The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings PreviewPublisher: Namco Bandai
17 May 2011
It would have to be about sex, wouldn’t it? It’s The Witcher and, although CD Projekt often tries to cover it up like a dirty secret, the sex card is played often in this series – quite literally in the case of the first game, in which each encounter rewarded you with a collectible card.
In this case, though, sex hasn't been cheaply shoehorned into the game to help get the teenagers frothing; it’s an essential part of the quest. A succubus is plaguing the Dwarven town of Vergen, luring romantic young men to a savage death with promises of earthly pleasure and a flash of flesh. Destroying the succubus isn’t why Geralt is in town, but a Witcher can always use a bit of extra coin, can’t he?
So, Geralt sets off on the trail of the succubus, although he doesn’t know that’s the foe he’s facing at the beginning. The only initial clues are a litter of bodies and some very bereaved families, meaning the mission starts with some detective work. Hiking out to where the bodies were found uncovers the first clue; the stench of sulphur on the wind, but you’ll need to see the bodies to learn anything of real import. Off to the cemetery it is then.
These early stages of the quest don’t offer anything wholly innovative or new, nor is the script hinting at hidden depths. It’s just Geralt wandering up to a blood-soaked field, walking around the rubble and muttering to himself about the stink. If it wasn’t so tonally perfect then it would be quite dull.
Thankfully, it isn’t. Geralt’s actions make perfect sense and are consistent with both his role and character; Geralt of Rivia - monster-hunter for hire. Everything from the gruffly disinterested tone of his voice to the choice of dialogue options makes it clear that Geralt isn't particularly interested in his quest, merely what he’ll get from it in the end. However, because what Geralt does isn’t normal to anyone else but him, this makes him seem very cool and gives him the first bursts of charisma that he so dearly needed in the first game.
In the cemetery, however, this effect starts to crumble a little as the Witcher 2’s starts to feel a lot more gamey. Entering a large tomb, Geralt forces his way towards the bodies and starts the repetitive process of disturbing bodies and fighting spirits that appear in response. This ends up occurring at least four or five times, rapidly demolishing the illusion that Geralt knows exactly what he’s doing and is perfectly prepared for every situation.
It must have been rough sex too
Yet later, CD Projekt refocuses the quest again, giving Geralt choices with potentially long-term consequences – something at which the first game excelled, often hiding the consequences from you until much later. Once the succubus is uncovered, how do you want to deal with it? Geralt calls in on his poet friend, Dandelion, and uses him as bait to lure the creature out of its lair. There’s then the choice of whether to let Dandelion deal with the beastie, or face it yourself – then whether to kill it or reach another solution.
Decisions, decisions – but it’s here that the screen starts to fade to black and CD Projekt’s Tomasz Gop leans in to tell us that’s the end of the demo. ‘Bugger,’ we say, thinking to ourselves that it’s refreshing and interesting to finally see an RPG that handles the topic of sex without just shoving organs in your face and telling you it’s ‘mature’ gaming. It’s so refreshing, in fact, that we genuinely wish the demo wasn’t over.