Witcher 2: Choose their own adventure

After enjoying Dishonored, I felt like getting into a deep swords & sorcery type of game, and The Witcher 2 seemed the logical choice. Settling back into Geralt’s scarred and complex character was like pulling on a comfy t-shirt.


It’s a true epic1 of a game and story, and incredibly impressive. From the opening sequences where you find yourself in the midst of a full scale castle siege, to Dwarven citadels, Elven high citadels, and everything in between, the game oozes scale.

As with Witcher 1, the story is well told, the main plot of politics and magic unfurled and intertwined with as many or few side quests as you’d like to partake. There are a lot of long static dialogue scenes, which can be a bit tiresome, but once you sink into the storytelling method it captivates – and you end up choosing every last bit of the dialogue trees on offer in order to flesh out the world and populace.

Most impressive of all are the hugely important narrative choices you can make. At the end of the first act, there is a choice between supporting two factions, and the entire second act is different depending on which choice you make. In other words you could play a quite different game based on one major decision. The developers have effectively created two games in one, not afraid to know that the audience will probably miss out on a huge chunk of content as a result.

The game world seems better planned than the first game, with less running to and fro delivering herbs. After Dishonored it was a bit jarring to suddenly find you couldn’t just jump off castle battlements, instead having to follow the developers rails, but you quickly adjust to the game’s intentions and mechanics.

Character development is improved from the first game, and you can choose quite different play styles based on your preferences. I went deep into swords, basically ignoring the magic and potion based gameplay. Playing on easy mode made that possible, I suspect any of the more difficult modes would require a more balanced approach. By the end of the game I was weaving impenetrable webs of steel with glee, which was fortunate given the challenges some of the boss fights presented.

The dialogue and characterisation is top notch, and, like Witcher 1, the European sensibility results in an adult and decidedly non-cliched approach to storytelling. Characters act and behave as real personalities, rather than storyboard plot devices. The Dwarves are a particular highlight, boisterous and tough as old boots, with lovely Scottish accents to match. And the trolls – genius.


Another nice touch is the save game import from the first game2, which impacts starting gear and some (minor) storytelling during this game. Obviously the same thing will apply to Witcher 3, which again will be swayed by some major story choices that are available late in the game. I played through two different endings and was quite amazed by the startlingly different results of the choices made.

I’d guestimate it took about 35-45 hours to play through, entirely worthwhile if you’re looking for a fantasy world you can sink your teeth into. I’m a little scared to start on Witcher 3 with it’s 100+ hours, but it’s definitely in the queue now.

  1. Though it sounds like Witcher 3 ups the epic ante still further 
  2. Which I luckily still had installed. 


“The swamps and slums again, great”

That super-meta line, along with Firewatch, was probably the thing that got me to finally finish a play through of The Witcher.

Yep, finished. Despite my near fdisk fury, I managed to see the game all the way through, and it feels good to be done. There were definitely too many swamps and slums, but it’s an intriguing and well told tale.

Firewatch seemed to clear my head of the fug the Witcher had cast, and I was totally surprised to find myself looking forward to joining Geralt again and unravelling his story to it’s conclusion.

Diving back into a rich fantasy land was fun, helped enormously by the fact that Geralt is a pretty entertaining guy to play. His sharp humour and low tolerance for fools leads to some smart dialogue exchanges, as does his swordplay when words fail. I barely used magic, focussing on swift slaying and reckless attack – and playing easy mode. The story is the thing, not the fighting.

The game is solid if creaking with quest mechanics that remind me of old school Warcraft – back and forth and back and forth between quest giver and destination. One saving grace was unlocking fast travel, the developers finally showing some mercy on we poor suffering players (and their playtesters no doubt) with the sudden appearance of teleport portals.

One criticism is quests that can never be completed because you accidentally trigger the next story phase. A quest to create an epic armour set was only introduced in the penultimate chapter, not completable until the final chapter, and then having collected all the pieces I advanced plot before realising that meant no longer being able to create the fabled suit. Would have been nice to earn that much earlier in the game.

There was also some poor story pacing – introducing what turns out to be a very important character very late, an overlong epilogue, and a strange diversionary chapter where the main story goes on hold while you unravel a love triangle. There were moments where I realised I was really just wanting to follow the story and that the ‘game’ was getting in the way (and hence maybe I should just be reading the books). But each time it pulled back from that precipice with some clever plot twist or promise of more intrigue. And it was a very unusual love triangle!

Overall though I’m pleased to have played it. The rich story, depth of character, and slow journey to all powerful Witcher were satisfyingly delivered despite the engine showing the ravages of time. W2 and W3 are apparently leagues better, with some granting W3 All-Time-Great status, so that’s something to look forward to.

Given it took almost 10 years to play W1, I should be ready for them by…2030?


During my inexplicable WoW hiatus1 I’ve been trying The Witcher for the 3rd time. I’ve installed and uninstalled it twice in the past, being frustrated each time by the amount of courier quests which take you from one end of the map to the other and back. That plus badly signposted irreversible decisions led to furious HDD wipes before even getting through the first chapter.

This time I decided to fully cheat and have a thorough walkthrough open while playing, as well as a recommended talent build ready to go as I played. Armed with this knowledge, and being better prepared for what I was getting into, I rerolled Geralt and plunged into the thick of it.

And it was better. Knowing most of the map already mean I could more easily adjust to the constant back and forthing, and the walkthroughs helped when it came to some decision point where I wasn’t sure what was going on (or worried about what was).

I rumbled through Chapter I, completing it this time, and actually enjoying the complexity of the questing and characters. The European heritage of the game shines through, both in the depth of the world building (based as it is on Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels) and the adult nature of the NPCs. There’s plenty of swearing, politics, racial tension, and sex on offer. Bad, women-as-reward ‘achievement’ sex, but at least it acknowledges that sex is a thing. There’s all sorts of sub plots, hints at a rich back story, and complicated cross threaded storytelling. It’s very different to standard Dungeons and Dragons based fantasy gaming, and all the better for it.

Feeling confident, I ventured heartily into Chapter II, which takes you into a city for the first time. The story changes to a murder-mystery of sorts, as you try and eliminate suspects whilst investigating the denizens of Vizima. Again there are plenty of complicated stories and characters, and the distances to be traversed are thankfully shorter (though still with plenty of back and forth).

The super annoying ‘drunk’ mechanic is, well, super annoying (you basically can barely see or move for what feels like 30 real-time minutes – though you can force the game to sleep it off by meditating). And the clever idea of using day/night phases to show/hide different NPCs is fun for a while, but eventually a bit tiresome. Having to meditate until dawn to generate an NPC, then immediately meditate again ’til midnight isn’t particularly thrilling gameplay.

Notwithstanding these tics, I slowly pieced together what was going on, and felt that the game was nearing it’s first story climax. I’d solved the mystery, had a suspect in my targets, and was ready to spring the trap…

… only to find that there was what looks like another 10 hours of gameplay before that was going to happen. 10 hours of trudging through a swamp, more courier quests, more sloowwww collecting of objectives. Slightly incredulously I mentioned this to a friend who recently finished (and is working on Witcher 2) who laughed and confirmed that the accursed swamp sub-chapter is indeed frustrating and time consuming.

Even with all the positives of the story, I couldn’t face committing more time into what was already 15+ hours of play to only be half way through Chapter I. It must be a 70+ hour game at this rate, which is beyond my capacity to complete I fear.

Which is kind of an odd position when I think of my /totalplayed in WoW: months, if not years. But an MMO somehow offers something different, the persistence of your characters, the evolving storylines, and the relationships with other players. The timesinks in The Witcher are pretty obvious and pretty weird, given there’s no financial reward for the developer in making us take longer to do something. MMOs on the other hand have got the timesink hiding down to a fine art. Catch 1000 fish but get a great hat? Why not.

The feeling that I’m wasting time playing single-player games is hard to ignore, even though it doesn’t really make sense – it’s ‘wasting’ far less time than an MMO. That feeling is something I guess I was trying to overcome with this latest endeavour, but while I haven’t deleted it off my HDD yet, I can feel the moment fast approaching.

  1. The irony and horror of posting this on the first night of Legion raiding is not lost on me.