Arran (and Joel) Play The Witcher 2: The PrologueJanuary 19, 2019
Joel and I spent the Summer of second year playing The Witcher 1: Enhanced Edition, a game I've wanted to play since 2007. This year we've decided to pick up The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings, the game famously presented to Obama by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, and I intend to blog my thoughts and feelings about each chapter of the game. WARNING: THIS SERIES WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS THROUGHOUT
Let's start at the very beginning, before Chapter 1 even begins.
The Intro Cinematic
One of the things clear from the get go with the Witcher 2 is that the quality bar has been moved up a notch. The first instalment of The Witcher could be summarised as ‘Great ideas, poor execution.’ and it's clear from the opening cinematic that CD Projekt RED have come leaps and bounds since then. The game's opening cinematic is perhaps one of the finest in gaming. It tracks the game's villain, Letho as he assassinates … a king. Combining equal doses of suspense and spectacle, the cinematic has near-infinite re-watchability and serves as a strong opening blow for the game.
Following the opening cinematic, the prologue begins the real stage setting. The game opens with Geralt in chains and a new character Vernon Roche pressing him for questions. The prologue follows a ‘story within a story’ model and as you converse with Roche flashbacks unlock gameplay. It's intriguing and at times a tad disorienting but as the story unfolds it increasingly feels epic in proportions.
You start out being (re)introduced to the character of Triss, who lies naked in the bed beside you, and the concept of Geralt's memory loss. Then King Foltest summons you to assist him in his siege of La Valettes castle as his personal body guard, a siege fuelled by a lover's feud. Whilst Foltest in his previous incarnation appeared weak and at times dispassionately detached from the worries of Vizima, this sequence of gameplay portrays him as a father on the front-line of a battle desperately seeking to recapture his children from their mother. Whilst the combat is unchallenging, even in the sections without AI support, and the puzzle sections border on inane, the storytelling is rich and engaging enough to make the prologue stand out.
Of particular note is the first meaningful choice of the game - how to deal with Aryan La Valette, a stoic noble fighting for his family's honour in the face of overwhelming odds. The right conversation options enable you to persuade him to lay down his arms and unlock a new path in the conclusion of the prologue. Figuring out the tactic to persuading him feels rewarding, and doubly so at the end of the prologue.
The remaining action of the prologue is driven by a dragon chase sequence, hinted at in early dialogue options, that accelerates the pace of the game and leads you directly to the cut-scene of Foltest being reunited with his children, and his assassination. A nasty twist that is telegraphed too heavily by the scenes with Roche, but is still rewarding enough due to the quality of the set piece. Here, the game relies heavily on the dialogue wheel both to drive the gameplay, a welcome change of pace from the early chore of combat, and to drive the narrative. The prison break that ensues whilst a predictable trope isn't entirely without depth for those who spared Aryan La Valette as he reappears and in a last act of honour blows up the prison during your escape.
As Geralt, Roche, and Triss escape on the boat the prologue ends and chapter one begins. It's a strong opening to the title and it acts as a highlight reel showing off all the compelling elements of The Witcher in a short and perfectly paced introduction. Whilst it would be easy to draw comparisons to the Witcher 1's Kaer Morhen prologue it's evident that the sequels take on the opening act is far stronger.