Ironically enough, as a gamer that enjoys a good storyline, I’m actually not a huge fan of RPGs. I’m not one for watching characters reading out loud lines of dialogue. I prefer getting into the thick of the action with bullets flying everywhere like angry wasps, or sneaking around shadows knocking folks out and piling bodies on top of each other in compromising positions.
I guess I can’t have my cake and eat it too.
So it was with some scepticism and trepidation that I decided to finally purchase and play The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. I played a bit of the first Witcher, and even though the game was an admirable effort since it was far deeper and richer than other RPGs I’ve played, I quickly got bogged down in the details of harvesting organs, drinking potions, remembering symbols for spell casting, and the occasional crash to desktop. It got to the point when I couldn’t figure out if I was having fun or not, and after putting it off and picking it back up several times in a row, I decided it would be a title for some enchanted rainy day and left it alone.
Assassins of Kings is the product of several lessons learned by CD Projekt RED – a pleasing visual experience, natural-sounding dialogue, combat that flows, and a complexity that isn’t overly intimidating. Admittedly, the complexity of it all made me cringe a little inside. However, I realised eventually that potions, wards, Power Circles, oils and all those little extra buffs you stack on top of one another are crucial to winning battles. Suddenly the game became a whole lot more tolerable, and despite the odd blunder into battle without being prepared, I found that I was actually progressing.
This was a painful realisation, because battles are hard. As in, I’m-gonna-flip-a-table-up-in-this-bitch hard. Geralt no longer focuses on a single enemy while the player times clicks to execute combos; enemy targets can be changed on the fly in a style that is reminiscent of Prince of Persia. The only problem is that the targeting system is quite poor, resulting in you air-swinging past your intended target at an enemy several feet away instead. The camera also hides enemies behind you often, which only become apparent when you decide to move Geralt towards the camera and attack, or he gets blind-sided by some stray Nekker. Also consider that enemies can (and will) rush you en masse, and battles can turn into a game of kiting enemies into traps hastily laid before you, even when Geralt is already buffed up on toxic potions and upgraded armour.
The game is also temperamental on my rig – crashes to desktop are more frequent than I would like, the game engine hangs occasionally when it renders the scene as you enter it, and textures pop in and out as if objects were magically teleported into view. On one occasion, after finishing a quest following a conversation with an NPC, I was spawned in the area between two floors of a tavern, where all I could see were world objects without a light source and a sky box emblazoned with a rather pretty sunset. I wouldn’t have been so upset if the checkpoint system weren’t so unforgiving. Thankfully I can save my progress wherever I happen to be (if the game doesn’t crash while I’m doing it).
But in lieu of the technical issues and the brutal difficulty that can arise, the game is deep. I found myself looking past the frustrations of awkward movement, unpredictable combat and sparse checkpointing, and instead was engrossed in the questing, dispatching enemies in a huge number of ways, hunting for mutagens and element stones, passing judgement (and execution) on NPCs on the spot, and so much more. There is weight to this game, and the playable hours easily outweigh the asking price.