Steady your nerd rage, because I’m about to nitpick The Witcher 2 after only a few hours of gameplay.
I absolutely loved the first Witcher: the unique yet familiar setting, the mature situations the characters found themselves in, the overall themes, the gameplay…everything about it was awesome. There were a few minor things I would have liked to have seen done differently, but overall, I found it to be one of the better RPGs to grace any platform in quite a long time.
Providing upgraded graphics, an even darker storyline, and a more action-oriented combat system, The Witcher 2 was shaping up to fix everything wrong with the first entry, while retaining everything it did right. I’m enjoying my time spent so far tracking down the assassin of a king, but there are a few things about The Witcher 2 that just don’t sit right with me.
No Polish language in the Steam version
This one is my biggest problem, actually. I prefer to watch or play things in their original language, but this wasn’t the only reason why the Polish audio was a good choice for the first game. You see, English just doesn’t fit the setting…it sounds out of place, and doesn’t mesh well with the characters’ personality. The Polish audio, however, fit the characters and the setting perfectly. The harshness of the language and its delivery made a lot more sense in the brutal world of The Witcher, something which is sorely missed in The Witcher 2.
Don’t get me wrong, the English voicework in the sequel can, at times, be quite compelling…it just doesn’t sound right. I feel like something is lost in the language shift, causing the personalities of different characters to be vastly different than in the original. The best example is Geralt, who sounded like a mysterious, supernatural, soft-spoken badass in the original, but in the sequel has been demoted to stereotypical fantasy hero status. The Polish language granted him an air of uniqueness, while English makes him sound like he could have come straight out of a Dragonlance novel. Ditto for the Dwarves, who’s non-standard speech in Polish really helped break them free from the Scottish stereotype they’ve been assigned here.
I’m aware that you can download a Polish language pack for non-Steam versions of the game, but here’s to hoping the language pack gets put up on Steam asap.
Doors and Loot
Interacting with objects is a bit of a pain in the ass in The Witcher 2. The window of opportunity you’re granted to loot something on the ground is very small…you have to make sure you are aiming DIRECTLY at a loot bag on the ground in order to select it. To be fair, looting whatever is there is super simple and quick, but I find myself having to move the mouse really slowly in order to actually select loot bags.
Interacting with non-loot objects is just as frustrating. Jumping down from or climbing up onto a platform brings the game to a screeching halt, as Geralt pauses for a moment before a canned animation begins to play out. There’s also a moment after the animation completes, where you cannot move at all. This lasts for less than a second, but considering how well done the movement animations are, it really kills the immersion. Doors are equally bad, slowing the action down by a factor of 10, as you wait for Geralt to position himself in front a door, pause, open the door, pause, go through, pause, and then return control to the player.
In a game with excellent character designs and smooth animations, it seems silly to halt everything while interacting with something as common as a door or a ledge.
I never thought I’d say this, but I miss the combat engine from the first game. It felt much more tactical, and no matter how many enemies I was facing at once, I felt as though I was in complete control of the situation. The Witcher 2′s combat system could have been AWESOME, as the potential for fast paced action is quite noticeable in every encounter. Having to actively move around, parrying enemies, choosing when to strike…it all sounds great on paper. However, it instead comes across as clunky, causing me to swing at empty air as often as I swing at an enemy (or causing me to try attacking an enemy I’ve locked onto whose behind everyone else.)
As I’ve been playing the game, I find myself acclimating to the combat more, so this may be something that disperses with more time. For now though, it feels awkward, almost as if the developers weren’t entirely sure if they wanted an active combat system.
This one isn’t all that surprising, given that it was announced right from the beginning that Assassins of Kings was going to eventually be coming to consoles. Still, this game’s interface has been obviously optimized for a controller…I can’t help but wonder if my issues with looting and combat would be eradicated if I were to just hook up a wired 360 controller to my PC, but I refuse to do so unless my feelings regarding combat and looting don’t improve.
EDIT: I’ve since put about five hours more into the game since I originally wrote this article, and many of my problems (primarily dealing with combat) have been fixed. Still, since this is a game appearing on the PC, I feel that my complaints are justified.
The interface, though streamlined, is somehow harder to understand and use than the previous game’s interface. Maybe it’s because I’m so accustomed to PC-centric UIs, but even though the menus are simpler, they somehow feel more cluttered. I don’t want to scroll through inventory lists; I want a grid that allows me to see everything I’m carrying at a glance. A grid-based inventory is intuitive by its very nature alone…having an inventory presented as a list forces you to scroll through different screens in an attempt to locate what you want, rather than visually seeing an icon and simply clicking on it.
The Witcher 2 also suffers from something that plagued Dragon Age 2: a separate inventory screen rather than something that lays over the in-game UI. This causes a complete destruction of immersion, due to a lack of sight on the game world. I know having the inventory take up the whole screen allows for UI elements to be more spread out, but if they had stuck to a grid-based system, that would be a moot point anyway. Again, I’m not surprised that the game feels like it belongs on a console, as a 3rd-person action RPG probably WOULD be more comfortable with a controller instead of a mouse and keyboard, but it’s disappointing all the same.
I know I just spent the last 900 words or so ripping The Witcher 2, so let me be clear here: I’m really enjoying this game, and I plan to play it to the very end. The storyline is engaging, the world feels alive, the writing is great, the sound design is fantastic (ESPECIALLY the foley work), the visuals are gorgeous, and as long as ubersampling is turned off, I can quite smoothly run the game at full maximum settings on my mid-range gaming PC (Athlon II X4 635, 4 gigs of DDR2 800 RAM, 560ti Twin Frozr GPU, 1920 x 1080 resolution).
With all that being said, there are a number of things that I would really like to see addressed in a future patch, most notably Polish language support for the Steam version. The Witcher 2 is a great game so far, but because of all the things it gets right, the things it gets wrong really stand out.