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Saturday, May 19, 2012

I'm really enjoying THE WITCHER 2. The story is well crafted. The characters are well drawn and acted. Dialog has consequences -- and you can make a decision in the middle of a conversation -- or a battle -- that puts you on an entirely different narrative path. There are even consequences to whom you sleep with. So you have to really consider how you want to play.

I really, really like the combat system. In WITCHER 2, your opponents will do a number of things that your enemies would do in real life. If you have multiple opponents, they rush you, try to surround you, and the guys behind you stab you in the back, causing much more damage than the ones in front of you. You really, really do not want to let even some sword-wielding mooks get behind you, unless you have developed superlative sword fu.

This all seems obvious, but even in recent AAA games like the ASSASSIN'S CREED games, enemies will hang around you in a circle while only one guy goes in for the kill. You can sit in a circle of half a dozen baddies in AC, wait for one to attack, and then counterattack him and kill him. Rinse, repeat. It's like watching a kung fu film. Everyone is so gallant.

Also, you cannot take potions while in combat. Again, this seems obvious. Who has the time to go into your pouch and sort through your little glass vials, pick the right one and quaff it, while someone is actively trying to stab you to death? And yet in, e.g. SKYRIM, you can down five or six potions right in the middle of one moment of combat.

And, all the potions will immediately take effect, possibly curing you from near-death to perfect health, or restoring all your magical mana.

Of course these are fantasy games, but I feel games lose credibility when you can do this sort of thing. Magic should feel real. In WITCHER 2, you can only down a potion so long as you're not in combat. You can only take a handful of potions at the time -- each has toxicity. And while a potion can make you heal faster, it only changes the rate at which you heal. You still have to stay alive long enough to heal.

So instead of stopping combat to go into your inventory and down 5 healing potions, now you have to dodge and parry and roll. A lot. And if you're surrounded, get the hell out of the middle of all those bad guys.

That feels real.

I guess I want a game that feels more like a movie. I can see someone preparing for combat -- putting a rune on his blade, coating it with deadly oil, quaffing a potion that allows him to survive the dragon's breath. There is a narrative logic to that. It feels "realistic" even if it's not literally real.

So I am really enjoying the game. How cool is it that it comes from a Polish game studio, CD PROJEKT? The game world is truly international in a way that the film world really isn't.

Now, maybe in WITCHER 3 they'll get rid of the silly looting that afflicts most fantasy games. At least you don't find boxes full of gold every 50 paces in a dungeon. But you still can go into random people's houses and steal from them while they're right in front of you, without in any way annoying them. That seems absurd in a game where you don't play a sneak thief.

And I wouldn't mind if enemies broke and ran after you killed a bunch of their comrades, leaving you the choice whether to pursue or let them run for it. Even a wolf pack will run for it once you've killed a bunch of them.

More about the combat system:



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