68 Reviews

The Witcher 2

A game about fantasy and fulfilment

Naturally, there are games with brilliant, memorable storylines. As soft, pampered first-world citizens, it's increasingly likely that these are going to become our generation's war stories. "Sit down, child-tron 5000," we'll croak. "Let me tell you about the time I bludgeoned a man to death with a golf club in a vast, underwater city." Sadly, for every brilliant yarn there are still around ten games whose plots would fit on the back of a crisp packet. And still leave room for the ingredients.

And that little table that shows you just how much it's going to add to your doughy spare tyre. The Witcher 2 is in no danger of falling into that trap. There's story everywhere. Even when you don't directly engage people in conversation, they'll be wittering away about whatever is bothering them as you wander through the town square. Your knowledge of the world and current events seeps in via osmosis from every corner. Even if you're resolutely skipping through dialogue - and if you are, you're playing the wrong game - you can't help but learn something from the idle grumbling of the public.

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Beneath the surface
Dig deeper and you'll find one of the richest worlds on the Xbox 360, filled with just as much politicking, injustice and backstabbing as the real world. The game never treats you like an idiot but equally makes no apologies if you struggle to keep up with the factions, their figureheads and their feuds. Lead character Geralt isn't a blank slate like Skyrim's custom heroes, but you'll still chew over decisions that have a profound effect on how the game plays out and what state you leave the world in. It's juicy, substantial stuff, often forcing you to choose between the lesser of two evils or options that are shrouded in ambiguity.

It's brilliantly written, too, to the point where the voice acting occasionally struggles to keep up. Dialogue is rich with slang, swearing and sayings, with each race and character having a distinct personality, even if they're only bit-part players. When you know the game's not going to trot out the same canned nonsense you got from the shopkeeper down the road, it makes sticking around to chat worthwhile.

The fact that it's not an open world can feel restrictive when you've spent a protracted amount of time in a hub area and you're yearning for a change of scenery. But if you're either temporarily disinterested or too weak to finish a plot mission, those hubs are filled with side quests, so there's a veritable heap of other things to turn your hand to. You'll likely come across one of our few mechanical grumbles with The Witcher 2 en route, though - the map is invariably a single-level drawing of an area, meaning identifying the path to your next quest marker can involve a lot of wrong turns and backtracking in more geographically complicated or multi-level areas.

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Weapon of choice
Follow the breadcrumb trail and you'll eventually have to get your hands dirty and your swords bloody. Plural, because combat in The Witcher 2 has you switching between a silver sword for taking chunks out of monsters and a steel sword that is more effective against human foes. In practice, it's rare that you'll be up against both flavours of baddie at the same time, and basic effectiveness comes from chaining together light and heavy moves in order to maintain momentum. You'll have six 'signs' at your disposal, too: magic spells that are best used in reasonably specific circumstances.

That's not enough to get by, though. Fights are tough, and if you don't employ a degree of strategy you'll get thumped with frustrating regularity - even on Normal difficulty. Preparation is the key to success, which means not only buying or crafting more potent weaponry but also ensuring you're dosed up with relevant buffs before you head into battle. Your inventory will be full of ingredients and elements within the first hour - possibly daunting, but befitting the game's status as a truly technical RPG. If you're not comfortable with that you can drop the difficulty to Easy at any point - even midfight - and just concentrate on mashing buttons and pulling off combat rolls.

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