If you thought that CD Projekt RED had already given it their all with their debut title, getting your hands on The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings makes you think again.
After bringing you a review of the superb The Witcher: Enhanced Edition, I only see it fit to also tell you about its even more superb successor The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, released May 17 2011 for the PC. If you liked the first game I can guarantee that you will love the second one. It’s fair to mention that you do not need to have played the first game to enjoy Assassins of Kings, as the story is not really connected. But it’s clearly a plus if you have, since many of the characters introduced in the first one return for the sequel, and they are not given as rich background stories about them this time around. The same goes for the main character Geralt, and The Witchers in general. The intro will also be very confusing for players who haven’t been through the original game, as it is somewhat connected to the original story. But if you haven’t played the first game – don’t panic when the intro doesn’t make any sense to you. When the intro is over and you begin the story of Assassins of Kings, it’s a whole new adventure ahead!
The ambition behind The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings was for it to be the best role playing game of all time. Period. With the immense success of The Witcher and subsequent Enhanced Edition, it’s not surprising that the hype among fans was huge and expectations were sky-high. CD Projekt RED announced that the sequel was going to be produced with a higher budget, more intense action and story, and a brand new graphics engine.
While many other RPG’s have had that same ambition, Assassins of Kings actually lives up to those expectations. The game has received top scores in almost every review-outlet and publication, and it really raises the bar on every level for what defines a great role playing game. Many compared Assassins of Kings to BioWare’s Dragon Age 2, as it was also a sequel to a successful RPG with very high expectations to meet, and that they were to be released around the same time. The majority agreed that Assassins of Kings came out as the winner in the “rumble of the sequels”, and personally I couldn’t agree more. Even if Dragon Age 2 is a great game I feel that Assassins of Kings kind of slapped Dragon Age 2 on the fingers, like “This is how it’s done!”. If you ask me, this is definitely the best RPG out there, so far.
The first Witcher game ran on a heavily modified version of BioWare’s Aurora Engine, but for the sequel CD Projekt developed their very own, called RED Engine. This engine is packing a punch, to say the least. A setup that’s just able to run The Witcher: Enhanced Edition on maximum settings won’t be enough by far to max out this baby! In short, the graphics are stunning, and even if you’re not able to run it on the highest settings it looks just downright gorgeous! The Xbox 360 version (enhanced edition) is available from April 17 for those who prefer console gaming. The Enhanced Edition will also be available for the PC from this date. If you are like me, a graphics-junkie, I really recommend that you play it on the PC provided that you got the rig for it, as I can’t imagine it will be as beautiful on the 360. You will repeatedly catch yourself standing in the same spot for several minutes, just admiring the surroundings. The environments and characters are both very well designed, and implemented into the game. As with the first game, everything around you is designed so that it makes the world feel realistic in a dark, harsh medieval way. This is what many other RPG’s try to look like, but so far only The Witcher games really pulls it off. Also adding to the experience are the incredible music, sound-effects and outstanding voice-acting.
The story of Assassins of Kings begins in a dungeon, where Geralt is being held prisoner. You are taken to an interrogation room to answer questions about the events leading up to the assassination of the Temerian king Foltest, whom Geralt was supposed to guard, but is now accused of murdering. The first part of the game takes place in this interrogation room, in the form of Geralts explanation of what really happened, where you will be playing through the events Geralt is explaining to his interrogator. Naturally, Geralt is innocent, and the first chapter leads up to his inevitable escape, after which the main story and the pursuit of the real assassin can begin. This pursuit will take you on a journey throughout various locations, from dense cities to lush forests, and you will battle all kinds of creatures and villains along the way. In Assassins of Kings the developers scrapped the timing-based combat system from the first game in favor of a more classic hack and slash button-mashing system. Also, the different stances for making Geralt more combat-efficient against certain types of enemies are gone. The fact that you can fight by just button-mashing is all well and good, but because you are a lot more vulnerable in this game than you were in the first, that will not work at all until you’ve reached a higher skill level. Even then you will fairly often encounter opponents that are strong enough to easily kill you if you don’t carefully plan which attacks and skills to use. This works in favor of the combat system, as it doesn’t feel repetitive or dumbed down like in many other games with similar combat-mechanics. Dodging and attacking from behind is strongly recommended. Whether or not you’ll like this system better depends on how you felt about the system in the first game; personally I liked how combos were executed by timing hits, but the system in Assassins of Kings also works very well.
The story develops as Geralt faces numerous moral choices. The resulting consequences seem to vary even more in Assassins of Kings, and the game really tempts you to go back and try out different combinations of choices to see how they affect the events of the story. There is an option to use saves from the previous game in Assassins of Kings, but unfortunately I have yet to try that. From what I’ve heard this can also greatly affect the course of events, but I won’t go in to very much of the story to avoid the risk of spoiling the experience. The option is there, and if you have saves from the previous game you should definitely try it out.
So, to summarize; The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is by far the best RPG I’ve played up to this day. It has it all; a spellbinding story, awesome action, original design and gorgeous graphics. Compared to the first game, Assassins of Kings feels even grittier, even more realistic, and even more rewarding. If you’ve already played The Witcher games you’ll know what I’m talking about. And if not – happy gaming!
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