Six years have passed since that memorable day when the Northern Kingdoms, their forces united, defeated the hosts of Nilfgaard in open battle at Brenna.
Famine and disease reign in all the North. Elves and dwarves inhabit ghettos. In ever increasing numbers, they flee to the forests to join Scoia’tael units.
In Temeria, an unidentified assassin attempts to murder King Foltest. The killer dies at the hands of Geralt of Rivia, a professional monster slayer.
A month passes.
On the banks of the Pontar River, Foltest’s army is victorious once more, ending civil strife in the country. Yet the price of this triumph proves immense.
Temeria - the year 1271.
Geralt returns to star in the second Witcher game, together with his fellow companions from the first outing Dandelion, Zoltan, and Triss. We’re also introduced to Letho, another new witcher which is doing his utmost to steal Geralt’s lightning and make his life harder. Hell, this Letho is the star of the intro movie and yep, as a kingslayer, the game’s subtitle kinda gives him more importance than he deserves. This situation leaves Geralt in a bit of a bind as most of the time he has to prioritise running after the kingslayer rather than looking cool and acting as a hero.
Geralt doesn’t have to walk so much this time around as the environments are crammed into smaller confined spaces with the occasional hike in the wilderness. Which is good if you remember what I had to say when I reviewed the first game. And on top of there being less toing and froing to accomplish your quests, your surroundings look better and are more varied. Some of the architecture, especially in the dwarven town of Vergen, looks downright spectacular.
The character models also look awesome, especially their clothing, and each individual character in the bustling towns that you visit look different (apart from the soldiers). In essense, the second game has received a major graphical overhaul in the four years since its predecessor came out which is quite a feat since the first Witcher also had good looks.
The artistic appraisal would not be complete without mentioning the various creatures that inhabit this fantasy world. All of them have received the same attention to detail as everything else in the game. Unfortunately, any troll, dragon, or Kayran will not give you any time to admire them as the masterpieces of art that they are before smashing your head to the ground first.
The Witcher 2 comes with a mature rating, but it doesn’t overdo it. Sure there is the occasional f-bomb and a couple of brothels where Geralt can take a well-deserved break from hunting. There are also some minor plot points where he can get intimate with ladies who are not afraid to show some skin, but nothing seems out of place.
Most impressive is that the adult rating allows the game world to be presented in foul locations populated by degenerate inhabitants. Everyone will try to take advantage of you at the slightest chance. And most of the time the decisions you have to take are not morally sound for either of the choices that you are given. Mark my words though, your choices will lead up to some neat apocalyptic mess.
The combat in The Witcher 2 has been revamped. Whereas sword-fighting was reduced to a rhythm game in the first outing, here it feels more natural. Again you carry two swords, one for humans and one for monsters, which you can keep from the first game’s saved files. And when it’s time for Geralt to unsheath one of them you need to use a combination of light and strong attacks to wear down your opponent’s health bar.
Incidentally, the first Witcher game also had a group attack option, where Geralt would tear down multiple enemies at once. This attack style is not available here, and your best approach is to avoid getting stuck into group fights at all. When this is not possible, make sure that you don’t get forced into the corner. You also have to be alert for quick-time events as there are enough of them scattered around in important encounters.
The game provides some other diversions where you can prove your superiority, and earn some coin on the side. Apart from playing dice and fist-fighting, you can also challenge others to an arm-wrestling match. These challenges do not really serve any major purpose in the game, and although looking impressive, do not have a big impact on your progression. What I’m afraid of is that by the developers investing time in giving us these mini-games, we have probably ended up with less content in the main plot.
But anyway, by the time you reach the third chapter The Witcher 2 will have convinced you that it can do even better. Bigger city, intriguing side-quests and harder choices to make. And just as in the first game, levelling up allows you to develop Geralt’s abilities. So when the third chapter ends with an engaging showdown against a massive dragon, and you have just levelled up your character to a quarter of his abilities, imagine what may come next!
Well, nothing as it turns out. Or rather a short epilogue where everything is tied up neatly and everyone is sent home. Of course, The Witcher 2 is an unmissable game. Its grandeur has to be experienced first hand (if you are above the legal age). But ultimately it stands out as a big muscular game on steroids with a rather short wiener.