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The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (PC) artwork

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (PC) review


"If you can look past the balancing, pacing and technical issues, there is an extremely solid RPG here - nothing especially innovative, but definitely a game that sets out to be the most absorbing, rich and spectacular experience it possibly can be. Itís a disappointment because it largely succeeds in that goal while fluffing the basics. The best RPG of the current generation? With a bit more care, it could have been."



The Witcher 2 is an ambitious game that doesnít quite meet its own high standards. Thatís an important thing to keep in mind throughout its 20 or 30 hours of play time. There are occasions when The Witcher 2 feels like the greatest RPG of the current generation, and others when it feels like a crushing disappointment, abjectly ruined by shabby design decisions and ludicrous technical hiccups. The truth, however, lies somewhere in between.

Itís the sequel to CD Projektís 2007 debut, based on a series of short stories by Andrzej Sapkowski. The Witcher was a commendable effort - flawed in a great many ways, but still engrossing, and still able to demonstrate a deep understanding of how roleplaying games work. In it, you played as Geralt - a monster slayer known as a ďwitcherĒ - whoíd lost his memory after a savage attack.

The Witcher 2 continues the first gameís amnesia theme, although this time around itís largely relegated to an ongoing sub-plot in which Geralt attempts to rescue memories of the time before the first gameís events. The bulk of the main quest instead involves a hunt for the Kingís murderer - a giant beast of a man whoís framed Geralt for the assassination.



Your search begins in the town of Flotsam - a typical fantasy settlement, but one where things have gone awry. You arrive to the scene of an execution of four townspeople - two of whom you know to be innocent. The townís leader slurs hateful words to the rowdy rabble of an audience, one filled with thugs and prostitutes. Nearby, non-humans are relegated to their own shabby part of the town. Flotsamís leader is stubbornly prejudiced, convinced that the non-humans will take up arms against his people when the time comes.

The Witcherís world is a dark one. Flotsam itself is largely a safe place, though itís anything but welcoming. Thereís tension here. As you stand in the townís square while crows gather around two corpses hanging by the neck from the gallows, you certainly feel it.

This is often a tremendously atmospheric game, helped in large by CD Projektís spectacular RED Engine. On its highest settings it truly is a sight to behold, creating one of the most visually beautiful games weíve ever seen - but even with the detail scaled back, the art design holds its own. The engine is capable of rendering enormous, majestic battles, and vistas that stretch far into the distance. But itís also capable of capturing the nuance of a particular moment - something far too few games manage.

Itís these moments - a tender glance between characters, a drunken party around a campfire, or the ominous sight of men and women hanging from nooses - that showcase The Witcher 2 at its best. These, and the often excellent combat. Dropping the original gameís light and heavy fighting stances, its two-button attack setup allows for fluid change between small and large blows. Additionally, it encourages more creative battle techniques, asking you to dodge and parry incoming attacks, as well as employing a selection of spells with which to fend off your foes.

When this works, it makes for some tense, invigorating sequences as you engage in a knife-edge battle for control. There are problems, though. The first is that The Witcher 2 is sometimes just too bloody hard, with some early fights taking five or ten attempts on anything but the lowest difficulty setting. Switch down to Ďeasyí, as you can do at any point, and youíre left with the opposite problem: you can win most battles by buffing with a defensive spell, then hammering the left and right mouse buttons until everyone around you has crimson goo spilling from their insides.

The difficulty curve is all wrong, too. This is one of a very special few games that manages to get easier the further you progress into it. After the first few hours your skill tree opens up, and suddenly, with each level, youíre an increasingly formidable opponent. Yet your enemies never quite scale up in the same way, meaning that by midway through Chapter 2 the difficulty problems have largely ironed themselves out. Itís a relief when that happens, but it really should have been the difficulty of the opening that was addressed, not that of the rest of the game.



The second issue is that, for a system thatís so clearly about rhythm and timing, itís enormously frustrating that certain animations have to play out before you can commit to your next swing. Most problematic is that this often happens when directly under attack: when Geralt is struck, he sways backwards, fully exposed for a second or two. When a whole wave of enemies is closing in, this is often impossible to recover from.

In fact, letís talk about the animations. They really do enjoy playing out in full before youíre allowed to do anything. Want to walk through a door when accompanied by a friendly NPC? Tough - you canít, until theyíve opened the door, walked through it themselves, and then closed it behind them. This happens so frequently during the game that, after ten hours or so, Iíd grown past being frustrated and had settled into a state of utterly dejected acceptance.

Also, for every marvelously rendered cut-scene or set-piece, thereís something ridiculous like a prostitute hovering on the spot in an idle position - or, on one particularly hilarious occasion, Geralt fearsomely readying his sword, despite the fact that there was no sword in sight. The witcher was left firmly grasping thin air, ready to beat the living hell out of a giant monster with it.

That moment emerged as part of a larger issue in which I managed, for a while, to completely break the game. Iíd had to leave my weapons with a guard in order to enter a certain area of Flotsam, and when I returned, despite an NPC prompting me to collect my weapons, Iíd forgotten to do so - or, perhaps, not realised I had to do it manually. I then attempted to get on with the game, but the game had other ideas.

Instead of simply stopping me from progressing at all, The Witcher 2 continued, allowing me to push on with the main quest, but with various things not quite working. Cut-scenes became unskippable. Character models vanished into the void, despite playing a crucial part in the conversation in progress. Geralt attempted to wield thin air instead of a sword in that cut-scene preceding a boss fight, and, most ruinously, the save feature stopped working. The result was that I lost a good half-hourís worth of progress, twice, before I realised what was going on.

Certainly it was my misunderstanding of the gameís commands which led to this nonsense, but it was The Witcher 2 that allowed me to press on anyway, and then simply could not handle it when I did. This is a point that CD Projekt might have liked to address, given that the game is seemingly on a mission to provide as little important information as possible, especially in what is laughably called its ďtutorialĒ.

In fact, Iíd go as far as to say the majority of the gameís opening act is a fairly serious misstep. It has its moments, of course, but add pacing issues to the list of problems. The Witcher made this mistake as well, shoving an end goal in plain sight but preventing you from reaching it for as long as possible, wildly overstepping the line of intrigue and straying towards tedium. In its sequel, the first task in your main quest is - essentially - to busy yourself for several hours until an important character finally finds the time to speak with you.



And so, with this list of fairly significant flaws, itís easy to overlook the fact that whatís beneath them is an engrossing game - one that understands why the genre was traditionally popular, but also why itís been streamlined for todayís audience.

The setting is generic, but thereís a whole load of complexity to the storytelling. Perhaps too much at times, as it can get confusing, but the narrative scope on offer is impressive. The writing is decent, characters are well-rounded, and despite working on a skill-tree system rather than more traditional experience points, thereís a real sense of progression as you fight through the many hours of your journey. Thereís even a well-managed sex scene, which certainly makes the original gameís ridiculous porn cards look like the sexist drivel that they were. It feels natural, and human, and never gratuitous despite being fairly explicit.

The second chapter ramps up the excitement, and those who persevere past the game's lacklustre opening third will find their patience rewarded quite handsomely. It follows a frustrating choice that asks you to side with either an obnoxious, prejudiced oaf of a man or a band of terrorists who keep trying to kill you, which feels like a misguided attempt to force a Difficult Moral Decision on the player. But to The Witcher 2ís credit, it has the courage to follow through with its promises more than perhaps any other large-scale game around, sending the story off in contrasting directions and making you deal with the consequences of whichever path you took.

If you can look past the balancing, pacing and technical issues, there is an extremely solid RPG here - nothing especially innovative, but definitely a game that sets out to be the most absorbing, rich and spectacular experience it possibly can be. Itís a disappointment because it largely succeeds in that goal while fluffing the basics. The best RPG of the current generation? With a bit more care, it could have been.

Rating: 7/10

Lewis's avatar
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (May 23, 2011)

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orctowngrot posted May 24, 2011:

7, LOL. Well that's gonna need a psychological profile of the reviewer. Needs attention? Can't concentrate long? This game is more than a 7, even if you don't like, it, can't handle the controls, and couldn't be bothered with the item crafting. Suggest another 40 hours of playtesting and try your review again.
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xDeth7 posted May 24, 2011:

I just registered with this website to leave feedback for the reviewer.

I'm not positive whether or not you're new to reviewing PC games, but I'll assume you're at least familiar with them because of your top 50 games list. In fact, lets dig deeper into that.

You list Vampire Bloodlines: Masquerade as #3 - a game that was well known to have been littered with bugs upon its release, so you should really understand how PC games work. Bugs, stability issues, or continuity errors are all things that should be looked past when grading a PC game. Why? Because they're easy fixes and aren't indicative of the game's real worth. The QA/Test team missed them, but they can easily be ironed out.

Further evidence against your case is the fact that you reviewed the original Witcher and gave it a higher score. It was littered with bugs on release to a degree as much as if not worse than its sequel.

Lastly, did you even research to see if these bugs were ubiquitous? I've beaten the game twice and haven't encountered but one or two graphical errors and a single continuity flaw. If yours was an isolated case (which it is) then it reads as if you let a single error (that few have encountered) ruin your entire experience.

What's really funny is that instead of saying, "Oh crap, I should've picked up my swords - my bad!", you blame the game for not stopping you. Really, all that this little fact (you not noticing you weren't carrying around swords - you know, the two HUGE things on his back that gleam and sparkly) does is helps to prove that you were just going through the motions. I mean really - how couldn't you notice that you were missing swords? That's just ridiculous.

If you want to deduct points, I understand, but citing the a single bug (to which you caused) and a few graphical hitches as a primary concern in your review and following it up with an incredibly underwhelming score is definitely the work of a nubile reviewer. Saying that it "could've been the best RPG of the current generation" without citing any other evidence besides bugs and the prologue is just inane; frankly, I'm not sure why your reviews or this site have reached my eyes because they certainly shouldn't be considered credited enough to be listed next to the likes of PC Gamer or IGN.
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Lewis posted May 24, 2011:

"This game is more than a 7, even if you don't like it."

Uh.
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Nightmare posted May 24, 2011:

And he's back again...

Call me crazy, but I didn't think 7 was that bad. It's above average, so it means the game is good, but has its share of flaws. That's what I gathered from reading the review. And one's view of flaws and what deduction they should play is independent to each critic. I personally never picked up New Vegas based on the massive amount of bugs gamers had to deal with on first run. I could have easily purchased it later when they had created patches to fix said issues, but lost interest at that point. If companies are going to take the time to produce and develop a game, they should also take the time to make sure it works properly before releasing it. And if not, gamers should be made aware.

That's my opinion anyway. But then again, it's not the doctored, pre-rendered response required by say...IGN so it's probably wrong.
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xDeth7 posted May 24, 2011:

A '7' isn't a bad review score - but the Witcher 2 is a great game on all counts. It's apparent - I mean, it's obvious. If you've played any of the distilled, homogenized RPG titles that have been released recently like DAII then it should be even clearer by simple comparison.

You apparently skipped over the part where I said that bugs are not ubiquitous in this game - especially not to the degree he's giving an example of. He's cherry picking a single incident.

I understand game bugs creating ambivalence towards the overall product, they can be disappointing, but letting a single bad experience contaminate and dominate a good portion of your review of a PC game at v1.0 is just silly.

As for IGN "doctoring" reviews: Witcher 2 wasn't backed by a megalith production company like Activison or EA. Really, if it gets good responses by the usually deemed "bought reviewers" then that means there's really something going on with the game.
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Nightmare posted May 24, 2011:

You apparently skipped over the part where I said that bugs are not ubiquitous in this game - especially not to the degree he's giving an example of. He's cherry picking a single incident.

Not at all, but it's a case by case basis and it ultimately depends on how bad the bug is. If I lost over 30 minutes of play because the game didn't register the situation properly I would have slammed it as well. I remember Phantasy Star II and by some miracle I beat the Army Eyes, and after was left wandering in Limbo endlessly, searching for some clue, wasting an hour until I figured out I could go no further and had to start over, walk that dam again and wasted even more time. I waited years before playing the game again, based solely on that experience and the once great RPG was tainted.

The point is, different people take to bugs in different ways. And critics give all sorts of scores for several reasons. After reading it, I thought the score was justified and I know Lewis is a very intelligent, very established reviewer and doesn't let his frustration or emotion influence him. If he gave it a 7, it deserved a 7.

I don't mean to ramble and say this with all due respect...well, at least trying to be courteous: I absolutely abhor the whole "I didn't like the score you gave a game I like so I'm going to complain" mentality. You don't like the review, fine. Hate the writer, fair enough but attacking one's credentials simply because they don't agree with you is utterly silly. It's a long standing rule here that if you don't like the review, or think the game was undeserving of the score it received write your own and disprove it. But signing up just to bash a guy for sharing his opinion--one you don't happen to agree with--is asinine in almost every way, except when you're actually the developer.

You're not, are you?
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Lewis posted May 24, 2011:

I'll address a few points.

The top 50 lists I do every year on my blog (one one here, subsequently on my own blog) are to be considered entirely separate from my professional capacity as a games critic. There are titles on that list I wouldn't dream of giving a high score to, because I understand that while they're personal faves, they have problems that will mean most people will get less out of them than me. If I'd have reviewed Bloodlines on release, I'd have probably given it an 8, but only because I believe that what's going on below the bugs in Bloodlines is considerably stronger than The Witcher 2.

I reviewed The Witcher and gave it an 8, yes. The Witcher came out four years ago, though, and I'd score it lower if I played it for the first time today as a new release. However, I do not think there was an enormous difference in quality between the two games: things are different, and TW2 is more ambitious, but both - in my eyes - are excellent games let down by some unfortunate design choices and a bit of glitchiness.

As for researching to see if the bugs are ubiquitous, I was pretty much in constant communication with a reviewer for another site while playing The Witcher 2, and he too found plenty of bugs, including one show-stopper that saw him having to reload an earlier save.

And yeah - I'm an idiot for missing the swords thing. I acknowledge that in the review, in fact. Nevertheless, it's a mistake the game allowed me to make which caused it to stop working. Gamers make mistakes when playing games; as a developer, your quality control process should account for this.

(For the record, my playthrough of this was far buggier than my playthrough of New Vegas. I am aware that for others it's been different, but I can only review what's in front of me.)

I enjoyed The Witcher 2 a lot. It frustrated me because I enjoyed it so much, only to be torn out of it so regularly by its problems. The world design is fantastic, the storytelling of enormous depth. If you aren't bothered by the problems I mentioned, then awesome: you'll probably like the game more than me.

As for not being credible enough to sit alongside the likes of PC Gamer, I guess it's just a good job that they disagree, and as such continue to pay me to work for them. ;-)
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fleinn posted May 24, 2011:

..always hate review-scores. But I agree with ^.. the review is fairly solid, it explains well why it ends up as it does.

I would have focused more on the story, and it probably wouldn't have occurred to me to go away from a city without my swords, and so on. Listening to what people actually say, rather than just hit "next", seems like a good idea :p

Also, knocking the difficulty curve, when the fighting system has been dumbed down and streamlined so much it's not really much of a challenge to control it at all.. and so that the only challenge really is /only/ in finding the right way to attack things -- that seems unbelievably out of place.

But from what was written in the review, it's difficult to not see why it's a 7 to the reviewer.

Still.. I think you're going way over the top by suggesting it's not your very personal opinion. I mean, it's not easy to pin down a few landmarks to get an impression of how this game rates to other current rpgs, or even the Witcher. So the review seems awfully isolated and dependent on a standard that we're not.. completely sure what is (even if I can guess). If I had one criticism of the review, it would have to be that.

I mean, I've played DA2 and ME2. There's writing here that would insult six-year olds. DA2 has a fighting system that's both impossibly simplistic, as well as always causing you to wait just long enough to get hurt before spamming another super-power - that's the challenge. Or else you have to go through an impossible interface that just doesn't give you the control you need to be tactical, just as the AI is too stupid for it to matter anyway - and it's simply not mentioned.

So without mentioning specifically how it is the fighting system disappoints you - it appears unbelievably unfair to knock that system. As opposed to, you know... hail it as at least being a challenge that doesn't depend on mashing buttons and spamming the super-powers endlessly.. At least on normal difficulty and up, etc.
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Lewis posted May 24, 2011:

If it helps, I'd have given both Mass Effect 2 and the original Dragon Age 8/10 scores. Dragon Age 2 would, like The Witcher 2, have been a 7.
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fleinn posted May 24, 2011:

..wasn't really the point, though. Not sure why the guy up there couldn't be specific, or if it just was a general "I think this game is better than.." thing. I'm just saying that it still looks out of place to knock the fighting system. Not sure if you do that because you.. you know.. don't see the point with it, or if you don't think it matters for the game and the role-playing.

But it's possible to argue that the fighting system, and the abilities you choose, along with how you develop your character - along with alchemy, and so on that is mentioned and referenced fairly often in the story and so on - is an important part of the game's, you know... "experience". That's at least my impression from what I've played. That it's a lot less of the "kill everything however you want until you get to the next cutscene" stuff from the first game (or from every other rpg).

So seems to me it's possible to at least mention that the game tries to create some interesting moments in the gameplay. You know, you had those in Kotor sometimes - when you froze time just as you reflected the first blaster bolt from an assassin, while figuring out the next few moves to get out, etc. The Witcher 2 has a unique spin on those situations with the critical hits and the alchemy, imo.

I mean, I don't want to knock the review, because I think it's a good one, and it is consistent. But there's that specific point that might come off wrong, specially if you compare to other "new" games. It'd be like rewarding one game for being brainless, and then knocking another for the same thing.

Because the fighting in DA2 really has no depth. It even warps your character around the map so you can execute the whacking moves more easily, and escape the character animation.

That probably ties into the other thing about "let's talk about animation" part. Also.. could be seen as unbelievably harsh. Specially since the animation in general in this game is very good. As in: advanced, without the cheap tricks we tend to see way too often when animations are paired up, or when it comes to character movement, etc..

*shrug*
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Lewis posted May 24, 2011:

I see what you mean a little better now.

Although for what it's worth, I really did try to convey that, for the most part, the combat system is fantastic. Having to block and parry and dodge and cast spells in amongst your rhythmic hacking and slashing is a really enthralling experience.

And with the animation, too: often it's delicate, and human, and we don't see enough of that in games.

The point I was trying to make is that all of this is worth very little if there are niggling problems that take you out of the brilliance of that moment. It's a thing I found that The Witcher 2 did a lot. Dragon Age 2's combat may have been simplified, but it at least did that simplified combat extremely well, in my opinion.

Hope that clarifies. :-)
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fleinn posted May 24, 2011:

lol :) yeah. ..Or what does orctown say?
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Halon posted May 24, 2011:

See? This is why I'm against scoring games. It does nothing but start fights and piss people off.

Excellent review, Lewis. This is the first review that actually takes a look at the game and mechanics instead of drooling over the graphics and storyline for 2000+ words. While the most negative review I've seen for the game, it is also the best.

p.s. if you disagree then why don't you write your own review? The more opinions the better!
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xDeth7 posted May 24, 2011:

I was going to offer more counter-points, but since you said that the Witcher 2 is on equal level to Dragon Age II - I don't have to anymore. The two games aren't even in the same realm of one another. To draw them equally shows a serious lack of prowess, I mean, and incredible lack. I enjoyed Dragon Age II, but its absence of depth, customization, and especially the recycled areas (most importantly) all made it a poor game that was obviously rushed out the door.

For all of the people that have commented saying that Lewis' review is good, well, maybe it is. However, most critics claim the game at the 9.0-9.5 range and to me it sounds like Lewis just encountered an isolated game-stopper that ruined his experience. Occam's Razor.

Bye.
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Lewis posted May 24, 2011:

Yes, because in my review I definitely said the only problem I had was a single bug. That's definitely what I used up 1,500 words on.

Yes, the simplest explanation is often the correct one. In this case, the simplest explanation is that I had a different opinion of the game to others, and explained exactly why in my review.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted May 24, 2011:

Dude, seriously, give it a rest. To quote a user at Destructoid:

"It's his opinion. Stop shitting your pants over it."
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xDeth7 posted May 24, 2011:

It's apparent that hyperbole is your secondary language.

You and Jim from Destructoid should go out sometime. You can talk about how much fun it is to publish material based on subjective indifference rather than fact-founded thoughts.

As opposed to just writing, I've decided to address your concerns and some of mine as well.

Regardless, your concerns:

- Bad pacing/Chaotic difficulty (Easily fixed through patching)

I found the pacing to be somewhat chaotic as well, but once I started taking advantage of their easy-to-regulate difficulty settings, this was a self-fix.

- Littered with bugs (Easily fixed through patching.)

I encountered no game-breaking bugs and only a couple minor issues.

- Animations break fluidity (Minor annoyance.)

This was addressed on their forums. The reason animations play out through gateways is because it's loading some minor bits for the area you're transitioning to. The fact that the game is almost entirely seamless for as much as there is should be a positive note, not a negative one.

- Combat lacks fluidity (Actual opinion.)

I disagree. The combat in the game can be difficult, but with proper use of alchemy, bombs, and Signs, all fights have a different approach that leads to victory. If you're playing on Normal and aren't taking advantage of potions, crafting, upgrades, or all the other essentials, then you're doing it wrong.

- Prologue is abhorrent (Actual opinion.)

Matter of incredible opinion. I actually agree with this; the opening act was a mass of confusing links to a story with no real introduction. It came off somewhat gimmicky.


Severe issues with your review:

- "nothing especially innovative"

This is funny. It really is. The game's graphic capabilities, optimization, atmospheric presence, storytelling, and even its packaging are all innovations to an otherwise dying breed of story-driven RPG.

- "Itís a disappointment because it largely succeeds in that goal while fluffing the basics."

The basics to you, then, are a bug-free game with a strong introduction and fluid combat? Vampire Bloodlines was a bug-ridden game with a weak prologue and shoddy hybrid combat. Yet you really liked it. Strange.


I'm done arguing here. Critics don't seem to like it when their own works of criticism are subjected to that same criticism. Just as someone else said, my review of your review is my opinion, so take it or leave it. If you want to review my review of your review then feel free to review the facts because I'd be happy to review your review of my review reviewing your review, reviewer.
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wolfqueen001 posted May 24, 2011:

Ugh. There's no such thing as objectivity in a review. Reviews are based on a single person's experiences, good or bad, which ultimately forms their opinion of the game. Because one person's experience can differ widely from another - especially considering that each person considers some aspects of a game more important over others in differently proportionate amounts - these experiences shape and form the beliefs a person holds about the game. Therefore, no objectivity can exist, and any notion of "facts" is a mere charade.

Now please, Mr. Troll, write your own review or stop lambasting others' for their own individual beliefs. What you are expressing is your own opinion as well, and can equally - and has been - be lambasted in turn.
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xDeth7 posted May 24, 2011:

"What you are expressing is your own opinion as well, and can equally - and has been - be lambasted in turn."

"Just as someone else said, my review of your review is my opinion, so take it or leave it."


Thanks for skimming over my thoughts and labeling me a troll. In good fashion.
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honestgamer posted May 24, 2011:

I don't think he's being a troll, Wolfqueen. Not really. He's expressing his distaste for the review that Lewis wrote and he's not being kind about it, but he's at least making an effort to do that rationally and that's something I can appreciate even if I like the review that Lewis wrote a lot more than he does.

I would address one of his points, however:

- "nothing especially innovative"

This is funny. It really is. The game's graphic capabilities, optimization, atmospheric presence, storytelling, and even its packaging are all innovations to an otherwise dying breed of story-driven RPG.


Remember something important: innovation is not the same as polish. The two things are quite different, actually. Let's assume that this is the prettiest game ever, with the best graphic capabilities, optimization and atmosphereic presence. I know some people feel that way about it, and I'm not ready to argue that point as I've not yet loaded the game past the title screen (though I will soon). Whatever. So the game looks pretty. Other games have looked pretty, too. It's one of those things that games sometimes try to do. Unless it accomplishes that beauty in a remarkable manner, there's no innovation there.

Likewise, the story isn't innovative. It's fragmented at the start, according to everyone who has played the game and commented in this thread. The game doesn't take some radical approach that hasn't already been attempted a long time ago. Having good storytelling at this point isn't innovation--and certainly not within the genre. It's just another case of a game doing something well, something that hundreds of other games have done before it. And finally... the packaging is innovative? I'll admit that the packaging is very nice. This isn't the first time that a game has included lovely packaging and extras, however. It's not innovative. It's just a nice feature.

Lewis noted that The Witcher 2 did nothing especially innovative. There's nothing in this thread so far that contradicts that claim. Perhaps there's content in the game that does, but no one has actually provided any examples of that. Therefore, I'm inclined to believe the person who wrote a well-supported review and not the person who took issue with the review (largely, one might suggest, because of the score).
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xDeth7 posted May 24, 2011:

"Unless it accomplishes that beauty in a remarkable manner, there's no innovation there."

But it does. There are points in the game where I can't help but to just stop and look around at the world they've handcrafted bit by bit (as opposed to reusing setpieces). I don't do this with many games, but the ones I do it with brought some innovation to their world. Crysis did this a few years back and before that it was Half Life 2 (which had several other great things going). In fact, Crysis was generally noted as doing little other than creating a world for people to look at and enjoy and was found innovative for just that single point. So yes - I think when you add up the atmospheric foundation, pleasing aesthetics, and powerful world design, you've got something truly innovating in an otherwise lackluster area. Dragon Age II fell on its face with that mark. I mean, there hasn't really been a great atmospheric game since Oblivion or FO3, maybe.

I took a (what I considered) stunning picture a week or so ago. Can you seriously not say that the following isn't a breathtaking achievement in video gaming?

img828.imageshack.us/img828/5898/witcher2201106061737057.png

"This isn't the first time that a game has included lovely packaging and extras, however. It's not innovative. It's just a nice feature."

In a time where games come with a paper-thin manual and a disk - the Witcher 2's bulky contents can easily be described as innovative. Whether or not you think it's an important innovation could be up to you.

"Therefore, I'm inclined to believe the person who wrote a well-supported review and not the person who took issue with the review (largely, one might suggest, because of the score)."

The review is well-supported on the reviewer's home website? Shocking! You forget to mention that it dissents with the vast majority. Just because I'm the only one taking my time to disagree doesn't mean that it's well-supported simply because Lewis' fellow website-mates find it acceptable. Especially when it appears bulk of them have yet to play the game! Come on!

" . . . and I'm not ready to argue that point as I've not yet loaded the game past the title screen"
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honestgamer posted May 24, 2011:

When I said "well-supported" I was referring not to the reception from audiences (I'm aware that his dissenting opinion is unpopular in the world at large, as dissenting opinions tend to be) but to the structure of his review and the support he provided for each of his dissenting points.

You're still mistaken on your idea of what it means to be innovative, by the way. Evolution is not innovation, period. It's evolution. Evolution can be a very good thing, and in certain situations--including the ones you referenced--can trump sloppy innovation or no innovation.

What I'm taking from your arguments here, whether you like it or not, is that to you The Witcher 2 is a satisfying experience because it does many things well that you don't feel other games within the genre do well, to the extent that you're able to easily overlook its flaws. I can appreciate, based on that argument, why you would score the game higher--at least an 8 and possibly a 9--but I also believe that the experience Lewis had with the game (and relates eloquently in his review) justifies his score of 7.

I hope you're not seriously suggesting that Lewis should play the game, have one experience and then write about a different experience that he imagines other people might have.
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Suskie posted May 24, 2011:

xDeth7, you obviously disagree on many levels with Lewis's review, and you're obviously passionate enough about it to put your feelings into a lot of words. So you know what I suggest? Write a review of your own. Seriously. In case you haven't noticed, user-submitted reviews are the fuel that lights the HonestGamers fire, and we heavily value a variety of opinions from a variety of voices. If you want to invalidate Lewis's review, then the best way to do that is to write up a review that's even more convincing than his.

Because believe me when I say that it's the only good that can come out of this. Lewis isn't going to suddenly alter his views on the game, the review won't be edited to accommodate the demands of some outsider who's never been to this site before, and the score certainly won't be changed, not when it's already been recorded on numerous databases across the internet. You must know that. You must realize that this conversation will amount to nothing. The only thing you've accomplished is that you've informed us all that you disagree with Lewis, and if so, then I encourage you to put the effort where it counts and write a review of your own. I'd love to see it! If not, then you're just wasting everyone's time, including your own.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted May 24, 2011:

Indeed. You've provided ample information here to outline the structure of your own review. It's a far better usage of one's passion.
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quincy posted May 24, 2011:

xDeth7, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever read. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone on this forum is now dumber for having read it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.
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xDeth7 posted May 24, 2011:

I appreciate the responses. (minus the one above - whom probably hasn't had a single original thought flutter through his Grand Canyon of a skull in seventeen years)

I'll take your thoughts into consideration.
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Halon posted May 24, 2011:

Wow, was that really 17 years ago? Time sure does fly...
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nilkn posted May 24, 2011:

This is in response mainly to honestgamer:

There are, I think, some logical issues with saying you like a review if you haven't played the game that is being reviewed. The reason is that you don't have the necessary personal experience with the game to judge the veracity of the claims in the review. You can like the sentence structure, the organization, the vocabulary, or the general presentation of the arguments of the review, but the words in the review do not provide nearly enough information to decide, without actually playing the game, whether it's a reasonable review or not.

This is really no different from any academic paper. Let's say you know nothing about modern Israeli film (and if you do let's just forget that for the sake of this thought experiment). You read a paper from a scholar on this topic. You may find that the language is poetic, the arguments logical, and the organization easy to follow, but you still cannot say whether any of the conclusions are true because you just have no idea if the author is interpreting his source material in a legitimate manner. And an academic article that completely misinterprets its source material is not a good article, no matter how nicely it might be paragraphed.

So, I think I've made that point clearly enough. Just something to keep in mind in the future. Even the best scholars make mistakes and misunderstand something--you always have to check the sources, no matter how much you might like or trust the author.

This of course leads to the obvious question: how can any review site select reviews? My personal answer is no game should ever be reviewed by only one person. I prefer the method of the Japanese magazine Famitsu where four people review games simultaneously and in coordination. They can come to different conclusions, but they stay in constant communication with each other, and their reviews are almost always tempered by a degree of wisdom rarely seen elsewhere in game journalism, though I do think the quality has been dropping somewhat as of late due to the increasing visibility and popularity of the magazine.

I also believe that scores should not be assigned. Scores have a multitude of serious issues, and any truly honest review cannot come equipped with a score in my opinion. Scores first of all harbor too much authority. An entire personal 25-30 hour experience can't be compressed into a number. More serious than this, though, is the fact that a score can attain meaning only in comparison with other scores, yet games are always improving both technologically, artistically, and in underlying gameplay design, meaning that the viable range of scores for a decent modern game is bounded below by the score assigned to the best game of the genre a decade ago. So if Doom was given a 9.5, for instance, then a comparative system forces every good first person shooter into the range 9.5-10. The result is that the system would absolutely have to be renormalized every few years, but I do not personally know of any way of doing this that wouldn't result in widespread user dissatisfaction. The current system of scoring doesn't have any such renormalization procedure yet spans a range typically from 6-10, and this is only possible if it is inherently inconsistent. I have provided the beginnings of what would essentially be a mathematical "proof" of this. (Sorry, my major is mathematics, so this is the way I think about everything. :D)

As for innovation in TW2, here's an example of something I found innovative in the game: instead of asking you to kill X instances of creature Y, the game asks you to eliminate all instances of some species in the area. This often involves finding literature in the game world on the species, scouting out nests, destroying entrances to caves containing the nests, and/or killing queens responsible for breeding. This greatly reduces the tedium of this style of quest, it makes the creatures feel more natural in that they can be eliminated through a logical conquest of their nesting system, and it rewards exploration of the game's natural world.

As for the original review, it seems like this reviewer was exceptionally unlucky and managed to experience far more bugs than most players of this game have reported. I'm certainly not saying that the bugs don't exist, but, just to illustrate how rare these are, I haven't experience any of the bugs described in the review. This review without doubt greatly over-emphasizes the presence of major bugs in the game.

I would also disagree with the reviewer's description of the first act. I spent my first few hours in Flotsam talking to Loredo, sneaking around back his house, talking to Triss and Dandelion and the dwarf, talking to Cedric outside the city proper, and so on--none of this is a waste of time in the context of the story, and it would have felt positively awkward to just show up in a new town, where you are by default not liked due to your status as a witcher, and to immediately be given everything you need to progress in the game's story.

But of course this is going to come down to opinion, and I think that is precisely what frustrates some people when a game they really like gets a score which they think is unfairly low. This is just yet another reason I think scores should not be given. Psychologically, putting that number at the end makes an opinion seem to be more than it is. This is why scores are plastered all over advertising campaigns--they don't feel like opinions; they feel like objective verdicts, even if they aren't meant to be. This is undoubtedly why some people might feel offended or bothered by a low score. (Of course, 7 is not low in the range 1-10, but that range is not utilized by almost all prominent magazines for blockbuster games; only the range 6-10 is generally used, as screwed up as that might be--yet *another* reason to abolish numeric scores.)

I have no idea why I wrote so much. I just felt like chiming in. Cheers!
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honestgamer posted May 25, 2011:

nilkn, I appreciate that you appear to have put some actual thought into your response.

I agree that I can't entirely judge whether or not Lewis wrote a "fair" review without playing the game myself, but that's always the case. On any site that I might choose to run, I can only personally play and review so many games. Because of the constraints imposed by time, I will have to rely on other trusted writers to cover some games if I want my site to cover a broad range of titles... and of course I do.

Lewis is an author who I trust, and I was happy to assign him this review because of his familiarity with PC games and RPGs and his familiarity with the first game in the series. He was the logical choice, and after reading the review, I am pleased with the job that he did. Remember that reviews are written first and foremost for people who (like me) have not put much or any time into the game. So a review's primary job is to let a person like that--a person like me, currently--know whether or not the game is likely to be worth my time and potentially my investment by relating an overall impression of a game and by detailing the points that contributed to that impression.

It's clear that you have played the game (I assume extensively) and that you feel differently than Lewis does about it. You make some interesting points that Lewis did not have time to discuss in his review. However, your main point seems to be that you are more entitled to say whether or not Lewis has a proper opinion than I am. The problem I see is that--unless Lewis is just making up some opinion, which his review gives us no reason to believe is the case--neither of us is entitled to say that Lewis has the wrong opinion. After playing through the game, he wrote about his experience. His opinion is right for him, just as your opinion is right for you.

Also, you mentioned the point about hunting monsters and pointed to it as innovation. Based solely on your description, I can say that it sounds like something I would expect from the Monster Hunter series, with appropriate modifications. I'll know more myself soon, when I start working through the game. In the meantime, have you played a game in the Monster Hunter series? If you haven't, you might enjoy one.

In any event, I don't think anyone is trying to argue here that Lewis wrote a review that encapsulates the "standard" reaction to the game. His review helps to define a spectrum, however. There will always be low and high numbers in a range. Lewis has related his experience nicely and his review is valuable and effective for that reason.

If you're a skilled critic, I hope you'll try your hand at reviewing the game yourself (if not here, then somewhere else that accepts user reviews). Thank you for your comments!
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radicaldreamer posted May 25, 2011:

That was a really incredible post nilkn. I invite you to write a review of The Witcher 2, or any other game for that matter! Your paragraph on innovation in The Witcher 2 is a great example of good review writing.

Also, can anyone tell me if the other witchers make an appearance in The Witcher 2? Vesemir and Lambert were two of my favorite characters in the original, and I was disappointed that their appearances were so brief.
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nilkn posted May 25, 2011:

I honestly wasn't trying to criticize Lewis's review. I definitely appreciate the alternative perspective and admire him for his willingness to write a review honestly rather than giving into pressure to conform to what other magazines or sites might saying. The points where I disagreed with his review were just my way of illustrating how different experiences can be sometimes.

I was just trying to explain--honestly to myself more than anyone else--why one person might actually be bothered by some other person posting a genuine opinion of a game online.

I think it's an emotion we've all felt sometimes, if not with video games then maybe with movies (maybe critics panned a movie you really liked) or art (maybe you think the Mona Lisa is extremely ugly and feel intellectually confused over how you might dislike something that high-brow art critics praise so much) or an English paper that gets a C despite your love for it or who knows what. I think it's related to the psychological authority that an alphanumeric verdict bears--your entire 10 page English paper, written with the sweat of your brow, reduced to a C, or a movie that made you feel alive reduced to one star out of four by Ebert, and so on. Another part of it is the authority which is deliberately granted to these verdicts by marketing departments.

My previous post was just me working through my thoughts on that--publicly for some reason. :D This just seems to be a topic that is coming up a lot with the destructoid review and to a much lesser but nonzero extent this one. Some people got offended that PC Gamer gave TW2 a score lower than it gave DAII. Some people got offended that IGN gave it a score only .5 higher than DAII. It seems that sometimes people can't be satisfied. I've seen lots of hatred thrown this way or that and felt like writing down my thoughts on this once and for all.
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honestgamer posted May 25, 2011:

I've felt that way before, certainly, and I've even felt that way on this site! Thank you for reading the review and for sharing your thoughts on this forum. People who are ready to make positive contributions to discussion are rare online, unfortunately, and they're always welcome here.
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Lewis posted May 25, 2011:

Wow, insane-o-number of comments since yesterday.

I'll address one more point, then leave it at "Yes, I thought it was a very good game; no, I didn't think it was exceptional."

RE: Innovation - The Witcher 2 absolutely is not innovative. It's iterative. The graphics engine, for example, doesn't function in a groundbreaking new way, nor does the visual style do something at all unique. The game simply has better graphics and a stronger sense of art design than most other games around. That's impressive, but it isn't innovative; it's iterative.

The same with some of the stronger, or newer, design elements. There's nothing outrageously different from other RPGs. The only thing that could be considered an innovation, I'd say, is the way the game's second act completely splits in two depending on who you side with, and there are several hours of the game that are totally different as a result. That's impressive, and never been done before to that extent, to my knowledge. But again, it's been done to some extent. It's not an innovation. It's iteration.

Oh, actually, one more point. I've seen a few people, both here and elsewhere on the internet, claim that I said I didn't like the combat. This is actually nonsense. I was careful to explain that I loved the combat for the most part, but also wanted to point out a couple of issues that, when they cropped up, really took the shine off for me.

I think that's the crux of all this. I really like the game. To suggest I implied otherwise is bonkers. I even suggest, in the summary, that I was close to giving it an 8, which is true. I really liked it, but the issues I ran into took enough of the edge off to - I dunno - say, knock two marks off the score.
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fleinn posted May 25, 2011:

..I don't know... I'm not sure anyone really protests your opinion.

It's more that it looks like you're missing something. It's as if someone.. I don't know.. wrote about the original Prince of Persia, and then knocked the game for a repetitive combat-system that forces you into a wall and then glitch you into a trap if you're unlucky, and then you get killed by an unblockable attack from a guard. And the difficulty curve is insanely high once the guards start blocking, and... You know.. can't complain about someone writing that. And if the game came out today, it would be the first thing someone would see, and it could legitimately mar the entire experience, and so on. But it still sounds out of place. ;) Because.. it's not how you're supposed to play the game. Or, it's not what the designers wanted you to see. It's not even what most of the game is about.

..sorry, not much reason to drone on about this. Don't want to be negative.

(But I hope commenter^ over there writes their own review.)
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SamildanachEmrys posted May 25, 2011:

It's good to see such a passionate debate, and I agree with different parts of the different arguments. I think anything I might have wanted to add has already been covered, but I do want to say that I agree completely with honestgamer that people who haven't played the game are (in my view) the best people to judge the quality of a review. They are the target audience.

Sometimes I read a review and feel I've learnt nothing about what the game is like, so I'm unable to tell whether I might enjoy it. This Witcher 2 review conveys the reviewer's experiences, outlines what he found to be good and bad, and why he holds those opinions. That allows me to make an informed decision. This is what reviews are for.
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zigfried posted May 25, 2011:

Uninformed gamers are a review's target audience, and pleasing that audience is important, but people who have played the game are best suited to offer a valid opinion on the review's critical quality. Valid opinions aren't objective, but they are based on logical interpretations of factual evidence, and you probably don't know the facts if you haven't played the game.

Of course, anyone can spot logical fallacies or sheer idiocy ;)

That's why I value a critic who plays tons of games more than one who polishes his writing. Strong writing style shows intelligence, but the more real-world experience you have, the stronger your opinions will be (and you'll naturally write with more confidence). That's why GUTS ruled the universe!

//Zig
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xDeth7 posted May 25, 2011:

If you don't think that Witcher 2's graphical engine fits the term "innovative" then you need to pull out your dictionary and skim through the d's. I have a good feeling you're confused about the meaning.
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Lewis posted May 26, 2011:

Assuming you mean the 'I's and not the 'D's, here's "innovation":

1. The act of introducing something new.
2. Something newly introduced.


If someone explains to me what new techniques are used in The Witcher 2's graphics engine, I will happily eat my words. As far as I know, it just does shit better than the others, which is not the same thing, and I can't believe we're arguing semantics over one bloody word in a 1600 word review.
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Suskie posted June 01, 2011:

Hey Lewis. I just wanted to let you know that I was within a few hundred review hits of finally overtaking you, and then you went and wrote this. I hate you.
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xDeth7 posted June 05, 2011:

Just wait for another game to come out in the next few months that hits 9-10 area and review it at 7. You'll catch up.
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humorguy posted June 18, 2011:

This guy is only one of about 40 editorial reviewers of this game that has given it below 8.5. About 30 of the 40 have given it above 9.0. This tells you, quite simply, that this person does not know how to review games. Especially when they are from smaller developers. It would seem a game from a big publisher will get an extra 1.5 just for coming from a major company, so a Witcher 2 maximum of 7/10 would be a Mass Effect 3 8.5 minimum, just because it's CD Projekt versus Bioware.

Sad really. But this is why I don't read staff reviews at Honest Gamers and wait for User reviews. As User reviews are not as biased toward the bigger companies.
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zigfried posted June 18, 2011:

A discrepancy between scores does not indicate that someone doesn't know how to review games. You're committing two mistakes:

1) Assuming that all writers use the same scoring logic
2) Assuming that common perception is truth (it's not)

Besides, it's not a big score discrepancy. Lewis still gave the game a favorable review. You're not quibbling over someone disliking the game, but over him not liking it enough. In the end, you're still looking at 40 people who liked the game -- not "39 excluding Lewis", but all 40 people.

Those logical mistakes lead to your goofy statements about Lewis being biased against smaller developers. From what I've seen, he's biased in favor of smaller developers. Just look at the games he has reviewed -- Two Worlds, Geneforge 5, The Path -- those are the things that interest him.

//Zig
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zippdementia posted June 18, 2011:

Thoery: all cheetos are the same user. Even when they insult each other.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted June 18, 2011:

That's a rather creepy theory...
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overdrive posted June 18, 2011:

This guy is only one of about 40 editorial reviewers of this game that has given it below 8.5.

Statements like these intrigue me, so I looked up this game on GameRankings. A total of 31 reviews with Lewis' (as the HG representative) being one of FIVE to give it below 8.5. Those numbers include an 8, another 7 and two 6s. But, I understand. Saying "you're in that 1-in-6 group that doesn't love this game! dastard!!" really isn't as impactful as "YOU'RE THE ONLY ONE WHO DOESN'T GET IT!!!".

Rob: Saving the Internet from Inaccuracy -- One Post at a Time.
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lollarson posted June 26, 2011:

I read something in your review of "taking five or ten attempts on anything but the lowest difficulty setting. " I highly disagree. I played trough this game on hardest difficulty settings and whilst on some of the tougher fights, I might go trough 2 attempts in order to beat it. I think that's more due your own 'incompetence' for lack of a better word. The game does give you hints throughout the prologue, altho I do agree that they tend to disappear a bit too fast.

I also experienced that the games does become somewhat easier the further you get in the game, but not in the same fashion as you described. I simply wrote it off as powercreep and maybe some slight scaling issues where the developers misjudged the speed at which you level up and gain additional powers.
After all, you do get more skilled at your controlling Geralt and learn how to use all your different abilities more effectively the further you get into the game.

You also mention that the game allows you to continue it even when you forgot to retrieve your weapons from the guard, I think that's simply a bug of some sort and that's more due ... again, your lack of understanding. Besides, the developers didn't quite expect anyone to be that silly to leave his own weapons behind, just saying.

Reviews are always subjectively, but I think yours was a bit too much? You criticized the game for the mistakes you make, in my eyes, that's not the game's fault. You have to keep in mind that most of the testers generally look for obvious bugs or bugs that happen quite frequently, leaving your weapons behind (which seems like the obvious cause of this) isn't one of those since they are key to the game's combat system.

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