You ever have one of those games you’re really excited about before you buy, then when it’s finally yours you just can’t get into it? That’s me and “The Witcher 2″ right now. I’ve been rubbing my hands together in anticipation of this one for a couple of months, but now that it’s mine, it’s not sinking in. I play it, sure, because I force myself to, but I’m secretly longing to boot up “Twisted Metal” the whole time. What the hell is up with this?
There’s nothing really wrong with the game, mind you, but something isn’t clicking. I think the problem is the combat, which I just can’t get in step with. Sure I win most of my fights, but I don’t like how my victories feel. I run away, I turn and set some traps, I run away, I parry a blow from one guy but his friend backhands me, I run away, I get fed up and cut one guy to shreds but his friend nearly kills me, I run away, then I slowly drain the last guy’s health with fireballs. Shouldn’t a Witcher like myself just plow through these idiots?
Good combat systems do more than challenge you, they make you feel like your avatar. Rocksteady’s work on the “Arkham” franchise is so world-class because you not only win fights, you feel like Batman while you win them. It’s entirely possible, and bordering on plausible, that I’m doing something wrong here, but I found the tutorial overwhelming, and I’m not sure my relationship with the game will last long enough for the rough patches in my technique to smooth out.
I also think “Witcher 2″ is one of those games like “Bioshock” and “Fallout 3″ where you’re meant to suffer early on, before a few choice upgrades transform you into a god, and you rain down hellfire on formerly dread-inducing opponents. It’s a sturdy design paradigm, and it’s worked well in several masterpieces, but it backfires when it makes the player feel like the designers are slamming the door in their face.
I’m also struggling a little with the quest system. First of all, I know the map is “realistic” to what a Witcher would have, but it’s still maddeningly vague and stingy, and I’d gladly sacrifice the authenticity for something more informative. The game lets me carry 300 lbs. of iron ore and leather around in my pockets and the authenticity gods don’t seem to mind, so why do we hold out with the damned map?
Also, my quests often ask me to go “learn about” something, or “ask people” around town for more information. After grinding through six or seven NPCs who know nothing about my quest and just want to throw some dice, I get fed up and look online for who I’m supposed to talk to, or where the damned book is. Even once I’ve cheated my way to the next step, I can’t figure out how the game expected me to guess that was the place I needed to be. It feels like the designers are muddying the waters just to arbitrarily stretch the length of my quest.
This is minor, but I’m also having some technical problems. I know the game advises you to install, but I’m not made of hard drive space over here and/or hard drive space doesn’t grow on trees, and I ain’t handin’ nobody 7.7 GB just to run a little faster. Graphical glitches are not infrequent, especially during cut-scenes. Even worse, Geralt’s dialog is often mixed too quietly, and a volume that serves all the other characters and action of the game makes him inaudible.
All of these are nit-picks, I know, and there’s much more good about the game than bad, but for some reason this stuff is doing a number on my enthusiasm. “The Witcher 2″ may be juicy at its core, but blemishes on the skin are keeping me from biting down. I’ve disliked genuinely good games in the past—the “Rogue Squadron” franchise leaps to mind—and maybe this is another. But I hope not. I hope I’m writing another of these in a week saying “Never mind, I love it!”