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The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings | Review

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Games like The Witcher 2 only come around every once in a while. It’s a game that offers a compelling story where every choice you make matters, a combat system that is unforgiving and tactical, and sex that is used to enhance the story and is not just used for visual pleasure. Those and countless other things make The Witcher 2 different from just about any other game out there. If you own an Xbox 360 or PC and have a love for RPG’s, then The Witcher 2 is a game you just cannot afford to pass up.

Having not played the first game, there’s no way I can really explain to you where the story continues from, so below this paragraph will be a video that details the first game’s events in detail, made from the development team at CD Projekt Red.

 

Now that you know what the first game was all about we can continue on. The Witcher 2 begins with Geralt in an interrogation room, being questioned about events that occurred in a bloody assault one day before. The events that happened that day thrust you into the middle of a complex plot that has you fighting to redeem your name and help Geralt return to the normal life of a Witcher. Like every other critic has said, this game is not for kids. The Witcher 2 makes you think about every choice you make and doesn’t give you the “If I do this I’m good, if I do this I’m bad” feeling. You make the choices you want to make because it’s the choice you feel is right. Geralt has a reason for every choice he makes and unlike other RPGs, there isn’t a “wrong” choice. One choice can completely alter your storyline.

The thing about The Witcher 2 that really pulls you in though is the characters. The only game I can really think of that made me feel an actual connection between the characters in recent memory that compares to The Witcher 2 would be Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. But even using that game as a comparison is making a far stretch. Every character you meet in The Witcher 2 has their own distinct personality, even just normal soldiers. Some will greet you in a friendly manner and others will tell you to piss off. It truly makes the game’s characters feel alive and human. I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you who haven’t played the game yet; this is a game where you truly need to experience everything for yourself to see just how compelling it really is.

The way dialogue is used is very similar to games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age, aside from the fact that there’s no “good” or “bad” choice. The best thing about The Witcher 2‘s dialogue is that you really want to hear everything a character has to say. No one person is boring, and to fully understand who the characters really are that you meet, you’ll want to read up more on them in the in-depth journal in the game that explains events, characters and everything else in more detail.

In terms of gameplay, you’d  be hard pressed to  find a more tactical RPG out there, in terms of difficulty and your plan of attack, aside from Dark Souls. There is no hand holding whatsoever in The Witcher 2–it’s a game that is full of trial and error and is all the more rewarding when you finally beat a part that you’ve have to work on for a while. This is something the developers wanted in their game. In a recent interview with GameInformer, they stated that gamers miss their difficult games.

” If we lose all difficulty in games, they will be only an interactive movie and not challenges. For us the word “game” implies that you might lose – no pain, no gain. And you get real satisfaction when you overcome the difficulty. In my opinion, games are all about beating the challenge.

Combat in The Witcher 2 is a mix of swordplay, magic, and other tactical options, such as bombs and potions that enhance your skills and abilities. The cinematic kills are brutal, and once again, display why this game is certainly NOT for kids. Hell, the intro video has a gruesome beheading. As I stated above the game is difficult and you will more than likely replay some of the harder fights over and over again until you find a strategy that works to take down your foe. I began my game on the Easy difficulty, but once I learned how the combat works and such I upped the difficulty to normal, which is still plenty hard. I’m not sure how anyone can play this game on the “Dark” difficulty, unless they’ve beaten Dark Souls without a sweat. I did notice that the human enemies’ AI isn’t consistent. Sometimes I’d be surrounded and they’d coordinate their attacks against me, but at other times, I’d be able to just push an enemy to a wall and hack away until I killed him. The monsters however, are a lot more agile and will force you to use spells to trap them, slow them down and, overall, will be the foes that give you the most challenge.

Graphically, The Witcher 2 is beautiful. The world is full of color and varied environments that just really give you the sense of adventure. The Xbox 360 version obviously isn’t as good looking as the PC version, but the margin is pretty thin between the two. The 360 version’s draw distance is marred by a consistent fog in large forests, but in areas that are more open, the game looks fantastic. There are a few graphical glitches here and there with texture pop ins, characters randomly disappearing into thin air, etc. For instance, one time when I was having a conversation in the beginning of the game, Geralt simply vanished. So the person I was talking to seemed to be yelling at a ghost, which was really quite funny. The music is memorable as well, offering a soundtrack that fits perfectly with the lore of the world, and helps to emphasize the more emotional and exciting parts of the game.

The Witcher 2 is a game that sets a new standard for storytelling, character relationships, and choices. It’s a rich RPG than fans of the genre simply cannot pass up, if you’re old enough to play it, of course. The game isn’t perfect, so don’t go in expecting that, as you wouldn’t any game. Still though, The Witcher 2 is definitely a game of the year contender, no doubt about that. If you have a PC powerful enough to play The Witcher 2, that should be your first choice, but as I said, the 360 version is just about as good as the latter.

(Xbox 360 and PC review copies provided by CD Projekt Red and Warner Bros, thanks from Only Single Player!)

OnlySP founder and former site owner.

Review

RAGE 2 Review – Glorious Guns but a Shoddy Structure

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RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 5

A Conflicted Beginning

The opening moments of RAGE 2 are reminiscent of little so much as Killzone. A gravelly voice gives a stirring speech about superiority and the need to quash the rampant spread of lesser humans. The speaker is General Cross, a bald, deformed head—Scolar Visari transplanted across the years and franchises—atop a robotic body. Furthermore, like Killzone, such charisma and character are reserved for the enemy faction, here known as The Authority.

Players quickly get the choice of either a male or female Walker before being tossed into a high-octane battlefield overrun by cyborgs and mutants alike. Armed with only a few basic weapons, Walker is an effective killing machine in this first conflict, and the gameplay experience is as satisfying as they come. The guns are responsive and feel powerful, while the level design invites the kind of non-stop strafing and perpetual motion popularised by classics such as Quake and DOOM.

As veteran gamers might expect from past experiences, the battle goes badly. The heroes are killed, and Walker’s hometown is razed. In using this premise RAGE 2 attempts tired pity-me story beats to invest the player (at this point, unsuccessfully). The hometown hero (and Walker’s mother figure) is slain in the battle, which begins a quest that combines personal vengeance with the global desire to do what is best for the world: stop the monsters.

Before that, players must first expand their skill set, and so the sublime first-person shooter gameplay is joined with RPG mechanics that promise immense depth to the gunplay out in the Wasteland, though the first of these so-termed superpowers is underwhelming, providing the ability to dash out of harm’s way.

RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 1

With the story set up, the game shifts gears, putting players into an armoured vehicle, and the grippy handling feels as good as the gunplay. The vehicle physics are decidedly arcade-infused, caring little for such nuances as terrain. Instead, all that matters is putting the pedal to the metal and tearing off towards the first objective (and trying to not get too sidetracked in the process).

Despite all of this—the satisfying gunplay, the competent (if so far unspectacular) story, the pleasurable vehicle controls—something feels missing in RAGE 2, a certain spark that will make everything just click.

Gunplay To Die For

Shaking the dust of the ruined Vineland from Walker’s boots for the first time is a bit like bungee jumping. Although the player’s time in the village has been short, they have become acclimatised to a certain po-faced tone and blazingly fast gameplay. Suddenly, though, the security of familiarity drops away as Walker freefalls into the wasteland.

Three story-focused questlines are provided as immediate options, but every path is peppered with distractions and side missions that beg to be roughhoused. After only an hour’s random exploration, the overworld map is littered with icons denoting all sorts of miscellaneous activities.

The Arks, in particular, call for attention. In the fiction, they are similar to Fallout’s Vaults in their stated purpose of repopulating the world post-apocalypse, but they serve primarily as a means of increasing Walker’s abilities. As enticing and—importantly—useful as the Arks are, they highlight a problem about the open world that manifests quite quickly: almost every Ark is blocked by a cohort of enemies, with another set arriving once Walker has acquired her newest skill.

Indeed, most of the activities scattered about the world amount to combat challenges against ever more dangerous foes. Occasionally, random NPCs will offer races, but these are not frequent enough to offset the sheer number of bullets that players will fire both on foot and in their vehicles. Thankfully, many of the enemy outposts, bandit dens, and bounty hideouts feature bespoke, open designs, meaning that players are never at liberty to settle into a single pattern of clearing these challenges.

RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 2

Further adding diversity (though not nearly enough) are the different combat proclivities of each faction. The Goons and The Shrouded will be the most familiar to gamers, each showcasing a combination of pop-n-shoot gunplay, explosives, and close-range attackers. The mutants are more animalistic, preferring melee. Meanwhile, The Authority uses brute force and high firepower to wipe out any opposition. Although players need to be aware of the unique tactics and skills of each faction, none force the player to change their strategy; the best approach is always to move fast and keep pulling the trigger and, eventually, every enemy breaks down into scattered giblets.

The ever-expanding suite of options, compelling gunplay, varied level design, and satisfying difficulty all ensure that these encounters are never boring, but these traits are not enough to prevent a growing sense of tedium. In many ways, venturing unstructured through the wasteland feels as though the developers had a hammer of a gameplay loop, so every problem had to be a nail.

The bungee jumping analogy, then, comes full circle. After the thrill of freefall, the cord snaps back and the jumper, before too long, arrives back on terra firma. RAGE 2 follows this pattern, as the freedom of tearing across a vast environment always reins itself in to fighting.

However, novelty is not that not-quite-identifiable thing that lurks just beyond reach. Even moving from vehicle to foot changes things up, and the ridiculous amount of options in combat keeps things perpetually fresh.

A Story Lost Amidst the Bombast

The claims about story being a focal point of RAGE 2’s development ring hollow. A forgiving estimate of total narrative-led play time would clock about six hours—a realistic estimate, four. The disappointment spans more than just the brevity, however.

Walker is exactly the kind of faceless, figureless protagonist that has plagued the shooter genre for years. Her bland, no-nonsense demeanour is a dampening lens through which to view this madcap apocalypse, and it undercuts the otherwise energetic tone. Whether interacting with the dour John Marshall or the despicable Doctor Kvasir, Walker remains unflappable, the consummate professional, and that is to the detriment of the whole game. Indeed, her personality—or, rather, the lack thereof—is a clear demonstration of that missing something that has proven so elusive. More on that later, though.

With the story being so short, the lack of impact should come as little surprise. The invasion of Vineland in the opening moments is, by far, the most interesting plot point of the entire game. Such narrative necessities as momentum, surprise, and emotion are jettisoned in favour of a straightforward quest for revenge. Unfortunately, the story is so comprehensively forgettable that nothing else is worth saying about it.

RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 6

To return now to that something; Walker may want for a personality, but the game does not, and this juxtaposition highlights a central shortcoming: a lack of cohesion. RAGE 2 feels like a Frankenstein’s monster of conflicting visions. The remarkably tight combat and hand-crafted locations are designed for the most frenetic of shooters. However, the wider world makes the gunplay feel like just one part of a design that incorporates meaningless RPG progression and purchase mechanics and a considerable amount of driving from one location to another, with regular pit stops to clear enemy hubs (until that process becomes more tiresome than it has any right to be).

Even the world feels disparate, the map stitched together out of box-ticking biomes. To be fair, the deserts, jungles, waterfalls, and canyons all bear the same breathtaking beauty, but they all blend together into a meaningless mish-mash, with the gameplay locations instead being primarily industrial warehouses. The natural environment is wasted, which makes the open world seem like nothing more than padding—another area where mismatched design principles lead to a game that wants to be everything and suffers because of that ambition.

A Slipshod Structure

Bethesda has already laid out a roadmap of post-launch support for RAGE 2, and that has raised fears among the community that the game adheres to a service model. Such concerns can safely be laid to rest. Although the storyline leaves much to be desired, RAGE 2 is plump with content, as evidenced by the dozens—maybe even hundreds—of markers sprinkled across the map.

Unfortunately, the game suffers too much from its freeform design. Players are immediately free to hunt down the Arks that unlock new abilities. As such, every skill and weapon can be unlocked within a handful of hours, which is disastrous for pacing. Even more troublesome, the RPG mechanics serve no real purpose. Players need never purchase a single upgrade to succeed, and the sheer number of different currencies make doing so a chore anyway.

Because of this lack of structure, a game that could still be interesting 30 hours in can also feel worn our within a dozen, and that suggests the post-launch support will likely only appeal to a dedicated fanbase. The challenges, vehicles, and events scheduled to arrive in the coming months will likely not change up the core gameplay structure all that much. Instead, judging by the little information already available, they may simply give dedicated fans more of what they desire.

RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 8

On a completely different note, but equally as concerning as the game structure is the enemy design. Beginning with General Cross and extending across the Goons, mutants, and other factions, RAGE 2 seems to take a perverse pleasure in vilifying the Other, the outsider, the disabled, the religious. Even Doctor Kvasir, as a former Authority scientist with questionable morals, is a deformed being. By contrast, the undisputed heroes are all healthy and whole. While problematic in some respects, this subtle and most likely unintentional subtext is easily overlooked and unlikely to affect the enjoyment of most gamers.

Simply put, RAGE 2 is a strange beast. Perhaps that was inevitable as the follow-up to a middling first effort developed across two very different studios. Perhaps that shared production is also the reason for the lack of unity. Whatever the reason, RAGE 2 is clearly best suited to a particular kind of player. The game offers an often-beautiful environment combined with easy, enjoyable traversal mechanics. Comprising the bulk of the experience is some of the finest and most diverse gunplay combat to be found gaming today. However, these charms are let down somewhat by the lacking story and structure and a general feeling of a tonal mismatch between the bland protagonist and the madcap world.

OnlySP Review Score 3 Credit

Reviewed on Xbox One X.

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