The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings (2011)

The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings (2011), based on the works of Andrzej Sapkowski, developed and published by CD Projekt RED

Geralt of Rivia wakes up shackled in a dungeon. He is there to be interrogated by one Vernon Roache, the head of the special forces of Temaria. The reason for this visit in the darkest of dungeons is told in flashbacks during the tutorial of the game: Geralt is under suspicions of killing the king of Temaria, Foltest. He is innocent to the crime, as the killer is a skilled assassin Letho, a bear of a man, who is working with Scoia'tael guerillas who are more than happy to aid a human causing havoc among his own people.

Because of his own reasons, Roache believes Geralt and agrees to take him along to the hunt for the real killer. But as Geralt is a suspected kingslayer, he can't just walk him out of the dungeon, Geralt has to escape on his own and join him on a trip to Flotsam, a little border village between Temria and Aedirn. Despite the place is little more than a glorified fishing village, it offers the first free-roaming surroundings for Geralt to roam in looking for Letho.

King Foltest, Geralt and Triss Merigold as seen during the tutorial flashbacks

It's not only the main quest that is the focus, as the forest next to the village offers its own possibilities in doing what Geralt does best, killing monsters and giving the poor rubes a helping hand. There's also a case of the river beast, a gigantic monster preventing from ships to throw anchor, thus hindering the commerce.

As Geralt resolves the many problems of the people, he ends up making acquaintances with Iorveth, the leader of the Scoia'tael. Before the end of the first chapter, Geralt has to make a choice if he wants to side with Iorveth or Roache. Depending on the choice, the second chapter will begin a bit differently, albeit one of the main goals, besides hunting down Letho, remains: to lift a curse lingering on a battlefield before it spreads too far.

The quests range from killing stuff to problem-solving. At times Geralt has to make a judgement call on things, as not everything is always as it seems at first and the given task might end up entirely different than the original goal was. Some quests stretch out for a longer run, like the dice poker and the fist fighting championship contests. But the other guests have a decent amount of variation as well, so it isn't all about just killing and collecting stuff. You do need to solve puzzles as well.

Just another day during interrogations. 

This second chapter adds its own flair in terms of replayability, as the sidequest are quite different depending on if you land to side the dragonslayer Saskia with Iorveth or follow Roache to the military camp of King Hanselt. Depending on the choice made, you are cut off from quite a bit of additional quests and content, as you aren't welcomed open arms to the enemy camp. You do get to visit both, but under different circumstances and in a more limited fashion. Either way, the main task of lifting the curse revolves around collecting symbols, items from the fallen soldiers, presenting things like hatred, death and so on.

The third chapter and the epilogue take place in the old mages conclave of Loc Muinne, a place of historic merit, that has been chosen as a place of a great meeting, where the future of Temaria is to be decided, among other things, after the death of King Foltest. Like with the previous chapter, there is a certain amount of variation depending on with whom you arrive there.

In the end, though, Geralt has to find out the truth of the matters as well as locate Triss Merigold. If you care to ask, and listen, you can finally find out the mystery of Geralt's amnesia that was left unresolved in the first Witcher. You are also told the news of the often spoken Yennefer, Geralt's missing sorceress lover, who has a more visible role in the third game.

A meeting between old friends

Narratively the Witcher 2 does one interesting thing, which is giving you control over different characters on a couple of occasions instead of making you watch an in-game cinematic. This does provide some nice variation to the game, as you get to play small bits as characters like Vernon and King Hanselt. It would be nice to have more of these kinds of intervals in the game. In a way, it makes the characters feel more familiar.

A lot has changed since the first Witcher game, not only visually, but technically as well. As for the graphics go. The Witcher 2 is far beyond the first game in visual quality as well as in animation. The movement is much smoother and the quality of the character models is not only better than with the first game, but the models also are more consistent in style and in animation quality.

The game world is an odd mix of linearity and open world. While you can move, seemingly freely, you also are constantly restricted in when you can move. Very often the world, while looking open, is more like a corridor, which is just designed to look more open than it is. This is enhanced by the fact, that you can't travel back to the locations of the previous chapters, which also means, that if you haven't solved all the quests, you will automatically fail in those directly tied to the chapter.

Iorveth, Geralt and Letho have a little chat

The combat mechanics are much better this time around. Instead of a clumsy almost QTE style combat of the first Witcher, you can now control Geralt more directly, turning combat into a more action-oriented fare. This time, the Witcher magic signs and potions feel a more important part of the combat as well. There's also a good array of different kinds of traps and bombs you can utilize during the fights.

Other improved aspects of the game are the UI and the inventory system. The game is overall more smooth, albeit I must admit, it still manages to have a feeling of overstaying its welcome. Especially the first chapter manages to feel a bit too padded out for its own good. This isn't helped by the constant barks and quips done by the populace, which very soon gets pretty tiresome.

Overall though, The Witcher 2 is a decent game. It is technically and narratively better than the first game and will probably age better as well. It is far from being a perfect game, but in comparison to first, it clearly showed that the developers learned from their mistakes. And they learned from their mistakes in here as well, as the third game in the series ended up being a masterpiece on its own right.