Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Witcher 2. Finished.

So, I've finished The Witcher 2 - Assassins of Kings, in only about 3 months instead of the 2 to 3 years that the first game took (of course, there were large breaks during that time where I was not gaming or playing other games). The Witcher 2 took about 40 - 43 hours of play time which puts it quite close to the developers' estimate of 40 hours. In those 3 months of Witcher 2 I probably only took  1 or 2 week breaks as the game had a much faster pace

What's Changed

It wouldn't be a sequel without a comparison to the earlier game, and CD Projekt RED has given us much to compare! New story, new gameplay, totally new engine.

New Story

I'll be brief here so as not to give anything away, this story takes place over 4 main distinct areas - 2 battle fields and two towns. The game sticks quite closely to the story this time, with only a few side quests per chapter. As much as the side quests in RPGs are fun - optional quests that you can choose to veer off and take a break from the main story, I think it worked quite well here to limit them. The game seemed flow a bit better and didn't get as tiresome. 

New Gameplay

A modern game deserves modern gameplay and CD Projekt RED have succeeded in this regard. The combat is a lot faster paced with full support for game controllers since it is also released for consoles. After the first few fights I got used to the new combat system, but I'll always think fondly of The Witcher's system of combat. There was something epic feeling about pressing X for Group attack style or C for Fast and having to decide which combat style to use depending on which enemy you're fighting. In the The Witcher 2 you left-click for Fast attack or right-click for Strong (or is it the other way?). I was never able experience proper combat with this new system, I ended up just everything enough times it died. Though according to the forums, this new system would give increased control. In first game, you really only had to click when the cursor changed to a flaming sword icon, then you'd get the combos and attack bonuses.  Hopefully I'll get a better feel for the combat system in the third installment.  This video by "WrathzRevenge" on YouTube gives a good indication. There is some swearing though, please supervise your kids!

In the Witcher 2 you now have the ability to use the Witcher Sign Axii during conversation to influence the conversation a certain direction or gain knowledge that the character wouldn't otherwise have told you (previously you could only use Axii during combat, and it didn't seem very useful there anyway). As well, you can Intimidate (threaten) the character into cooperating with you, again for an increased chance of them giving you something or doing something for you. Another new addition to conversation is time based dialogue.  To encourage the player to make a particular choice and simulate a sense of urgency, some dialogue lines have have a time attached. 

These additions worked well I think - using Axii during a conversation gives the player as Witcher a powerful feeling, while giving the player some chance to use the ability even if they mightn't bother during combat. I never used it during combat, primarily because it seemed to use precious seconds during a battle and well, I wasn't that coordinated to try it, even in the first game. (Actually, I never used Yrden the trap sign in Witcher 1 either, I think it seemed useless the one time I tried it.) Intimidation is an expected ability for a (in-)famous Witcher to have, and these days it's a common ability in modern RPGs.


The Witcher gave us fist fighting and dice poker minigames for player enjoy if they didn't feel like hunting monsters. The Witcher 2 adds arm wrestling and updates the mechanics of the dice poker and fist fighting games. Notice I said "updates", not "improves". The fist fighting matches are now a WASD based quick-time event (but fortunately, they are actually achievable), and with the new engine now look quite nice and fluid. Video by Keenage

The dice poker games have unfortunately gone backwards, with the printed numbers on the die in a such an exotic font that it's quite difficult to read and the player's mouse influencing the roll of the dice to such an extent that you could roll them outside of the game board.


Fortunately, due to the faster pace of the second game, there wasn't as much time to sit around playing dice games.

New Game Engine!

In the first game, CD Projekt licensed the Aurora Engine (and heavily modified it to add more 3D and special effects) from Bioware, known for the Neverwinter Nights games. As I discussed previously, this did have some limitations, the most noticeable one for me was only being able to walk around on pre-defined ramps to areas that were raised compared to other areas. 

For The Witcher 2, CD Projekt was able to use the funds they raised from the first game and expertise they learned to build their own game engine which you've seen above. This new engine is much more capable and now provides for multiple levels within an area such that you can climb up or down to get to, such as ledges via ladders or valleys via rock faces. When click on the ladder or rock face to climb it, Geralt automatically does that action and animates for the player. You don't have to keep holding the key to climb.

In the Aurora Engine, every area was a separate rendering scene so the game needed to load and unload maps even when you entered a simple area like a house or a whole new area like a cave. In RED Engine the transition between outside areas is seamless and fluid - you can enter a cave from the forest as you would in real life - by waking down it! One curious thing though, While there wasn't any loading time so speak of between an outdoor area and an indoor area you had to click the door to open it. This was fine and makes perfect sense... Until you have to follow an NPC and they open the door for them self, but then promptly slam it in your face, rudely interrupting your following of them on your mission!

Things I Miss From The First Game.

Actually, I miss most of my favourite game play elements! But some are more important than others...

Adding custom waypoint markers - This was quite handy in W1 to help prevent the player getting lost, particularly in the swamps where it's important to follow a particular route through the swamp. This would have been very useful in some parts of W2 in the forests since the trails weren't marked very well and again, if you didn't take the right path, you'd end up some where else in the forest.

Click to move if you're lazy and pausing the game even in mid battle - Clicking to move didn't really make sense in this new game anyway, it's a product of older RPGs and this game only had one camera view, Over The Shoulder. The only real problem is you can't play the game while eating because you need to actually control Geralt now. (Before, I could take a spoonful of food and click to move around and he'd automatically walk there.) Pausing the game in the middle would have been cool to look at the effects, but I think they were deliberately going for a faster paced game this time.

Alcohol and potions. In The Witcher, you could collect alcohol that you found or bought, and you actually need it as an alchemical base to brew potions with. You could also drink it and walk around the game drunk. In The Witcher 2 you don't even need a base for potion brewing anymore, just the plants or animal parts, and you can't drink outside of a conversation with an NPC. You can't even eat food to gain a bit of health back, with was fun to watch. I guess they wanted to focus on the game and story, rather than having the player run around trying to get alcohol for potions. It certainly simplifies the game and made it less tedious, but it was just kind of fun to get the ingredients together or watch the screen get blurrier as Geralt gets drunk. They have also restricted the potion brewing to only potions you have recipes for - no more mixing up random things to make new potions. But again, it does help to condense the game and make it more accessible.


The Witcher 2 includes a new Arena mode which is just a combat mode with no impact on the story. You can try out different combat types or just fight monsters or humans quickly, without worrying about the main story. 

The developers also provided support for XBox compatible game controllers, which I found very difficult to use though, being a PC gamer, I suppose that's just me. The Witcher 3 gameplay videos I've seen, show the developers using a controller to demo the unreleased game, which will also debut on the consoles at the same time as the PC version.

I'd like to try out the Arena mode more and maybe the controller... control system and write a more detailed post about them in the near future. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Witching Thoughts - Post Game thoughts on The Witcher

So, I finally completed The Witcher by CD Projekt RED. It probably took me at least 90-100 hours for the main game. These statistics came from my Xfire profile and ManicTime time tracker for PC.

Favourite game play elements:

  • Click to move if you are lazy.
  • Witcher attack styles.
  • Drinking alcohol makes you drunk.
  • Combining potions with special ingredients to make extra strong ones.
  • Hold down alt key to highlight objects.
  • You could press space key to pause the game even if mid combat and change Signs or drink potions. Look around the world.
  • Adding custom way point markers to the map.

Chapters and environments:

Prologue - Kaer Moren new and fresh. What's interesting is the premium module The Price of Neutrality actually uses the Prologue map as a real level even though in the original game it was only an in-game cut scene. This was because the cut scene wasn't just a video, it was a scripted camera animation path using the normal game engine.

Chapter 1 - Outskirts of Visima like a small country town. It serves as an introduction to some of the characters and the continuing story line. This level wasn't too tedious though it was lengthy (it felt about the length of chapter2), it seemed to provide enough variety.

Chapter 2 and 3 are set in Visima itself. Great looking city. These two chapters get a bit long and tedious. But they form the bulk of the story line. In these sections, there was a lot of running around between the city areas and the swamp area, with the swamp area being particularly annoying as there were so many things out to kill you. Chapter 3 was probably the longest in my opinion.

Chapter 4 moves to the Lakeside. The atmosphere here was wonderful, relaxing and the story line here provided a much needed break from main storyline. This is my favourite chapter in the game - this "diplomacy" chapter where you were just helping characters sort out their domestic disputes (with monster killing too of course) was very fun, and a few of the characters were quite memorable.

Chapter 5 and the Epilogue returns Geralt to Vizima to finish what is was started in the Prologue. This section, forming the conclusion of the game was quite interesting to look at - the environments were varied but they made sense, and weren't too tedious.


You can only walk up a ramp or stairs even if the height above the ground is quite enough to easily jump down. This of course is a limitation of the game engine CDPR used, and they managed to improve this in second game by allowing you to climb up ledges or hop down from a height. In The Witcher 2 you can click at the edge so Geralt will jump down or climb up, or ascend or descend ladders. (It will play an animation for this.)

Some of the enemies were quite difficult for the player character's level of experience, even with potions and stuff you still die several times. Come back, level up a but more and it's easy. If you don't like frustration... edit the save game like I did if it was too frustrating and ruining the actual fun. Actually this may have been improved in Witcher 2 as I haven't felt the need to that this time. Sometimes I still read the walkthroughs or play videos just to realise something obvious I missed though.

Some of the buildings seem almost as tall as Geralt from the outside, but inside they are normal height. Typically though RPG buildings are 1/3 scale from the outside.

Premium Modules

The premium modules were fan made bonus adventures that CDPR had professionally voiced for the release of the Enhanced Edition. (I don't believe that they were fan made mods anymore - I once did, but from reading around I think they are indeed developed by CDPR; but they had that fan made feel to them.)

Side Effects - 3.5 hours.

Side Effects has a very fun, "fan mod" feel about it, it's all the cool things you'd like to do in the game rolled up into a short story! It felt like exactly the sort of game I'd make if I were making a game with the editor, and... precisely the games my classmates made during our game design subject at university.

Price of Neutrality - 3 hours.

This module was fascinating and nostalgic because we were playing back with the other Witchers at Kaer Moren (and they were voiced by the original cast), but there a couple of frustrating times when I had to redo particular battles with monsters or that it was very difficult to survive a particular fight. But still I'd recommend playing it, just bear that in mind.