Easter Eggs: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

By Jonathan Barnes, 3 years ago
Welcome to Easter Eggs, where the TA Team shines the spotlight on games that many gamers might have missed, perhaps hidden away behind the millionth copy of Call of Duty or FIFA. Much like a gamer who finds an Easter Egg hidden away in a game and proceeds to trumpet it from the highest hills and forums, the TA Team is going to be featuring these Easter Egg games on the front page for all to see.
Back in October of 2007, Polish Developers CD Projekt RED introduced gamers to The Witcher, a new Action-RPG based on Andrzej Sapkowski's book series of the same title. In this universe, witchers are monster hunters who are magically/genetically modified at an early age to provide them with special abilities that allow them to fight the dangerous monsters of the world. Throughout their early lives, they receive special training on how to brew potions (that would kill most "normal" people) to enhance their abilities and combat training to deal with the wide variety of evil creatures that lurk throughout the world. The training, modification, and other-worldly powers that witchers possess also make them outcasts and pariahs to most people and communities.

The PC title was well-received by critics and sits at a solid 81 on Metacritic. A console port was in the works and was slated for an August of 2009 release, but was mired with funding and development problems and eventually canceled. Not to be dissuaded, CD Projekt RED quickly moved on to the game's sequel and made early plans to bring it to consoles.

With that delightful little jaunt down memory lane established, let's dive into this week's Easter Egg, The Witcher's sequel, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings which was launched on the 360 in April of 2012.

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The Basics

Let's kick this off with the bad news. As a console-only gamer, I never had the chance to play the original Witcher and was worried that I'd be lost in the lore of the world by coming in at the second game. These fears were verified relatively early as the game does an admirable job of teaching combat and game mechanics, but does very little to fill in the lost backstory of the original. That being said, a lot of that story is established contextually as the game plays on and there are plenty of resources that can summarize the plot and events of the first game if you're really craving them. Newcomers may feel a bit lost initially, but that feeling fades away quickly once the story and action of the game pick up in the game's prologue.

Much like its predecessor, The Witcher 2 is an Action-RPG title where you play as Geralt of Rivia, famed witcher, monster slayer, king protector, and (dare I say?) lover of the ladies. The prologue finds Geralt serving as the personal bodyguard of King Foltest (if you watch the opening cinematic, you'll understand why kings are needing a little extra protection these days) as he prepares for a battle against an uprising of other noble families.

Not wanting to spoil a really fantastic story (even if you don't know all of the backstory behind it), the rest of the game unfolds at a great pace as Geralt slays monsters big and small, tracks down enemies, and tries to uncover a mysterious plot of political intrigue and royal assassinations through the prologue, three "Chapters", and an epilogue. When not slaying enemies and uncovering plots, Geralt also enjoys other diversions like arm wrestling, fist fighting, dice poker and indulges in, shall we say a "romantic" side, which is shown in premium cable detail.

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The Hook

There are several sweet hooks in The Witcher 2. The first of which is the tight, versatile combat which relies on hack-and-slash skills as much as tactical planning. For starters, Geralt caries not one, but two swords: one of steel for fighting men and one of silver for fighting monsters. Each of these swords can be buffed using special oils or sharpening stones which will increase damage and effects for short time periods. In addition to his swords, Geralt also carries traps and bombs, a wide variety of potions, and is able to use magical spells known as "signs". These combat traits are broke down across three skill trees that allow players to specialize Geralt with their preferred style: Magic (focusing on signs), Alchemy (focusing on potions, bombs, and traps), and Swordsmanship (focusing on combat skills).

Combat has a fast and frenzied feel with enemies seeming to come from all directions at times. In my playthroughs, it was not uncommon for me to feel overwhelmed initially, fail in a fight once, twice, or more, and have to rethink my attack strategies before eventually achieving success. This is very much a game that straddles the line between fast action and careful planning and execution. The best way I can describe the combat of The Witcher 2 is that it takes the tactical side of a game like Dragon Age: Origins and marries it with the fluid, hack-and-slash, sword combat of a game like Assassin's Creed II (Xbox 360), and the end result feels simply amazing.

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While the combat does steal a lot of the game's spotlight (and rightfully so), the story is equally amazing and full of depth, nuance, and mature themes. The writing in The Witcher 2 is some of the most refreshing of this generation. Characters are fully realized and three dimensional; you will not find a one-note enemy or ally in this game, everyone is shades of grey. Furthermore, at the end of Chapter One, gamers will have a choice to make and will be forced to side with one of two factions... both of which have their pros and cons. The bisecting plot line along with the great number of plot-effecting choices do wonders to increase replay value. This is most-certainly a game you'll be playing (and enjoying) multiple times.

The final note to hook you in is just how spectacular this game looks and feels. When it was released on PC, the game required a beefy set of specs to run at the ultra settings. While the 360 version doesn't look quite as good as the maxed out PC version, console gamers have virtually no room to complain with how the game looks, sounds, and (more importantly) feels, especially in comparison to other console titles. The sound design, music, graphics, and cut scenes all provide one of the most luscious audio-visual experiences of this generation.

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The Achievements

With the divergent plot lines, there is no way to get all of the achievements in one playthrough. My advice to interested completionists is to play the game once on the difficulty level of your choosing, making all of the choices that you really want to make, then play the game through a second time on the "Dark" difficulty setting (to net you the juiciest of the game's achievements), siding with the other faction, and following a guide to pick up the achievements you missed. If properly executed, a gamer can easily complete this game in two playthroughs, which will run you right around 40 hours each.

Normally, I'd take a second here to point out the highlights of the achievements in the list, but, unfortunately all of the best ones are "Secret" and give away some serious plot points and potential spoilers. Again, my advice is to play the game "blind" first, and then uncover all of the spoilery achievements before your second playthrough.

The game does have one completely infuriating achievement in Poker! which requires you to roll five-of-a-kind in the game's dice poker minigame. This achievement is completely luck based. You can pop it on the first try or spend hours and days trying to get it done.

All-in-all, The Witcher 2 carries fifty achievements worth 2,182 TA score (US)/1,870 (EU)/1,602 (JP).

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The Stats

When combined together, just over 24,000 gamers have played the three different versions (US, EU, and JP) of The Witcher 2 and less than 2,000 have completed it. Most gamers either have very few of the achievements or all of the achievements. Seriously, the achievement distribution chart in the EU and US versions looks like a craggy canyon with highs at both ends and a massive dip in the middle.

When averaged together, our community gives the game a 4.3 out of 5 and Metacritic has it sitting at a solid 88.

The Price

Gamers in the US can pick up The Witcher 2 for $19.99 from Amazon. Gamers in the UK can also pick it up from Amazon for £15.51. Finally, gamers in Japan can pick up Geralt's latest quest for 3,494 yen. As always, those prices are for new copies and you'll probably have luck finding it cheaper if you want to go the used route.

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The Verdict

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is one of the best, most-mature (I'm not kidding you, don't let the kids play this) gaming experiences of this generation. The game is a masterpiece of adult storytelling with incredible gameplay to back it up. Geralt of Rivia is among the most fascinating and well-rounded protagonists in gaming and, by the end of this adventure, you will find yourself truly caring about his mysterious past, his dangerous present, and his more-dangerous future. If you're a fan of RPGs (especially those in the Dragon Age vein), this is a game that should not be missed.

If there's a game you'd like to see featured in Easter Eggs, be sure to let us know in the comments!
Jonathan Barnes
Written by Jonathan Barnes
Jonathan has been a news/views contributor since 2010. When he's not writing reviews, features, and opinion pieces, he spends his days working as an informal science educator and his nights as an international man of mystery.