The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings by Namco Bandai review

Stunning RPG sequel
Photo of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings by Namco Bandai
£26.99

When the first Witcher game was released in 2007 it was an overnight sensation. Based on a series of Polish folk fantasy novels, it centred on the scarred, semi-mythical hero Geralt of Rivia, a monster slayer for hire who was feared and mistrusted by most humans who viewed him as useful but a dangerous freak of nature.

With a sprawling, captivating storyline, a huge collection of characters, villains and NPCs, a beautifully realised mediaeval-style world and a range of complex combat methods, there was simply nothing like it in the RPG universe. The Witcher wasn’t without its faults (slow load times, unexpected glitches, retracing the same ground too frequently) and in this sequel, many of these have been addressed – but there’s also a leaner, more focused approach.

Fighting with moral choices

The story picks up where the last game ended, with Geralt having saved King Foltest of Temeria from an assassin – only for a second killer to finish the job and leave Geralt framed for the murder. Our hero manages his escape with help from insiders and goes in pursuit of the real slayer, while at the same time hoping to recover the fragments of his identity lost through his ongoing amnesia.

In many respects Geralt is a sort of mediaeval Jason Bourne with superior strength and reflexes – a shunned loner who still maintains a sense of moral right and hatred of injustice. As in the first game, he uses a steel sword to fight humans and a silver sword for non-humans, together with powerful home-brewed potions, six unique spells and the opportunity to throw knives and bombs as well as lay traps.

Shorter but punchier

Both the interface and the combat has been made simpler and more accessible, while retaining the important planning and research prior to fighting that was always one of this game’s strengths – marking it aside from young pretenders like Dragon Age II. There’s also plenty of opportunity for straight QTE fist fights where fastest combo buttons win. Newcomers to the Witcher world will find there’s quite a steep learning curve, when fighting multiple opponents, where you have to carefully weigh up how to balance sword, potions and spells while avoiding being outflanked.

Much was made of the ‘adult’ nature of the first game, and while this sequel features plenty of explicit swearing, the sex scenes are more tasteful and the graphic playing cards have been dispensed with. The overall gameplay length has been considerably reduced – the previous story was divided into five bulky chapters with scores of side-quests, whereas now you have just three chapters with less immediate distractions.

On the other hand, there are 16 possible endings (rather than only three last time), depending on which moral choices you make at several key moments in the narrative, so there’s plenty of scope for playing the game through again. Visually, developers CD Projekt should be roundly applauded for creating a stunning and imaginative kingdom full of colour, music, incidental sound and almost palpable smell – not since Avatar have we seen such a believable fantasy land, even if the maps are a bit more limited than before.

Company: Namco Bandai

Positives
  • Gorgeous visuals and seductive storyline.
Negative
  • Steep multiple combat learning curve.

Verdict

CD Projekt has pulled off a remarkable feat by solving many of the previous game's shortcomings, simplifying and improving the combat and interface while developing an addictive storyline that ensures The Witcher 2 is the RPG gold standard.