Posted by BuckGB at 10:08 pm on 05.9.2011 (2 years ago)
Before I get into the more intricate details, I can't help but spend a little time on just how amazing the game looks. With the settings cranked up to "High" (the "Ultra" settings had some instability issues in the early build I played), the characters, buildings, and environments all look spectacular. The amount of painstaking detail that went into crafting the early battle landscapes, the La Valette Castle courtyard, the town of Flotsam and its wilderness, and other such areas is simply staggering. With the addition of even more realistic day/night transitions and weather effects (blurred vision during torrential rain, anyone?) than we saw in the first game, The Witcher 2 is easily the best-looking RPG I've ever played. And I say that without any hesitation.
Beyond the actual eye candy, it's also worth pointing out the diversity in the game's locations. Each of the game's villages and settlements is comprised of numerous residences, which Geralt can enter in search of NPCs (for conversation, trading, mini game, or crafting purposes) or any valuables that aren't nailed down. The game's residences and shops were clearly designed by hand, as most if not all of them possess different floor plans, a variety of different furniture, and decor that matches their functionality (I wouldn't normally mention all that but, hey, we're living in a post-Dragon Age II world). You won't ever get a sense of repetition when adventuring elsewhere in the game, either. For example, each one of the gnarled trees in the Flotsam wilderness looks dissimilar from the next and even a side area of Flotsam where a notable NPC named Loredo lives has a completely different feel than the rest of the town.
The team has stepped up their presentation efforts in the sequel, as well. The artistic style is similar to that of their debut effort, but the UI is much slicker (a categorized inventory, much-needed item comparison windows, and four groups of neatly organized skill trees) and the dialogue sessions don't possess any of the bizarre gestures and head-scratching translations that plagued early versions of the first game. And if CD Projekt RED intends to bring The Witcher 2 to consoles, you'd never know it from the UI, text arrangements, or keyboard/mouse control system - everything feels right at home on the PC.
Geralt's primary form of advancement is done through four separate talent trees (Training, Magic, Alchemy, and Swordsmanship) that house a total of 51 talents, each of which can have up to 2 points allocated to it. However, there are a few other lesser known progression options, including abilities (important skills like intimidation, persuasion, and haggling that are increased in level through use), knowledge (useful information gleaned from books, battles, and other means that grant combat bonuses and the like), and a slew of derived statistics (the in-game character sheet lists 37 different numeric scores) such as resistances and regeneration rates that you'll be watching closely to maximize your effectiveness.
Since you'll be spending the most time with Geralt's talents, though, I'll go into a bit more detail on those. The Training tree contains a half dozen basic proficiency talents such as "Dagger Throwing" and "Arrow Redirection" that you're required to take in order to expand Geralt's capabilities in the early game. Only after you've allocated several points into the Training tree will the Magic, Alchemy, and Swordsmanship trees unlock, therefore expanding your options considerably.
The Magic tree consists of talents that can be chosen to pick up new signs or to enhance the ones already available to you. For example, Geralt starts the game with the Aard sign, but he can pick up an early talent like "Enhanced Aard Sign" to unlock Aard Sign Level II and therefore increase its range by a couple of meters. Farther down the talent tree, you can pick up "Magical Sense" to unlock the Heliotrope sign, which grants you the ability to generate adrenaline through sign usage. Other talents like "Energy Flow" increase the chance of causing critical effects when using signs, so they're a good choice if you find yourself tossing around Igni quite a bit in battle.
If you intend to use a lot of bombs, traps, and potions, then the Alchemy line will probably end up with a majority of your talent points. For example, the "Alchemist" talent increases bomb and trap damage and the "Catalysis" talent increases the positive effects of all imbibed potions while also decreasing their negative effects. Furthermore, a talent like "Taster" is something of a necessity for would-be alchemists, as it allows Geralt to consume an additional potion at any given time.
Regardless of how you intend to play the game, you're going to be using Geralt's swords on a consistent basis, and that's where the Swordsmanship tree comes in. The "Precision" talent increases the chance of your opponents suffering from a bleeding effect when hit, or you can opt for the "Sudden Death" talent for a small chance that any of Geralt's sword strikes might instantly kill a struck foe. Other useful additions include "Combat Acumen" to unlock adrenaline- charged group finishing moves and "Invincible" to increase Geralt's vitality while also reducing incoming damage.
To add another interesting element to the talent trees, certain talents also have the option to attach mutagens to them. For example, with each talent point that you allocate to "Invincible", you can attach a mutagen to the talent (up to a maximum of two, obviously) for an added effect or characteristic. Mutagens randomly drop from slain creatures and their potency varies across lesser, normal, and greater tiers. As such, a Lesser Critical Effects Mutagen might be a nice addition to one of your Swordsmanship talents or to complement your sign usage, but the Greater version of the same mutagen is obviously more desirable.
Once again, Geralt must choose between his steel or silver sword with each battle that he finds himself in, with the former being the better option for humans and the latter a good choice for monsters. Combat consists of swift attacks, heavy attacks, blocks, dodges, parries, ripostes (if you've unlocked them with the proper talent), the occasional throwing knife, and sign usage. With each successful attack, Geralt builds up adrenaline which then allows him to carry out flashier maneuvers that are chained together and far more potent. Chaining together swift and heavy strikes isn't difficult to do, but it does take some practice as it's entirely dependent on getting the timing right with your mouse clicks (while also avoiding taking any damage yourself). Misclick once and your chain of attacks is over.
Where combat gets a bit tricky is when Geralt is overwhelmed by multiple thugs or beasts. Even if your timing is impeccable, getting hit with a single melee or ranged weapon will force Geralt to immediately stop whatever action he was taking. It can be a little jarring at times, and there's usually a slight delay before you can start chaining attacks together again. I could usually manage to deal with two opponents at once relatively well, but fighting three or more enemies in close range is practically suicide on normal difficulty. If you get surrounded or knocked down, the barrage of incoming attacks will likely be lethal.