Out with the old and in with the new, the Witcher 2 sees itself ditch the old combat system that quite a few people did not enjoy to one that we would consider a bit more ‘standard’ in the RPG realm of things. We were a bit saddened to see the removal of the different fighting styles, as this made it so that not only did you need to use the correct sword, but the correct stance against opponents. We do understand removing the combo attack style combat as a lot of people found it unappealing and turned off quite a few gamers from playing through the entire game. There was also a fair amount of people who were unhappy with the lack of a tutorial to the combat or gameplay mechanics of the game when you are thrown into the prologue act. To us the first time we played it we never had problems, though in the Enhanced Edition there is a tutorial one can play before the actual game. This explains all the basic mechanics of the game, along with tests your combat skills, giving a suggested difficulty afterwards. It told us we should be playing it on normal mode, but we were going to have none of that and dove head first into it on Dark Mode.
Instead of the Strong, Fast, and Group styles, there is fast attacks and strong attacks. To perform a fast attack, the left mouse button click when a sword is out or in combat (Geralt will automatically unshealth a sword when thrown into combat/attacked). The fast attack will allow you to attack enemies more quickly than the strong attack, but it can be more easily blocked or deflected, and does less damage than the strong attack. The strong attack, which is the right mouse button is much slower, but is harder to be blocked or deflected and does significantly more damage to an opponent. A strong attack also leaves you up to being attacked more easily by an enemy. Added into the mix this time is parry, where you can try to parry or deflect an enemy’s attack, taking less damage. A successful parry will use up a slot of Vigor. With the right timing, you can actually deflect it all together and perform a counter attack. With this more fluid combat system dodge now has an actual use. In the first game we could do combo attacks and spec in a way where enemy attacks did very little damage when we were in a combo. Since this no longer exists in the second game, dodging an enemy, or group of enemies attacks becomes all the more important. We preferred to roll out of the way of an attack then use up a vigor point parrying an attack. Not to mention that getting quite skilled at dodging away from attacks comes in quite handy with a lot of the boss fights too, especially against the Kayran.
Signs also make their return as they are another staple of being a Witcher. For those who are not aware, Signs are what Witchers use in order to control the chaos that is magic without the need for extensive studying or training that most mages or sorceresses go through. Instead these signs can be used on demand given you have enough Vigor. There are once again five standard Signs, with the sixth having been mentioned prior with regards to the Magic Tree. Aard is once against the first sign we’ll mention, similar to controlling the element of air. It can be used to throw or knock back enemies, allow you to attack them as they are dazed after being hit. Very effective against harder enemies, especially a certain boss fight or two as it allows you to not have to worry about being hit IF your Vigor regenerates fast enough and you time your attacks right. Igni is the analog for the fire element, allowing you to set enemies on fire. As there are no longer any camp fires it no longer has an out of combat use. We did not use Igni as much in this game compared to the first one. Yrden enables you to set magical traps on the ground that hold enemies in place ‘stunned’ for several seconds. It is another effective way to take down one or more enemies by placing a few of them on the ground, attacking the closest stunned enemy, whittling them down that way. Its use is also required against the Kayran fight to trap a tentacle in order to allow you to attack it. Quen for us was one of if not the most important Sign for play on Dark Mode. Quen is still a protective barrier that can be cast in order to not lose health while attacked, it only prevents Vigor from regenerating rather than both Vigor and Vitality as per in the Witcher 1. We will note on Dark Mode Quen only lasts for one attack than it is spent, whereas in easier difficulties normally the barrier will stay up for several attacks before being used up. Axii is the charm Sign, which early on in the game can be your other best friend (Quen being the first one). It will allow you to temporarily convert one of your enemies into an ally who will attack for you. This can be used to have enemies attack each other lowering both their health while you pick off stragglers or just backup to regenerate health.
The Vigor system returns with some updates to it. Rather than being a single long bar with thresholds of when a Sign can be used, it is broken up into quantities instead, with 9 ‘slots’ being the maximum amount that one can have. As previously mentioned, the amount of physical damage Geralt does on an attack is based on the amount of Vigor he has (relatively to how many are available). If Geralt has two Vigor, but one has been depleted, only fifty percent of the maximum damage he will do to an enemy, with both depleted causing him to do the minimum amount of damage he will do with a sword. The more Vigor you have, the more the percentage is broken up, making it so that the attacks aren’t affected as much by how many Vigor slots you have. Parry will also use up Vigor, so the more Vigor you have, the better off you are. We only went to about four or five since we were mainly using Vigor for to be able to use Quen when we needed it.
Planning before potential fights is rather important as you are no longer allowed to drink potions while in combat, you must be mediating in order to do so (which means out of combat). For some boss fights you are given enough notice that you are facing something to stop to drink potions before engaging them. Other times though you are thrown into the mix, and with a maximum of ten minutes, you need to hope they don’t wear off before you dispatch your enemies. Swallow was once again our go-to potion, as it is only one of a few ways to have your health regenerate while in combat. Shrines as well as the Dark Mode swords (with a full outfit) are the only other ways. It is also a lot harder to consume ‘too many’ potions as the limit is three potions (unless you get skill points in the alchemy tree). When a potions timer runs out, the toxicity of the potion clears out, as if the effects and toxins are tied together. This makes it so you don’t have to try to rest a while (as in in game hours) to drink new potions. Now this helps balance it a bit, we still wish at times we would have been able to drink a potion when we needed it as said before, there were some conversations that would be quite long that when it was over half the potion timer was gone and we were thrown immediately into a fight/combat.
Since we brought it up a few times we’ll just briefly talk about the difficulty we played the game on. It is called Dark Mode, it is the second hardest difficulty in the game, much harder than Hard (significantly harder than Hard for Witcher 1 as well). The amount of damage an enemy does, is nearly equal to that of Insanity Mode, with the only major difference that Insanity mode if you die, your save is gone. Dark Mode if you die you can just reload the game to the last save. Dark Mode is extremely difficult to say the least, as certain enemies or bosses can drain your health in one or two hits, even with the Dark Mode outfits. You really have to be aware of your surroundings, time your attacks and be a master at dodging (or parry + counter). We could probably bash the game a lot based on how hard the game was and how we died quite a bit against certain enemies or near the beginning of the game it is something to be expected on the higher difficulty setting. As the game progresses it is still quite near life and death, you do get a sense of reward from beating a certain fight, or figuring out on the first go the best way to deal with an enemy, ending the fight relatively quickly. One thing people may not be aware of is that the Witcher 2 actually allows you to enable/disable ‘difficult’ QTEs. This allows you to actually remove most QTEs from in the game, letting it play out in cut scenes rather than having to worry that you may need to do a QTE in the middle of something. As we do not like more QTEs we greatly appreciated this.