The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings was released on May 17, 2011 across the globe developed by CD Projekt RED STUDIO. Starting off where the first game ended, the player continues their journey as Geralt of Rivia to find the truth about the assassinations and to uncover his path. Players are given an option to import their save files from the first game or start fresh. Decisions made in the first game have impact on the outcomes that occur throughout the second game however, most decisions made during the first Act have the greatest impact. Right at the start, the player is thrown into war within Temeria foreshadowing what will occur between the Northern Kingdoms.
CD Projekt RED has crafted such a believable world with each area teeming with life with a mature overtone. The choices made within this world are not as black and white in other games. They are ambiguous that can change the tide of the world. Geralt is not your typical hero out to fight for justice but one to find answers. The characters you pick to have by your side and the enemies you face have an impact on others living in this world. Some of these decisions have immediate repercussions while others revel themselves over the course of the game.
You will be joined with a colorful cast of characters from a theatrical Dandelion, a bard, to a coarse Zoltan, a dwarf who is not afraid to speak his mind. Dwarves play a larger role compare to the previous game as their fate is tied to the fate of the Elves. Like the entertaining dwarves, everyone in the world feels real thanks to the voice actors given to them. Even the wandering citizens in town have voices making it feel more so that the fates of their lives are in Geralt’s hands. The voice acting in Assassins of Kings has greatly improved compare to the first however there are a few main characters that are not as convincing like Geralt’s female companion, Triss Merigold.
Unlike some recent RPGs, The Witcher 2 is not an open-world game similar to The Elder Scrolls or Fallout games. Each area is relatively contained however large enough for the player to discover new things. There could be a carving in a rock, items on a corpse or even a treasure chest guarded by a giant arachnid. They may not have any impact on the main story, but it demonstrates the amount of detail CD Projekt RED has paid attention in crafting this world. Besides the random encounters, the graphics are astounding. It encourages the player to really stop and gaze at the amazing vistas in front of them.
CD Projekt RED has streamlined the combat system compare to the first. No longer there are three types of stances the player can choose from. There still exist the steel and silver swords (one for humans, the other for monsters) but the attack styles are tied to the left and right mouse buttons making the combat a little more fluid. Spell casting and blocking are performed on the keyboard. The prologue is not as a forgiving as a tutorial as other games where the hits that popup do not stay up but once you get into the rhythm it will make sense. Where you position yourself and your observations matters on how you tackle the enemy. This can be throwing bombs to laying traps. Some boss battles can be frustrating at times due to the small area making it feel cramp. It is easy to have Geralt’s back to the enemy leaving him wide open for attack. Surviving a barrage of enemies is satisfying.
Just like the battle system, the menu system has been simplified. All the items are categorized on the left and your current equipment on the right. It here you can see how much items are currently in your possession. If you carry over your maximum weight (which increases as you level up) Geralt walks as slow as a turtle. You can drop your items, rush to town to sell then come back and pick them up again however this can be annoying as you may find yourself going above the limit quite often. The skill tree is on a separate screen where you can level up in potion making, magic, offense or the basic skills. Here you can apply “mutagens” giving them extra effects. Magic, Meditation and Item/Weapon switching are in its own screen. In order to craft items or drink potions, you must be in mediation mode. You are unable to ingest any potion during any battle and must prepare ahead of time. To prevent from overloading your characters with potions, there is a toxicity meter that limits how many potion Geralt can drink during a period of time. Getting use to this interface may take time as switching between them is not as simple as hitting a button. You must exit out first then go to the other screens.
The Witcher used Bioware’s Aurora engine however CD Projekt RED saw fit to create their own custom engine for Assassins of Kings. Amazing enough, this is all based on DirectX 9 technology verses the newer DirectX 11. A lot can be contributed to the artistic design as bright vivid colors and high resolution texture contributed to the look. Both the characters and the environment been carefully crafted. The female outfits have ornate designs and ribbons hanging from them. Male outfits have rugged leather and various patterns on their shirts and pants. Meadows, dirt, cliffs and walls are not covered with repeated textures but are some variation of the basic texture. Especially in the walls, the developers did not rely on bump mapping to give the surface a sense of “bumpiness” but that the actual polygonal structure actually contains extrusions to create an actual rugged surface. Light cannot be ignored here. It shimmers through the leaves and wraps around all the characters casting deep shadows on the ground or on the wall.
Just as similar to the visual design, the audio design is excellent. The main soundtrack is performed by a live orchestra giving a feeling of adventure and tension. There is ambient sound throughout like townsfolk walking by, kids playing, a dwarf crafting a sword, etc. In the “dungeon” wind is flowing, water is dripping, enemies are breath, grass are waving and the trees are moving. Little touches like these bring the audio-visual experience into a complete package.
One downfall of The Witcher 2 is its ending. It is a finale that does not have closure even if it is preparing for The Witcher 3. Regardless, so much attention has been given to get you to that point that it can be satisfying. CD Projekt RED claims there are 16 different endings. All the choices you make you can clearly see where it would make a difference. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings prove that challenging game play, game-changing decisions, character development, engrossing story can all be contain in one polish package. All of these elements work hand in hand and have raised the bar on what a modern western RPG can be.
- Well written story and great character development
- Excellent technical and artistic visual direction
- Fast and engrossing combat
- Awesome cast of characters
- Excellent sound design
- Attention to detail making the game world feel alive
- The loading between areas can still be interrupted by a loading screen
- Some life-less animations on the character faces
- Switch between the different types of menus is not seamless
- Ending is slightly unsatisfying
- No clear indication when you fail at a quest before it is too late