The Witcher 3 is coming out soon, and I am trying to wait patiently for this game to get in my PS4 where it belongs. I’m not one to pre-buy games, but this one seems like a sure thing. Will I be wrong? Maybe. It is a risk I’m willing to take, though.
Also, the pre-buy was a gift.
In order to prepare for this release, I am looking back on my experience with the previous game. I know this game never came out on a Sony system and these reviews typically focus on PlayStation games (because I don’t have any other systems currently), but I am going to review the PC and Xbox 360 game The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.
I was spoiled by Knights of the Old Republic. That was my introduction to role playing games, and it set my standard for what an RPG should do. At the time, I had just completed the Mass Effect trilogy and was looking for something similar to enjoy. My local game store had a bundle of Dragon Age: Origins and The Witcher 2 on sale, and since I had a 360 at the time, I picked it up. I never finished Dragon Age. I did finish The Witcher.
The Witcher’s environment was different from what I expected. I didn’t finish Dragon Age because it felt as though someone had eaten every fantasy novel in the world, digested it, and then pooped out Dragon Age. Yes, it was a well-made game that had developed characters and lots of crap to do, but it didn’t stand out from the fantasy crowd. The Witcher, on the other hand, hooked me from the start. Elves were basically terrorists, monsters felt original and gritty compared to typical fantasy enemies, and the dwarves were…actually pretty typical, but that’s okay because everyone loves dwarves.
In a nutshell, The Witcher series is like Game of Thrones for video games. It has the politics, the swordplay, the out-of-the-blue witchcraft that’s never fully explained. Dragons? Check. Surprise deaths? Check. Surprise mass slaughters? Check. Backstabbing betrayals? Check. Full-frontal nudity? Check. A complete lack of morally responsible characters? Check check check.
To be fair, you can attempt to make your character be the one moral compass…the ethical guide in a sea of immorality, but let’s be honest…this game’s key demographic is mostly young males…the aforementioned full-frontal nudity puts an end to this possibility.
The graphics were, for its time, lovely. It did have some frame rate issues, and there were times when the textures would pop in and out…and some times never in again. But those minor issues aside, The Witcher’s world is different from other fantasy worlds. It is rough and dirty. It is intriguing. I never felt close with any of the characters like I had with Mass Effect, or more recently Persona 4 (a JRPG). But it was okay because your character is an outcast. You are supposed to feel more alone in this world than in a world where you are the lauded hero.
Also, you might get stabbed in the back. There was always that.
This took me some time to learn. Put the difficulty on normal, and I died in the “tutorial” section of the game. Put the game on easy, and I slaughtered my enemies with a sneeze. You have to return to an old school mindset for some of this game. Today, game are perfect in difficulty if you fear for your life, but never die. And I admit, as a casual gamer, I’m okay with that. I like the direction difficulty levels in games are going. In The Witcher I had to be okay with death, and that was more challenging than I expected as I was playing simply for the fun of it. The thing about dying in the middle of a story-driven game is that it snaps me out of the world the game has created. I become less focused on discovering more about the world. For any more committed gamer (which is almost any other gamer), this game will give you few issues.
I loved the ambiguity of the choices that you make. The Witcher is not a black and white, good vs evil RPG. The ramifications of your choices aren’t always clear, and by the end you just learn to go with your gut instincts.
The battles (on easy) were fun except for a few boss fights. As I became more powerful I began to play with my skills. The magic is well balanced and doesn’t feel as mighty as in other fantasy games. Instead, it is more complementary to your abilities with the sword. I really enjoyed this unique intertwining of magic and combat.
As with most RPGs the replay value is good, but I never did return and try the different endings. I believe this is due to the moral ambiguity of your choices. Yes, you could choose to help the Elves instead, but its not like you are going to get a better or worse outcome. It will just be different. I already made the choices I wanted to, and there’s no promise of a more sinister or happy ending to make me want to go back. So the moral ambiguity is a blessing and a curse. It makes the first playthrough more intriguing, but doesn’t necessarily create the draw to come back.
That being said, there is a lot of ground to cover in this game, and I probably would have played it again recently if I still had my 360 in order to prepare for The Witcher 3. Instead, I’m writing this review.
If you own this game, pull it out, dust it off, and jog your memory in preparation for May. If you do not own this game, should you buy it? That is a much tougher question. Yes, I do think this game is worth a go, however, you do not have to know the story to play The Witcher 3. Pre-owned at Gamestop it is about $14. I would buy that. New at most retailers or online digital stores it is $19.99 and I would not buy that. Instead, I would remain patient and wait for The Witcher 3 before diving into this world and experiencing life as a Witcher.