Did anyone tell Polish developer CD Projekt to stop making roleplaying games about a scarred old man in leather trousers? If so, it was in vain. The Witcher 2 is unapologetically faithful to the 2007 original and its hoary protagonist, eager depiction of sex, and morally bleak fantasy world.
The studio did, however, appear to take some notes: The Witcher 2 hasn’t had any dialogue hacked out of it at the last minute, there are no obvious mistranslations, and you’re not rewarded for bedding women with a sad collectible card of their breasts. A new engine shows a much more sumptuous world, but at the expense of performance on middling PCs.
The obstacles between you and the fascinating RPG CD Projekt keeps threatening to make are fewer and more forgivable. But the game is still agonisingly slow to get to the good stuff, and its remaining problems are at their worst during the least interesting content.
The opening three hours are spent establishing the character of King Foltest in flashbacks, a device which is necessary for the reason establishing him isn’t: he’s dead. His traits – a man of the people, experienced soldier and philanderer – are illustrated at the expense of giving the player anything more interesting to do than a string of irrelevant fights and QTEs.
It also establishes the main frustrations that’ll be accompanying you throughout. The revised combat system is a standard combination of light and heavy attacks, dodges and blocks, but any convenience that simplicity might have offered is crippled by a maddeningly erratic targeting system. In a game where your target determines which direction you’ll dive when you dodge, or leap when you attack, being unable to switch to the right enemy is often fatal.
It’s exacerbated by the strange decision to lock off all combat conveniences for the first eight levels or so. Your sword won’t damage enemies it passes through, except the targeted one, until you’re allowed to buy that ability with a talent point. You can block only a couple of times per fight until you can upgrade your Vigor stat. You take devastating damage from rear attacks until you access a trait that reduces it, which would be fair if your orientation wasn’t at the mercy of the targeting system.
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