Genre: RPG Adventure/Shooter
Developer: CD Projekt RED
Minimum Requirements: OS X 10.7.5+, Intel Core 2 Duo, 4 GB RAM, GeForce GT 650M 512MB (on 1440×900, low), Radeon HD 5770 1GB (on 1440×900, low), 25 GB HD space
Rating: M for Mature (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs)
Here’s the thing…you remember that story you wrote when you were 14 about the totally badass warrior/wizard who travelled the world fighting epic battles, casting spells, and having sexy sexy with lots of improbably beautiful women who just can’t keep their hands off his battle-scarred body? Well, somebody made a game out of it. Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings (W2) is a fantasy game that goes from epic to juvenile as quickly as it goes from simple platformer to complex character management.
W2 takes place in a world of magic and elves, but establishes its credentials as low fantasy pretty quickly. It’s not concerned with moral orders and honor; your character, Geralt of Rivia, is in the employ of a king who’s assaulting a castle to get back his illegitimate children. That hundred of soldiers are going to die over a family dispute doesn’t escape anyone’s notice, but Geralt just wants to do the job, get paid, and get out of town. Spoiler alert: things do go as planned. Geralt finds himself on the run, trying to hunt down another Witcher.
In terms of gameplay, W2 is a simple action game with a complex character development system underneath it. As a Witcher, Geralt is adept with both blade and magic, cutting down foes with steel or switching to any of his several spells (along with bombs and traps) to immobilize or harm them. The real time combat system is fast and fluid, just point Geralt towards an enemy (using the mouse) and you’ll target him. You can attack, dodge, parry and riposte (once you learn the latter skills) with a sword, or use hotkeys to cast spells or use items. The hardest part about combat is memorizing the shortcuts.
When not in combat, Geralt wanders the world (in a third-person perspective). Quests and sidequests can be marked in the mini-map, giving you a general idea of the direction you need to head to solve them (but there may be obstacles in the way). If you’re worried about missing anything, W2 has an interesting way of telling you what objects you can interact with—a medallion that sends out a mystic wave. Objects you can use are illuminated.
As Geralt gains experience, you can invest points in a complex skill system, making him better at combat, letting him restore health quicker, or improving his magic skills. In addition to finding better equipment, you can also forge better weapons by finding plans/recipes around the game. These, of course, require you to gather materials to use.
Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings was a lot of fun to play…once I could get it to play. Despite trying it on two machines that met (or exceeded) the minimum system requirements, I could only get it to run on a new Macbook Pro running the latest version of OS X. Every other machine would simply hang on the loading screen. If you want to give this game a try, make sure you have lots of RAM, a good graphics card, and the latest version of Mountain Lion.
Also, the game has a bad case of the cinematics. The adventures of Geralt as he runs around the fantasy world interacting with friends and foes was fun, but long segments of the game are taken up with establishing the plot and tone, and introducing characters. The good news is that you can skip virtually all of these. The bad news is that if you do it, you’ll miss part of the story and might be confused as to what you’re doing.
W2 is rated M for Mature, and we mean “mature” in the “Cinemax Late Night” sense. There are many female characters who, despite living in the middle ages, nevertheless have easy access to leather armor yoga pants they simply can’t wait to get out of and frolic with Geralt.
The game also suffers from occasional “what do I do next” problems; you’ll know what the goal is, but not how to accomplish this. In the tutorial, for example, you’re told to improve all your skills before you can move on. What the game means is that you have to take the mutagen (which improves an ability), and apply it to the skill that has a tiny grey dot next to it. I was repeatedly referring to walkthroughs to tell me what unmarked area I was expected to go to and cast a certain spell to advance.
The parts of Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings that I liked, I really, really liked. Geralt’s a fun power fantasy character, and when the game is “on,” like trying to use an enemy’s ballista against him in the middle of a castle assault, it really came together. If you have a powerful enough machine and are willing to invest the time learning the ins and outs of the combat and character system, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. But be sure you have a walkthrough handy, and that the kids aren’t around when you’re playing it.