Today marks the release of The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition on both Xbox 360 and PC. Sure, those of us with a powerful gaming PC probably played through this game one or more times. But everyone who picks it up on the Xbox will be playing it for the first time.
So, first of all: It's good. Quite good. It was one of my favourite games of last year, and tells the kind of shifting, twisting, highly enjoyable story that certain other RPGs (who will remain nameless) can only pull off in their wildest dreams.
Like most RPGs, you're going to have to make a bunch of choices in the game's early goings that will affect how the rest of the game will play for you. How will you level your character? What kind of gear should you buy? What spells are good, what aren't? What's the best way to approach combat? What's the fastest way to bone a super hot sorceress? Etc.
Fear not! I've played a lot of The Witcher 2, and I'm here to offer some spoiler-free advice for those embarking on the game for the first time.
Here goes nothing:
Sure, OK, Do The Tutorial
One of the features that was added after we PC folk cut our teeth on the game was a nice, balanced tutorial that walks you through various aspects of combat. It's not the greatest tutorial in the world, but it does the job of communicating the basic elements of the game well enough.
A recap of the first game is nice, but not essential
I played through about 10 per cent of The Witcher and still found that I enjoyed the heck out of The Witcher 2's story. That said, after beating it, I went back and read what happened in the first game and it put a lot of the sequel's events into a more interesting context.
Some day I'll invest the dozens of hours needed to complete the first game (no, really! I will.) But until then, a recap like the one at Wikipedia sufficed just fine. Optional, but worth giving a skim.
The Quen Sign Is Your Friend
This is probably the single most important tip for this game. When you first start out, you will probably find yourself getting owned in the third or fourth combat encounter. "What's going on?" you'll think. "I thought I was Geralt of Rivia, feared Witcher and sexy inter-kingdom badass? Why am I dying?"
You're dying because combat in The WItcher 2 is difficult and kinda uneven when compared to its RPG contemporaries. Your health doesn't regenerate in combat, so each hit Geralt takes really counts. Take too many hits early in a fight and you'll be ploughed good and proper.
Therefore, you'll want to get good at using the Quen sign, which is one of the Witcher spells that you start the game with. The key for combat is to roll a lot, get a good distance from your enemies, cast Quen, then roll back in and get to fighting.
The moment you're hit and lose your Quen shield, roll away and cast it again. In the early goings in particular, you should never engage in combat without that glowing blue protective veil around you. Which reminds me...
Roll a Lot
Don't worry! Geralt doesn't get dizzy. It's one of a Witcher's many superhuman powers.
You've Got A Second Set of Good Armour
Since the Extended Edition is basically a port of the PC version with all the DLC, you'll start out with a good piece of armour that isn't equipped. Go into Geralt's inventory and find the "Blue Stripes Combat Jacket". It doesn't start out that powerful, but it has three slots for armour upgrades once you get them, which will make it much more sturdy than the other armour you start out with.
Plus it has a sweet hood.
Level Up Wisely
In The Witcher 2, there are three skill "trees" (Swordsmanship, Signs, and Alchemy) that you can invest points in after spending a few points on the more general abilities in the "Training Tree." It's not possible to max Geralt out, so you'll have to pick and choose how you want to play early on.
Everyone makes a build that works for them, but I basically ignored the Alchemy tree on my first playthrough and found a good balance between Swordsmanship and magical Signs. I did, however, invest in a number of abilities that I didn't wind up using.
Here are the abilities I suggest investing your skill points in first.
Do invest in:
- Vigor Regeneration
Don't waste points on:
- Arrow Redirection (In my experience, Archers/Arbalests aren't enough of a consideration in the game to worry about this)
- Parrying (Possibly a controversial thing to ignore, but for my suggested playstyle, dodging is much more useful than parrying)
- Dagger Throwing (Bombs are much more useful and damaging than Daggers)
After that, you'll want to invest in the following skills as quickly as possible:
- Position (You'll frequently be surrounded by enemies, so getting backstab damage down from 200% is very important.)
- Feetwork (Helps with that all-important rolling.) (Also it's called "feetwork," hee.)
- Hardy (Makes you tougher for the inevitable times when you do get hit.)
- Enhanced Quen Sign (As I said, you want to have a baller Quen sign ASAP.)
- Magical Vigor (This gives you more Vigor slots; it's good to get up to 4 as soon as possible.)
- Enhanced Aard Sign (Less of a rush, but this offensive "Force Push"-style ability is necessary to defeat a couple of tricky opponents.)
After that, it's a good idea to generally level up Geralt's sword damage, vitality, vigor regeneration, and then go ahead and make his signs or sword more powerful, depending on your play-style.
There Are a Few Stat Boosts You Can Only Get During the Prologue
This one's for the more diehard stat-obsessives, but there are a few unique abilities that you can only earn by digging up little easter eggs in the game's prologue. A full recounting of them at The Witcher Vault at the bottom of the Skills & Abilities page.
Learn The Lay of the Lore
This one's going to sound like a hassle, since it would be much easier if my advice could be "Don't worry about the lore! Just have fun!" But while it's perfectly possible to play through The Witcher 2 and learn from in-game exposition, it's more interesting if you have a basic understanding of things, geography in particular.
That'll be alleviated somewhat by taking a look at the map that's included with the Extended Edition of the game, but it's also good to understand the basics of a few things:
- Temeria is one of three important kingdoms in The Witcher 2. At the start of the game, Geralt is accompanying King Foltest of Temeria, who played a larger role in the first Witcher game.
- Aedirn is another northern kingdom, bordered by both Temeria and Kaedwin, the other to major kingdoms in the game. The first major hub in the game, the city of Flotsam, is located in the Pontar Valley on the border between Temeria and Aedirn.
- Kaedwin is the last of the three important kingdoms in the game's story. While Geralt never visits Keadwin, he does come into contact with its king, King Henselt, and his army in the game's second act.
You don't have to memorise any lore up front, but it's worth paying attention to names and locations as they come up.
One word you'll hear a lot is "Scoia'tael", which sounds crazy but really is just a name for an organisation of non-human (Elves, Dwarves) freedom fighters/terrorists. You'll hear people talk about "Yennefer," which is a name that has always struck me as uniquely hilarious, but who is basically just a sorceress who is very important in the broader Witcher lore and in the novels, though she hasn't ever really appeared in any of the games. The last thing you'll hear about is "Nilfgaard," which is a bordering kingdom and a common enemy to pretty much everyone in the game.
Don't be afraid to reference that map that came with the game whenever someone mentions a new kingdom — it really will help you have a better understanding of what's happening and more importantly, where it's happening.
Read Geralt's Journal
Geralt's journal is one of the best aspects of The Witcher 2. A far cry from the sparse, utilitarian journals of games like Skyrim and Deus Ex, Geralt's journal is written by the bard Dandelion, and contains all manner of funny asides and colourful descriptions of your various adventures.
Best of all, it updates as you proceed through the multi-stage quests, so if you need a refresher on a quest you're returning to after a break, it's a cinch to catch up.
Consider Leaving the Subtitles On
There are enough weird words and name-drops in The Witcher 2 that it's worth considering leaving the subtitles on. I'm a subtitles-off kinda guy myself, but I found that often, it was easier to keep track of what was what if I read along.
Gather Herbs. All Of The Herbs. Also, Monster Bits
When wandering the woods of the Pontar Valley and beyond, you'll frequently come across plants, herbs, mosses and berries that you can harvest. Pick up every single herb you can, even if you aren't going with an Alchemy character build.
Every Nekker or Endrega that you kill will leave behind some sort of body part that you can collect; after combat, click the thumbstick to fire off Geralt's Witcher amulet, which will highlight all of the collectable leavings in orange.
Believe it or not, selling flowers and monster-bits is the single best way to make money in The Witcher 2. There's no feeling quite like financing the purchase of a sweet new silver sword by selling off 35 Nekker eyeballs and a bunch of flowers.
Steal Like the Goddamned Bandit You Are
I guess I don't have to tell some of you this, since decades of RPG-playing have hard-coded kleptomania into our bones, but: Many areas in the game's towns are covered in items that Geralt can pick up and sell for a small amount of money, and it can really add up.
No one cares or even notices if you steal, so be sure to grab as many things as you can carry before selling them off for weapon-purchasing money.
In particular, the market by the Flotsam docks is lousy with crates of supplies and firewood. Use your Witcher's Amulet (click the thumbstick) and run over to everything that glows orange. No one will mind, and you'll be much richer for it.
Your Choices Matter. Have Fun!
In The Witcher 2, you're going to be making a lot of choices. Some of their consequences are small, some are very decidedly not-small. You'll never know quite what's going to happen until it does, but that's OK, Sit back and enjoy the ride!
Due to the magnitude of some of the choices, The Witcher 2 all but requires a second playthrough. So, if you've made a decision that leaves you thinking, "Holy shit! Did I just ruin my story?" Rest assured that you did not. You're going to get to see a whole bunch of cool stuff, and then when you play the game again, you'll see entirely different cool stuff.
Now pick up your swords, you ploughing whoresons, and go do some witchering!
Groovy top screenshot: 9 Parsecs from Caladan