The Witcher 2: A beautiful package of frustration

August 13, 2011

The Witcher 2 is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, ready to bite your hand off as soon as you get near it. Here is a guy at the end of the previous game with no gear, no skills, and as many as 8 dudes killing him at once. It’s hard to figure out how to beat any that are not the lowest. Very few of your options are open to you without looking at the manual, and the tutorial screens are tiny and last half a second. You will have to either look at the manual or go through your keyboard hitting all the buttons just to figure out where all the screens are. (I is inventory and M is map, which I suppose one could guess).

So the game is hard, you might’ve heard that. It’s not a fun hard, either.Games like Super Meat Boy and Demon’s Souls show a remarkable aptitude for an insane difficulty that manages to make some sense and feel just. The kind that gives you that sense of accomplishment at victories. That isn’t here.

Everything here is needlessly difficult and convoluted, from the targeting system, which can enable you to swing a sword right through a guy in front of you and not hit him because you are locked on a guy behind him, to the crafting system and looting. This is supposed to be an advanced RPG, but looting is the classic formula of looking in every corner of every room in a town or a forest for boxes with which to take stuff out. In a shooter or in a regular action game in which it is quick and easy to look at all the boxes this is fine, but it’s not fun here and takes forever to do. If you ignore doing this, it makes it hard to save up money for anything that is of use. Looting should be fun and exciting, and failing that, it should be over quickly.

The whole prep work thing is annoying, too. You can oil up your weapons and use potions, but only out of combat. Spells aren’t spammy, but experimenting with them takes time. If you want to get anything useful out of these items, you will have to reload over and over again to see what really helps. With the exception of some boss fights, you don’t know what you are going to be dealing with. Sometimes you’ll use a potion only to discover the fight was easier than you thought. Fortunately, one of the talent trees is swordplay, which simplifies things and lessens the requirement of preparing. Then, though, the sword talents at the end are awesome and award free kills. The combat thus has to the potential to be on two different ends of the spectrum: too hard and too easy.

Here is a game where you have to loot boxes of items right in front of vendors and they don’t care.  A game where you’re obligated to hurry and catch a king’s assassin, yet you have the option to dally about and to do side quests, some of them extremely small in scale. The side quests at least were varied, though many of them were (surprise!) frustrating.

Pros: Gorgeous graphics, well-written dialogue, good voice-acting
Cons: Horrible difficulty options despite adjustability, lots of pointless and frustrating elements

Score: 3/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.

{ 1 comment }

Corvak August 27, 2011 at 1:57 pm

I have to respectfully disagree. I feel the extras in this game are what prevent it from becoming a linear RPG, or a Dragon Age knockoff.

The difficulty isnt nearly as cruel as Demons Souls, and doesn’t force you to jump through time consuming hoops or game mechanics when you die. I prefer a simple reload to try again, myself.

I will concede that the prep work involved for unknown encounters is awkward – spending consumables without knowing your opponent can be needlessly expensive.

Looting is a difficult thing to nail down, and I believe it was left to a traditional treasure hunt, instead of the game just laying out a bunch of sparkly things in front of you. I feel they did this to appeal to the PC RPG fan, who are used to such a system, from games like Baldur’s Gate. I also feel it was done to provide a reason to explore places.

I like having to look for loot, though. And having all kinds of extras to do, and it does make the world feel like more than a line of guys to kill between me and the end boss.

As a comparaison, I feel Dragon Age 2 had the reverse applied to it, with much of the inventory management and loot collection typical of a fantasy RPG replaced with a streamlined system that really makes me feel like I should just be hurrying to my next objective, instead of bothering to explore anything.

But, as always, even when I disagree with a review, I will say, this was well written, as i’ve come to expect from SBG :)