Saturday 4 May 2013

Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (2012) Xbox 360

Based on a fantasy book series by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowksi, the 'Witcher' series was always going to be a hard sell for casual gamers. However, after reading a number of fantastic reviews for the acclaimed action RPG, I decided to give it a go. The opening video was seriously impressive but as soon as the game got started, I found the whole experience difficult to get into. The controls felt a bit clunky, combat was far from intuitive and the hardcore fantasy setting put me off, yet I persevered.

After putting aside ideas to trade 'Witcher 2' in for something better, I began to notice little things that I actually quite liked and after a few hours, I finally became engrossed in the world of Rivia. But why did I eventually get turned around by a game that started off so inaccessible? 

First off, main character Geralt is surprisingly likeable for the strong and silent type. As a witcher, your protagonist is a genetically enhanced human who works as a bounty hunter of sorts, killing monsters for profit but most regular humans despise and fear his type. Combine that with Geralt's search to uncover his own lost memories and you have the typical outsider stereotype.

However, the bounty hunter is also unexpectedly funny at points and conversations are definitely worth listening to in their entirety. In fact, this is a strength that applies to almost all of the characters in 'Witcher 2'. Each is rounded out with fantastic voice acting and genuinely interesting character traits that ensure you will never want to skip the various conversations that you will come across. This is not your typical straight-faced fantasy. Check out the short clip below if you don't believe me but just remember, this is certainly not for kids!

Geralt's main quest in the game is to find the man responsible for the assassination of a King and clear his name, yet there are literally dozens of other quests to complete throughout the 30 hour long stretch. Highlights for me included bar room brawls, solving a murder mystery and collecting harpy feathers for a weirdo. Yeah it's that kind of game!

The world of Rivia is deeply immersive due to the choices that you can make and these extend to the main narrative itself. Decisions that you make from the very beginning impact how the story plays out and there are a variety of potential endings to explore. This is nothing new in games but what is unusual is how early on the narrative splits into your own unique path. Check out the incredible opening video to see how the plot is set in motion from the outset.

For me, the combat initially felt too complicated and this is one of the key reasons why I disliked 'Witcher 2' at first but once you get to grips with it, you'll find the intricacies of the combat system actually quite rewarding. As well as your typical swordplay mechanics, Geralt is able to use a range of spells, traps, bombs and ranged weapons to defeat the various humans and monsters out to destroy him. On top of that, you are also able to enhance your weapons with special oils, craft your own equipment and drink potions that alter Geralts vital stats. Sounds like a lot right? 

Character development is similarly complex, due to the four separate branches that you can follow and at first, I found this all to be quite overwhelming, despite the fact that I've completed numerous role playing games before. To the games credit though, you don't have to master all of these aspects from the get go and when you do finally figure it all out, the experience is very satisfying.

There is a lot to like about 'Witcher 2'. The graphics are very impressive, particularly when Geralt experiences anime-style flashbacks and there is an adult tone to the game that doesn't shy away from sex and violence in order to enhance the narrative. Another highlight for me was the epic boss battles that saw Geralt stand up to bloody ginormous dragons and sea monsters in a bid to clear his name but to enjoy all of that, you have to initially drudge through the monotony and general confusion of the opening. Here's the dragon I was telling you about.

Is it all worth it? I would say yes but what do you think? Did you stick with 'Witcher 2' until the end or did you switch it off after ten minutes? And if you did complete the game, what's your favourite bit? Let me know by commenting, liking and sharing below.

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