Originally published on GameInformer.com April 25, 2012, at 8:30 PM.
Selected for Blog Herding -- The Best Blogs of the Community, 5/3/12.
Selected for Game Informer Newsletter, 5/5/12.
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Update 6/4/18: Select screenshots from this pictorial appear at bottom.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings by CD Projekt RED can spark a sense of childhood wonder, wonder at what the heck is going on and how in the world am I supposed to do that!? Granted, my gaming even after decades of practice leaves something to be desired, and I've only played two or three hours of the game. But the beginning intimidates me like no other game in recent memory.
So I thought I'd provide a walkthrough of those perilous times as only a hapless gamer like myself can experience it. At least I can try to turn that journey into something entertaining. As always, a spoiler alert for the progress I do cover, though honestly I'm not certain what happened so doubt you'll learn anything substantive from me!
You might have seen the opening cut scene, where a twinkle toes longshoreman channels Jack Frost while evading arrows, spells and other nasty obstacles en route to slaying some royal pain in his arse. That's pretty much my takeaway, all wrapped in a pretty bow. Truly a sight to behold, whatever it was.
Now, I DO remember a prologue but just can't recall whether it came before that scene or after. In any event it told how there was strife in the land, with various opposing forces at odds for years over something they were really, really angry about. However, some guy did manage to unite everyone either by force or otherwise.
I learn I'm not that guy (I don’t think). Unfortunately I'm just some guy named Gaston or Gestalt or something. I find a body, so of course loot it. I find some pathetic loser, so go pick him (regenerative) flowers I find by using a “medallion” that works just like the enchanted glove used by Heavy Rain investigators.
Along this linear path I’m beset by pop up screens that inform me about the world and basic controls. They’re helpful, but kind of like sales people in neglected stores, hovering and desperate to assist. I know I can turn it off, but I don’t want to miss anything vital despite how oppressive it all can be.
The loser perks up when given his bouquet and helps by suggesting I toughen up in the nearby arena as area folks can be pretty mean. Indeed the gate keeper turns me away initially so of course I meditate till dawn. I’m then welcomed inside by a series of brutes who want to test my mettle.
My mettle is corroded. The lock-on mechanic (hold trigger) is OK when faced with one, but any more and I forget to release and relock, resulting in my swinging at fallen foes or, worse, air while getting slashed in the back. All by design, of course! Then there are all the spells, traps, bombs, daggers, etc.
Truth be told the options are impressive. But it’s like grocery shopping: There are so many that I’m frozen with indecision. Well not exactly, as trying to select an option only slows combat, and that mage’s fireball doesn’t play fair. Indeed, the initial pop-up screens alone gave me brain freeze without the delicious slushy taste.
At this point I’m instructed in a variety of spells and other items and how to access and use them but it’s all Greek to me, or whatever arcane language was passing for the naming convention. Nevermind I confused controls and was obsessed with carpal tunnel inducing multiple digit gymnastics.
Basically, I was holding one trigger for lock on, the opposite one for block, I think, maybe a shoulder button for the items menu, the analog stick to select one, another button to equip and upon release of some of those, pressing a last button to cast, deploy, hit, parry or dodge.
By the time I did all that and read accompanying descriptions I have yet to familiarize myself with, I either had been skewered by approaching foes or singed by a fireball. Then lather, rinse, repeat if wanting to equip a different item. It’s no wonder I spent most time running away just to create enough distance for inventory management.
Indeed it’s less a learning curve than learning loop sending me in an endless circle of remedial instruction. Still, it’s not so much frustrating as just intimidating. If it was the former, I’d actually read the manual or quest guide but I prefer exploring all aspects of gameplay on the fly. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment.
Gratefully I was immune to assaults during most of the arena challenge. Then came the main event against waves of foes! I placed all my items in appropriate slots and laid traps everywhere. I was ready! Little did I know it was for my funeral. Yup, I died an ignominious death against only the second foe I faced.
After being awarded Easy difficulty for my storied deeds, the game cut to a scene of me escaping deadly pursuers, if I remember. It’s like the developers knew I’d spent the past half hour doing the exact same thing! But this was a flashback resulting in my capture. So, I was always a noob, then?
Next thing, I’m being interrogated. The story and gameplay then take place in flashback, facilitated by gorgeous cut scenes filled with exposition. The narrative, in fact, is top notch, if more than a little confounding for the uninitiated. Art design, animation, dialog, voice acting, etc. all impress.
To my recollection, it had something to do with your investigating a king’s assassination (the one in the beginning?) on behalf of one whose illegitimate children he won’t recognize for succession yet are held by rebels in a monastery within a stronghold you’ve attacked? I think?
Oh and you’re involved with a female companion of his whom you share a secret about the identity of the assassin. At least that’s what I remember. The thing is, my appreciation for the story and gameplay appear to have taken a turn for the better at about the two or three hour mark.
During the siege of the enemy stronghold, I was engaged in several battles and I never died once (well OK maybe one time when I wisely charged a barricade). I also was able to use strikes, block and dodge regularly as well as sometimes cast a spell.
Granted these guys were canon fodder but I’d been the manure on the soles of their shoes before so I consider that progress. That said, I have no illusion that Easy will prove just that; but at least I’ve just begun to feel that the game’s various aspects are beginning to fall into place.
Whether my familiarity with the controls and story will breed contempt or, hopefully, confidence, won’t be decided overnight. In the meantime, I do look forward to spending more time with Gaston or whoever on his journey to wherever he’s headed doing whatever he’s meant to do in the service of … oh, nevermind.
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