The Witcher 2 continues on the tradition of having two main weapons, a sword made from silver, and a sword made from steel and meteorite rocks. What’s a bit more evident this time, at least on the Dark Mode difficulty, is that if you use the incorrect sword on an opponent, it does very little to no damage. The combat log will mention that you are using the wrong sword, which is doing minimal damage or that is ineffective. Switching to the other sword remedies this issue, so there are several ways to realize you’re using the wrong sword instead of the enemy being over powered and impossible to kill. We ran into that a few times since Geralt will pull out the last used sword when engaged in new combat, instead of grabbing the ‘correct’ sword. One could nitpick that he should know to pick the correct one, the way we look at it they made it so that the player should be the one picking the correct one to add some challenge. Just like in the first game, the steel sword is meant to be used against humanoids, such as humans, elves, dwarves, whereas the silver sword is meant for monsters, including dragons.
Oils have made a return to the game, though they do not last as long as they had before, they are just as effective on a sword to give bonus damage against a specific enemy type (ex: necrophages), or just generically. There are additional weaponry, taking the form of thrown daggers, bombs (which were around before), and crafted traps.
In order to be able to throw a dagger, you must put a point into the training (or first) skill tree. We tried using thrown daggers in the beginning (namely during the tutorial as you are shown all forms of combat there), but didn’t find we liked using them all that much. Bombs and traps do not have the same sort of limitations as thrown daggers, both can be used without any skill point training. Geralt can once again craft bombs when he is meditating, however he for some reason is unable to make traps himself. Instead he must go to a vendor, pay for them to make them with the corresponding materials and the schematics, or buy them pre-made from certain vendors at significantly higher prices with limited stock.
A nice change in learning about monsters is rather than always having to find/buy books to read about certain monsters, if you kill or fight enough of them, you will learn enough to fill up the ‘codex’ entry. This makes sense as if you are killing a lot of something, you’ll eventually figure out its strengths and weaknesses, provided you aren’t just continually ‘dying’ to it. We quite appreciated the fact we didn’t have to waste a lot of gold this time on books to allow us to be able to gather items from the slain monsters only if our codex entry was filled out (like in Witcher 1).
The crafting system has returned, broken down into items that you can craft while meditating, and those that require a vendor to make them for you. Gathering materials has been expanded upon, as there are a lot more unique and non-unique items that are required in order to craft something. Swords will require some amount of wood for its hilt (though there are a lot of piles of wood all throughout the game, plus vendors sell them), armour will require different types of cloth and leather, and traps require they own sets of ingredients too. Enemies will sometimes drop some of these crafting items, though a lot of the time you can find them in containers, boxes, etc, so unless you are strapped for cash, you can usually keep a small stock of them in your storage ‘chest’ which can be found and accessed in each of the acts.
In order to craft an item yourself, you must first be meditating (not in combat) as in the first game, as well as have the schematic for the item you wish to craft. You are able to meditate anywhere as long as you are not in combat, which has changed from at a campfire or at an inn. We’ll elaborate later on why they did this, as some mechanics required this ‘change’. The schematics can be bought from various vendors throughout the game. Oils, Bombs, and potions are the items you can once again craft, though they stack a lot higher in your inventory than they did in the Witcher 1. Nice, but loss of realism at the same time is the fact you no longer need buy an alcoholic base for your potions, or have other base items for say the oils or bombs. It looks like either you carry an infinite amount of them or its just wrapped into the ingredients required to craft the item. It is nice to not have to worry about having them in your inventory to craft something, though it loses some of its previous ‘realism’ of alchemy.
Some of the potions have had their affects and durations altered. All potions have a maximum of ten minutes (in real time) that they will last, instead of hours of in game time. This change is alright aside from the fact that when you are in a long conversation with someone who you may have to fight, the potion timer will tick away, leaving you with less time to use the potion in the ensuing combat. On easier difficulties these potions aids may not be as critical compared to on harder difficulties such as Dark Mode where any edge can be the difference between winning the fight or not. The Swallow potion still increases in and out of combat vitality regeneration, though the Cat potion no longer just grants improved night vision. Instead it allows you to see through walls, in the sense that you actually get to see the circulatory system/heartbeat of enemies making it so that you can more easily find them in the dark (as well as avoid their attacks during combat). It is a little odd the different ‘view’ type when you have a Cat potion, it lasts only five minutes instead of ten to balance this out. We decided to include a screenshot showing this, to prepare you on what you’ll be ‘dealing with’ when you play the game yourself and need to use this potion as there are a few occasions it is quite necessary to use it.
We’ll quickly mention Bombs a bit more in detail, as unlike in the first game, we used them quite a bit more. This is because it is an easily thrown weapon that can cause damage to one or to multiple enemies, allowing you to take down groups a bit faster. Now this may not sound all that important, but when you realize later how much harder Dark Mode is than Hard Mode was for Witcher 1, you’ll understand why we relied on them for certain bosses or group fights. For ourselves, we namely focused on the ones that did the most single or group targets damage, though there are a few that are helpful in situations such as to blind or confuse enemies instead.
Vendor crafting has been greatly expanded upon, and in Dark Mode, is quite necessary to use. In order for a crafter to be able to craft something for you, you must first purchase the crafting schematic, sometimes from them, though other times it is from other vendors. You must keep these crafting schematics in your inventory at all times, which is a slight downside, but is understandable if you go to different crafter throughout the game, what is the likelihood Geralt can explain how to make something to each vendor correctly. Having a lot of crafting schematics is not a big deal as they are sorted in their own inventory slot and take up very little space/weight. You can also sell schematics you feel you don’t need to use after having crafted the item once (such as one time use quest items or the Dark Mode outfits). With the schematic in hand, you can check the schematic yourself for what items you need, or go to a craft and see in the crafting screen what is required. Provided you have all the materials required to craft the item, you will have to pay a certain amount of money in order for them to craft it. This is a nice touch of realism as how many blacksmiths would work for free if you just threw the ore at them? You’re paying for a service after all. Items are instantly crafted and added to your inventory so there is no waiting a day to get a new weapon or piece of armour.
Traps allow you to trap an enemy in their tracks, or explode if they trip it. This is useful if you want to lower an enemy or group of enemies’ health in situations where you know you’ll be dealing with quite a few of them consecutively. These can be set/used in combat, with a unique one for an act one boss, shortening the fight as a reward. This requires earlier on in the main quest line to grab a specific item only accessible one time, if you don’t gather it, you will not be able to craft this boss trap.
Something that is unique to Dark Mode is the addition of three acts ‘outfits’ called The Blasphemer’s Outift, the Oathbreaker’s Outfit and the Kingslayer’s Outfit respectively. These outfits contain a full set of armour along with the two swords. They tend to be fairly expensive, require quite a few ingredients, with the chest piece usually requiring a unique item that can be found during some part of that act. Even though it is costly to craft the full outfit, it is well worth it for each act to have. If you do not have a full set equipped, namely using one of the crafted swords, you will lose health when you have it out during combat. The weapons themselves are cursed, however, attacking enemies with the sword will restore some of that lost health. Meaning if you have the full oufit, your health will not deteriorate when the sword is out, and when you hit an enemy you’ll get/steal some health for yourself. The set of armour has additional benefits. In the first act it helps increase the resistance to poison, which makes the fight against the Kayran much easier as you are not being poisoned (the Mongoose potion only slows down how quickly Geralt gets poisoned on Dark Mode, on all other modes it is the only thing needed to fight the Kayran). We also found that the swords crafted tended to be one of the best if not the best damage wise in their acts. Yet another benefit of the Dark Mode armour outfits are that specific armour pieces increase the amount of weight that Geralt can carry, allowing you to not have to go back to vendors to sell items as frequently. Yes, they fixed the inventory system.
It looks like CD Projekt Red went back in time and fixed one of our largest negatives of the first game. The inventory system. It is no longer a mess of items anymore that could be sort of sorted. Rather than having a fixed number of inventory spots, it is now a weight based system, meaning you can actually loot multiple swords, armour, etc., to sell to vendors later on. This unfortunately means that oils, potions, bombs, traps, crafting materials (non-flowers) all have weight quantities as well, meaning you can end up looting more than Geralt can carry. When you exceed the maximum amount of weight he can carry, you can only move at a very slow pace. Combat seems to be affected slightly, but it is more of a travelling speed that is affected by this. They did not stop there with this inventory overhaul! Items are organized into different categories too, allowing you to keep a ‘cleaner’ inventory, such as swords, armour, enhancements (oils, potions), bombs & traps, crafting materials, junk items, and quest items. Quest items rarely have any weight, which is a good thing as a majority of them cannot be sold. Either way we were a lot happier having a more comprehensive inventory system based on weight, rather than limiting the amount of fixed slots we have to pick up items. Combining this with the storage chest system, this allowed us to go out with a mostly empty inventory, return mostly if not completely full, then sell items we didn’t need, or store some crafting materials we knew we needed for later on such as iron ore, wood, and leather.
There are four distinct skill trees in the Witcher 2 rather than the more broken out skill branches that existed in the first game. Every time you level up you are awarded one skill point instead of the bronze, silver, and gold skill points. This means you are only ever able to upgrade one skill each level rather than multiple ones previously. Every skill has two levels to it, though you cannot see what the level 2 of a skill until you’ve purchased the first level (or look online). We would have liked to have been able to see what the level 2 skills were in game, including what skills you could add mutagens to mutate, rather than guessing and respecing later (if you get that mod) or going online and figuring out what skills we wanted where. Not a big deal as a lot of games don’t let you know what the higher level skills will do when you haven’t unlocked the lower, just a ‘would have been nice to have’ type thing.
The first tree that is accessible is the training tree, which you have to put your talent points into until around level 9 or 10 (aka must have 9 or 10 talent points purchased to unlock the other trees). These involve abilities such as Vigor Regeneration (increases out of combat vigor regeneration by 25%, Level 2 increases in combat vigor regeneration by 25%), Hardiness (Vitality +10, Level 2 Vitality +50), Dagger throwing (ability to throw daggers), Parrying (Unlock the ability to parry from all directions, Level 2 50% damage reduction while parrying with full Vigor), Arrow redirection (redirect arrows, Level 2 reflects it back at the shooter), and Fortitude (increase in combat vigor regeneration by 10%, Level 2 Vigor +1 or an added Vigor slot). Arrow redirection and fortitude both have the ability to add a mutagen to them. Mutagens can be found by killing enemies, or in the alchemy tree, have a chance to create as a by-product to crafting an alchemy item. Mutagens are permanent (unless you respec and lose the mutated mutagen) and give a variety of bonuses such as to Vitality, increase chance to poison/incinerate/etc., increase Adrenaline generation, sword damage, armour, and more. We focused heavily on Adrenaline, armour, and vitality as those were the more important things to help keep ourselves alive longer and be able to use the Adrenaline Rush ability quicker in Dark Mode.
The other three trees are Alchemy, Magic, and Swordsmanship. All three have skills randomly placed in there to increase vitality, so you do not have to worry about going down one tree to get more health. Each also have their own unique Adrenaline Rush ability. Adrenaline has its own bar that once it is full allows you use it, which each tree having a different effect. We have found that you can actually unlock and benefit from multiple Adrenaline Rush abilities too, so you aren’t limited to just choosing one.
Alchemy has skills that can increase the damage of bombs, chance to create a mutagen, increased potion or oil duration, damage dealt increased when poisoned, and many more. Its Adrenaline Rush ability is called Berserk Mode. This increases vitality regeneration rate in and out of combat, as well as increase the minimum and maximum amount of damage done with swords, and increase the chance to kill an enemy outright. We never poked our head into this tree as the only thing of interest in there was the Beserk Mode, which costs way too many skill points to get to that we would lose out on other skills we more rely upon.
The Swordsmanship Tree is a must for those who want to do majority of their damage from melee attacks, along with some more defensive abilities too. Position makes it so that you take less damage while being attacked from behind (the default is 200% damage when being hit from behind). On Dark Mode this is quite important as there are a lot of times there are group of enemies attacking you, with not all of them usually facing you. One hit from behind can sometimes clear out most of your health in one or two strikes. Feet work increases the distance that you can roll away from an attack. Quite useful against all sorts of enemies, including boss fights to evade their attacks if timed correctly. The only way to do damage to multiple opponents using a sword is the Whirl skill. There are also various skills that increase sword damage or deduce damage received within this tree. Group Finisher is the Adreneline Rush ability that can be unlocked in this tree. It allows Geralt to instantly kill up to three close together enemies whose health is low or at the threshold to allow them to be instantly killed. Most normal enemies we found on Dark Mode would be killed instantly, so we figure this is meant to not instantly kill a boss.
The final tree is the one involving Magic. This enhances the various signs that were previously outlined in the prior game which we will discuss again later in the combat section. Some of the skills increase the range of certain signs, increase the amount of damage that specific sign or all signs do, and increase the number of vigor ’slots’. Increasing Vigor when you can is a good thing as it is used for blocking, and the total amount of damage Geralt can do is based on how full that bar is, sort of a mini-fatigue. It is noticeable the damage Geralt does with a full Vigor bar vs a depleted one. We namely went for enhancing the Quen sign, so that it would reflect damage back at one or more enemies allowing us to dispatch them more quickly. Turning the Quen into a defensive and offensive sign at the same time. A fifth sign, Heliotrop, is the Adreneline Rush for this tree. It will create a bubble that slows down time aka enemies within it, allowing you to move faster than them to deal more damage, better chance of dodging attacks, and increases vigor regeneration.
It is possible to have two if not all three Adreneline Rush abilities to be used/triggered at once. We found that having Group Finisher and Heliotrop unlocked and triggering the Rush ability that we would do a Group Finisher attack on one or more enemies, then have Heliotrop up around in the area we were standing. Not sure if this was intended or not, but find this can help balance the odds against large groups of enemies later in the game, especially for Dark Mode.
‘Mini-games’ make their return in the Witcher sequel, though some of them have been altered slightly. All of them still have side quests where you can only do a mini-game with certain characters unless you’ve beaten someone else that wasn’t as good as them. You can also make a fair amount of money through them, but not as much as you could before. The developers seemed to have put a cap on how much you can bet which is significantly lower than in the Witcher 1. We see this as a bit of a downside as in order to gather enough money to afford crating the Dark Mode Outfits, we had to go farm enemies for a while in order to cover those costs. This resulted in us gaining more experience, so that can be seen as a good thing, though it would have been nice to have bet some people much more than were able to.
Dice Poker is the first game to see its return, with a change or two. The first noticeable change is that there is only one round of dice to win or lose against an opponent rather than it being a best of three. This made it so that if you lost the first game you lose the set. They may have made it so that to beat an opponent you didn’t have to slug through up to three rounds to do it, but we missed having a chance to lose a round then win the next two. Another change you’ll notice is that it no longer tells you what the opponent has in terms of pairs, straight, etc. This ‘may’ have been removed to make it more realistic as it makes you more aware of both players have. The last change added was you can actually roll your dice off of the board if you are not careful, if this happens on your second roll you are down whatever dice that rolled off the playing surface. This has worked in our advantage the odd time as the computer opponent is not immune to do this and one time they lost two of their five dice from a bad roll.
Fist Fighting has also made its return from the first game, it is now a series of quick time events. This makes it a bit more engaging than before as the strategy is no longer hold duck while the opponent is attacking, hit them, and repeat. Instead you have to be fairly ‘active’ in the quick time event. This is one of the rare times where QTEs (Quick Time Events) don’t actually feel out of place, more something that they should be used with or for. You are actually expecting it, whereas a lot of QTEs you are usually not expecting, resulting in half the time failing at them (at least for us).
With the departure of the Drinking game and the Romance cards, Arm Wrestling has come in to take its place. Arm wrestling is another fun mini-game that we quite enjoyed. Once you challenge an opponent you see a little bar down near the bottom of the screen. In order to win, you must keep your cursor inside of this yellow area. Go outside of it and the yellow area will shift towards the opponent winning, while keeping it inside will allow it to move towards Geralt’s side, leading towards him winning. There is one time where it is nearly impossible to win the arm wrestling contest, though you are supposed to lose the first time against them, so don’t bet a lot. The opponent is known to be a cheater and on steroids, calling him out about this you can arm wrestle him a second time without the performance enhancing drugs for a fairer match.