Crowned Heads Will Roll

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Screenshot

HIGH: The death of an NPC I'd wanted to kill since the moment I met him.

LOW: The boss checkpoint that didn't give me a chance to use any potions when I died and respawned.

WTF: The absolute orgy of exposition at the end of the game.

Imagine being invited to a party and upon arrival, you're told to serve drinks and make sure the burgers aren't overcooked. Then, adding insult to injury, you're asked to clean the bathroom before being allowed to mingle and have some fun.  In such a situation, one could hardly be blamed for just going home, right? That theoretical party is kind of what The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is like—a confusing, rough start and an incredibly brutal introduction to combat, followed by flashes of brilliance that come only after much tribulation. Unfortunately, those flashes never quite add up to a sustained shine.

Let's start at the beginning. Compared to most other role-playing games (RPGs), Witcher 2 is not user friendly. In fact, it does an absolute piss-poor job of explaining itself, leading to a lot of the frustration in the game's opening scenes.

There are in-game tutorials, but they have a knack for popping up at times when I have more important things to deal with, like being incinerated by a dragon. During these times, I could picture the game staring at me with a disapproving gaze as I died again and again….and again and again and again and again.

Even after I had gotten the hang of things and had become able to deal with most challenges, I was still constantly faced with bafflingly bad design elements like the complete lack of camera zoom capability, or an incredibly frustrating (read: easy to get lost in) series of caves. It became clear that the game was not here to impress me, I was here to impress it.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Screenshot

Beyond the muddled, unclear opening, another major problem presents itself in the combat system. The complex system from the original Witcher has been replaced by a simpler hack n' slash setup that appears to be geared towards the recently-announced console release. This actually represents progress over the old system, but combat is still woefully undercut by flaws serious enough to cause me to turn the difficulty down—something I don't normally do.

Fighting in Witcher 2 is centered around battle preparation in the form of potions. Witchers—magically-enhanced monster hunters—are capable fighters to begin with, but they need a little extra edge in battle. With his alchemy skills, main character Geralt can fashion potions, bombs, mutagens, and other enhancements give him that edge. Problem is, alchemy can only be done outside of battle. If I ran into an unexpected fight, I was just out of luck. While a "try and die" situation isn't necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, every single time I found myself in need of a potion I had to wonder why I couldn't just chug it right then and there. This was especially bad during one particular boss fight, and very few things get under my skin more than a bad boss.

Then there's the actual combat, which is even more problematic than the potion-chugging prep work. Even with the simplified controls, Geralt's actions are extremely sluggish, and there's often a slight delay between when I press a button and when he actually does something. Such a delay can be a massive headache when being attacked from behind does 200% damage, or when I need to throw a bomb to stop an incoming group of Rotfiends.

Worse still, the game has a nasty habit of spiking the difficulty, especially when facing multiple enemies. When up against a large group, there will inevitably be a ton of running around in circles using ranged attacks and bombs (a practice commonly known as kiting), which gets old very fast. I am generally a fan of games that challenge me as opposed to holding my hand, but Witcher 2 was one of the few games where I simply got too aggravated to continue on the Normal setting.

A correctly-made "hard game" has to have mechanics that are smooth and easy to use, so that it can present a challenge to the player by asking him to master those mechanics. For example, I am an unabashed Mega Man fan, and when I die or mess something up playing one, it is because I failed, not because the game failed me. My experience playing Witcher 2 was the exact opposite.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Screenshot

I can't count the number of times I died because the camera was shaking so badly I couldn't see where I was going, or that I pressed the block button only to have Geralt stand there looking confused, or that the auto-targeting decided that I wanted to roll into a horde of lethal Nekkers instead of away from them. Despite some major efforts to make things more palatable, Witcher 2 still suffers from a severe case of Deadly Premonition syndrome, in that playtesting and balance was apparently a huge afterthought. Some may say that Witcher 2 is just a hard game and I need to adapt, but that isn't the case. It's just hard to play.

Of course, there is the matter of those flashes of brilliance I mentioned earlier.

The calling card of the Witcher 2 is the unique way in which it handles player choice. In stark contrast to the usually-transparent Boy Scout/Evil Psychopath choices of its contemporaries, the developers present a giant moral gray area with no NPC approvals or karma meters. Geralt has to navigate a complex landscape rife with intrigue, and there is always more than one facet to any given situation. More often than not, there is no "right" or "wrong" choice — or if there is, it's deftly hidden in a way that requires the player to pay attention and closely analyze the situation. Rather than simply earning new swords or other shining doodads, the consequences of the player's choices are the results within the game world; results which are woven with superb detail into the overall narrative.

However, that narrative just isn't very good.

The story of the Witcher 2 is a sleepy, tired, Tolkien-esque fantasy slog with some softcore porn thrown in. I had a hard time keeping an interest in the game's world (yes, including the porny bits), and it didn't help that the writers assumed a lot of familiarity on my part regarding its details. Based on a popular series of fantasy novels, Witcher 2 presents a lot of people and places that a player won't necessarily be familiar with, and then doesn't do much to introduce them or provide illuminating context. I'm certainly the kind of player that loves digging into a game's lore, but even that didn't help much since the available lore doesn't shed much light on anything. It still feels like there's a lot of stuff that I'm just "supposed" to know. The massive gaps in exposition sapped most of the Witcher's potential dramatic weight, leaving me scratching my head far too often.

I really wanted this game to be better than it actually was. It has the kind of vision that should make it great, but it has far too many problems to overlook. The most frustrating thing is that I could forgive all of those flaws if the game had an engrossing story or rich world to show me, but it fails in that regard as well. The sophisticated ideas here are wasted on such a sloppy product. While it does indeed take a few steps in the right direction, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings doesn't live up to its own ambition. Rating: 5.5 out of 10.


Disclosures: This game was obtained via Steam purchase and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 32 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 time) and there are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content, and use of drugs. Absolutely no punches are pulled here folks. It's bloody, cursing is abundant, and there are several scenes of full-frontal nudity. Adults only.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: All spoken lines in conversations are subtitled, although you will probably have problems with the ambient dialogue, since sometimes the subtitles for them don't show. Also, the beginning/ending of combat is signaled by music changes, so that may be problematic as well.

Richard Naik

Richard Naik

Born and raised in St. Louis, MO, Richard received his first console (the NES) at the age of six, and from that point on games have been an integral part of his life, whether it's been frittering summers away with the likes of Mario, Mega Man, and the Zerg or partaking in marathon sessions of Halo, Team Fortress 2 or Left 4 Dead. After being a longtime reader of GameCritics, Richard joined the staff in March of 2009, and over the years Richard grew into the more prominent role of part-time podcast host.

In 2016, he spearheaded a complete rebuild of the GameCritics.com website, earning him the title of Chief Engineer.

His gaming interests are fairly eclectic, ranging from 2D platformers to old-school-style adventure games to RPGs to first-person shooters. So in other words, he’ll play pretty much anything.
Richard Naik

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27 Comments on "The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Review"

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dwassllir
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dwassllir
2 years 2 months ago

Thank you! Spot on counter-review

not a troll
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not a troll
4 years 9 months ago

First and foremost, I am would like to propose that I am not a troll so that you can read my reply without fear.

If you are at all interested in discussing or knowing about the narrative issues in the Witcher 2, I suggest you to go to the following forums. Pick one.

Links to all Forums:

Destructoid “http://forum.destructoid.com/showthread.php?22036-The-Witcher-2-Storyline-Discussion&p=942315#post942315”,

IGN “http://boards.ign.com/pc_games_lobby/b7203/206242596/r206242596/?statusId=PostTopicSuccess”,

Giant Bomb”http://www.giantbomb.com/the-witcher-2-assassins-of-kings/61-28178/the-witcher-2-storyline-discussion/35-520750/”

The Witcher forum “http://en.thewitcher.com/forum/index.php?/topic/25152-the-witcher-2-storyline-discussion/

Anonymous
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Anonymous
4 years 9 months ago
Scoring system as a whole is pointless in terms of indication of quality, even the scores coming from “professional” reviewers. I quoted the word because their opinions are no different from the reviews written by other people. They are all opinions. User’s preferences and reviewers’ preferences don’t really mach all the time. Plus they are inclined to give high scores for games from major companies, and the number of reviews from these people for each game isn’t enough to represent the demographic. All of these scores and overall impressions presented on the web and TV, they are all vague and… Read more »
Kenman
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Kenman
4 years 10 months ago
I played the first Witcher a little bit and wondered what all the hubbub was about. From reading the comments here, I’m glad that I’m not the only one who finds these games ridiculously overrated. The feeling I got from was that they just tried to disguise an overall lack of content by breaking down simple game elements into fractured little pieces that would be slow to digest. If you look at the talent trees in the first one, it’s just augmenting a few mechanics that are already there. I’ll probably go back and play some more of it at… Read more »
orctowngrot
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orctowngrot
4 years 11 months ago

Good review and fair score. You need to understand the motivation behind the Witcher fanboy phenomena. A lot of the metacritc user 10s are actually designed as insults to Bioware for DA2. We need some example of ‘better’ (true or not) to taunt the Canadians into raising their game. I think a lot of players giving witcher 2 10 are doing so with this ulterior motive. We prefer critics to join the circus, but can’t deny that the things you say are actually fair commentary.

Lalo
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Lalo
4 years 11 months ago
For a guy who says that he liked demons souls your review is very unfair.Sure the witcher 2 isnt perfect, the story can be in some moments pretty intensive and the potions system and alchemy are not that well thought over, as well as the daggers and traps.But all that aside, the witcher 2 is hell of a game and i will tell you why.I remenbered when demons souls first came out, many people complained that it was too hard.Now anyone who played it,can tell you that is an awesome game, that requires patience and skill, and so is the… Read more »
Wutan
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Wutan
5 years 10 days ago
My personal opinion is that game is great. Now why. I played the game twice. First time i had the same problems as the reviewer. Geralt fell asleep when blocking was to be used ( now i know it’s because Geralt can’t block if his stamina is depleted – moronic? Yes, since he can run and jump normally just not hold his sword up). I got killed nonstop, which pissed me off so much that i even used a trainer, still the guy lost all his health in 2 enemy hits. Finished it, and started again. Did ALL the side… Read more »
Li-Ion
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Li-Ion
5 years 13 days ago
[quote=SVK87][…]on metacritics there are more then 1500 rating from people and the average score is 8,7/10, then there is a czech site bonusweb.cz where there are ratings from more then 1030 people and the average score is 9.0/10, then there is a slovak site sector.sk where the average score from people is 9.2/10, gamespot has ratings from almost 4 000 people and the average is 9.1/10 and last site is pcgames.de where the average score from 50 people is 8.7/10.. […][/quote] The problem with user scores is that the whole system is inherently flawed. People who bought the game will… Read more »
Jonathan
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Jonathan
5 years 13 days ago
Personally, I don’t agree that the game would be “easy” with only the sword, but even if it were, in battles where you face six or seven opponents, you would be forced to kite, and the fights would take way too long for the fight to be any fun. I do, however, think that the spells and bombs can make the game easy, especially once you upgrade Quen to damage three nearby enemies and last for two minutes. Combat is manageable, but on both ends of the difficulty spectrum, it is no longer fun. Spamming bombs/spells isn’t fun, and neither… Read more »
randomrob
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randomrob
5 years 14 days ago

Dude, that was like, hardcore.

SVK87
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SVK87
5 years 14 days ago
I must say, i haven’t find another site where so mcuh negative feedback like here.. and i have read slovak, czech, poland, german, english, US, canada sites but this one is one of her kind.. on metacritics there are more then 1500 rating from people and the average score is 8,7/10, then there is a czech site bonusweb.cz where there are ratings from more then 1030 people and the average score is 9.0/10, then there is a slovak site sector.sk where the average score from people is 9.2/10, gamespot has ratings from almost 4 000 people and the average is… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
5 years 15 days ago
Game’s too hard? Oh c’mon, If the game would be too easy with hand-to-hand combat only, what would you do with spells, grenades and traps? I played it with hard and never had an issue on combat, even before the first patch what made combat snappier. Maybe you have to rethink your talents to suit your gaming style in that case. I do hate the boss checkpoints too though. 🙂 About the story: Few here already commented that the story makes you hate both sides of your allies, whatever you choose of the lesser evils. I think that’s the story’s… Read more »
Caleb
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Caleb
5 years 15 days ago
I’m not happy at all with this review because it is spot on. When I started playing the Witcher 2 a month ago I took heed of reviews complaining about the huge initial difficulty, so I started on easy and had the most glorious introduction to the game. The atmosphere, the setting, the nudity, even the combat, it was all fantastic… But then about a third of the way in I began to realize that the atmosphere was paper thin – I tried very hard to venture out at the first available opportunity and found that this was not Oblivion… Read more »
Abigail
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Abigail
5 years 15 days ago
Well I just finished playing this and I have to agree about the story. Half the time you don’t know who or what they are talking about and most of the time you don’t really care. Plots within plots are really only interesting if you understand what they are about. But in this case the plots are hatched by people you hardly know, to overthrow people you never meet and for reasons that are never entirely clear. In the middle of that you (The Witcher) run around looking for stuff or killing stuff, which most of the time isn’t even… Read more »
Jeremy
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Jeremy
5 years 15 days ago

After 6h of play and die so many times. I decide to google for tips and found this review. I couldn’t agree more. I thought i’m the only one having trouble playing the game on normal level. If any one had played dragon age 2 , you’ll will see a huge different. This “Witcher 2” game suck….

Jonathan
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Jonathan
5 years 16 days ago
Good Review. I agree with the rating given; there were a lot of problems with the story and combat. I liked the fact that there were no easy choices, and that the game was nothing but gray, but it was morally ambiguous for exactly the wrong reasons. I suppose that in order to create a difficult choice in a game, you can do it in one of two ways. The first is to make every character likable, so the player has a hard time choosing between them because he doesn’t want to let the other character down by choosing the… Read more »
Richard Naik
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Richard Naik
5 years 16 days ago
@vAddicatedGamer Highlight the end of the last paragraph and you’ll see the score-I did actually give it a 5.5. The “tactics” you have to rely on when you’re outnumbered are the problem-they aren’t good to begin with, and the clumsy controls just makes it worse. I think a quicker, more responsive combat system would be best a la Kingdom Hearts 2 or God of War. Either that or make it purely point and click based like Dragon Age. The current setup is just an absolute flop, so something has to change. The Tolkien comment refers to aesthetics (medieval European setting,… Read more »
ZippyDSMlee
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5 years 16 days ago
Unintuitive>complex, one was unintuitive, instead of making it fun to play it was lick work,even worse the craptastic point and click( clutch and gear) combat which should NEVER be used in a fully rendered 3D game. I am not saying the game was bad but barely above mediocre when the norm is a 4 or a 5 out of 10 dose not make it great. Stop defending problematic media it only makes them produce more shit. Now on to this witcher game…..uuhggg…… consolation anyone? At least its better than dragon age 2 but thats not saying much as DA is… Read more »
vAddicatedGamer
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vAddicatedGamer
5 years 17 days ago
The cave/mine under Vergen: Ah, that cave can be pretty confusing. I remember getting lost in my first playthrough. The map there could use some improvement there. There is another semi-hidden side quest there, and a locked room with some ok loot. But I tend to agree that the exploration doesn’t feel that rewarding in terms of loot, often times you get peanuts for all your hard work. Other than that particular cave, I thought the cave-crawling aspect to be pretty light. ——————– Group fight: I don’t know what else would be a good alternative to that though? In the… Read more »
TH
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TH
5 years 17 days ago
I have been waiting for this review, and God I’m happy after reading it. It proves me I’m not out of my mind. After trying to play this piece of art, I had to go and read all those fans and reviewers praising it and wonder if they played the same game as I. I loved the first Witcher, and I could forgive it all its flaws. I had been waiting for second Witcher since the first, and then I get this…console port (yes, it is made having XBOX in mind and it shows) with terrible QTE:s, unresponsive controls and… Read more »
Crofto
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Crofto
5 years 18 days ago
[quote=Richard Naik]As for the graphics/sounds/etc., I didn’t mention them because frankly I didn’t think they were important.[/quote] I know you guys on here don’t really tend to look at technical aspects for either praise or criticism, but personally I believe there is great merit to be had if a game displays impressive tech. Of course, great visuals absolutely do not cancel out fundamental flaws in a game, but it does still deserve highlighting IMO. That’s part of the reason I would rate Witcher 2 a 7/10, since I feel it offers some of the best visual design in gaming on… Read more »
Richard Naik
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Richard Naik
5 years 18 days ago

@Pedro

I’m kicking myself for not thinking of the Benny Hill reference. +1 good sir.

Richard Naik
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Richard Naik
5 years 18 days ago
The caves I’m referring to are the ones under Vergen. There is a map, but it was of no help. It took me forever to realize that there was a second entrance that let you access areas you couldn’t from the first one (so the map was driving me nuts), so I got lost in there for like 30 minutes. And they don’t seem to be convoluted for any gameplay reason. There’s not really any great loot to be found (and believe me, I spent a LOT of time exploring) and most of the paths have little to nothing of… Read more »
vAddicatedGamer
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vAddicatedGamer
5 years 18 days ago
I agree with some of your criticisms – inadequate tutorials, unresponsive controls, problematic auto-targetting. Before I comment on other subjects, let me say I’m puzzled by your comment about “an incredibly frustrating (read: easy to get lost in) series of caves”. First of all, cave crawling is a small part of the game, but most importantly, do you realize that there’s a full-screen map in the game? ——————– About the combat: I don’t agree with the description of the combat as “hack and slash”. And I don’t really understand why you are surprised when “battle preparations” “can only be done… Read more »
SVK87
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SVK87
5 years 18 days ago
BEST GAME OF THIS YEAR SO FAR .. I’m not a fanboy, but this game is one of the best in the recent times of gaming, and you give this game an average rating.. i just can believe how many people have problems with the difficulty of this game..i mean, i have watched some videos on youtube, and i must say, sometimes i was just laughing.. i have died in the first 4 hours like 4 times on Normal difficulty, which i mean is just perfect balance.. And this game proves that the games industry has much to offer even… Read more »
Pedro
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Pedro
5 years 18 days ago
Though people’s attention will be drawn to the score, I think this is a fair review. I agree with pretty much all the flaws pointed out, and with the combat and exposition failures in particular. I’m a bit nonplussed at the adulation shown this game in other quarters, and I think Crofto probably has it right in that because it’s seen as a standardbearer for PC games, its flaws are overlooked. It started off so well – good combat (if you could ignore the key-recognition issues) and an adult and uncompromising story. But the combat devolved into being chased around,… Read more »
Crofto
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Crofto
5 years 19 days ago
Aha, finally the review has arrived. Looking at the score it’s perhaps best it took so long, or else the comments would be flooded by defensive fans scouting for low scores on Metacritic. I feel sorry for them in a way – my theory is that they are so defensive because there are so few PC-centric RPG developers out there that they feel compelled to cling onto CD Projeckt. The sad truth is, though, that CD Projeckt still aren’t a fitting replacement for Bethesda and BioWare of old, and with Witcher 2 designed with consoles in mind (which it really… Read more »
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