The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2011-06-05 PC Action/RPG M (Mature) CD Projekt RED / Atari

A few years ago, my first experience with The Witcher was of awe, beginning with the intro sequence and the seven hours that followed during which I ignored the world and completely forgot to eat or pee (seriously!).

Ever since The Witcher 2 last year's E3 demo with Tom Gop I've been giddy as a schoolgirl, waiting to get my hands on this for what seemed an eternity, and now that I have it, all I can say is I wish I could stop time so I could sit and play more!

I have to say that this was the first time I went out of my way to pre-order a collector's edition. I usually don't, usually because I find collector editions overpriced (and especially because of massive disappointment with the Batman one), so it's always my husband who will get the super-awesome edition of whatever. The Witcher 2 though, I just had to have, and I find that it was worth every penny of those $125 (plus tax, plus an arm and a leg for shipping and import fees, because Canada is apparently at the end of the world or something...).

While my adventure began with a long download from GOG.com, it was arriving home to the big black box with a glowy-eyed medallion staring at me from the sofa that was epic. Opening a game is always a special moment, particularly that new game smell, but discovering layer after layer of goodies is beyond amazing. So I opened it and the gorgeous hard-cover art book covered the papercraft booklet, which covered everything else: stickers, DLC codes for Ultimate Swordsman suit for Geralt and Roche Commando Jacket for Vernon Roche. Then under these was the incredibly detailed Geralt bust with the word Gwynbleidd (White Wolf) engraved on it and the actual game case. In it we can find the premium edition of the game, a bonus envelope with a coin and pamphlet, more papercraft and a world map, the soundtrack, making of DVD and a game guide.

And it doesn't stop there, since under the game case there is a deck of cards, a pouch with dice (replicas of the in-game dice), a booklet to teach you how to lay cards and dice and a Temerian Oren, which I absolutely love.

On to the actual game though!

This time, I didn't play for 7 hours in a row, but seriously, I wish I could do that again. Though, in shorter game sessions, I still progressed. But not 10 minutes in and I was already losing myself to picking herbs, fist fights and dice poker. Falling into my old habits, I guess!

Geralt's adventure this time begins in prison. An interrogation leads to a series of flashbacks, where we learn of the events surrounding the death of King Foltest. Yes, major spoiler, and I've known it for a year; however, if you look at the title, really, it gives it away.

Soon enough I had to adjust to using the keyboard to move and mouse (trackball, actually) to interact and attack. You have no idea how bad I am with AWSD! If there's a word stronger than suck, that is it. I couldn't even do it on WoW, I always used the arrow keys. So imagine my combat sessions full of clumsy moments and mistyped keys. Too often I'd put away my sword, or toss a bomb instead of blocking, run in the opposite direction I intended to... you get the idea. I guess like everything else, it takes time getting used to. Extra time if you're clumsy little me! Where's that useful option to map my keys to something else? Sigh.

Eventually and with massive amounts of practice (and swearing), combat became fun and rewarding. It's much more flexible now since we don't just time clicks to attack. You also don't switch between different fighting styles anymore. We can move and roll out of the way of incoming blows, combine strong strikes with fast strikes, toss some Signs in between, without ever breaking a combo. You can also block and parry when you have those skills. Depending on the difficulty setting you choose, you will also have QTEs (quick timed events) during boss fights and the oh-so-engaging brawls.

I absolutely love the skill tree. It was intimidating at first, but I grew accustomed to it. It's like building your own little DNA strand and customizing it to your liking, choosing skills from the four different paths: Witcher, Alchemy, Magic and Swordsmanship. But then there are little bonuses on certain skills, which let you mutate. These will have a little extra slot where you can place a mutagen, and since I never read the manual, I found out by levelling up and unlocking a skill that could use one.

Alchemy had a makeover too. We need to find formulas before we can recognize recipes for a particular potion, oil or bomb, but we can experiment with ingredients. Drinking potions isn't done instantly from the inventory anymore, but instead we must enter the meditation screen, add the potions to a diagram that can take up to three, and watch our toxicity meter as we add up the potions we want.

We also have Crafting to worry about now. To make something, we need the respective diagram and materials (such as cloth, leather, timber, ore, monster parts and so on), and a crafter who is willing to make the item. Early in the game you will find yourself without your trustworthy Silver Sword, so this is a way to get acquainted with this system.

Pay attention to your inventory though, since Geralt's carrying capacity is now limited by weight and we can't drop off things and store them with the innkeeper for later use, so now we must always keep in mind what we want to loot, what we NEED to loot and what we absolutely must carry around. I liked it more before, where I could stash everything at the inn for later use or hoard everything I could loot, making my bag a mess. Fortunately, browsing the inventory is an easy task, so finding what you want to keep or get rid of is easy by choosing a specific tab, such as weapons, armor, quest items, alchemy, trophies, books and so on.

Geralt's journal once again keeps track of quests, locations, characters and all kinds of information learned. It's actually quite a treat going through all we learn, and learning is a great way to get an advantage over something or someone. You may find some secrets, effective ways to defeat a certain creature, more information on what ingredients to harvest from monsters, formulas, diagrams, and even little tributes to the forum community leaders, which is a very nice touch.

A great way to learn things is to intimidate or use Axii to persuade people to tell you the truth. These options are sometimes available in the dialog choices, which are sometimes vague and just a hint as to what Geralt will say. Unlike before, where you were able to read the entire text, now you just sort of get the gist of what may come of it, which means that your choices won't be so clear anymore as to what's wrong or what's right.

Choices are what make this game so great, and I like how the outcome is "fuzzy". I reloaded my game many times to see how picking certain dialog options would play out, just to experience all of the different possibilities (no wonder I progress slowly!). And it's not just in the conversations, but also in the means of completing certain quests. I particularly liked sneaking around and snapping some necks to reach other areas undetected.

Like I said before, progressing for me was a slow process, but I absolutely enjoyed every minute of it. It wasn't just about seeing how the story unfolds (although maybe I should have just rushed through so I could write this review faster), but it was just way too much fun to get lost and forget my main goal when there were so many other things happening at once. My train of thought was constantly derailing because of meeting someone new, finding a new dice poker player, ending up in a new fight or arm wrestle match, being ambushed by bandits, or just completely lose myself in whatever area when picking herbs.

I have to admit, my new addiction is the fighting - and I don't even care for QTEs! But it's rewarding to see some serious ass-kicking and fantastic motion capture while Geralt violently punches and kicks whatever adversary into oblivion. Or rather, unconsciousness! And while now I don't have to drink someone under the table to learn their darkest secrets, there is a new gambling activity in the form of arm wrestling. I'm not very fond of this one, maybe because it's not easy to do with a trackball (less accurate and steady than the mouse). Here Geralt sits across from someone else, and you must watch the meter at the bottom and constantly pull to the right while keeping the arm icon inside the meter, which becomes progressively smaller. Once your icon reaches the right side, you win. I didn't find it particularly fun nor interesting, and would rather go back to the drinking.

Epic moments are everywhere, and it's not just in boss fights or memorable encounters with characters who remember you from the first game (especially if you import your game save). It's things like nearly having a heart attack when the first Endrega Queen came at me (can't decide which was creepier, this or the Kikimore Queen), casually listening in on someone telling a story by a bonfire and realizing they are talking about how Geralt broke the Striga curse, many interesting references from the books, the typical behaviour of being taunted, teased or feared when passing by various people.

Also epic when I eventually ran across my digital self shown here on the left (my prize for winning a costume contest) selling herbs and playing dice poker. Yay! Somehow, every time I went back to sell some more excess items, this "other me" was always scrubbing the floor. I guess we both have this OCD for cleaning!

It's a very interactive world, where people go about their daily lives, go to bed at night, and run for shelter when it rains. I particularly liked how the environments sucked me in, music, voices, sounds, lighting effects, everything. One of my favourite moments was exploring the haunted mental hospital ruins, with ghosts that disappeared when I got too close, and echoes of their lamentations and other creepy sounds wherever I went. It was rather sad and very creepy, and I was constantly uneasy waiting for something awful to attack me from around the corner. Well, the wraiths did attack but they weren't as scary as a hand lightly touching my shoulder in the darkness... my husband had just got home, and he actually made me jump out of my chair by doing that.

Assassins of Kings is a game that I am not in a hurry to finish. I might even write another review once I am completely done with it (now on hold because we leave for E3 today). Sure, I wish a few things could be changed, but overall, I'm enjoying taking my time with it, doing all that I can and losing track of what I'm doing. Granted, my Geralt is once again a gambling addict and a male slut, but hey, look at the bright side: at least this time around I'm not constantly staggering around town drunk out of my mind!

Special thanks to Tom Ohle for providing a digital copy of the game via GOG.com.


Looking for more about the game? Read Didi's first impressions, E3 2010 preview, and E3 2011 Xbox 360 preview.

Check out more videos of The Witcher 2: Assassin's of Kings here: