Making the most out of a crap year means retreating into the things that give you a measure of joy and escape. Being stuck at home a lot of the time has encouraged me to revisit video game backlogs and select games I’ll want to pick up again after not touching some of them in months or years. When I’m able to fully focus my attention on one game I accomplish a lot. Recently I finished playing The Witcher 2: The Assassins of Kings, and I’m thoroughly impressed with the work CD Projekt Red had put into this 2011 game.
I’ve mentioned plenty of times how completing a game in its entirety is always a personal victory for me. I’m more likely to start a game but never finish it, which is probably an experience not uncommon among other gamers. Thanks to Netflix’s The Witcher it has inspired me to go back to The Witcher 2 game I dabbled with in 2015 on my old Xbox 360. Like most RPG video games, The Witcher 2 took many months to play and it has turned out to be a very satisfying time.
In The Witcher 2 Geralt of Rivia is imprisoned under the suspicion of assassinating King Foltest of Temeria. After being interrogated by the head of the Temerian special forces Vernon Roche, he believes Geralt is innocent of the charges brought against the witcher and decides to break Geralt out of the dungeon, with the aid of sorceress Triss Marigold, to help him find the real kingslayer. Aside from trying to clear his name of wrongdoing, Geralt is also attempting to retrieve the missing parts of his memory of past events concerning Yennefer of Vengerberg and her kidnapping by the Wild Hunt. It gets even messier when the true murderer of Foltest, another witcher named Letho, kidnaps Triss. During the hunt to track down Letho and rescue Triss, Geralt unavoidably gets entangled in the political conflict and intrigues going on in the region.
The game gets interesting near the end of Chapter 1 when Geralt must decide who to align himself with—Vernon Roche or a rogue elf named Iorveth, commander of the Scoia’tael. Depending on who you choose to team up with the story begins to branch into different paths and outcomes a player can have as their ending. Ultimately I wound up choosing to do Iorveth’s path with some surprising results with my ending.
What shocked me the most was how bleak everything turned out in my ending. Bodies were everywhere and an entire city was pillaged and burned to the ground. I’m not sure if there were certain decisions I could have made differently for a much less destructive conclusion, as there are a total of 16 endings or variations you can get in this game, but I have to applaud CD Projekt Red for creating a game as intricate and complex as The Witcher 2.
The big decisions in The Witcher 2 isn’t always as obvious as choosing who to side with for the duration of the game. I read a few guides on the various branches and directions the story can go based on choosing one option over the other, and it’s a lot to keep track of. I can only imagine what the story boarding process must have been like when the writers and developers for the game were putting it together. The smallest, seemingly most insignificant decisions turn out to be much more important later. I’ve played enough decision based video games to be aware of the mechanics but maybe not to this extent. It blows every other decision based game, like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Life is Strange out of the water. Nothing about The Witcher 2 is predictable, at least not in the same way as the other games I just mentioned. I played the game not knowing how it would end or what the impact would be for the world at large. I wouldn’t say I’m unhappy with my ending but it definitely wasn’t what I expected either, which is a good thing. It’s the first time I’ve come away from a video game where I felt nothing but discomfort and I needed time for the shock to wear off.
I now understand why CD Projekt Red has gotten the respect and reputation it achieved in the last few years. The Witcher 2 is stunning for its storytelling and creating side quests that actually ties back to the story or the world in some way. I didn’t play every single side quest, but the ones I did were truly a breath of fresh air. These weren’t fetch quests or meaningless throwaway ones you’d soon forget. Minor side characters you might have seen briefly in one chapter later come back again with a quest they would like you to help them with. If you decide to do them these side characters are chock full of information, whether it’s the history of the place you’re currently in or more insight into Geralt’s past. I may love Mass Effect and Dragon Age to bits but even I have to concede that their side quests are awful and boring to do. CD Projekt Red’s approach to side quests should be a gold standard all other RPG video games should follow.
Despite the obvious age and slightly outdated graphics of the video game, The Witcher 2 is a stellar game to play if you’re looking for the unexpected in your story. I’m hoping to revisit The Witcher 2 one day to do Vernon Roche’s path so I can get most of the game’s full experience, and an entirely different perspective on the same plot. If The Witcher 2 is any indication CD Projekt Red’s upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 is sure to astound and amaze with its sprawling Night City and story. I can’t hardly wait!