Initially available in May 2011 as a Windows-only release, it was later brought to Xbox 360, at which point the Windows versions were patched to an “enhanced edition”, adding some extra content. In October 2012, having sold 2 million copies and coinciding with Gog.com’s fourth birthday, it was released for Mac.
The story sees Geralt of Rivera, framed for the assassination of the king, trying to track down the true killer and clear his name. As a “witcher” Geralt is a mutated human who is subjected to a series of potions and physical training his entire life, learning to wield some magical powers in the process. Like all witchers, Geralt is tasked with battling supernatural creatures and has a tendency towards solitude, being both reviled and exalted by “normal” humans.
This is a game with mature themes. There’s intrigue, bad language and even sex (and violence, natch) throughout the game, which you’ll either appreciate or you won’t. Comparisons with Game of Thrones seem inevitable at some point, so I’ll make them here. This is a story about medieval brutality, whether from the character’s attitudes towards each other, or the way Geralt will die, without mercy or dignity. The writing is consistently intelligent, both in terms of the overarching themes and storyline, and the masterful dialogue. It’s high fantasy, with Elves and Dwarves, but for a different audience than say Dungeons & Dragons.
Even in its OpenGL form, the visuals are breathtaking. The Witcher 2 revels in detail. The clothing warn by different characters (and especially the variety of different clothes Geralt can wear) look like concept art, with each seeming to have been crafted by a couturier with far too much time on their hands. The animation is so good you don’t notice it. In towns, children chase each other, a dog rolls over on its back. The leaves on trees move under a gentles breeze. The only thing that ever breaks the illusion, is that corpses will quickly dissolve into nothing before your eyes. The audio is top-notch, from the ambient sounds to the dramatic score, reminiscent of the best epic movies.
The game is rather linear to begin with (and yet still much more open than many other games, allowing you to choose different routes through both the narrative and the locales), and it forces you along this linear path until part-way through act 1. This doesn’t sound like much of an issue, but the game is so grand in scale, it will probably be a few hours of gameplay before you get there, and you might be left wondering what all the fuss is about. But when you get there, does it ever open up. The second act in particular is essentially a different game based on choices made previously.
It seems to have been bestowed with every RPG mechanic under the sun, from inventory management and character levels to crafting, perks and skill-based conversations. There are also some minigames throughout, such quick-time event-based fist-fighting and a poker-like dice game. None of them will win any awards on their own, but they make for a welcome change of pace. Some of the tricks in Geralt’s belt take a while to get the hang of. There are two tutorials in the game, one a system of popup hints and messages as you play through the game proper, and another (somewhat unhelpfully part of the “Arena” mode) which actually walks you through the processes of inventory management, potion creation, and the various combat mechanics, from fencing to using traps and bombs, to the use of magic. It’s all rather intuitive, if a little bit busy, aside from the magic, which has a naming system that it took me a long time to get to grips with. Having to remember that “Aard” is telekinesis, and “Axii” is charm is essential, but the game takes no pains to help you in this regard.
Combat is somewhat satisfying, with an element of precision timing required at the highest difficulty settings. There are some odd spikes in the difficulty of some fights on occasion but fortunately these are mitigated by the ability to dial the difficulty up and down as you go. There’s an autosave feature, but frankly it sucks (as you can play for over an hour without it saving) and you’re better off getting used to just saving manually, as often as you can. There’s also no fast travel mechanism (and the map in general is pretty bad); though ending a quest will usually bounce you back to a hub location, there’s no way to rapidly get to a place you’ve previously been to. Had not taking the scenic route throughout the game been so pleasant, this would have been a serious oversight. As with Dragon Age, for example, there are many scripted sequences and cut-scenes, but all of them are extremely slick and polished, making Dragon Age’s scenes look like Sims machinima.
CD Projekt RED claimed that this was “one of the best RPGs on Mac”. I’m going to go one better. This is, in my opinion, the best RPG, no, the best game, to ever grace the Mac platform. It finally brings a level of maturity, quality, good design and bold storytelling to a platform which has been starved on all those counts.
Performance & Quality
Unfortunately the performance is not up to the level you get in the Windows version. Our Mac Pro for example, would run The Witcher 2 at around 40 fps with “Ultra” settings at 1920×1080 in Windows, but would only manage around 20 fps with “Medium” settings on OS X (again, there’s talk of the under-developed Nvidia drivers being to blame here). That said, it is certainly playable, you’ll just have to dial the quality down and miss out on the graphical bells and whistles (it’s certainly better than trying to play the Windows version via Parallels, for example).
There’s some significant frame drop at times, and plenty of texture pop-in, but hopefully these will be addressed by an Nvidia patch and/or an update from CD Projekt RED. ATI owners might have a slightly better time of (but again keeping the quality settings at medium or lower).
Users are reporting poor performance with an ATI 6750M (MacBook Pro 2011), even at the lowest quality settings.
There’s also now an official application that will tell you if your Mac is supported.
Mods will be available once the REDKit is released, during the first half of 2013.