The Witcher 2 – Review
“Legends are almost always beautiful. The reality often leaves a lot to be desired.”
The witcher’s remark is aimed at the Elves, who have strained out the grit of life, love and loss before writing down their history, leaving only romantic, idealistic odes to the past. But it could just as easily be applied to the role-playing game: video game memories that sit warm and pretty in the heart, the reality of their original awkwardness so often lost to time and nostalgia.
So we remember the vainglory of slaying the dragon atop a mountain in Skyrim, not the 20 minutes of tacking zig-zigs on horseback that it took to reach its summit. So we remember Aerith’s hands clasped on her still chest in Final Fantasy 7, not the machinegun volley of random battles that prevented us from reaching her in time to save her life. So we remember the silhouette of Fable’s sheepdog fighting faithful by our side, not those times he caught upon a sticky polygon, or lost his mind to AI Alzheimer’s and tore off to greet the distance. Legends are almost always beautiful. The reality often leaves a lot to be desired.
The witcher’s game – his second, a Polish blockbuster exquisitely rebuilt stone by stone for Xbox 360 from the 2011 PC original – has been designed to ensure that, wherever possible, the legend and the reality match.
It’s in the interface, which allows you to hack, slash, parry and throw spells with the touch of a button, stylishly slowing time to a crawl as you select a different brand of magic from a radial menu before winding it back to full speed once selected with decidedly un-RPG-like flair. It’s in the cut-scenes, which press interactivity into the player’s palms at every opportunity while maintaining their Game of Thrones-style directorial drama.
It’s in the story itself, which is written at a geographical, architectural level just as much as it is written in the words of its characters. It’s in the trade-post town of Flotsam where you spend the first few hours of your adventure, a riverside settlement where racial tension, poverty and hopelessness are scrawled into its dirt and structural layout as much as the dialogue boxes of its inhabitants. It’s in the whorehouses, gambling dens and fighting rings where you can fritter away your hard-earned pennies on womanly comfort or manly jeopardy – downtime that might not make it to the history books, but which adds spice and grit to the true tale behind the telling. If The Witcher 2 is the stuff of legend, it’s a legend rolled from s**t and blood, semen and mud; a plausible legend.
Read the rest of this feature over at Eurogamer here.