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Critical Reception: CD Projekt's  The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

Critical Reception: CD Projekt's The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

June 1, 2011 | By Danny Cowan




This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to CD Projekt's PC action-RPG The Witcher 2, which reviews describe as "gorgeous, ambitious, and not afraid to kill you dead." The Witcher 2 currently earns a score of 88 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.

Game Informer's Adam Biessener scores The Witcher 2 at 9.25 out of 10. "Gorgeous, ambitious, and not afraid to kill you dead, The Witcher 2 can be a harsh mistress," he begins. "The driven Polish developers at CD Projekt boldly cut their own path in creating The Witcher 2, and their vision is one well worth sharing despite a few snags along the way."

"The most alluring part of the game is exploring the finely crafted, endlessly detailed world," Biessener praises. "The audio-visual presentation is second to none, which certainly helps, but the writing puts a soul behind the pretty face. The Witcher 2 is a lasting, rewarding relationship where many other RPGs are a fun night on the town."

However: "As amazing as the role-playing is, the gameplay is merely adequate, with infrequent (but amazing) set piece moments and too-common frustrations," Biessener warns. "It's all too easy to accidentally target something you didn't want to and lock yourself into a long leaping attack animation. Allies are also known to come up behind you and prevent you from dodging away from an incoming strike. When the combat goes the way you want it to, it can be amazing and rewarding, but expect to regularly curse a blue streak when it doesn't."

"You can pick apart the small missteps in the nuts and bolts of The Witcher 2 all day, but you'd be missing the forest for the trees," Biessener says. "I play role-playing games to explore fantastic worlds, interact with interesting characters, and pull off badass stunts that only a world-saving hero could accomplish. The Witcher 2 obliterates all but the best competition on those criteria. As frustrating as it can be at times, this adventure's charms vastly outweigh its warts."

Ludwig Kietzmann at Joystiq gives The Witcher 2 4 out of 5 stars. "Describing the opening moments of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings as a 'trial by fire' is almost too trite to bear, but don't tell me it isn't accurate," he writes. "As the dragon swoops overhead and incinerates you yet again, you'll understand that the game's method of delivering a tutorial, which is to whisper it to you in passing, has failed."

Kietzmann recalls: "What you're supposed to do is cast the Quen spell, which creates a temporary, flame-resistant shield around you at the expense of vigor. Some of this information may have been presented via fleeting pop-up, but reading the tiny text on those things in the middle of your first battle is like making out the picture on a postage stamp while you're hurtling past it on a bullet train."

This level of challenge proves to be one of the game's strengths, however. "Allowing yourself to be surrounded by a group of fiends or rushing into battle unprepared will get you killed, sometimes within seconds," Kietzmann warns. "It's nice to see monsters restored to a more threatening status than snarling sacks of XP."

Additionally: "The Witcher 2 makes economical use of plot-altering decisions; the big ones count and the small ones often take you by surprise," Kietzmann praises. "As it turns out, the same holds true for monsters. I had to learn that the hard way in the absence of a decent tutorial, but with the exception of dragon slaying, some professions are clearly best suited for on-the-job training."

Greg Tito at The Escapist rates The Witcher 2 at 3.5 out of 5 stars. "The Witcher 2 is that weird special gem that displays a fully functioning world with deliciously deep personalities that exist both within and beneath the plot," he states. "It is easy to get swept up in the breathtaking visuals and well-established characters, but that doesn't blind me to major flaws in the game design of The Witcher 2."

An example: "The first sign of trouble was when I chose a dialogue option that sent me to battle a dragon with little preamble," Tito notes. "Windows popped up with the knowledge I needed to survive, but stopping to read them only resulted in a quick death. Geralt, the famous Witcher, died so easily and so many times in the first seconds of the game that I began to wonder if I was just an idiot."

Navigation is also problematic. "It's a good thing the landscape looks so awesome, because you will be wandering around those woods for a long time," Tito writes. "Finding quest-specific locations is usually easy, but simple navigation is tough because there is no indication of which direction is north. The map looks pretty, but uses the Cyrillic alphabet so that kind of sucks for us Anglos. Plus, finding some of the objectives of the side-quests is nearly impossible because they blend in with the background."

"The Witcher 2 continues the epic story of Geralt of Rivia begun by the short stories of Polish fantasist Andrzej Sapkowski and will be a highlight for many PC loyalists for years to come," Tito concludes. "I can't ignore CD Projekt's poor design choices and crippling interface, however. I will likely replay The Witcher 2 again and again as I wait for the inevitable threequel, but each time I do I will curse the chance the game had to deliver mechanics to match its glorious setting."


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