When I play a role-playing game (RPG), I want it to deliver the following: effective protagonists, an in-depth story and back-story, a well-designed and convincing fantasy world, jaw-dropping landscapes, top-of-the-range visuals, a music score to reflect the mood, high-quality sound effects, and most of all, gameplay that can grab me and never let me go.
For me, The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition (TW2) from CD Projekt Red is one of few RPG games that ticks all of those boxes. It’s bloody incredible.
TW2 is fantastically presented, even down to the menu, with its beautiful, bloomed back-drop showing an eye-watering motion shot of where I’m up to in the world each time I start the game. There are a fair few development teams who forget about how important it is to have a nice looking home screen. It’s all about the presentation!
The stand-out thing in TW2 though is how much more complex and mature it is, compared to the Skyrims of the RPG genre; there’s just so much to keep-up with! But don’t let that put you off, stick with me here.
It takes a bit of research into the character menus until you get to grips with what Geralt of Rivia, the witcher, can actually do. He’s a battle-mage, so of course there’s going to be more than meets the eye, not just a white-haired, scary looking bloke with a couple of scars and swords.
Like in the majority of fantasy RPG games, TW2 rewards players with experience points for killing humanoids, monsters and other beings. These experience points go towards Geralt’s level progression. Geralt will get stronger with each level gained, but you have direct control over just how effective he can be at that current level by using talent points, which are rewarded as a result of levelling-up.
Geralt has a handful of specialities; alchemy, magic, and of course, being a total boss in combat. All areas of expertise can be improved upon by using Geralt’s talent tree, which is separated into four parts; Training, Swordsmanship, Magic, and Alchemy. You can unlock abilities in just one or two of these paths if you wish – similar to what a player would do in World of Warcraft – to make him more of a specialist for say Swordsmanship and Magic, however you can spread your talent points around to make Geralt a well-balanced, bad-ass, combat-effective, potions dude.
The most notable of Geralt’s abilities are Magic and Alchemy, which are both really effective and semi-essential when it comes to playing through the game, with some signs (spells) and potions being more helpful than others.
Geralt has the magical capabilities to cast signs, a series of spells, five to be exact, that he has picked up in his career in the witcher trade. Here are the five signs below.
- AARD - a telekinetic wave that can throw back, knock down or stun an opponent. It’s also handy for knocking down objects and weak structures.
- YRDEN – a magic trap that immobilises and harms humanoids, monsters and beasts.
- IGNI – a fiery spell that burns foes, with a chance of setting them aflame.
- QUEN – a defensive shield to protect Geralt from incoming attacks.
- AXII- a sort-of mind-control spell that turns foes against each other.
I find that I use the signs AARD, YRDEN and QUEN the most, however they all come in handy in certain situations.
Potions also come in handy in certain situations. Because Geralt knows a thing or two about Alchemy, you have access to potion recipes, or formulas, that he may already have, you have picked up along the way, or bought from a vendor. There are many potions, all with different perks, such as the Cat potion which grants Geralt with the temporary gift of night-vision, which is necessary when in unlit caves, caverns and other dark places, like night-time, because that can be quite dark, you know?
Formulas aren’t just for potions though, as there are certain formulas which you can use to make oil and other liquid concoctions which can be layered onto the business-end of your weapons to make them more effective. Take the formula Falka’s Blood for example; this temporarily increases the maximum damage dealt by your weapons over a certain period of time, depending on how well skilled-up Geralt is in the Alchemy talent tree.
That’s not all you can do in the area of modifications either, because Geralt can also hold onto crafting diagrams which he can take to a Blacksmith to have them make you some nice enhancements for your armour. As well as enhancement diagrams, there are also weapons and armour diagrams, which again you can take to a Blacksmith to have them bang you out a good, sturdy sword, or some thick trousers to protect you from those pesky arrows to the knee.
For many levels, there will always be items to work towards that are statistically and aesthetically better, which is awesome for the feeling of characters progression and keeping things looking fresh. Oh, and not to mention the random barbers that you will come across to give you a swanky new hairstyle.
Because of all this stuff you can do with Geralt, you have probably guessed that your pockets are going to have to be as deep as the Pacific Ocean to carry around these items. Geralt has that covered though, because he obviously borrowed a backpack from Hermione Granger to help him hold onto everything that he needs for his potions and what not. Got a Giraffe? No problem, pop it in, it’ll fit. Not sure what you’ll be needing that for though, wierdo.
There are a lot of these ingredients and general items to find around the areas of the world, and at first it is a little overwhelming because personally I didn’t know what the hell I was supposed to be doing with it all. Due to my uncertainty, I just kept picking everything up, just in case I was missing out on something important. However, if you stick with it, everything starts to make sense, and you’ll gradually learn what to take and what to leave.
Just because there’s a tonne of items at your fingertips doesn’t mean you have to take them all right away, it just means that they’re all there for when you’re running low on something specific, like timber and ore for a sword. Besides, you have to be careful of how much you’re packing, because there is a weight limit to what you can carry.
Another feature that is tricky to get used to is the combat, as it is much more challenging than most other RPG titles, if set to the difficulty of normal or hard. This is a good thing, because if you’re one for the combat as well as the story, then TW2 is exactly what you’re after, because you can’t just go all-in, balls-out when there are several foes in front of you. If you do this, there’s a great chance that you will suffer, simple as that.
When the difficulty is set to a respectable level, you will also notice the benefits of having potions, weapon/armour enhancements and signs at your disposal, because when playing on easy, you won’t need any of those, as you can simply just hack and slash your way through, no bother. However, there’s no fun in that for me, because I enjoy the challenge that TW2 throws down. But if you’re just playing it for the story, and you’re quite impatient in the area of combat, then easy is probably the mode you’re looking for.
If you already own this game, and you’re just reading this for the interest of a second opinion, then I wouldn’t really blame you if you were one of those people who are storming through the game on easy mode just so that you can spend more time on the interactive, decision-making cut-scenes, because the story in TW2 is absolutely flawless. It has depth, it has thrills, it has excitement, and it has emotion. It is a story that’s thick with entertainment, and it’s a video game version of a book that you just can’t put down.
Every single character in TW2, whether it be a passer-by in the local town, or one of the main protagonists in the story, are all superbly convincing, and the voice acting is spot-on. With a great variety of British, European and American accents, conversations with characters will almost always be a vocally unique experience compared to the last.
To accompany the fantastic storyline, characters, gameplay and impressive audio, the visuals in TW2 are beautiful. Gamers who own TW2 on the PC, and happen to have an efficient gaming system, will be able to get full enjoyment from how epic this game looks. The texture quality, area design and landscapes are all something to make your jaw-drop.
CD Projekt Red did a solid job with the visuals on the PC, but I won’t be able to stress enough how much of a marvellous effort they made on the console versions of TW2; they really made use of every ounce of power that the Xbox 360 has, and as a result we have one of the best looking console games to have ever been released. It truly is remarkable what developers like CD Projekt Red can still do with these consoles that are around 6 years old now.
With the addictive addition of the Arena mini-game, where you can battle against multiple foes in a gladiator-style environment to earn Orens (the in-game currency) and to have your score posted up on a leaderboard, The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition is a truly remarkable experience when this and the main story is combined, and it offers the longevity that we should all be expecting in an RPG game today.
Longevity aside, The Witcher 2 is the ultimate RPG package for anybody interested in this type of game, and as aforementioned it ticks every single box on my personal RPG check-list. With characters to remember and a storyline to be forever embedded into your mind, to miss out on an adventure with Geralt of Rivia would be a grave mistake indeed.