I guess I should play this; I bought the sequel already.

Well, the Steam Summer Sale has been a little disappointing this year, owing to no daily deals and no flash sales and no metagame or anything like that.  Also I feel like I already own, like, 90% of everything on Steam already.

But, I didn’t have The Witcher 3, and I really liked the first one, so I dropped the $22.50 to add it to my library.

Then I figured I should probably play the middle chapter.

So some initial thoughts on The Witcher 2: Epic Subtitle Here, after 11 hours played and finishing the prologue and first chapter.

Playing a game five years after launch may be a bit unfair, because I keep running in to small annoyances where my initial thought is “Skyrim (or Dark Souls) did this better” and then I need to remind myself that both of those games came out months after TW2 and had the opportunity to learn from places where CD Projekt RED might have stumbled.  With my possible unfairness documented, I will continue on to say that my initial impressions of TW2 are that it is a game with a really engaging story and compelling world, hampered by mechanical choices that make all of the bits between conversations and cutscenes (you know, the bits where you kill monsters and take their stuff, aka the GAME parts of the game) a right pain in the rear end.

For example: The world is frequently very dark and takes place in swamps and forests, places with lots of underbrush to hide loot and harvestable items, so you have a button for “witcher sense” which sends out a SONAR-like ping that highlights everything you can loot, harvest, or otherwise interact with.  The highlights go away after a few seconds, and the witcher sense button has a short-but-frustrating refresh time tied to it, so a pitched battle with seven or eight enemies is followed up by pushing the button, looting a couple of items, waiting for the button to refresh again, looting the things you can loot, waiting… and all the time hoping that a wandering monster doesn’t happen by, because you are locked out of looting during combat and for several seconds after combat – even if “in combat” just means that something has seen you from a great distance away and is running towards you.

Fortunately, I found a mod that a) highlights every lootable and harvestable object all the time and b) auto-loots enemies as they die regardless of in-combat status, and another mod that pulls back the camera so I can actually see more of the world and less of Geralt’s oh-so-manly clavicles.

There are fewer fixes for things like the number of button presses it takes to navigate your equipment and find or equip an item, or the way the inventory UI makes it terribly easy to unequip your boots, or the way pressing the “Craft This Item” button on the crafting screen creates the last SELECTED recipe rather than the recipe you have highlighted, adding an extra required button press to avoid making the wrong thing and losing hard-gathered crafting components.

Also it has QTEs.  There’s an option to turn off “Difficult QTEs” in the game settings, but what it desperately needs is an option labeled “turn off QTEs entirely and apologize for putting them in the game in the first place.”

The game’s final sin is including stealth bits in a game whose engine does not seem designed around having stealth bits.  Most of the ones I’ve encountered so far have been of the variety where failing at stealth means that you just kill everyone who noticed you, but I was warned that choosing one side over the other when you need to pick sides leads you to a mandatory mission where you MUST be stealthy and where failing at stealth is an insta-fail-start-over situation.  So I picked sides appropriately and am grateful for the warning.

Basically, what I’m trying to get at is that the game is fantastic in spite of itself, because normally I would not have time for this crap.

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