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Developer: CD Projekt Red
System requirements: Core 2Duo 2.2 GHz or dual core AMD 2.5 GHz CPU; GB RAM Windows XP, 2 GB Windows Vista/7; GeForce 8800 512 MB or Radeon (HD3850 512 MB); 16 GB Drive Space
ESRB rating: Mature
Release date: Available now
Everyone is at E3 right now and I’m not. There are two reasons for that. First, I have my finals this week. By the time you read this I will hold a degree in History and Anthropology. Second, I just really wanted to play The Witcher 2, a sequel to one of my top RPGs of all time. Both games are based on my favorite series of fantasy novels and although it is impossible for any game to match the type of experience a sublime work of literature can provide, in this case a valiant effort was made. Andrzej Sapkowski, the maestro himself, was consulting CD Projekt during the development of both titles. The bar was raised pretty high already, but it appeared that the development team was intent on not just raising it again this time around, but rather on rocketing right through it and into previously unknown heights.
Things didn’t start out smoothly, however. On the day of release I downloaded my copy of the game from gog.com. I specify a gog version as opposed to Steam’s because I am a big believer in remaining DRM-free. Either way, after a ten gigabyte download and a fairly long installation, I used the included configuration tool to set up the settings and tried to launch the game. Nothing. I tried again and again, and even restarted my computer. Still nothing. Not even an error message of any kind. I then began going through the configuration menus again, and discovered that the full-screen feature was the culprit. Fine, I decided, I can play in a window, no big deal. The game ran, but there was no sound. After consulting Google, I discovered that the problem was my external USB sound card being set to 7.1 channels. I lowered the setting to 5.1 and was finally able to begin.
The first thing I noticed about the game is that it looks amazing. The engine is impressive in and of itself, but at ultra settings, with the textures maxed out and running at 2560×1600 resolution, it was a true pleasure to behold. (By now we know that it will be also released for the Xbox 360, and I experimented with lowering the resolution and texture quality to match that of the venerable console. It’s just not the same.) The characters also look much better than those of the upcoming Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Mass Effect 3, if screenshots and videos are to be believed. The most impressive, however, were the vistas. The game begins with a siege of a mighty keep, and the panoramas that unfolded in front of me were nothing short of breathtaking. I’m no stranger to fancy graphics and powerful PCs, but I spent many a minute simply gawking at the sheer visual splendor.
As many of you already know, I do not consider graphics to be the most important part of any game, especially a role-playing one. The reason I chose to start with this facet of The Witcher 2, is because it was something that stands out from the very beginning, before you have a chance to experience such aspects as story or combat. Speaking of combat, I found it to be enjoyable (if a bit strange at first). The very first time you are faced with enemies you’ve had very little in the way of tutorials, so those initial few seconds can be a little hectic. You get the gist of it in no time though, and as your skill as a player and as a character continues to grow you will see your battles becoming progressively easier. By chapter two you will find yourself dispatching groups of enemies with ease and ballet-like elegance. Some of the bosses can pose a real challenge, and both the Kayran and Letho in chapter one, killed me more times than I care to admit. Still, in the end, I felt a great sense of achievement when I figured out how to beat them.
A witcher is a master of the sword, but also an expert in simple magic and alchemy. As you rise in level you can improve your expertise in these three areas by allocating points to the appropriate talent trees. Because there are a lot more choices than points, you can either become an expert in one of them or dabble in all three. I opted for the pure swordsmanship course, because in the novels Geralt used potions and signs (magic) very rarely, about as rarely as I had to resort to them. Certain abilities can be further improved with mutagens, which you can find on monster corpses. The same principles apply to weapons, armor, diagrams for creating all manner of items, and books. All of this can seem a little intimidating at first glance, but don’t worry, there is much less complexity here than in many of the popular RPGs and MMOs. You will figure it out in no time and will be better off for it.
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