The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings • Page 2

Something pretty wicked this way comes.

Geralt is locked to specific paths within the forest (alas, he's still denied a jump function) but there are enough of them and the forest is labyrinthine enough that this doesn't feel especially limiting. A good old explore will turn up plenty of gruesome spidery things, murderous water-goblins and tunnelling horrors to fight, as well as a raft of alchemical ingredients to collect for the brewing of potions, bombs and traps.

Quests and bounties picked up from town tie into assorted adventuring and beast-slaying here, or you can simply carve your way through purely for fun and profit.

Back in town, matters are perhaps a little less traditional. The Witcher is not a family-friendly game, to say the least. It is proud of its maturity, and that means its characters sport thoroughly uncensored language, a prevalence for sex, violence and ugly prejudice and the active encouragement of such things in Geralt.

While the first game may have been guilty of being paradoxically puerile in its attempts to be mature, this time around it's a whole lot more grown-up. A few slight losses in translation aside, the dialogue is for the most part sharp and smart, with the swearing clearly a part of the world rather than just painted on top, and it's all acted out by a remarkably confident voice cast.

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Most of the world streams, meaning very little in the way of loading screens once you're in the game.

In terms of sex, it may be nowhere near as enthusiastic in its depiction of man-flesh as it is of lady-flesh, but it's come a long way from the sniggering-at-the-back-the-class nudey cards approach of the first Witcher, where almost every female character was fair game.

Entirely optional encounters with prostitutes aside, the (also optional) lone sex scene in the preview code is with a woman Geralt is already in something like a relationship with, and while he's often flirting with others he's now more a silver-tongued old dog than a creepy predator.

The softcore humping shown is fully animated and lavishly 'shot', perhaps a little more convincing and lot more naked than the Dragon Age efforts, but we're not entirely out of Team America's woods yet. A little schlong might go a long way to offsetting the game's fondness for lingering looks at gravity-defying breasts, but the game's clear interest is in being taken seriously as a smart game for smart adults, not in crudely yelling "get 'em out for the lads".

So the naughty stuff's there and it's not horrible, but crucially it doesn't at all get in the way of the game. It's a thoughtful and evolved RPG first and foremost, from the sprawl of interesting and layered quests to the vast skill tree, so dense in swordfighting, magic and alchemy upgrade options that it seems impossible anyone could ever have the same Geralt.

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You're aided by key chums from the first game. Which is pretty bewildering if you haven't played the first game.

On top of this is a meaty weapon and armour crafting system, which often involves a hunt for rare materials with the promise of tangibly effective reward, and the remarkably subtle use of quick-time events for occasional fist-fighting sequences and evasion from certain death in a couple of set-piece encounters.

Aside from making the rookie error of presuming every player will be so familiar with the original game that they can plunge right into what's immediately a too-complex back-story (really, it needs an additional intro sequence to clear things up for newbies), it's clever and subtle yet big and brash a breath of fresh air in an age where other role-players are obsessed with accessibility first and foremost.

Too often, melding RPG complexity with action game gloss has apparently proven an impossible challenge for developers, with one or the other element left licking its wounds from the attempt. If The Witcher 2 can maintain its first chapter accomplishments throughout its duration, it will have deftly proved that there needn't be any compromise from either side of the equation.

From humble roots, we have our king-slayer.

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