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Why The Witcher 2 is Better Than Skyrim
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a modern-day video game legend. It has reached such heights of notoriety that you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t have their own “arrow to the knee” joke, regardless of how painful it is to listen to. It’s a game that was masterfully created, glitches put aside for the moment. You can go anywhere, do anything, and then do it in a different manner. However, I have recently played a game that, in my opinion, does almost everything better, and that game is The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. Comparisons between the two are fairly easy to draw: both are set in a high fantasy world; both are packed full of various monsters; both have great characters. While many of the basic concepts are similar, there are many differences that I feel can prove my point. The first of these is story.
Skyrim has a fairly classic storyline: a mysterious hero emerges from obscurity, and is shown to be a Chosen One, fated to banish evil from the land of Skyrim, which he/she does promptly. There’s nothing objectively wrong with this story; it’s a traditional fantasy story, one that’s been done well for centuries. However, in this case, it’s fairly superficial. While there are many details to gained from reading the many books populating the bandits’ bookshelves (Who knew brigands were so intellectual?), these are penned in an extremely dry and expository fashion, which makes it more of a chore to take the time to read them. On the other hand, The Witcher 2 has a beautifully creative storyline with quite a few twists and turns, as well as consequences to your decisions leading to multiple storylines. It’s a bit harder to do a quick recap without giving much away, so I’m going to give extremely broad strokes in an attempt to not spoil anything: you play as Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher. Witcher’s are modified humans whose sole purpose is to hunt and destroy the multitude of monsters roaming the land. Geralt gets pulled into the machinations of a group of, surprisingly enough, “assassins of kings.” And that’s really all I’m going to say for now. Suffice it to say that it is a surprisingly engrossing story, set in a land that feels as fleshed out as any Middle Earth. You get many chances to find out details about the world around you, and it’s done in either a very natural fashion, such as books about monsters that you can read in order to gain a tactical advantage on your foes, or in an expository fashion, such as the mission logs. The big difference here is that everything is extremely well-written and a joy to read. Of course, The Witcher has a fairly obvious advantage on this front; it’s based on the books of Andrzej Sapkowski, which draw heavily from Eastern European folk tales. This adds a new level of creativity to the game, introducing many creatures that the Western World is unfamiliar with. In every possible way, The Witcher 2 absolutely destroys Skyrim from a story aspect.
Another factor in my above assertion is the battle system. For all the love I have for Skyrim, I absolutely despised the fighting. Almost every fight went the exact same for my character: sneak attack with a bow; if the enemy still lives, rush him and wail away with a one-handed weapon until dead. Even the dragon fights became routine, boring, and easy. This is most definitely not the case with The Witcher 2. It is basically a far more tactical and challenging version of the Assassin’s Creed franchise’s battle system; you string attacks together, moving from target to target; however, the enemies are fairly intelligent, and won’t just stand there and wait to get stabbed. And the monsters are even better. Even after leveling up a bit, it’s still very possible to be killed by the low level nekkers if you are unprepared. Most important of all, though, it’s just more fun. You don’t know what to expect with each fight you come across, which keeps you on your toes and keeps ennui from setting in.
The final argument I will make is one that I have hotly debated with others: the polish level. Skyrim is an absolutely massive game, and it’s bound to have a few more bugs creep in than a smaller game. However, I don’t feel that this is a proper excuse. There were so many issues in this game that, to me, it just felt like it was unfinished. I purchased the game for the PS3 on the day of its release, and within a week, it was virtually unplayable. The frame rate would drop so much it became impossible to even wander around, let alone fight. It was eventually patched, but all issues have not been resolved. The last patch that I downloaded for the game seemed to finally fix the frame rate drop, but I can no longer claim dragon souls. I know it’s been said a few million times, but I don’t like paying for a game only to find out that I’m a glorified beta tester. With The Witcher 2, I never had this feeling. It’s a beautiful game that plays as it was meant to. I have yet to have any glitch or bug occur, and that’s very rare nowadays. And while I’m not a huge graphics man, I love wandering through the various areas of the game, enjoying the staggering amount of detail put into every single piece.
I love Skyrim. It’s probably the best open-world game I’ve ever played. But in giving us all of this content, I feel that Bethesda missed the boat on some of the more important aspects, such as story, characterization, and gameplay. While Skyrim is still terrible fun, I feel The Witcher 2, while being a similar game, beats it in almost every possible way. I’m not saying Skyrim is a bad game; I’m just saying that The Witcher 2 is better.