it round. Where did things go wrong? Before we start, a clarification. While this will inherently be negative, it’s not to bash the game. The game was awesome, and many of the balls it dropped to the ground were at least pretty well gathered up by the Enhanced Edition. This is really more looking at issues to hope won’t be repeated by The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt [official site], allowing it to be all we want it to be.

1) Development Insularity

If The Witcher 2 had one fatal flaw, it was that it very obviously didn’t get enough fresh eyes on it during the later stages of development. My first hint of this was at a preview event, where the producer was running around telling everyone to use the medallion to find secrets, but when asked what the hint was that there was something to find, falling back on (paraphrase) “Because I just told you.” Sitting down in front of the full game, it quickly became obvious that too much of it had been built like that. Incorrect map locations for instance, which could only be missed if everyone was running to where they knew the thing actually was. Not taking any time to explain the magical Signs properly before dumping the player into an extremely tough fight. Poor conveyance of mechanics during the boss fights, most notably the appalling Kayran encounter early on. Assuming knowledge of the world geography and kingdoms, or where it was present, burying it in a boring codex. Codexes are for players looking to dig into lore, not for devs to avoid presenting it properly.

This also badly affected much of the story, which simply assumed that everyone playing would have at least a decent understanding of the world and characters and mechanics. This was also the case in the original Witcher, but that game was far more aimed at existing fans than the sequel, which shot for a far bigger audience. To Witcher fans, I’m aware that complaining of things like, say, not knowing the strategic importance of the Pontar valley or the nature of dragons and magic in this world is as petty as sitting down in front of a Star Wars game and going “What’s this Force thing everyone keeps talking about? Darth WHO?” Going in cold though, just basic things like whether or not the struggle over the Pontar Valley is actually important is easily missed, to say nothing of all the factions whose schemes were often either lost or seemingly dropped depending on the paths chosen in the game.

The Enhanced Edition went a long way to fixing these issues of course, and hurrah for that. Its proper tutorial offered a far better introduction to the game, and additional content sprinkled throughout the rest. Still, with Wild Hunt introducing more characters, including Ciri as a playable one, hopefully it will find ways to subtly clue in players who only know the world from the games, without slowing things down too much for those who already know the details from the books.

(My favourite moment of insularity remains when I previewed the game, and was told that I could talk about anything in it, except what happens to King Foltest. Yes, in a game called The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. They genuinely couldn’t see it wasn’t going to be a big surprise.)

2) Late Modding Tools

A minor one, but a disappointment. A couple of years was just too long to wait for the modding tools. If Wild Hunt is going to bother trying to push the mod potential, it has to be far quicker off the mark.

To kill one man is a tragedy. To kill a hundred... well, honestly at that point you're all just XP to me.

3) Combat Balance

The first few levels of Witcher 2 are just ghastly, mostly because you’re not so much making Geralt a better fighter as slowly making him a not-shit one. That’s an important distinction, especially when it comes to basics like not being able to even parry properly, and the ludicrous rolling-circus that every battle inherently becomes. By the end of the first Act though, the pendulum has swung almost the other way. For most of Act 2 and 3, you’re almost unkillable on regular difficulty levels unless you do something particularly stupid. Wild Hunt badly needs to find a better balance here where Geralt is good, but the threat of more than a couple of guys or taking on a large monster isn’t simply a case of struggling, picking the correct sword, and doing his world-famous impression of a blender.

4) A Lack Of Monsters

Yes, yes, there are monsters, but for the most part The Witcher 2 isn’t all that interested in that side of Geralt’s job, save as an explanation for why he’s good at killing the kind that wear human skin. That’s somewhat interesting in its own right as a plot element, but a game called The Witcher could have done with just a little more, well, Witching. Ideally of the kind beyond just killing some things in the forest with a couple of sword-swings. The monsters of the books tend to be much more interesting than that, not least in requiring lots of preparation and knowledge that demands a specialist’s attention rather than just a passing warrior. Wild Hunt’s open world will hopefully allow Geralt to get back to that kind of stuff, as well as ideally bringing in more of the Slavic and other more interesting mythological creatures that could do with getting more of an airing in fantasy worlds.

That said…

5) Boss Fights

Most were pretty bloody awful, either because the mechanics sucked (Kayran) or the timing wasn’t right (Letho, Round 1) Letho really could have done with being a bonus boss of sorts, with a reward for beating him but no expectation of doing so at that point. His final optional fight is far more enjoyable, both because it’s your choice and because it feels like a fair battle between equals. The escalation would have worked far better if the original had been a likely curb-stomp battle for comparison instead of something you still had to win.

6) Overly Fractured Story

One of The Witcher 2’s biggest features was its two different Act 2s depending on who you decided to trust at the start of the game. This is definitely very cool, and impressively ambitious. Looking back however, I think it was also a pretty serious mistake. Choosing means that far too many plot points are either not introduced properly or resolved poorly/off-screen. The sorceress conspiracy, the hunt for Triss, the whole business with the royal children… it’s there, but only in theory.

This reaches critical mass in the final act, which is just awful. To someone with it mapped out on a big whiteboard, there’s both a ton of content and lots of resolutions to everything. In practice, only seeing a tiny slice of it isn’t very satisfying at all, and the idea of replaying the entire thing… well, that’s a big time commitment, and one most people are only going to bother with if they were incredibly satisfied. I’d be curious to know whether or not you actually bothered, and which side you joined if you did. Certainly when I reached the end only to find nothing I’d been chasing resolved, and the big political upheaval being that a country I’d never heard of was going to take over a country neither I nor Geralt seemed to have any particular ties to, that wasn’t my first inclination.

I do still like the idea of seeing the story from both sides of the war, but it rests on actually seeing the story. At least, in enough detail to appreciate the bigger sweeps of what’s happening by the end, if not necessarily everyone’s reasons and rationales. (To use Dragon Age as an example here, one of my favourite things about the original game is that you get to talk to Loghain about his many acts of dickery and realise that for all he ballsed up, his motives were relatively sound.)

7) Pacing

Somewhat tied to the previous issue, yes, but the pacing of the game was a real mess. I remember reviewing it over a weekend or so, being near the end of Act 2 and e-mailing my editor to warn them that there was no way I was going to have finished it by Monday. I figured I was about halfway through, at the point where the story really kicks into gear. About ten minutes later, I looked in the game diary to be told that I was on the final leg. An hour later, the credits were rolling and I was feeling very, very let down.

A lot of this is tied to the first village, Flotsam, which contributes very little to the story, then the bulk of Act 2 as mentioned being fractured and throwing in plot elements all the time before only a few of them are actually picked up on for the end. I kept expecting a chapter where, for instance, I’d be dealing with the Sorceresses again, and finally rescuing Triss, not knowing that all that was going on in a different game entirely. I was waiting for a bit where I’d find out about the villain’s scheme, not realising that it would be a conversation largely tacked on the end where he just says “So, what do you want to know?” and infodumps harder than Tolkein after five laxatives. The end, where a few characters appeared to say a couple of lines, was a cliffhanger without the decency to bring a cliff.

The Enhanced Edition at least added some Fallout style final boards to the game to add proper context about what happened next around the world, and that helps a lot. The political situation is bigger than Geralt, but it was silly to spend that much time making you key to what happened and then not bothering to properly explain what that actually was. Wild Hunt will need to learn from this, and provide a storming finale in its own right, not least because it’s being sold as Geralt’s final adventure. I already know that I’ll want to know what happened to the people I met and helped, especially in a world where doing the right thing isn’t always what’s best.

I'M TRYING TO HOLD ONTO THIS PLOT AND ALSO THIS DRAGON AND SO FAR HOLDING ONTO THE DRAGON IS EASIER!

8) Mature Content Redux

Okay. Last time I praised half of the game’s handling of this, and now it’s time for the flip-side. To be clear, I don’t really care about the prostitutes and other casual encounters in the game, which are both fine in-context and not particularly interesting. Some of the major scenes though, I found a bit off-putting – the gratuitous Triss flashing in the intro, with Geralt’s body even making windows to admire her ass through, and a few specific things like the handling of Dethmold in his final scenes, which felt like it had come from another, far inferior game, and Phillipa’s scenes with Cynthia thrown in for no particular reason save audience titilation. In both instances it’s a case of execution rather than necessarily concept, especially after other things in the game showed that The Witcher 2 could have done them far better. Hopefully Wild Hunt will be as strong throughout.

9) Oh, Yes, And There Was A Character Called “Dethmold”

Fucking no.

For all this complaining, I reiterate that The Witcher 2 got far, far, far more right than it got wrong, and working through the list it’s gratifying to see how much is at least addressed if not entirely fixed by the Enhanced Edition. Certain things of course are baked in, like the nature of the plot, but even then it saw additions like more content for the otherwise pretty empty third act. It would have been very easy for CD Projekt to simply sniff at complaints that, for instance, the combat was too hard to get into. Instead, it took the time to implement a dedicated tutorial. Where information was lacking, it was added in as carefully as possible, and smoothly enough that it’s tough to notice that it wasn’t there in the first place. The result is a far more polished, and more importantly, far more self-aware game than the one that first hit shelves, with lessons being both learned and applied already. I can’t think of many better ways to suggest that Witcher 3 will be as big a jump for both the series and CD Projekt RED’s RPG craft that Witcher 2 was from the original. I for one can’t wait.

And hopefully this time, we won’t even need a second version to fix it all up…

This article was made possible by the RPS Supporter program.

86 Comments

  1. Sakai says:

    What’s wrong with a character called “Dethmold”?

    • Premium User Badge

      Aerothorn says:

      I’m reminded of this bit from Game Informer’s sole piece of real journalism (on the death of Lucasarts):

      “A similar situation arose with Star Wars: The Force Unleashed’s protagonist, Starkiller. “[That name] was only supposed to be a nickname or call sign, not a proper name from the beginning,” a former LucasArts employee says. The development team hoped that Lucas would give Vader’s apprentice a Darth moniker, which at the time, was something that didn’t happen often.

      “The team threw a Hail Mary to George, saying the game would have more credibility if the apprentice had a ‘Darth’ title,” a Force Unleashed team member says. Lucas agreed that this situation made sense for Sith royalty, and offered up two Darth titles for the team to choose from. “He threw out ‘Darth Icky’ and ‘Darth Insanius.’ There was a pregnant pause in the room after that. People waiting for George to say ‘just kidding,’ but it never comes, and he just moved on to another point.”

      link to gameinformer.com

    • Maxheadroom says:

      Reminds me of my WoW days, seeing names like DeathSlayer or DemonStalker running around and knowing in all likelihood it was a 12 year old at the other end of the keyboard who thought it sounded dark and edgy. It never did

      • Imbecile says:

        This is why all of my usernames tend to be mildly derogatory. Recent efforts include Imbecile and He_who_runs_away.

    • RogerioFM says:

      Deathmold was awesome, I hated that cocksucker.

    • skullBaseknowledge says:

      its a dreary town in germany link to en.wikipedia.org

      • pepperfez says:

        English has had issues with German city’s names since the Diet of Worms.

    • Premium User Badge

      Waltorious says:

      Regarding the character named Dethmold:

      It turns out that Polish is an entirely different language to English! It has different names and everything. I wonder if Polish people play English-language games and wonder why everyone has ridiculous names like Lance and Nathan, instead of regular names like Andrzej.

  2. udat says:

    Pretty much spot on.

    I think Dethmold was in the books, but yeah it’s a crap name.

    I trust CDProjekt to deliver on the characters and the story and all the bits that they got right in TW2… if they can make the monster hunting fun in its own right then I think the open world stuff will sing as well. That’s the bit I’m most worried they will not quite nail.

  3. Cinek says:

    A Lack Of Monsters a flaw? Huh? I must have played a different game, cause I don’t remember any lack of monsters. Quite contrary – most of what I remember from W2 were monsters. Sure, they put in some soldiers here and there, but they were a nice relax between monster fights. Don’t tell me you want monster popping every 5 meters.

    • Rizlar says:

      The article seems to be asking for more of monsters in quality rather than quantity. Like they should be a more important part of the game, not more common. The first act is actually pretty great at introducing the Kayran, requiring you to research and prepare for it, learning the basics of the Witcher’s craft. And then it throws it all out the window with the actual fight being a glorified fucking quick time event.

      • Cinek says:

        Kayran fight is not a QTE, just ends with QTE. Anyway: Act 1 is filled with few different monsters, including very memorable troll, and damn annoying crab-spiders. I don’t know what there is to complain. Yea, few boss fights suck – but there’s a separate point for that.

      • Premium User Badge

        gritz says:

        Yeah, it’s not so much that there weren’t monsters, it’s that I never felt like Geralt was an expert on their behaviors and weaknesses. Sure, he ultimately figures out how to deal with the Nekker tunnels, the Endrega queens and the Rotfiend corpses, but that only happens after you kill X amount of the monsters rather than doing any real investigation.

        I think the series as a whole could learn a lot from the Batman Arkham series and its sleuthing sections.

        • RogerioFM says:

          Well, Geralt WAS amnesiac, but by the gameplays of the second games it seems more well implemented, how you track and hunt enemies with Witchery knowledge.

          • tomimt says:

            Though it is mentioned by Gerlat himself ingame dialogue that he has spent a lot of time reading all kinds of monster books, so despite he has forgotten who he was, he must have catched up on his profession, but still he seems to be stunted by even the most common monsters he met and dealt with in the first game.

    • Oozo says:

      Na, just go to any old wiki and compare the bestiaries of the first and the second Witcher game. The second one is, and there’s no arguing with that, much smaller. I’m also very much convinced that it is far less interesting. Richard already pointed out that the monsters could use a bit of a more Slavish flavour — it’s actually the one reason why I preferred the first game to its sequel: the first one felt odd, at times, but also much more distinctive. Part of that was because of creatures that are rare less likely to be encountered in run-off-the-mill fantasy fare, but known to people versed in (Eastern) European mythology. If I heard correctly, it’s something that is much more pronounced in the books, too.

      What’s more, though, is that a lot of aspects contributed to those creatures feeling more like true inhabitants of a weird eco system — other readers have already pointed out that having to learn about monsters in tomes can be a bit cumbersome, but adds to the atmosphere. And especially in Chapter IV of the first Witcher, there were creatures that were being a bit strange, looking like the were thrown into the mix just for the heck of it — but in fact, they were much better integrated in to the game, because they felt like part of stories NPCs told and lived through. That’s also something that, to me, is often a tad less well done in the second game. It’s also in details, like the fact that the encounter with the Wild Hunt in the first game ended in them being banned by a ritual… this felt much more “mythical”, if you will, than having to fend them off with swords alone.

      In short: there were more different kinds of monsters in the Witcher than in its sequel, and its easy to make a point that they were more interesting to boot (which has, of course, a lot to do with the fact that the focus is on politics in the second game). YMMV, but I preferred the shaggy dog-approach of first game (at least in its Enhanced form), and if the third one was focusing more on being “a Witcher’s life for me”, having a bit more of, say, first Witcher meets Monster Hunter meets Dragon’s Dogma, I certainly wouldn’t complain.

  4. Geebs says:

    I kind of liked the way it was possible to completely miss the important stuff about the dragon by choosing the wrong plot path. Made it much cooler when I eventually figured it out.

    • thekelvingreen says:

      Quite so. Surely the chance of missing things is part of what’s great about an open and living world? I’m no fan of Skyrim but I do admire the way that there are major storylines that can be missed on a single play, and I can’t see how that’s a bad thing in a role-playing game.

    • pepperfez says:

      And the idea of game-important information hidden in dusty tomes is just about the most exciting feature to me. You want to be a badass magic user? Read a damn book.

    • kyrieee says:

      Agreed, the fact that you can’t get the whole story in one playthrough is something I love about this game. Most of the choices in this game are about deciding something based on incomplete information, and the bifurcation of act 2 is simply an extention of that. Geralt’s perspective on the events of the game will differ depending on which side he chooses.

    • Hanban says:

      Honestly, the part where you learn about the dragon and what happens after that are probably the weakest parts of the game.

  5. Laurentius says:

    Really ?

    So from all videos so far Witcher3 looks like inbreed between Skyrim , Witcher, Ubisoft icon hunting and MMO exclamation marks quest givers, throwing away indivudal flavour for mass market “seen in last big hit game”. And it will probabaly will rewarded with shining reviews and stellar sales.

    How is it that games that aim for something orginal got punished by people like Richard Cobbet and games that are pulpy and meaningless are rewarded. DA:I which I played and finished is enjoyable game but when you start analyzing it like in this article, it comes short not only in comparison to Witcher2 but to every Bioware game out there. (Seriously plot twist and antagonists from Jade Empire, which was also criticized back then btw, seem to come from like from different era of actually good writers.).

    Look no further, just Mr Cobbet DA:I review on Eurogamer. First Witcher1, now Witcher 2, main critcism is coming for things these games tries to do differently, while DA:I main praise is for things it has like ton of games before it.

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      Really?

      You did read the initial and ending paragraphs, and the previous article, right? I don’t get how you can read this to be the game “getting punished”.

      • Laurentius says:

        Just read Richard Cobbett’s DA:I on Eurogamer. Almost everything that is put to test is medicore at best by his own words. Plot is bland, panatomime villan with laughable name, tons of fetch quests, green coloured Obliovin gates etc. So what is actually good ? Game is streamlined, polished and easily digestible by everyone, so no rough edges, no confusing plot points, no pacing problems, no diffiuculty spikes. – 8/10.

        Well I gladly take rough edges along the individual and fresh path of Witcher 1 then being draged by a nose through streamlined run of the mill slide DA:I was and Witcher 3 is shaping to be.

        • HothMonster says:

          So you didn’t read the initial and ending paragraphs, and the previous article, right? You seem like you want to be mad more than understand the point of the article. He already praised the game for 2000 words.

          Not to mention saying ‘Add more witchery to the Witcher’ is about as far from asking it to be more generic as you can get.

    • Asurmen says:

      Why do you bother?

  6. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    At least this goes some way to explain why I just gave up after 9 hours because I was still running around that first town doing stuff that didn’t seem to be resolving the plot in any way.
    Also, for whatever reason, I didn’t find the world very interesting. I think that might just be down to me though, given how many people love it.

    • pasports31 says:

      I’m in the same boat. I kind of forced myself to finish both Witcher 1 and 2, and I wouldn’t say I didn’t like them, but I wouldn’t say I thoroughly enjoyed them, either. While the world is well realized overall, it’ not one I’m all that interested in. Given how much I typically enjoy fantasy worlds and the fact that I can get down with the political intrigue of something like Game of Thrones, I’m not sure why this is.

      • Smoof says:

        I’m pretty stoked I’m not the only one.

        I had to force myself to see the original Witcher all the way through and quickly grew bored of the second one after reaching the initial village. I’ve always felt guilty that the games haven’t grabbed me in the same way as many other people; I feel like I should be excited for Witcher 3, but I just can’t bring myself to care.

        • Premium User Badge

          Andy_Panthro says:

          Wouldn’t say I got bored with it, but I stopped at the first village too.

          I generally enjoyed TW1, although I had a long break in the middle (I lost interest a bit during the lengthy middle section, but eventually came back to it).

          TW2 seemed a lot better to begin with, and it was certainly very visually impressive. I loved wandering through the siege camp and stuff. But the changes to the combat and the interface made the game awkward and difficult for me, and I eventually just got frustrated with it and gave up.

          Since then, they released the enhanced edition, so perhaps that makes things a bit better, but it’s been pushed so far down the order with my backlog that I’m not sure I’ll ever make time for it.

        • Arvind says:

          I’m in same boat too (finished Witcher 1, couldn’t be bothered once you reach the village in Witcher 2).

          We should form a club.

          • ramirezfm says:

            I could join this club of yours. It took me a while to finish TW1. It bored me after a few hours, but after a little break I completed it and I found it mostly ok. So far I had two attempts to push through TW2, but I just got bored after a very short while. Right now it’s somewhere on my to play list, but there are so many things to play… I’m not even sure why I didn’t enjoy it. It is pretty, might look interesting and still I cannot make myself to play it.

        • pasports31 says:

          Yeah, I think the games really do have their flaws. Interface i pretty bad and unintuitive, parts of the game can really drag while other parts seem to go by too fast when more time should be spent on the events that are being covered, the combat mechanics in both games are a bit flawed, there is a ton of backtracking in Witcher 1, and I can’t quite remember if it was that bad in Witcher 2, but I’m sure there was a good deal. The one thing the game do pretty greatly is the choice and consequences within the world. I’ll admit that both games are objectively good, if not necessarily my cup of tea, but at the same time I’m a bit perplexed by the non-stop raving about the games I seem to hear all the time. That being said, I’m sure Witcher 3 will release and get stellar reviews that mention the flaws in passing and hail it as a great game, regardless of whether or not CD Projekt Red addresses some of the issues of the first two games. I’ll buy Witcher 3 eventually when it gets way down in price, but I know I probably won’t enjoy it a much as most people. I’m hoping I’m wrong about that, though.

    • Archonsod says:

      I got as far as being ready to take on the Kayran, but one of the side quests bugged out so I put it down to wait for the enhanced edition. I’ve never managed to stick it out as far as the first village since. Guilt gets me going back to it every so often, but usually by the time I get to the dungeon escape I’ve had enough. It’s probably the combat; the intro is pretty much just a case of grinding your way through fight after fight, and with the combat system at that point being about as interesting as watching paint dry it simply saps my patience. Doesn’t help that the only breaks in the grind are usually there to deliver tedious political history lectures via exposition info dumps delivered by men wearing increasingly ridiculous headgear.

    • RayEllis says:

      Yeah, I kind of soldiered on through it, for the most part. It utterly failed to get me interested in the King killings plot. In fact, if Triss hadn’t been kidnapped, I might have got bored and given up. After that point, however, I really didn’t care about the greater plot and so on, I just wanted to get her back. But it was with some sense of relief when I got to the end and found I didn’t have to fight the bad guy.

      Hopefully Witcher 3 has a better story hook and plot to get into.

  7. gschmidl says:

    I played both sides of chapter 2 and all sides of chapter 4.

  8. nimbulan says:

    The only thing that really bothered me about this game is the combat balance. It’s partly laggy, unresponsive combat controls, and partly difficulty that jumps all over the place. There were several fights throughout the game, such as the Letho fight you pointed out, that I couldn’t get through without cheesing it by spamming one specific sign. Dodge-rolling in this game doesn’t actually avoid attacks unless you have Quen active so I found it essentially useless. There was even one fight where I started getting hit by arrows before the game gave me control back after a cutscene. That was fun. I really hope that Wild Hunt doesn’t suffer from the same problem.

  9. forgetdeny says:

    I’ve played through the whole game four times. Three times making different choices on purpose, and one time trying to replicate decisions from the first playthrough – I actually failed at doing so and wound up with a markedly different end-state to what I had expected. I love this game, because it really is watching how you play and shaping itself around/in-reaction-to you (the player/geralt). Also the multiple versions of Act2 is brilliant, I was expecting them to have essentially the same structure as each other and deal with fundamentally the same things – the fact that they don’t is an act of immersive narrative genius.

    • newc0253 says:

      Four times?

      Frakking hell.

      I’m one of those who would love to play through a second time at some point, if only to see all the stuff I missed by siding with the rebels, but realistically it’s not gonna happen for a long time.

  10. Ptosio says:

    Well, it’s hardly a secret that TW2 was unfinished. They were in some serious financial trouble, landing the game on the shelves with the last drops of fuel. They were forced to fire many people, who could now be used to make TW3 even better, they were also forced to cut an almost finished chapter in the Valley of Flowers (land of the last independent elves).

    So if the ending feels rushed, that’s because it is.

    • Krokberg says:

      What, seriously? That is such a shame. Glad this time around they’ve got the budget and time to do exactly what they want.

  11. Henson says:

    Witcher 2’s narrative is very confusing, very convoluted, and takes a long time to understand the situation regarding who the major players are in the world. It’s not well explained. Usually, I’d criticize developers for not making this stuff clear through proper exposition.

    But in Witcher 2’s case, I think it’s actually a strength. Politics and culture are complicated things, and can take a while to fully grasp; as an American, I’m not even familiar with the intricacies of the political landscape of Great Britain. By making those parts of the narrative complicated and not spoon-feeding information at an easily digestible rate, I think CD Projekt Red really sold the authenticity of the world. “Here’s a place with many different issues going on, it may take a while to get a handle on what it’s all about.”

  12. seamoss says:

    Phillipa’s scenes with Cynthia thrown in for no particular reason save audience titilation

    Dammit! I knew I should have picked Iorveth’s side instead of that weenie Roche!

    I still have it installed after finishing Roche’s story (all endings) in the hopes that one day I might go back and play Iorveth’s but it’s not looking very likely…

    • Wagrid says:

      Iorveth’s side is much, much better than Roche’s. Siding with Iorveth is felt like the ‘real’ story, whereas Roche’s felt like the ‘what if?’ episode of a long running TV show.

      • kament says:

        And here I thought there was no reason to side with ter… elves. Frankly, I think Roche is a natural ally and choice, and Iorveth is the guy who tries to kill you on several occasions (on top of terrorizing the neighborhood), so why on Earth would Geralt side with him is just beyond me. Some extremely weak writing here.

        I’ll admit Iorveth path is more interesting, though—they definitely tried to make Roche’s side of the story equally interesting and there is some good stuff, but some dick’s military camp is just not that appealing as friendly dwarven settlement.

        • liquid3am says:

          Just to refresh your memory – just when you’re supposed to leave Flotsam with Roche, some people are threatening to burn alive some other people and only you can stop them.

          • kament says:

            I do remember that, though as part of Iorveth path, where you have (the option) to save those elves at the cost of Loredo getting away. But by then the decision’s made, so why factor it in this?

  13. horsemedic says:

    I gave up in Act 2, after I managed to cross the map from the army camp to the conspicuously depopulated dwarf city.

    It was obvious that the map had been created as a single coherent level, and the developers then flagged certain NPCs out of existence depending on which side you started on. It seemed like corner-cutting, as had much of the game up to that point.

    • eleion says:

      Maybe I’m misunderstanding your comment – but it was my impression that if you choose Roche then you don’t go to the dwarf city at all, so I don’t know if your hypothesis holds up. I’ve only played Iorveth’s side, though, so I could be mistaken.

      • HothMonster says:

        You get sent to the other side while it is under siege near the end of the Roche storyline. Vergen is largely abandoned and you are just supposed to find some tunnels. the kingslayer is camped on that side.

        So I mean he is right but it is by design, you have to choose a side and you get locked out of half of chapter two. It is a single coherent level with the ghost battle locking you out of one side primarily but with a very limited interaction on the other half of the map. (You also sneak into the Roche side for some reason if you had picked the elves.) But since it was an marketed feature of the game and he’s complaining about choices affecting game play its kinda of like complaining about your fancy cheese being smelly. You have to choose, you don’t get to play neutral and see everything.

    • garisson says:

      Flagged out of existence…? What does that even mean? And Vergen was full of dwarves. It’s still considered one of the best looking games ever made, I hardly saw evidence of corner cutting. Everything from the maps to the story are full of detail.

  14. keeki says:

    I actually just finished this game for the first time yesterday. I made a backup of my save immediately before the Iorveth vs Roche decision, and I’m considering a redo before the sequel arrives.

  15. eleion says:

    I managed to complete both games. Both times my completionist desires severely hampered my enjoyment of the game. I remember the first time I played W1 and tried to go to every house in the first act to collect items. I would wait through the really long load times to entire a tiny hut to collect a single stone from a box. This was not a pleasant experience and yet I somehow felt compelled to continue – until I put down the game entirely and didn’t come back to it for 4 years.

    I had a similar experience in W2 trying to complete all the quests in Act 1 and 2. I found I was spending a lot of time running around in circles trying to collect little bips and bobs in order to finish random not-that-important-quest #5.

    Considering running around doing random nonsense was my least favorite thing from the last two games, I don’t have high hopes for the series’ entry into an open world format… The Witcher series always felt like it would be best served by a tighter game format that focused more on its central story, not opening it up even more.

    • garisson says:

      I don’t recall gathering bips and bops and running around any more than I did in any other RPG, in fact most the sidequests in Witcher 2 were entirely unique and tied into the plot. It was not a bip and bop collecting game at all.

      • eleion says:

        Oh, it was less that there were a /lot/ of bips and bops to find and more that I wasn’t very good at efficiently collecting them. This could be a personal problem. I just remember running around the woods a lot in Act 1 trying to find the last damn monster hole to burn, or running up and down cliffs collecting harpy feathers in Act 2. I also had a tendency to explore and run into locations before the story did, which meant I had to kill alllll the monsters again when I came back there for the plot. :(

  16. Will Tomas says:

    I got most of the way through Act 1 before I got distracted by something else and never went back. So in the spirit of finishing before Witcher 3, I will. But I’m only going to go through it once.

    Can anyone tell me why (spoiler free!) Iorveth or Roche would be the best one to play if you’re only going to do one of them?

    • Cinek says:

      Iorveth path is better.

    • Zekiel says:

      I’ve only played the Roche path, and I found it a lot of fun. Helped enormously by the fact that Roche himself is a magnificent bastard.

  17. Darth Gangrel says:

    Since I ranted about all the things I disliked about the TW2 in the “What TW2 got right” article, I’ll continue to do the reverse here and say what I really enjoyed about TW2.

    First and foremost, Act 2 was completely different and I thought it was much more fun the second time, siding with the nonhumans. The Signs got some upgrades and even though my favorite came quite late, a Frost enhancement for the Aard Sign, it made for a different experience. The traps and lures added for more strategic ways to deal with enemies and the fast/strong attack dualism is easier to handle than TW1’s rhytm-based combat. The new characters were interesting and I recognized their names from the books that are available in English. It was great to finally get to travel around the world, to meet kings and Nilfgaardian emissaries. The politics and moral ambigousness of what to do was more at the forefront, not just taking rightful vengenace on a band of criminals.

    TW2 also had more direction, cutscenes would play more often and the story would take a different turn more times than in TW1, thus putting focus on the main quest. I liked walking around in Vizima doing quests here and there, but that more non-linear open-world structure made the main quest seem less important.

    Finally, it felt very much like a Witcher game and as such it was a really long and good RPG, a game unlike many others.

  18. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    One of the biggest weaknesses, IMO, is the audio design in combat. When Geralt scores a hit on an enemy, the sound is crunchy and satisfying. When an enemy scores a hit on Geralt, the sound is non-existent. Without that extra crunch, the player has to rely 100% on visual cues, and the combat loses a lot of its weightiness.

    Earlier in the thread, I said that they should take cues from the Batman Arkham series for the investigation sections, but really if they copy/pasted the combat into the Witcher, I wouldn’t complain. B:AA handles challenging group fights, seamless gadgets, and oversized opponents in a way that would be absolutely amazing for Geralt.

    Edit: But other than that, I agree 100% with the article. The story pacing is very obtuse, though it makes a lot more sense on a second playthrough.

  19. garisson says:

    Overly fractured story? Bad pacing? Did we play the same game? Sure, it’s got a twisty plot, but nothing that being able to infer and reading the journal won’t sort out. I found it refreshing to have a story that makes you think about it and ask questions. Replaying the game reveals new aspects of the narrative and honestly just to understand all that’s going on you need to play it 2 or 3 times. I welcome that kind of depth when most games feel like they were written by junior high students. As for the mature content, the climate in the game industry is such that including any kind at all is met with a furrowed brow and finger wagging. A shame since we all want the medium to grow up, but whenever a game so much as shows a bare breast the frenzied cries of SEXISM make the rounds among game journos.

    • kament says:

      Overly fractured story? Bad pacing? […] just to understand all that’s going on you need to play it 2 or 3 times.

      Exactly. Or, as Richard puts it: In practice, only seeing a tiny slice of it isn’t very satisfying at all, and the idea of replaying the entire thing… well, that’s a big time commitment

  20. Premium User Badge

    Thulsa Hex says:

    I only just finished the Witcher 2 yesterday and found that I agreed with most things in both of these articles. I definitely enjoyed it but I was seriously disappointed when I realised that chapter 3 was the end of the game and even more disappointed when I found out that said chapter had far less content in it than each of the previous chapters. Everything up to that point pointed to the game being much longer. Plot-wise, I would have sworn that the end of chapter 2 was only roughly half-way through, and even the skill trees seemed to indicate the same! By the end I only had a little over half the talents in both the signs and sword trees even though I put nothing into the alchemy tree. I couldn’t shake the feeling that these systems were built for a much longer game.

    I also agree about the monster hunting. When I was doing the contracts in Flotsam I was pretty happy with how much the endregas and nekkers seemed to be a part of that wonderful forest environment and hunting them felt quite absorbing. But the same care and attention to detail was not used in chapters 2 and 3 and so nothing else in the game came close — especially since most of the monsters ended-up being rehashed.

    As you’ve said, though, Assassins was a huge leap in quality in many aspects when compared to the original game, so here’s hoping CDPR pull out all the stops for the conclusion.

  21. Mycenaeus says:

    I don’t think fracturing Act 2 was a mistake at all. It’s what made the game brilliant. A lot of games try to implement choice and consequence but they end up doing the Bioware version of choice. Basically, choose to be a dick and start a fight or choose to be diplomatic, now everyone back on the same path. Choose to save team member X or team member Y. Good, now everyone back on the same path. Choose to save this faction or gain influence with that faction. Good, now everyone back on the same path. Now choose one of three endings.

    By creating a choice that actually affected where you went, what you did, and who you would meet, they made all my future decisions have that much more weight. I’d love it if more RPG’s did this. Until this game I pretty much figured it didn’t matter which one of the dialogue options I chose, the game would herd me through mostly the same content as someone who chose completely different dialogue options. The Witcher 2 changed that, and I think that the fractured ACT 2 should probably be listed as one of, if not the game’s greatest strength.

  22. radalin says:

    In defense of story happening without you knowing at all, is also a narrative you encounter in the books. In books Geralt is mostly occupied with killing monsters and try to win money and he’s neutral in most political conflicts. Yet people he care about like, Ciri or Yenefer (or Triss in case of the games) are either politically ambitious or relevant to others such as Kings or Emperors. Most of the time, he’s generally accidentaly thrown in a chaos tries to save from it and gets knocked out some time during the battle. The next chapter begins on how things turned out after that. So I guess the games and chapters also recites that. As it’s mentioned in the previous article, Geralt is just a good warrior but not a king or commander. So things happenig without his knowledge is pretty acceptable in that context I guess.

    And yes Dethmold is in the books.

  23. TemplarGR says:

    It is funny, because if you look closely to both the article and the comments it is clear that the Witcher 2 was a deeply flawed game, yet when you mention it was overrated and overhyped people get mad…

    Witcher 2 was a 7/10 game, that somehow got hyped up to 9 and 10 status because it had great unoptimized graphics, nude Triss, and lots of gritt…

    A boring game.

    • MisterFurious says:

      Agreed, but this is the Internet Age, unfortunately, and everything is either ‘The Greatest Thing Ever!!!’ or ‘The Worst Thing Ever!!!’. Everything is either a 1 or a 10 and screw you if you don’t like something the fanboy nerds like.

  24. RQH says:

    The Witcher’s version of “mature” and “morally complicated” drove me nuts. Every bad guy was not just bad, but a rapist, and possibly insane to boot. I enjoyed playing the game well enough, but I got to the point where I dreaded booting it up because I didn’t want to be bombarded with more ambient conversations about women being sex objects, nor faced with any more gray-but-not-really-gray decisions between really terrible people. Not once did a character the game portrayed as evil turn out to have some nuance or redeeming quality, and even the “good guys” were slimey. That’s not a nuanced portrayal of the world, that’s just rank cynicism acting as a cover for bad behavior.

  25. Marijn says:

    SPOILERS

    “(My favourite moment of insularity remains when I previewed the game, and was told that I could talk about anything in it, except what happens to King Foltest. Yes, in a game called The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. They genuinely couldn’t see it wasn’t going to be a big surprise.)”.

    That’s a bit silly, Richard. In spite of the game’s title, it wasn’t really a given that Foltest would bite it in the first act. It certainly came as a surprise to me, especially because of the well-directed scenes that lead up to the murder.

  26. barney says:

    The complaints about the potential for an ‘incomplete’ experience need to give some heed to the concept of a large role-playing game.

    My problem was that the choice of whether to go with the imperial guard or the non-humans was presented in such stark dissonance to the wealth of experience that indicated Geralt always tried to reach for compromise, that “with us or against us” was patently the root of all the major social disasters.

    I would’ve liked to play on further but whatever choice you make is so contrived that you feel you’re being given a “choose your own adventure” at the cost of the quality of that adventure.

    • udat says:

      I kind of agree, in that I always tried to play Geralt as neutral – he protects the innocent, and then he gets paid (heh, Mal). and the Roche/Iorveth choice felt a bit forced with no neutral path, but in the context of the game I think it works perfectly. It’s a snap decision to save a life, made at haste in a chaotic situation, and it has significant consequences. I wish more games were that brave.

      • MisterFurious says:

        I didn’t think it was well done at all. You spend all this time with Roche but you barely know Iorveth and he’s a dick that tries to kill you, no less. Even though I felt some sympathy for the elves, why the hell would I abandon a bunch of people that I’ve been adventuring with just to join a prick I barely knew?

  27. montorsi says:

    Pretty shit game at release and not too inclined to give it a second chance. That the word maturity is attached to this franchise is a laugh and a half.

  28. Chaoslord AJ says:

    I don’t see what’s wrong with Dethmold. From an anglocentric point of view “Deathmold” sounds close but being central european it sounds medieval like the German town Detmold. A name as Andrzej Sapkowski might have chosen.
    I also don’t mind starkiller as nothing is more cheesy than Lucas himself (ep.1-3) in my opinion.

    As for the cons I started with the dragon sequence first. After dying ten times here for no good reason at all (in the tutorial) I wondered if the game was any good.

    However I liked not being the dragonborn for once but some powerful but singular dude caught up in a war who doesn’t really care for politics. Also hope TW3 goes more slavic with its monsters and places again and less draco-elvish.

    I’m sure it will be great at least after the first few patches and the remastered edition. Seriously I wouldn’t buy blind from Peter Molyneux but I thrust those guys.

  29. MisterFurious says:

    I really agree with this list, particularly number 6 and all the stuff at the end that you don’t get to do because you have to choose one thing or another (I saved Triss but missed out on a lot of other things). One thing I’d like to add that really drove me crazy was that it’s very hard to see paths in this game because they were often obscured by the copy/paste vegetation. There were so many times were I was looking at a point on my map but couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to get to it because I couldn’t find the damn trail to get there.

    There was one part were I was in a big pit and killed a spider and I was stuck in that damn thing for an hour trying to find out how to get out. I had to go on YouTube to watch a video and, funnily enough, the guy in the video was stuck in there for half an hour before he figured out how to get out. The problem was, the way out was a rock you climb on, but there’s two places you climb up it and one is a dead end. You had to come at it from just the right angle. There’s no visual clue there, either.

    Another time, I spent over two hours trying to get to a quest point on the map and could not find the right road to it. Again, I had to turn to YouTube and saw that there was a trail at a crossroads that I had gone through several times, but the thing was, you can only see the trail if you come at it from a certain direction. If you go through from any other direction, you run right by the damn thing and can’t see it, which is what I had been doing. It was insane. A ton of other little paths were covered in ferns and crap and I had a hard time seeing them. I’m fully convinced that the people that make video games don’t actually play video games because that crap was just so unnecessary.

  30. shrieki says:

    i couldnt get into the Wither games at all.

    i just wanted to be a monster hunter and hunt freaking monsters. i remember the cgi video for the first witcher … i always wanted to play THAT game.

  31. Alegis says:

    I completed Witcher 2 for the second time yesterday. I have to say, I liked Iorveth’s path more than Roche (although the latter felt more natural to follow for me).

    Great Secrets of Loc Muinne quest they’ve added in Act 3 as well. I love how they handled act 2 and how much only became clear to me on the second playthrough, but it has its downsides. In any case, CD Projekt Red has balls and I’m really looking forward to Witcher 3.

  32. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    Oh one more big problem with TW2: The Eternal Battle

    Playing on Dark Mode is a challenge, but never feels unfair or unforgiving. You reload a lot, and there’s less room for error, but it forces you to use every advantage in your arsenal. The Krayan and Letho are tough, but you eventually figure out their patterns and learn how to prepare for them.

    The Eternal Battle is entirely different. All of your advantages are stripped away- you might as well be playing a different game. Oathbreaker gear? Gone. Signs? Gone. Potions and Oils? Gone. Ranged weapons and Traps? Gone. Dodging? Gone. Quicksaves? Gone. You only get autosaves, often right before cutscenes that are only partially skippable.

    Your only hope of surviving is to Parry, which is heavily dependent on your build. If you specialized in Alchemy, for instance, you probably will only have enough Vigor for a couple parries before two shots get through and you’re back at the load screen.

    Disempowering the player for a gimmicky stretch is not uncommon in games, but rarely has it ever been as infuriatingly punishing as that section of The Witcher 2. This game makes combat fun by giving you a wide variety of roughly equally viable options. When all but one of those options are no longer viable (and you just happened to put all of your points into them), it’s damn near sadistic.

  33. Kodaemon says:

    Speaking of Dethmold, the third game has a character named Breacc Glas. BOTH are from Sapkowski himself (though the first one is spelled Detmold originally), and both sound perfectly fine to anyone but anglophones. What actually baffles me me is why the devs decided to change the spelling of Sheala de Tancarville into Sile de Tansarville. I mean, what was the problem there?…