You Should Play The Witcher 2

Today I heard that the Enhanced Edition of The Witcher 2 was released. I fully intend to return for a second playthrough of The Witcher 2 and I’ll definitely write some posts about it when I do, but as I’ve still got a staggering amount of Skyrim to play and a rather big backlog of other games, that won’t happen for a while. But I did want to make a rare timely post and encourage everyone to play The Witcher 2, now conveniently in Enhanced form and with an Xbox 360 release to boot. It has a fascinating world, a great cast of characters and is full of tough choices with true consequences. Rather than simply leading to a few different endings (although The Witcher 2 has those), the player’s choices actually change the game itself, up to and including a choice between two vastly different second acts. Plus it’s one of the best-looking games I’ve ever seen. Along with Deus Ex: Human Revolution, The Witcher 2 was one of the highlights of 2011.

And this Enhanced Edition is no joke, greatly extending the game’s final chapter with new characters and other content, and featuring a slew of other improvements like a new lighting system. Add that to the earlier 2.0 patch which created a completely new tutorial and added an extra-hard difficulty mode with new items, and you’ve got a significantly improved game compared to the initial release, which was already great. And all of this is free to anyone who’s purchased the game.

If you need further convincing, read on for more (brief) thoughts on the game. Don’t worry, I’ll have more to say when I play it again.

The Witcher games are based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels of the same name, and it is to these books that it owes its excellent setting and titular hero. New players should ideally start with the first game, which explains much of the background story for The Witcher 2, and can now be found at a very reasonable price (GOG.com is selling the Enhanced Edition of The Witcher at 50% off at the moment, meaning the price is merely $4.99; it’s also available elsewhere). The Enhanced Edition of the first game also comes with the first Witcher short story by Andrzej Sapkowski which sets the stage for the game. It’s a great game in its own right despite a few flaws, and there are even some things I think it does better than The Witcher 2, but if you can only play one of them, the second game is the one to pick.

And please, please play them with the original Polish voices. The English voices in The Witcher 2 are vastly better than the abysmal ones in the first game, but in both cases the original Polish is superior. Fortunately both games come with a variety of selectable languages for both the voices and subtitles.

Now to elaborate a little on why I think these games are so interesting. First, there’s the world. Protagonist Geralt of Rivia is a Witcher, a genetically altered mutant created to fight monsters. There aren’t many Witchers left, and most people fear and shun them due to their frightening appearance. Still, there’s need for monster hunting, and so Geralt is always able to find work. And what monsters! None of the typical fantasy cliches are to be found here; instead we find creatures based on actual folklore. There are barghests, ghostly wolves that are created by acts of great evil and haunt the places where the evil was committed. There are drowners, drowned corpses who return to life as nasty amphibious humanoids. Or cemetaurs, large creatures that stalk graveyards, eating the dead. Most of these monsters only come out at night, and require specific tactics and preparation to hunt.

There’s no character creation in these games; Geralt uses the standard tools of a Witcher. A steel sword for men, a silver sword for monsters, a few magic signs to help in combat, and an array of potions to prepare for battle. These games have the best alchemy system I’ve ever seen. On high difficulty settings, preparing and imbibing the right potions in preparation for a tough fight is mandatory. Researching one’s foes ahead of time is critical as well, to learn specific weaknesses to exploit and how to extract valuable potion ingredients from the bodies. And the actual fighting has its own feel too. Although the combat controlled very differently in each game, in both Geralt is a highly skilled sworsdman who attacks with a graceful flurry of precise strikes, looking more like a martial arts master than anything else. It’s a nice change from the slow and clunky combat in most RPGs.

And then there’s the parts when Geralt isn’t fighting. Despite being a monster hunter, he finds himself getting entangled in human (and non-human) affairs all too often, and this is where the player choice really comes to the fore. Lots of games promise moral choices, but they’re typically binary good vs. evil decisions that give a canonical “good” or “bad” ending. In the Witcher games, there’s never a right choice. Everything is cast in shades of grey, with racist humans battling against elven freedom fighters (who in turn are essentially terrorists), sorcerers working behind the scenes to guide events, and a variety of other characters with complex motives and questionable methods. The player not only gets to choose a path through this milieu, but the choices actually have real consequences in-game, often not apparent until much later. The second game especially excels at this.

The Witcher games aren’t for everyone, but even if you don’t like them, I guarantee they will at least be unique, unlike any RPG you’ve played before. And sometimes that’s more important. If you’re like me, you’ll find them to be both interesting and enjoyable, and there’s not much more one can ask for from a game.

Both The Witcher and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings are available from a wide variety of vendors. I prefer the DRM-free digital versions sold by GOG.com but they’re also available from most other digital distributors as well as at retail.

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7 Responses to You Should Play The Witcher 2

  1. Thomas says:

    Great Blog, Fantastic game!!

  2. Buttercup N. Dandelion says:

    Thank you! I completely agree that the Polish voice-acting is infinitely superior to the English!
    My mother is Polish and I grew up speaking it as a second language, and although I’m a little rusty now, I can still understand most of what they’re saying, having only to check the subtitles occasionally.
    Yes, yes, God yes is the voice-acting better in the original language. In the English version Geralt is the only character with an American accent (maybe Rivians all sound like that and given that Geralt pretends to be from Rivia… but I don’t think they put that much thought into it) and sounds like someone doing a lame Wolverine impersonation. The dwarves all have cliched comedy Scottish accents *yuck*. Yeah, there’s no reason whatsoever to play it with the dialogue in English!

    • waltorious says:

      To be fair, the English voices are much better in The Witcher 2 than they were in The Witcher, but the Polish voices are still superior. Geralt’s English voice is what bugged me the most. I actually kind of liked how they gave people different accents depending on where they were from, though; sure, Scottish dwarves are very much cliche, but I liked how the ambassador from Nilfgaard had a noticeably different accent from the Temerians, which stands to reason given that Nilfgaardians have their own language. Still, the quality of the Polish voices is so much higher that it’s really no contest for me.

  3. Gregg B says:

    I started The Witcher EE a few weeks ago and have been really, really enjoying it. It’s funny, I generally don’t play RPGs because of all the usual cliches and their propensity to be huge time sinks. Of the ones I have played however, I believe they’re quite different to the usual RPG fare, namely Planescape: Torment, Fallout (a bit of 1 and a lot more of 3) and Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. So it’s fitting that my next venture is The Witcher which also seems to subvert a lot of genre tropes.

    Anyway, I wanted to comment to ask: did you play the original The Witcher or the Enhanced Edition? I’ve been playing with the English voices and generally haven’t been finding them too bad (some are great, a few — usually from bit part characters — are a bit rough). I did try Polish when I got to the outskirts of Vizima but by that point I just found the language shift too jarring as I suspect I would have had I switched from Polish to English at the same point! I’m wondering if I should try and make the switch again because I’m not averse to foreign dialogue and subtitles, being a big fan of world cinema and all. I’m just concerned about the jump back to English again when I start The Witcher 2!

    Even though the voice performances are less consistent, I prefer the variety to Fallout 3’s handful of recognisable voice actors. Still, Scottish dwarves I could really do without, as well as human peasants that have my British East Midlands dialect!! We’re always cast as lowly paupers and mud people. Sob.

    • waltorious says:

      Glad you’re enjoying the game! If you haven’t read my recent series of posts on the bonus Adventures, you might find them interesting… the first one acts as an introduction to the main game. It also points out that players should read the included short story before playing. I hope you did, and if not, you should! It’s a great intro to the game, and will make that intro cinematic even cooler.

      Anyway, I did play the Enhanced Edition, but to be honest I barely tried the English voices. I can’t stand Geralt’s English voice… the Polish actor who plays him is so much better. Polish voices also don’t switch up accents randomly, with Scottish dwarves, English everyone else, and inexplicably American, gruff greavelly semi-whispering Geralt. And don’t worry, you can still play the second game with Polish voices! I just started replaying it that way myself, in fact. May be a few weeks before I’ve gotten far enough for a post, though.

      So I still recommend trying the Polish voices, but you should of course do whatever you like! I just think the acting quality is much higher in Polish. Apparently CD Projekt RED got their start doing video game localizations into Polish, and they would hire big TV and film stars in Poland to do voices for these games and the ports were really popular, and that’s how they eventually got into making their own games. I gather the guy who plays Geralt is a celebrity in Poland. OK I just looked him up and he’s this guy.

      • Gregg B says:

        I did see those yeah, in fact, I think they may have been what prompted me to pull The Witcher from my GOG library and make a start, aside from all the Wild Hunt coverage everywhere!

        Admittedly, I didn’t read your Adventures pieces as I wanted to go into it ‘fresh’ and get round to them later. Had I known there was stuff in there to enhance the intro I’d have jumped at it though because, looking back, I did find it a little disorienting and fast paced for a starting sequence (but the intro cinematic was very cool still). It was arriving on the outskirts of Vizima that ultimately sunk its claws into me.

        I’m glad you pointed out the unique creatures, or at least their origins in folklore because their names, appearances and descriptions make such a refreshing change to the usual roster of beasties.

        Anyway, all this is good to know. I’ll try the Polish on my next session and see if it sticks! I’ll also look into that short story and your Adventure articles, particularly Damn those swamps!. Cheers Walter!

      • waltorious says:

        Sounds good, glad you’re enjoying yourself. The game really picks up in Chapter 2 though. And if you like the folklore aspect of things, you’ll really enjoy Chapter 4 (my personal favorite).

        Do read that short story, though (it’s in your GOG extras). And then watch that intro cinematic again.

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