The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings review

Geralt, a hero that straddles the moral gray area with precision, returns in The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. Shacknews returns to give you its final word on the PC-exclusive.

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Role-playing games typically guide players through their rich, unfamiliar worlds in a way that’s easy to understand and exciting to explore. For instance, the first Witcher fell back on amnesia to explain itself. The sequel, though, takes a little more abrupt approach.

Returning protagonist Geralt has since discovered a bit about who he is and where his allegiances lie. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings skips over explanatory exposition and dives headlong into the present, where Geralt struggles to solve the problems of an unfortunate future.

In this sense, The Witcher 2 is a demanding game. It expects a lot from players, but it never leaves them hanging. Geralt’s memory is still a bit broken, which affords freedom to explore, research and investigate. This means a hefty time investment for those that fall for the universe’s deeper details, but it’s worth the effort if only to further soak in the spectacle of its dirty grandeur.

Everything about this world has a layer of grime on it. Yet it’s the interaction with and culmination of all things undesirable that gives Assassins of Kings its distinctively dark identity. The characters straddle different moral shades of gray, with no one principle more favorable than the other. Villains aren’t all-powerful evils, and heroes aren’t altruistic saviors. Everyone is greedy, or racist, or a liar.

Even Geralt has a shady role in the depravity, which is what makes him such a fun character to role play, especially outside the conversation. He’s a violent fighter, and his victims react to his vicious sword strikes in an unsettling, believable way. Enemy encounters become unforgiving without excessive evasion, though, and trial and error failure is a frustrating teacher. The Witcher 2 takes a faster action-oriented approach compared to the rhythmic slashing of its predecessor, but there’s still a lingering meter to the flow of each fight. Every action—melee, magic, ranged attack and evasion—adds a note to the melodious sequence that’s as enjoyable as it is rewarding.

Geralt isn’t a murderer, though, and he won’t kill his way through diplomatic problems. Sooner or later, he has to determine which immorality to align with, and his gain inevitably leads to someone else’s harm, whether intentionally or accidentally. Sometimes I needed him to do the right thing, other times I just wanted to profit, or I’d take a neutral path and ignore what wasn’t my business. Deciding dilemmas is often a risky ethical endeavor because The Witcher 2 is unpredictable; allies and enemies aren’t who they seem, information is unreliable, and gain isn’t a guarantee. This steers the simple premise—Geralt must redeem his name after he’s framed for regicide—in wildly different directions. Where he goes and who what he’s willing to do to find the real killer diverge drastically.

Jackpot loot hauls are sparse, giving Geralt's progress a gradual pace, funded by financial responsibility. Found junk and completed quests earn coin, which in turn supplies the resources necessary to build an incredible new weapon or piece of armor. Creating your own stuff, and subsequently improving it with found mutagen modifiers, runes or other witchery doodads is far more rewarding than the overbearing barrage of replacement gear most RPGs rely on. I grew fond of my creations and held onto them for lengthy periods of time. They weren’t just scrap metal stashed in someone’s ottoman; these are mine and I made them and they are awesome. Happenstance discovery can benefit the lucky, though, which is great if collecting materials piecemeal is unappealing.

The moment I completed the campaign, I started a new game. The excellent core of The Witcher 2’s combat and conversation remained the same, naturally, but what followed was an entirely different, equally absorbing game. So it goes when developers leave players to their own devices instead of spelling out all the answers. I adored stumbling into tucked-away corners of the country, meeting (quarreling with, helping, killing) interesting new characters, and chopping my way through The Witcher 2’s dense quest line. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings outweighs anything that tries to bring it down, and it outdoes everything in its class.

[This Witcher 2: Assassin's of Kings review was based on a digital copy of the full, PC release provided by CD Project RED.]

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From The Chatty
  • reply
    May 23, 2011 2:15 PM

    Mitch Dyer posted a new article, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings review.

    Geralt, a hero that straddles the moral gray area with precision, returns in The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. Shacknews returns to give you its final word on the PC-exclusive.

    • reply
      May 23, 2011 2:35 PM

      Here's a counter review from Destructoid.

      http://www.destructoid.com/review-the-witcher-2-assassins-of-kings-201752.phtml?s=139#comments

      One thing for sure, the game is beautiful. Amazingly, awesomely beautiful. But it does start to get tedious in places. Give me a gianter forest map like the area outside Float to explore and I'd be has happy as a pig in shit, it doesn't even have to have a story behind it, just a sandbox with those gorgeous visuals to explore.

      • reply
        May 23, 2011 2:36 PM

        Typical Jim Sterling trying to cause an internet ruckus for some cheap hits.

        • reply
          May 23, 2011 2:51 PM

          I haven't played TW2 so cannot comment on it, but I have to say a lot of the points he makes in that review were similar to issues I had with the first game.

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          May 23, 2011 2:51 PM

          He's pretty much always sincere in his reviews. Just because you disagree doesn't mean he's trolling.

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            May 23, 2011 2:54 PM

            No but it does through massive amounts of doubt why anyone should take his view, let alone spend their time reading it when clearly he's not got a love for good games.

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            May 23, 2011 3:27 PM

            I've seen this guys writing before and I don't believe that for a second. If he wasn't so full of bullshit he wouldn't have an audience.

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        May 23, 2011 2:51 PM

        What the hell game was that fool playing!! Don't use destructoid.... And not about to start based on this!!!

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          May 23, 2011 2:54 PM

          Yeah I was going to post something too, but obviously that guy didn't play the same game that I played. A FUCKING 6?

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            May 23, 2011 2:59 PM

            You have a massive hardon for this game. Is it so bad that people disagree with you?

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              May 23, 2011 3:01 PM

              There's a difference between disagreement and an obvious attention grab by having a score on metacritic 30 points below average.

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                May 23, 2011 3:31 PM

                Ok his score is low, out of a 10 I would give it a 7.5. But ignoring all the bullshit he interjects into the review, look at some of the stuff he listed which has been listed on shacknews before. Horrible learning curve, clunky controls, etc. It needs work to be a 9 or 10, and believe me it deserves to be a 9 or a 10.

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                  May 23, 2011 3:42 PM

                  I'm totally cool with that. It's senteces like "I don't think I'd have completed this title, or even bothered playing for more than hour, if I wasn't writing a review. I value my time too much to waste it on a game that tries its hardest not to be enjoyed." that make me think he probably wasn't the best person to be reviewing the title.

                  It's like if I tried to review a Civilization game. I don't like Civ games at all, but I know that a lot of people love them, so I would be in no place to pass judgement on a Civ game when I already have prejudices.

                  I imagine this is how it went before he posted the review
                  "Hey guys I didn't really like this game, but the rest of the Internet seems to love it. You know what would be funny? If I gave this game a 6."
                  "Whaaat? No way you wouldn't!"
                  "Oh yes I would, and I just did! I mean, it's not like they paid us to give it a decent score..."
                  "Look at those comments roll! We haven't had this many comments on a story in a long time! People are registering just to post a comment!"
                  don't take this too seriously

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                    May 23, 2011 4:00 PM

                    I can agree with that. If he would have stuck to the facts and left all the bullshit jabs, it would have been a more credible read.

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          May 23, 2011 2:57 PM

          He was probably playing this like guy: http://www.shacknews.com/chatty?id=25948365

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        May 23, 2011 3:15 PM

        lol. well, I don't usually say this, but this game deserves a bump in score for graphics and presentation, which is insanely good. Sure it's not fucking hardcore RPG nirvana but neither are the last 5 Bioware games by that standard.

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        May 23, 2011 3:56 PM

        Reading it, it's a decent review. Hits up on a lot of things that probably will annoy the shit out of me, wants I get Witcher 2 up and running properly. Glad to hear getting it to run won't be the last time I'm punching my own face in.

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        May 24, 2011 12:29 AM

        That read to me as a review from a guy who was annoyed at the fact that the game actually was challenging, and was annoyed at the fact that it required some thought at times. I guess it really is a 6/10 game for a person such as that, so I don't doubt his sincerity.

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      May 23, 2011 2:48 PM

      Call me old-fashioned, but I'm not really a huge fan of the 'everyone's an asshole' brand of fantasy that seems to be rearing its head more and more in fiction (Abercrombie and George R.R. Martin being great examples) or games (like the Witcher/2). I like being some sort of hero when I play games, not championing one shitty cause vs. another with the knowledge that it's all going to hell anyway and nobody really deserves to win.

      It bugged me in the first game, and kept me from really getting involved in it, and is one of the main reasons (in addition to the dodgy combat) I am not buying the second. Glad people seem to be enjoying themselves though!

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        May 23, 2011 3:04 PM

        Funny, I love the series for the exact reasons you dislike it. I'm tired of the fakey worlds where everyone broadcasts how good or evil they are.

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          May 23, 2011 3:11 PM

          I don't think everyone needs to broadcast their 'alignment'... I just don't like that these games tend to think 'shades of grey' equates to 'everyone is a dick.' Even in the real world, there are genuinely good people, just as they are genuine assholes, and everything in between.

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            May 23, 2011 3:12 PM

            Err. 'they are' was supposed to be 'there are' Sorry for the confusion.

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            May 23, 2011 3:25 PM

            The game isn't like that. It portrays a real world with real people, nothing more nothing less.

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              May 23, 2011 3:27 PM

              That's good to hear... that's not how I felt about TW1 at all. :)

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                May 23, 2011 4:15 PM

                I'd say you missed something then. The core of the Witcher is that playing as Geralt, you play the perspective of an outsider looking in, and you're given the ability to judge the people you meet.

                None of the characters are inherently good or evil. Your 'everyone is a dick' comment is exactly what's so clever about the game - you decided that. The game doesn't portray everyone as a dicks. It goes out of its way in fact to show that each character, each faction, believes it's doing the right thing.

                It's all about your perception of the events unfolding. Do you support the scoia'tael heroically fighting against the oppression of their people, or do you condemn them for their acts of terrorism and harming of innocent people? Do you support the Order giving their lives trying to protect those innocent people, or do you condemn them for being part of the oppression?

                That's the whole idea of what a moral grey area is, there are no right or wrong answers. They're all dicks if that's how you view them, just as they're all heroes if that's how I view them. The characters aren't written to be one or the other.

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                  May 23, 2011 8:20 PM

                  My take is that they're all doing horrible things in pursuit of what they think is right. I don't believe in the ends justifying the means, so the end result is I think everyone is, as I said, a dick. :P

                  Obviously, we disagree, which is fine. I'm not sure the fact that we can have different takes on it speaks to any genius element to the game as much as it does to the fact that we are two people discussing on the internet. :P :)

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                    May 23, 2011 10:06 PM

                    There are plenty of characters in The Witcher that you cannot say are dicks, even though they have done bad things. Siegfrid, Yaevinn and the Grand Master himself all spring to mind though there are many others. They aren't 'bad people' and have good reasons for doing what they do, that's the whole point the game makes its case on.

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                    May 24, 2011 4:34 AM

                    I think you should understand that during "those" days, and by that i mean the past, everyone was an asshole that mattered. It's the only way you kept whatever power you had. So the people like Geralt and all the main characters are going to be assholes more or less because they are the people that have power and can influence things.

                    It just goes hand in hand.

          • reply
            May 23, 2011 3:34 PM

            That's an exaggeration, though. People in the Witcher are flawed. Nearly everyone has other people/groups that they perceive as enemies. That doesn't make everyone dicks- they also have their friends, whom they treat well. You can choose to be the shining hero that helps everyone selflessly- Yeah, there are some bad situations that you won't be able save, but these give me a greater appreciation for what I do save.

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          May 23, 2011 3:33 PM

          this!

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        May 23, 2011 3:13 PM

        You're depriving yourself of the best RPG i ever played. Your loss, very big loss

        • reply
          May 23, 2011 3:31 PM

          You're making a hell of a statement there buddy. A hell of a statement.

          • reply
            May 23, 2011 3:36 PM

            Eh, close. Best RPG since Bloodlines for sure.

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              May 23, 2011 3:55 PM

              yeah its planescape, deus ex, bloodlines, witcher and witcher 2 for me. all of which are rather unconventional and have a fantastic story or setting. i had much fun with dragon age origins as well but that was pretty generic in regards of story world and characters.

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                May 23, 2011 4:11 PM

                Planescape, deus ex, and bloodlines are my top 3. Had a lot of trouble staying interested in TW1 (I just pulled it back out to try to play with it, and was irritated by a number of things again by the time I reached the sewers).

                I'm certainly not trying to suggest it's not a good game... just that, whether we're talking about the story, the characters, the controls, etc., it doesn't seem to be a game for me. :)

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                  May 23, 2011 4:24 PM

                  it has enough flaws that not everyone likes it, sometimes its also just a question of preference. i for once can't stand any traditional high fantasy setting or 90% of every jrgps i've encountered.

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            May 23, 2011 3:37 PM

            You don't know how many RPGs he's played.

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            May 23, 2011 3:49 PM

            I'd actually take it even further and put it up with Deus Ex as one of the best games I've ever played.

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              May 23, 2011 4:19 PM

              I'll agree with this. Despite a few minor gripes, I'd put it up in my top 10 without a doubt.

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            June 3, 2011 3:04 PM

            It's definitely among the best RPGs I've ever played as well, probably among the best games I've ever played in general.

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        May 23, 2011 6:32 PM

        That's exactly why i love witcher 1/2. Everything is grey, there's no black and white. It's all about choosing the lesser evil, just like the real world.

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        May 23, 2011 7:47 PM

        i bet you got a boner whenever someone called you the hero of kvatch

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          May 23, 2011 8:18 PM

          You stay classy, dude.

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            May 23, 2011 10:09 PM

            By Azura! By Azura! By Azura! Perhaps you prefer to be called "Grand Champion!"

    • reply
      May 23, 2011 2:52 PM

      Great review, and what a great game!

      Amazingly lived up to the hype for me, can't wait to get back to it.

      And thanks for not spoiling anything Shack!

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      May 23, 2011 2:57 PM

      Nice review Mitch! I already can see a replay down the road for me as well.

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      May 23, 2011 3:30 PM

      Since it's based on a novel, I assume Witcher 1 is absolutely required? I don't mind shelling out to get both games, just wondering if it's worth playing through the first one at all.

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        May 23, 2011 3:47 PM

        its not absolutely required but if you like to get an idea for some of the characters or the world it builds on its certainly helpful. you should play the first one anyway because its an excellent rpg and it still holds up visually pretty well.

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        May 23, 2011 6:33 PM

        It's not actually required but i guess you'll be confused at the beginning because you don't know who's who.

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          May 23, 2011 7:55 PM

          It also assumes you know who a number of characters are and Geralt's relationship with them to some degree, but I don't think not knowing the back stories is going to harm the game much. Although knowing them probably does enhance it a bit.

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        May 23, 2011 7:57 PM

        My understanding is it doesn't follow the novels. Instead it happens after the events of the novels and the Witcher's amnesia in the first game was used in part to give a clean slate.

        Also while I highly recommend playing the first, if you don't at least read a summary of the first game so you aren't totally lost. The Witcher 2 kind of dumps you right in and sort of assumes you know most of the first game's major plot elements/story

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        May 23, 2011 9:07 PM

        I jumped straight into 2 without playing much of the first, and I've gotta admit it doesn't seem incredibly interested on bringing new players up to speed. It feels a bit like I've walked into a film that's already about half an hour through and I've got to try and catch up with what's going on.

        Not that it's impenetrable, though. As far as I can tell you don't have to make any decisions based on knowledge of the first game, so while you might get a little lost in dialogue to begin with you shouldn't have any problems making it through.

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          May 24, 2011 5:25 AM

          Thanks for the input guys. I guess I'll start from the beginning then.

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        May 24, 2011 6:32 AM

        As I understand it there are 5 novels, and a couple collections of short stories. I believe the 2 games take place after the Novels.

        Also only 2 of those books are translated in to English the rest are Polish.

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      May 23, 2011 9:02 PM

      "They weren’t just scrap metal stashed in someone’s ottoman; these are mine and I made them and they are awesome." SOLD!!! My inner engineer calls for personal made weapons!!!!

      Going to amazon to order it!!!!

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      May 23, 2011 10:25 PM

      I just beat the game and I absolutely loved it despite the flaws and quirkyness. Maybe they'll do another Enhanced Edition that fixes some things. But I want more of the game now be it DLC or expansions. I don't want to wait another 3-5 years for a Witcher 3.

      I'm looking forward to playing it again some time from now and doing it completely differently because I know how differently my second play through will be.

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      May 24, 2011 1:24 AM

      Saw a Youtube video of the combat, and it just looked like poo. Rolling around like an idiot, almost no blocking, and a clunky spell casting system.

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        May 24, 2011 4:40 AM

        it depends on how the guy was playing mate. the combat system in the witcher 2 is still waaaay better that any fantasy RPG (maybe not Risen, maybe)

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        May 24, 2011 5:18 AM

        You can do blocking, most people just use the spells and dodges because the spells are more powerful. It is after all an RPG with magic, not a beatemup.

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        May 24, 2011 6:17 AM

        Not at all.

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        June 3, 2011 3:08 PM

        There's a lot more to the combat than that.

        You have to drink potions (it's a more important part of TW2 than most RPGs), you set traps, throw bombs, throw daggers, and more. And most of the traps and bombs you'll craft yourself.

        At the beginning on Normal and up, you'll have to use all that to survive. The people having severe trouble in the prologue are the people who are just "rolling around like an idiot" with almost no blocking.

        As you progress in the game, the combat can be customized pretty heavily to suit your playstyle. You can make Geralt into an all-out mage by maxing out the magic tree; you can make him into a *very* vicious swordsman by maxing out the swordsmanship tree; and for a blend of the two, there are actually a variety of ways you can do it. You can go half and half with magic and swordsmanship, or you can get the basic skills in those areas and then max out the alchemy tree, which makes potions, bombs, traps all uber-effective and allows some additional tricks like a beserk mode. This path is the most tactical.

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      May 24, 2011 5:58 AM

      tl;dr: ...game 0wns.

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      May 24, 2011 3:46 PM

      I haven't read many of Shack's reviews, but I really enjoyed this one!
      Didn't get bogged down in talking about technical matters, or describing gameplay. GJ!
      Great game also

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      May 24, 2011 3:50 PM

      The review ignores the most important and obvious issue:

      The state of the boobies !

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      May 24, 2011 6:16 PM

      It's a mediocre game with great graphics. The inconsistencies of combat forced me to aim a 'drinking bird' at my quicksave key; I could do without having to constantly roll around like the monkey fighter in Bloodsport.

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      May 25, 2011 12:27 AM

      So, an "autopsy", performed in 1271, by a woman? Suspension of disbelief, gone! Also, that ridiculous monster with a houseroof for a shield and a shipmast for a head. It's even less scary than the LOTR cavetroll, totally destroys the immersion. Are we supposed to believe a 150-pound elfguy can fight and destroy a walking city block, with matrix moves? It's less believable than the Skyrim trailer dragon fight (just bow down and eat the hero with your mouth, silly dragon).

      That said, the fighting and visuals look good, so I'll give it a try. But man, get script writers, even if it's from a polish daytime soap, don't let the computer nerds write the story again!

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        May 25, 2011 5:03 AM

        Those are quite silly complaints when you don't have context for anything that's in the trailer.

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        June 3, 2011 3:10 PM

        The autopsy by a woman is not out of place at all in the world of The Witcher. I'm guessing you haven't played either of the games.

        The games do not occur in medieval Europe. They occur in a world only roughly inspired by it, but there are a lot of differences. Women aren't oppressed; non-humans are. Repeatedly throughout the story you will encounter women in positions of great power, mostly sorceresses. Both games hint repeatedly that sorceresses pull political strings all the time and have their hands in the creation and destruction of entire nations.

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