Recently, I started playing The Witcher 2 because of a coincidence of it being on 360 for free with Gold and because for a while everyone was talking about The Witcher 3 and how amazing it was (and which woman their Geralt had slept with, or something along those lines). I had to finish up some other things, first, but I really wanted to “try out” the series.
I cannot say enough how difficult it is to jump into a series somewhere in the middle. I did not play the first Witcher game, which means I have no idea who I am (other than Geralt of Rivia, a “witcher,” whatever that is, although I suspect it has something to do with my cat-eyes) or what on earth I’m trying to do. There was a training mission that led me to some sort of arena, which was vaguely helpful, although I probably learned more about how not to train a player than I did about what I was doing. In essence, I spent a good half-hour to forty-five minutes being told to push buttons, then I promptly forgot which buttons did what because there were so many of them. It doesn’t help that Geralt can carry traps and grenades and throwing knives and that all of them are used with the same button, and if you run out of one, it isn’t replaced by the other ones without a trip to a very confusing inventory screen. Now I’m guessing that if I had played the first game, these things would have slowly built up over the first several hours of gameplay, so that by the time I started The Witcher 2 I would already be very comfortable with all of them, and would even be angry if I had to start over from the beginning. I get that. Nobody wants to start from level one with a character and a control scheme they already know. But it is extremely difficult to start off with all of this STUFF that you have to remember and manage and do with no clue what it is or why you would want to use thing A over thing B over things C, D, E, F, and Q.
And that’s just the combat mechanics. Geralt can make stuff, too. Like potions. I’m still not sure what those do, either, other than the poisons and the one that lets me see in the dark through walls. I can also forge weapons, but only if I find a nice blacksmith, but that’s a little more intuitive. A little. I haven’t even gotten remotely started on the skill trees, since three of them are still locked, a fact for which I am thankful every time I level Geralt up.
On top of all the mechanics and management and all of that jazz, I haven’t the faintest idea who Geralt is, either. Or what, since I did catch on that he gets lumped in with non-humans quite a bit. I’m also seeing a lot of cross-over influence between the ethnic characterizations (elves being lower-class citizens, for instance) between the Witcher series and the Dragon Age series, which I’m enjoying, if only because I’m sick of the “elves are so pretty” trope that seems to show up in 98% of fantasy scenarios.
Finally, the plot. I am so confused by the plot, not least because this game doesn’t believe in a linear timeline, and I keep track of convoluted plots for a living. I have three degrees in keeping track of plots. But Geralt keeps jumping back and forth into “memories” in which I have to run away from a dragon and save a king whom I then watch get assassinated by a crazy not-monk who I think has been hanging out with an elven gang outside of the city in which I’m currently questing. I think. I’m also trying to kill some giant bugs and find a troll a girlfriend, so there are not a lot of clear narrative threads for me to hang onto. What I’ve gotten is that as a result of the king’s death, I was thrown in prison for treason (because someone thought I did it), and now my sort-of girlfriend and the military commander have broken me out of prison (which then got set on fire by some guy I convinced to surrender in the flashback) and we’re in a town trying to… do something that didn’t originally involve troll romance or bugs, but I can’t quite remember what.
I know a lot of this–like the troll’s lady friend–is pretty standard for role-playing games. Dragon Age: Inquisition certainly had more than its fair share of somewhat arbitrary side-quests that seemed only tangential (at best) to the main plot. I’m okay with that. I do rather wish I knew what I was actually doing, though, since it seems like I don’t need to prove my innocence (at least not to the people who appear to matter), although maybe I do? I also have the distinct impression that if I had played the first game, much of this would be clear to me, but since I didn’t, I’m just going to slog ahead with OKTroll and see what I can do about that giant bug infestation.