The Steam summer sale reminded me that I own and installed The Witcher 2, so maybe I should try it out sometime? Trying it out reminded me of the two things in general circulation from review at the time: it is reportedly one of the great PC RPGs out there, but good luck playing it because the game features difficult combat involving many abilities with little to no explanation of how to use them. Penny Arcade had it about right:

I’m not sure what they were thinking with this stuff, I honestly don’t; this dogged refusal to help the player. If I had to guess, it is this way because they didn’t want to do some boring, typical tutorial sequence that insults the player and makes their titular warmaster out to be some concussed dipshit, taking part in some remedial course for monster slayers. That’s certainly something I can understand. What’s happened in the absence of a true “booster phase,” though, is that people who want to play the game but lack psychic ability are forcibly driven out.

It has tooltips that pop up from time to time, but if you’re under active assault by a dragon maybe you aren’t looking at that. This game doesn’t really play like others, your skills either from action titles or the role-playing genre won’t really cross apply.

I have spoken before about games that actively try to drive away new players. I first alt-tabbed out before reaching the first NPC, when I discovered that the mouse moves much more sluggishly on menus than in-game; not a settings issue, the forums suggest, just how the game works. Then the tutorial hangs just before the famously difficult fight; actual moderator-proposed solution from TheWitcher.com: you can skip the tutorial. The proper answer there is that you need to apply a mutagen, which involves clicking around the interface until you find an ability that will accept one, then finding the key that works for “accept.” Another handy tip for playing: the Enter key on your number pad does not count as the Enter key. You need to use the other Enter key.

You get to practice throwing knives, which seems to bring back that sluggish mouse, while someone throws fireballs at you. Before the infamous first fight, the game does walk you through the abilities. You get to use each (some? most?) once, for the span of perhaps 10 seconds, although some of them involve just pressing a key and others involve holding it down, and then some involve clicks and/or aimed clicks and/or held clicks while aiming. Some of them involve other menus, and some involve cycling through options with a key press. Or, as Penny Arcade sums up:

It’s not that hard. You just have to use abilities they won’t discuss and techniques they haven’t entirely taught you via controls they never quite explain.

So I’m thinking that, before I play the game for real, I need time away to stop hating the game after this introduction, but by then I will have forgotten the dozen abilities I was supposed to learn in five minutes or less.

: Zubon

7 thoughts on “Witchin’”

  1. Yeah… I started playing it last year and managed to stomach ~25 hours before taking a six-month break playing other games that are actually fun. Which is a shame, because the story/characterizations/everything else is pretty good. I tried getting back into it and finishing it up (it’s taking up 19gb of precious HDD space), but re-learning everything all over again is a massive chore. I haven’t touched it since May.

    I don’t want to uninstall, but… good lord.

  2. Having loved W1, I tried getting into W2 with a solid amount of effort, but just couldn’t. It’s not even the controls; they took a lot of what was great about the first one and took it out for te second.

  3. My suggestion? Thanks for asking, turn the difficulty down to Easy. Its not worth the frustration of doing minor boss fights over and over again. I stopped playing when I got to the first hard mob at the abbey – takes so long to set traps that will often interrupt you while setting them, takes a ludicrous number of hits to take one down, and he’s assisted by 3 other guys.

    Came back, like, a year later and just turned the difficulty down – its actually fun to play.

  4. Yup. It’s a good game, but honestly it’s not worth playing For The Challenge; instead, play it like an action/fantasy movie. Drop the difficulty to easy, don’t bother with traps/alchemy, and just enjoy it. It’s beautiful, and pretty epic. Worth playing that way, but if you’re not into really grokking(to use Ralph Koster’s word) just play it on Easy for the most fun.

  5. There’s probably some sweet-spot in the timings, but I keep going around the “Play Tutorial. Hate it completely, quit, wait six months, forget everything, Play tutorial” loop.

  6. I must be their target audience or something, because I didn’t mind the original version of the Witcher 2 game without extra tutorial. I wasn’t awesome at the game from the get-go, but I figured it out. It really was a process of organic discovery with both the combat maneuvers and the best way to use the witcher powers or magic. I’m not much of an action game guy, so maybe my different preconceptions have something to do with how much this game clicked for me.

    I haven’t tried the “semi-official combat mod” yet. http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/06/20/witcher-2-combat-mod/

    1. Yeah, I’m with you on this one, although I recognize that this experience seems to be in the minority (or a silent majority), and that this is something CD Projekt RED need to address. The whole game always felt a little clunky–doors, menu lag, etc.–and combat was no exception, but it didn’t really stand out to me. Apparently it also sticks with you pretty well; I hadn’t played since beating it at release, but this post made me go back to play through again (I’d never gotten to play on Dark anyway), and it only took a couple fights to remember how to not die.

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