The Witcher 2 is Ploughing Awesome!

I will plough your face with my ploughing sword!

I didn’t expect anything grand from The Witcher. But when it was released in 2007, the game blew my mind away with its storytelling and grim atmosphere, instantly becoming one of my favorite games for the PC. Now, four years after its release, developer CD Project Red is back with its sequel, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, and proves us that the first game wasn’t a fluke.

In The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings players will step into the shoes of Geralt of Rivia, an amnesiac and a mutant monster-hunter –also known as a witcher– who delivers all manners of kick-assery. He has a bad-ass demeanor, a plethora of skills, ranging from magic to alchemy, and a wide range of arsenal, including traps and bombs, all of which are essential to successfully track down the man who framed him for killing a king.

While Geralt’s main quest seems like a simple chase adventure, I promise you that it is not. The deeper you get into this game, the thicker the plot will get. You will find yourself embroiled in a political drama that is rife with deception and betrayal, which really showcases the gritty universe of The Witcher. As a sub story (presented in a form of a motion comics), you’ll also learn about Geralt’s past as fragments of his memories starts rushing back in.

Like with its predecessor, the story in The Witcher 2 doesn’t flow in a linear fashion. Instead, it twists, turns and branches into different directions, depending on your allegiances and the choices you make. The choices in this game are quite difficult too. Since, unlike most RPGs, they don’t just steer you to a path of good or evil. But they’re real choices with palpable consequences.

The most difficult choice I have to make in the game, or in any game at all, was to choose who to save: a young princess or my lover. The most logical and humane choice was to save the princess. Not only will you save a girl from a terrible fate, but you’ll also secure the independence of her nation. But I couldn’t stand the thought of my lover being raped in my enemy’s prison. So, I rescued my lover instead and spared myself from a broken heart.

Speaking of love, NPCs in this game have a side that you’ll love and another that you’ll hate. When I started out, I wanted to support the nonhuman rebels, or the Scoia’tael, like I did in the first game. But after I spent time with the Blue Stripes –archenemy of the Scoia’tael– and heard their side of the story, they weren’t as bad as I thought they were and the rebels weren’t as good either. So, I ended up taking their side and fought the Scoia’tael with them.

Unfortunately, combat in the Assassins of Kings can be a little bit unforgiving. The controls are a bit sluggish and the targeting is quite fussy. Both a problem when you’re pressed by enemies at all sides, which often happens. Drinking potions isn’t instant like it was in the first game. You have to meditate in order to use them, and you can’t meditate in the middle of combat. So, you might want start on easy mode first.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is the best game I’ve played since, well, The Witcher. Almost every facet of this game is sublime. The environments are beautiful. Its story is intricate and intriguing. The voice acting is masterfully done. Even its dialogue is grand in all its vulgarity. It has its flaws, however. In my case, I suffered multiple crashes during my first play through. But I’ll gladly suffer the same bugs again for another play through.

Score: A-
Game #05 of 15

Marvel Reading Backlist: Amazing Spider-Man by JMS, Book 1

Cover art of Amazing Spider-Man by JMS Ultimate Collection, Book 1.

JM Straczynski is widely known as the creator of the epic sci-fi TV show, Babylon 5. But, since I don’t watch TV, I didn’t know of him until I started reading comic books again in 2008. I quickly became a fan of his work, however.¬†Rising Stars, his original creation, and his run on Thor are two of my favorite comics. So, when I started my little back reading project on Spider-Man a few weeks ago, I decided that JM Straczynski’s run on the Amazing Spider-Man would be my jumping point.

Surprisingly, Amazing Spider-Man by JMS Ultimate Collection, Book 1 really is the perfect jumping point for new Spidey fans. I’ve never read an issue of Spider-Man since the early nineties but I had no problems following the story in this book. It is very accessible, just as long as you have the fundamental knowledge of the Spider-Man mythos (i.e. see the first movie). I never even Google’d a villain’s back story in this book because they’re all newly conceived.

New villains aside, there are also other fresh ideas and changes in this book. Like Peter becoming a science teacher or Aunt May discovering his secret. There are too many to enumerate, actually. But the meat of it all, the most significant change in the book is when JMS put Spidey’s origins under the microscope –an electron microscope– to be closely re-examined and giving it another angle of view. I understand why a lot of Spider-Man fans didn’t like this change a bit. Me, however, I’m curious as to where this new origins will take us in the future.

Overall, I really loved reading this book. Like with Thor, JMS’ writing in here is very graceful, cinematic and saturated with humor. It really captured everything¬† I loved about Spider-Man, a super hero who has more battles with himself than the villains that are after him. If the Book 2 is as good as this one, then I can’t wait to read it.

Score: A

Hammer Time

The God of Thunder (L) and the Mortal Goddess of Beauty (R)

The Social Network was the last film I saw in the theaters, and that was seven months ago. So, since the weather today was absolutely gorgeous, and I just felt the need to get out of my man cave, I decided to treat myself and catch the movie Thor.

Thor didn’t really get hyped up like Batman or the X-Men. But despite its weak marketing, unexciting trailers, and my lack of faith with its director, I still went for it for two reasons: 1) it’s story was written by J. Michael Straczynski, who is my favorite Thor (comics) writer; and 2) Natalie Portman, who is the mortal goddess of beauty, is on it. So, while I wasn’t sure if it was going to be good, I was certain that it was gonna be worth my time and money. Surprisingly, the film was more than what I’ve expected.

Perhaps my biggest surprise was with Branagh’s direction. I was wrong to ever doubt him. Not that I doubted him as a film director. My lack of faith in him stems from his other works: his film adaptations of Shakespeare. I thought that someone like him would never bother with a comic book adaptation. I thought he would never get it right. But Branagh astonished me. He knows Thor, he gets the comics. He knows that he’s an arrogant, hammer-bashing God of Thunder. He also knows the human side of him –his vulnerability, his familial problems– and he shows them all in the film. So, there’s plenty of drama, comedy, character development and action that kept me entertained.

The cast did admirably, and everyone looked and played their part well. Chris Hemsworth will definitely be remembered as Thor in his entire career. I really couldn’t imagine anyone else playing it. He nailed Thor’s arrogance and the fish out of water (or should I say “god lost in the suburbs”) comedic scenes. Natalie Portman also did well as a spunky, not quite the damsel in distress. But Kat Dennings (Portman’s assistant) delivered all the best lines. Tom Hiddleston also stole the show as Loki. Loki was more than just a cowardly plotter in the film, he’s much more complex than that and Hiddleston pulled it off. He even earned my sympathy at the end of the movie.

I definitely had tons of fun watching Thor. Like Iron Man, this move has everything too. It has drama, comedy, character development and action that will keep you entertained all throughout the film. Branagh and the cast did extremely well to make this movie work. So, if the trailers didn’t sell you the movie, if you’re still not sure Branagh can make a good comic book adaptation, I’m telling you now that you’re wrong. Go watch the film.

Score: B+

Addendum: If you’re a comic book fan, there were also some clues in the film that ties it with The Avengers movie. In fact, one Avenger already played a cameo in here that got me pretty darn excited.