Tuesday, February 3

The Witcher II: Assassin of Kings: You and Me and Everyone's an Asshole

I've heard marketing rhetoric about the saleability of a game being judged by its first five minutes.  The Witcher II: Assassin of Kings opens with a cutscene that lasts four minutes, and the last minute is navigating a loading screen or two.  The Witcher II is not a fast game.  Its tutorial is too long and yet not expansive enough, and the sequence seems to have no bearing on anything that happens later.  I don't know that for sure, because this is an RPG in the oldest and truest gaming understanding of the word.  I understand that plays clock in around 90 hours, and that's a steep fee for the experience.
The Witcher started as a PC only game, and I can see why.  The interface does not make the transition well to my scrub console gaming hands.  I feel like PC gamers probably have about nine extra fingers they aren't telling the rest of us about.
Because it's helpful to have it in plain language: I don't like The Witcher II.  If I wasn't doing this list, though, I would probably play it all the way through.  It's the kind of game that has crafting, leveling, alchemy, and all that other kind of stuff where I watch progress bars fill up.  Filling up  bars is... satisfying, in a tune-out kind of way.
The thing that interests me most is the main character, Geralt of Rivia (GARE-all-t).  Oh, he's not a nuanced and complex examination of trauma and loss, that was To The Moon.  No, Instead I wonder who the hell he's supposed to be, and whether or not I'm supposed to put myself in his boots.  Geralt says many things of his own volition, but every so often I am allowed to choose his response or ask what he wants to know about.  In most games, this is used because I am playing Me, or some incarnation of myself.  But Geralt is not me.  He's made choices, forged relationships, and lived in a way I probably would not have.
I did an article early last year about this kind of thing in regards to Dark Souls II, and if you're interested, I hope you'll give it a read.  But here's the question I tend to ask when I'm playing a game: Who am I?  In many games, even with cursory dialogue options, it's obvious.  In The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, I'm Link (or 'I say', because then everyone sounds like Foghorn Leghorn), in Mass Effect, I'm me, but in space, and in The Witcher II, I'm... Geralt?  He seems pretty well defined at first, but I get to choose how he approaches all the challenges in his way, I get to develop his abilities, I make the choice to cheat on his lover.  Would Geralt do these things?
On a similar, better note, we have The Walking Dead: Season 2 by Telltale Games.  The connection to the named and established protagonist was so clear and effective that a #myClemintine rose up among fans to debate differences in play style.  Think about that.  All those people connected so closely to their character that they could tell you who she was, and why she did what she did.  And they were all playing the same person.
The Witcher II: Assassin of Kings may get really good later on, but it doesn't promise that to me.  In this world where everyone's an asshole, including Geralt, I don't find myself drawn in, or caught up by even the prospect of the lore.  I can see playing it for a really long time, but the seventeen hours I've given it will have to suffice.

Next time: No One Has to Die.

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