Game Review: The Witcher 2 – Assassins of Kings

Review: “The Witcher 2 : Assassins of Kings”

Gameplay (entirely subjective – how much fun did I have?  Would I play this again?): waiting

Visuals (graphics quality, atmosphere, realism):  9.0

Audio (includes sountrack, effects, etc.): 9.0

Storyline (writing, pure and simple):  waiting

Delivery (packaging, contents, what you get): 10

Technical (Did it install?  Did I have to answer a zillion questions?  Did it break my machine?  Time from opening box to play?):  7.0

Overall:  So far, 8.75. That’s going to change, maybe, once I get some serious play-time logged on it.

 

I’ve just received my copy of “The Witcher 2 : Assassins of Kings” (published by CDPROJEKT) – the “Premium Edition.”  There is also a “Collector’s Edition” that contains a few extra doodads for those who really dig the collectibles aspect of games, and a digital-only version is available from Impulse as well.

For those of you unaware of the background, “The Witcher” is a fantasy RPG themed on the book series whose title it borrows.  The basic premise is that the Witchers are modified humans, who are mercenary monster-hunters, and the character you play is Geralt, the main character of the book series (heavily influenced by Michael Moorcock’s Elric, Geralt has an albinistic appearance and even is referred to as the “White Wolf” on occasion).  As of the end of the last game, you have become something of a trusted asset of the king (if perhaps not a friend), and your job in this installment is to both protect him as well as find out where these assassins are coming from.  Because they seem to be similar in many respects to Witchers!

Okay – on first opening the box, I was pretty impressed with the contents.  Separate cases for the game DVD and the bonus materials (an audio sountrack CD and a DVD containing trailers, dev diaries, and so on).  A gloss-paper map of the world, some paper doll cutouts (wtf?), and a replica coin representing the currency of the kingdom of Temeria (the world in which all this takes place).  All of it is packed in a good heavy-cardstock box.  Pretty impressive.

Until I plugged in the CD, and my machine hung while trying to rip the music to my library.  Seems the first and last track don’t get along well with this laptop (a MacBook Pro running Win7 natively).  We’ll see what happens tonight when I try that again with my regular beast Windows box.

That said, the rest of the music is good – in fact, it wins my vote as “Music to play D&D to.”  It’s a great soundtrack.  In past games I’ve had CDs lined up for background music that would include soundtracks from films like Aliens, LotR, Star Trek 2 & 6, The Chieftains, etc., and this is the second set of tunes I’ve ever heard from a game that I would welcome among that set.  First one was Myth: The Fallen Lords, which had a bust-ass bit of music (and also published a soundtrack CD, which I still have in a box somewhere).

Okay, now down to the nitty gritty:

Visuals:  Stunning.  Really, really good.  This is the first time I’ve seen a game come this close to echoing a real walking world.  I’d have to say it’s a bit like having taken the beauty of Bethesda Softworks’ Oblivion game and combined it with a solid method of making the characters and scenery move naturally.  I’d say we’re probably a few generations short of seeing something as good as a Pixar movie, and this is definitely one of the steps in that direction.

One drawback:  because the texturing and general motion are so good, it calls your attention to the little things that don’t work.  Like fingers that don’t move, lips that don’t sync with the words coming out of them, etc.  When characters were sitting down somewhere, their hands didn’t do anything.  They just lay there like dead things.  That’s not a natural behavior, and it does become noticeable because the rest of the body seemed to move like you’d expect.  Same with lips, they suffer a bit of Howdy-Doodyness, opening and closing at appropriate times, but they don’t shape around the words.  That said, the rest of the world is really amazing…I did have some texture flicker on a few surfaces (I’ve got the quality set to high, but I expect it to work, since I’m running a dual-Nvidia setup with SLI going), but overall just really lovely.

Audio:  I gave you the gist on the soundtrack earlier, so that’s a big thumbs-up on me there.  Voices are clear and audible (though I was a little annoyed at the choice of Geralt’s voice actor – it doesn’t sound like he did in TW1, so perhaps my expectation was a little off; overall his voice just seemed too high-pitched for his body).  Background sound effects are well aligned and help create that sense of immersion you want out of a game like this.  I don’t run a 5.1 setup, but on a 2.1 it’s still great.

Delivery:  I mentioned above the contents of the box – great.  Really solid.  I’d love to see this in a metal box similar to some DVD sets these days, but I recognize the needs imposed by production costs.  One note – in the Premium Edition (and I think in the Collector’s box too), there’s a “Game Guide.”  That little book is FULL of spoilers.  Don’t pick it up unless you’re stuck.  It looks as though it would be a supplemental manual, so it’s easy to take it off to the can and read it, but you’re going to soon find it basically is a walkthrough.  You’ve been warned.

Technical: Have a few bones to pick here.  First off, the soundtrack ripped fine on my native Windows machine, no problem.  The issue above is restricted to the Mac hardware.  With regard to the rest of the software, there were a couple problems.  The installation (two DVDs worth of it) went just fine as well, with the exceptions mentioned below.

One – the license key.  There is nothing I hate more than a big sixteen-character license key that’s case-sensitive and all caps.  Used to have those on Delphi and they were a pain in the ass then, too.  However, at least there we had the sense to insert hyphens for the user or move them to the next box once they entered a set, and advance them through the UI as they continued to enter new values.  The installation of TW2 required me to enter that key no less than five times before it finally realized I was trying to enter it and decided to let me proceed.  WOW is that annoying.

Two – Downloadable content.  I’m appreciative that a side quest module is offered in exchange for registering, thanks.  That makes the effort worthwhile.  Also, thanks for keeping a memory of that godawful long code and entering it for me when registering.  However, once I got it registered, and chose the DLC I wanted, then activated it, it didn’t show me what was going on.  All I got was “downloading” with a little shaky box.  No progress bar, no indication that it was succeeding, not even an idea of how much total volume I was pulling down.  That’s a problem.  I waited over an hour while that little box shivered like an epileptic Jack-Russel terrier.  Same thing happened when I entered my pre-order code from Amazon.  Grrrr.  I’ll be trying again tonight, and hopefully it’ll work this time.

Three – keymappings.  I’m left-handed, and my mouse sits on the left of my keyboard.  First thing I generally do in any game environment is to re-map the really important keys (the WASZ set, a few weapon keys, jump and run, etc.) to my number-pad where my right hand can deal with them while my left mouses away.  In what might be the worst oversight I have ever seen (with the exception of the shipping of that turdburger jet flight sim that never worked, by the folks who did Wing Commander) TW2 has no keymapping override interface.  At least, none I can find.  HUGE problem.  Aside from wandering around and looking at the scenery, I’m not even going to bother trying to explore the game further until I can get a re-mapping interface.  Combat?  Forget it.  I just don’t have the patience to dick around with ini files as some of the users on the forums have advised.

Conclusion:  Don’t really have one yet.  As soon as there’s a keymapping interface, I’ll dig in and log some playtime to complete this review.  Until then, it looks like a solid 8.75, but if you’re a lefty you’re going to be frustrated.  I’ll amend this review when that oversight is corrected.  Would I recommend it?  Yeah, probably still would – TW1 was really good, and this has all the appearances that it’ll be just as, if not better than.  So I’m looking forward to it, but I’ll just have to wait.

 

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