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.