Trial of the White Wolf: A Brief Critique of the Witcher 2’s Game Design

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is a very good game. It has excellent story, innovative choices and a sprawling, beautiful setting. It is not, however, without its faults. In this article I offer a brief critique of the shortcomings in The Witcher 2‘s design which ultimately held back its potential.The main flaw in the The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is its combat system, or more specifically, the lock on. Combat is handled with a lock on feature similar to the one which worked brilliantly in Dark Souls. CD Project obviously took notice of Dark Soul‘s tough but fair approach and adopted the feature in order to replicate it. To this end, the Witcher comes so close to successfully capturing the feel of that game but unfortunately the lock on feature just doesn’t work. First of all, the controls require you to hold down the Left Trigger (Xbox 360) which is unwieldy when attempting to manage the many separate buttons necessary for most fights, including one for strong attacks, fast attacks, secondary weapons and magic among others. Furthermore this is a huge hindrance when fighting groups, as in the beginning of the game it is not possible to target multiple enemies at once and being held to one person makes swiftly changing your target almost impossible. This is a particularly notable omission given that there was an entire fighting style focused on groups in the first Witcher title.

Witcher 2 1

Add to this the fact that enemies are nevertheless almost as unforgiving as those in Dark Souls and inflict similarly large amounts of damage, and combat early on in the Witcher is almost broken. Fights become wars of attrition, wherein hit and run attacks and using every secondary weapon available are the only means of victory. To the game’s credit, this occasionally results in moments of military brilliance as you use everything in your disposable to win the day, but unfortunately these moments are few and far between.

Eventually you level up sufficiently to gain the requisite abilities to rectify these issues, most notably the ability to hit more than one enemy at once. While this does for the most part alleviate the issues just named, it unfortunately makes way for an even greater problem. Suddenly combat difficulty moves all over the place. Encounters with normal foes become laughable, especially if you equip yourself with the better weapons available, but every now and then the difficulty spikes dramatically with Boss fights which break all the rules. Boss fights often involve enemies which cannot be blocked or parried and instead quick time events are required to finish them off. Worst still the potions and blade oils which are used to provide buffs for harder fights are not allowed to be used during combat but must be consumed before it begins. This results in reloads being required when stumbling across surprise boss fights, and in some cases extensive fighting against grunts is required before getting to the boss, meaning by the time you get there your buffs have worn off.

Witcher 2 2

Needless to say this makes reloading Boss fights tiresome and frustrating in equal measure. Moreover, auto saves at specific points in the game (I’m looking at you ‘Eternal Battle’) mean a trade off between replaying a little bit upon reloading, but not being able to apply buffs, and back tracking almost an hour but getting the opportunity to prepare for combat. Nearly all this could be avoided by allowing players to use buffs at any time, as the acidity system prevents players from taking many potions at once without dying, meaning that it wouldn’t unbalance the game if they could use them in combat.

In the end, the The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is a great game that approaches excellence, but falters on the final step. A temperamental lock on system and the inability to target multiple enemies at once in the early game, combined with the needless restriction placed on the use of buffs pushes the challenging combat just a little too far in the direction of cheapness, preventing you from feeling your deaths are fair. This is a shame, because with just a few tweaks the Witcher‘s combat could have rivalled Dark Souls itself. As it stands the Witcher is a good game with average mechanics, which are sometimes a chore and sometimes a joy. Only time will tell if the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will correct these mistakes, but here’s hoping that it can.

Until then: Va faill, Gwynbleidd.

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Hi all! I am the newest member of the Palace of Wisdom team. I have a strong background in Philosophy, English Literature and, of course, Games. As a result my favourite games combine all three of these interests. Some examples include: Bioshock, Mass Effect and Deus Ex.