Bywaj This Game
Witcher 2, woman: see how high she flies.
I want to play through the game again before I write any kind of proper review, or any kind of improper review, but having completed the game tonight, I’d be remiss not to tell my loyal no readers about how splendid The Witcher 2 is. You see, it’s quite splendid indeed.
It feels for all the world like a gauntlet being thrown down. “Here’s The Witcher 2: top that, jerkholes.”
It shines in almost every department. Obviously, and very literally, graphically it’s probably the most luscious game I’ve seen. Not just in terms of fidelity, but also in terms of vision and scale. It has natural natural beauty: a vibrant green forest with incandescent beams of sunlight streaming through distant branches, a shallow stream of water glistening peacefully at your feet, the flora stretching on for what feels like forever before you come to a narrow uphill path, which leads to an ancient Elven ruin with a not-quite crumbling statue in pride of place, or a rocky mining outpost, mineral deposits glowing subtly underfoot, giving way to an undisturbed river with a rocky path barely hidden beneath the surface, allowing you to cross to a grassy knoll, underneath which some catacombs need exorcising. It has unnatural beauty: a red-and-purple battlefield haunted by the unhappy ghosts of those who perished in duty. Lighting will shift as the days progress, casting eerie dusky glows as you search for clues about a port-dwelling monster, or casting brilliant light as you dodge Scoia’tael swords on a riverbank. All of it feels handcrafted and significant – a world away from the grim repetition of Dragon Age 2’s dungeons. And it has the most leathery-looking leather straps ever. (I could spend days cooing over them.)
The writing is consistently strong – it probably helped having Sapkowsky’s characters to work with, but having ready-made characters didn’t save EVERY LICENSED GAME EVER from shin-scrapingly bad writing. (“Don’t make me kill you.” “I will do what I must.” “You will try… my old friend.” Star Wars: irredeemable dialogue since 1977.) Every character has a purpose and a personality, from Geralt’s amnesia-stricken, apolitical monster slayer to Saskia’s spunky warrior princess WITH A DARK SECRET to the funny trolls that always have woman trouble. Those silly trolls.
Voice-acting was also commendable: the English actors were fine, but I switched to Polish as soon as the language packs were made available, simply because that’s how I played the first one and now THAT’S HOW THEY TALK DAMN YOUR EYES. There’s something oddly reassuring about once again endeavouring to pick out the familar Polish swears. Or hearing Geralt once more end every conversation with “bywaj” (pronounced “bev-eye”), despite finding out after playing the first game through tenacious application of Google Translate that “bywaj” actually means “welcome”, and then finding out through further Googling that it’s not really a very commonly used word at all and most online Polish dictionaries don’t actually have a definition for it. (Um. I know that seems like a weird amount of Googling to do for a single word, but it was research. For an article. I swear.)
It stumbles slightly on combat: you’re stupefyingly underpowered for the first few hours, then by the end, you’re a badass who’s only mildly perturbed by a dragon chewing on your torso. And the animations always seem a second or two behind your mouse click. But it’s satisfying enough to thwack things with a whopping great sword, and it’s especially fun when you unlock the supremely overpowered group finishers, and get to sit back and marvel at the great animations of Geralt balletically slicing three enemies to bits at a time.
And lastly, in something that’s probably important to me and three other people, there are remarkably few loading screens. Considering the sheer amount of world you cover, it’s commendably seamless – most of the time, a second or two of slight stuttering as it streams the next area is all you have to contend with. (And by “slight stuttering”, I mean the frame rate drops from a steady 60fps to 30-40fps. For about a second. “Slight” is very rarely an overstatement, but it almost is here.) It’s the first game I’ve ever felt was actually using this breathy mammoth of a PC. Crysis and Crysis Warhead could occasionally give it some trouble, but I’ve always suspected that was more to do with incompetent coding than actually going beyond this behemoth’s power. In this case, when Geralt ran carefree through thick, verdant forests and into a densely populated town with picturesque awnings and minutely-detailed character models and all that impossibly-lifelike leather with nary a pause or a stutter or a wheeze, I got the feeling that €18,000 I gave Alienware for all these “cores” wasn’t a bad investment after all.
It’s impressive, is what I’m saying. Far more impressive, now that I think about it, than Portal 2. Or at least, impressive in far more important ways. Portal 2 was brilliantly funny, and incomprehensibly well-designed. It was about as perfect a package of hilarious first-person puzzlery as you could hope to find. But Witcher 2 casts a wider net, dares to do more, and does it all rather fantastically. I get the feeling Mass Effect 3 is going to be judged slightly differently in its wake.
Anyway. That was longer than I anticipated. Time to play through it all again, finish reading Blood of Elves, then wait for Crysis 2 and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West to get here from Play.com. €28 for the two! I am king of cheap.