A week into The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

After FINALLY completing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and its DLC it was the perfect time to try my hand at other games in the series. For simplicity I’ve decided to stick with the Xbox One and play the second game which is available via Xbox 360 backward compatibility. The PC version is likely a much better version than what we have on the 360 but I wanted a chance to compare the games and my experience in playing them so this seemed like a good way to approach it.

The plot for The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings so far is this: Geralt of Rivia is in the service of a King who during a siege he was leading is killed by an unknown but powerful assassin. Geralt is the primary suspect and it’s up to him to find the real culprit and clear his name. The opening cinematic still holds up well today and sets the tone by its dark and violent nature. It also seems Geralt starting the game off with his latest squeeze is a tradition too and that also helps reinforce that this is not a game for kids.

For a player who is working back from the latest and greatest game in the series it’s very welcoming to see how much of the DNA from that game exists here. Basic movement, the HUD and dialogue are all there. It is recommended to play through the introductory area which also acts as a quick tutorial and difficulty measure. The combat controls are a little different with blocking and signs using different buttons by default so it’s worth the practise. You also get to test out the use of traps which I don’t think made it across at all to the third game. They’re a neat idea but from my time so far with them I’m more likely to trip over them myself than get monsters to set any off. Movement through environments is mostly fine but they’re not as open as they might appear with Geralt’s inability to jump over the simplest of barriers unless it is allowed and so it can feel restrictive at times. The map itself is large but broken up into sections separated by brief loading screens. Entering buildings requires a load too and it all reminds me a lot of Dragon Age II whose own engine delivered content in a similar way. It’s still an impressive engine even now and did well to run as it did on the 360. Running enhanced as it is now on an Xbox One X under backward compatibility keeps things running at a fair pace and even the load screens are zippy enough to be only a small annoyance.

Because I’m coming to this after completing the more refined sequel I’m finding a few aspects of the game that aren’t working as well for me as I had hoped. The combat system feels clunky at times as it’s much harder to deal with groups of enemies than I had expected and I’m dying more often than expected. I am finding that dodge rolling is still as effective as ever though but you do need to make sure you have the space to take advantage of it. If you’re fighting on a small path the lack of room could be your downfall. The potion system is different here as you have to prepare everything in advance. And be sure to use the potions first before you start a fight else I think you can’t do it in the midst of the fight. One big thing I’m not fond of at all are the minigames. Arm wrestling, knife throwing or even the fistfights require their own little tricks and timings to perform well in and they happen infrequently enough that it’s easy to lose one simply because you’re trying to figure out (or remember) how they work. I’m glad they weren’t in the sequel!

Visually the game holds up pretty well with some nicely designed environments and characters. The game’s engine loading in areas in smaller segments is definitely put to good use. It’s really impressive seeing just how recognisable the characters are here who I’d later see in The Witcher 3. The team at CD Projekt Red really stuck to their vision and I’m impressed. With the audio you’re treated to another epic fantasy soundtrack and I’m happy hearing the same voice actors in here too but I did notice at least couple of times during one round of dialogue where Geralt didn’t sound quite the same. It’s a surprising issue from a game that holds up its production values so highly.

I really like how the story is laid out in the beginning. Using flashbacks it gives the player a good degree of spectacle in small doses while revealing further aspects of the game’s mechanics such as Witcher senses and use of signs for combat and puzzles. Once past that the world opens up further and I even found my first message board for picking up contracts (ie. more quests!). It still feels intimidating however – I ran into my first creature bossfight and was roundly beaten so I think there’s more for me to learn before my Witcher 2 Geralt is back to being a full on monster butt kicker.

Overall I’m surprised with how well the game holds up – this is an eight year old 360 game, itself based from the PC game that released the previous year – and for anyone wanting to spend more time learning about the world of The Witcher it’s a mostly straightforward transition from the latest game to this. I may take a little longer to complete this one but I’m curious to see where it goes! 🙂