The case for ‘The Witcher 2’

With The Witcher‘s arrival on Netflix, there’s a renewed fervor for the medium-crossing fantasy series.

There are, of course, the original Witcher books by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, as well as the video game series created by Polish developer CD Projekt Red. On Sunday, the game The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which came out in 2015, set a new record for concurrent players on Steam.

That’s not surprising. The Witcher 3 is the latest and best-looking game in the series, and it received a ton of acclaim when it first launched. Its sprawling open world filled with colorful characters and cool monsters is pretty enticing.

But if you’re just breaking into the series, or have already played The Witcher 3, I would highly suggest its predecessor: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.

The appeal of The Witcher 2

The Witcher 2 opens with a bang. The introductory cinematic is stunning and gets things moving right away. It introduces the aesthetic of the game and the character Letho, an outrageously beefy and agile witcher who is going around the Continent assassinating kings.

Shortly after the game begins, another king is assassinated, and Geralt is the main suspect. As the story unfolds, Geralt fights to reclaim his reputation as he hunts Letho amid the turmoil and political upheaval that’s so common on the Continent.

The Witcher 2 is a fantastic fantasy action RPG. It has great characters, a good sense of humor, huge set pieces and battles, and a perfect blend of linear story-driven sections broken up by pockets of open world exploration. The big moments are shocking and mind-blowing, while the small moments are pleasantly entertaining.

Some of the boss fights, like the one with the leviathan-like kayran just outside the dusty, grimy town of Flotsam, still stick out in my head as some of the most fun boss fights I’ve ever played in any video game. The kayran is a massive sea monster with deadly tentacles, and slicing through it is really tough, requiring a little bit of memorization and a lot of skill.

The fight against draug is just incredible.

The fight against draug is just incredible.

Image: cd projekt red

Even though it came out in 2011, The Witcher 2 still looks really good, too. This game is fluid and colorful with a great mix of environments. It may not be as crisp in some areas as The Witcher 3, but it really holds up well.

There’s also the replay-ability factor of this game. After the first several hours, you have to make a choice of who to side with at a pivotal moment in the game. Depending on which of the two characters you choose to go with, the second chapter and the game’s endings change drastically.

Why not The Witcher 3?

Let me just say real quick: The Witcher 3 is an amazing game.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me also say: The Witcher 3 has a pretty slow start and is intimidatingly large.

If you’re looking to dip your toes into the waters of these games, The Witcher 2 is a much more welcoming sight. First of all, it is quite a bit shorter. The Witcher 2 can be beaten, even with a handful of side quests, in fewer than 30 hours. The Witcher 3 demands at least 50 hours of your time, and can be stretched out to well over 100 hours if you like to get sidetracked.

There’s nothing wrong that, but it’s kind of a lot.

'The Witcher 3' sure is pretty, though.

‘The Witcher 3’ sure is pretty, though.

Image: cd projekt red

I also think The Witcher 2 jumps into the larger stories of the world more quickly, and if you enjoy the Netflix series, you’ll certainly enjoy some of the kingdom squabbles and political intrigue that comes out of The Witcher 2 right off the bat.

If you’re really into open worlds and a bit more meandering, though, go all in on The Witcher 3.

If you’ve already played The Witcher 3 and are curious about The Witcher 2, prepare for a bit of a different pace. The world isn’t nearly as big and the story beats happen a little faster, so it might feel a little fast at times, but don’t worry, because the difficulty of this game will slow you right down.

The Witcher 2 is hard, right off the bat. Potions and oils are essential to success, and using magic wisely is key. Enemies are relentless. I think the first time I played, the first boss fight with the kayran took me at least a dozen attempts.

Thank you, magic.

Thank you, magic.

Image: cd projekt red

But that’s all part of the fun.

What about the first game?

So, the first Witcher game was pretty good when it came out in 2007. It does not hold up to today’s standards.

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The combat is clunky, it doesn’t look very good anymore, and the primary emotion I had while playing this game is frustration. It’s OK to let this one pass you by. Maybe if they completely rework it and modernize it a bit like Capcom did with Resident Evil 2 this year, it would be worth checking out. But it’s really hard to get through 30+ hours of the original Witcher more than 10 years after it came out.

Stick to The Witcher 2 and 3. Don’t overlook the middle child, as we are so apt to do. The Witcher 2 remains one of my favorite games of all time, and it deserves attention.

Geralt doing his pensive thing.

Geralt doing his pensive thing.

Image: cd projekt red


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