Geralt is a witcher, a monster hunter and jack-of-all-trades who has been painfully mutated by magic. His mutation gives him yellow eyes, access to magical "signs," and strength far beyond that of a normal human.
In the Witcher 2, Geralt has been wrongfully accused of assassinating King Foltest. Geralt had been working under Foltest to end a war between the king and his former mistress over their children, who Foltest considered the rightful heirs to his throne. Just as that battle drew to a close and the king saw his two children, another witcher assassinated the king and escaped leaving Geralt with bloody sword drawn over the king’s freshly aerated corpse, just in time for the king’s soldiers to barge in and arrest him.
However, with the help of the shady commander Vernon Roche, the witcher escapes and attempts to clear his name and find Foltest’s killer… but first he had some sidequests to do.
One of the interesting things about Geralt is how much sway you have over the way that he acts and characters react to him. A big part of that is the fact that the characters that surround him are surprisingly multifaceted. For instance, I was shocked to see that even the villainous Bernard Loredo, a terrible, racist bastard of a man would occasionally act like he honestly cared about the town he controlled. While I later learned the level of the violence and cruelty that he ruled the town with, I was shocked to find him somewhat sympathetic. In any other game, he’d simply be a moustache-twirling villain, but his persuasiveness as I progressed through his early dialogue trees was impressive. It’s almost more disturbing to find villains with a bit more human complexity, and by extension, Geralt’s choices are rarely black and white.
I tried my best to keep Geralt on a good path, but occasionally I found myself wondering if being so kind was the right way to go. Once I saved the lives of two men who had done terrible things to the patients of a hospital that they used to work at. It seemed as though death would have been a fitting reward for what they’d done, but I saved them and let them go. I’m still not sure I should have let them go unpunished.
When you’re not talking to people, you’re usually in the midst of a quest, exploring ruins or caves while cutting through hordes of enemies… well, assuming that they don’t cut through you.
The Witcher 2’s combat is full of options, which can initially seem a bit overwhelming. From the outset, you’re given five magic spells, the ability to set traps, throw daggers and bombs, and of course the ability to block, dodge, and attack with light and heavy strikes. While having all of these options makes it seem like combat would be very freeform and easy, but no, the game is willing to kill you quickly and often. It’s odd, the game expects to drink specific potions before battle to prepare yourself for what lies ahead, but when you’ve seen the enemies you’ll be fighting you’re locked into battle mode and can’t enter the meditation menu to drink potions.
The only way you can prepare properly is to either make sure you know exactly what you’ll be fighting and when Geralt will enter battle mode or die and reload so you know exactly what lies ahead. You can use oils on your swords in battle mode, which helps to a certain extent, but death seems like a key part of combat. However, to decrease the number and frustration of my deaths, I devised a list of handy things to do in combat:
1. Save all the time in multiple slots. It’s too risky to not do so, especially when you have cutscenes and dialogue in between you and the fight that’s killing you. This early fight wasn’t bad, but later in the game I found myself losing 20 minutes of gameplay with some of my deaths because I wasn’t being smart about my saves.
2. Try to lure enemies out of groups and take them on one at a time. If your enemy doesn’t have a way to block you (this seems pretty arbitrary), you can chain attacks together indefinitely, but a single hit from an enemy in this process can take a lot of your health away, and sometimes Geralt won’t visually react to that happening. On the off chance you can’t get a single enemy out of a group, tossing a bomb (particularly my favorite, the Red Haze that turns enemies against each other) and retreating will often help your chances.
3. It is absolutely vital to use your magic "signs" as effectively as possible. Geralt can give himself a shield to protect him from a single hit (which as mentioned above can do a lot of damage. Geralt also has signs that can turn his enemies against each other, trap them in electricity, or knock them away. I’m personally fond of the fact that the game only gives you five signs, because it encourages you to learn how each one works and build your combat style around them.
While these tricks generally worked for me, I often found myself abusing AI glitches to survive, occasionally standing just outside of where an enemy is willing to attack to regain health and darting in and out of their attack area to kill one at a time or set traps. The game is almost too hard on normal, but dropping the difficulty down to easy makes it insultingly simple. I was also a bit disappointed when the heavily-teased first boss (who looked really cool) was only a matter of pattern recognition and QTEs instead of a proper test of the skills the game forced you to learn to survive (despite how cool the betentacled monstrosity was). However, I quickly ate those words when I fought the second boss, who had powers along the same lines of Geralt, but was about 20 times more powerful.
Food for Thought:
1. Instant-death QTEs are a rather annoying addition to an RPG, but fortunately the game usually autosaves before you have to do one of these. Still, I was a bit grumpy when one popped up and killed me in the middle of a boss fight.
2. I found it strange that I couldn’t reconfigure the game’s controls at all in a port of a PC game.