The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings is the second entry in CD Projekt Red’s fantasy RPG series. You might have heard of the sequel The Witcher 3:Wild Hunt as it was one of the most celebrated games of last year and deservedly so. However, as someone who has yet to play through the supposed last chapter of Geralt of Rivia’s story, The Witcher 2 was an eye-opener as someone who rarely plays RPGs whatsoever.
I played all the classics of my childhood like Final Fantasy, Knights of the Old Republic and Golden Sun but had completely fallen off the genre. Some required too much time investment, others lost my interest on a lack of engaging story or character design (Looking at you, Tetsuya Nomura.)
Coming back to the genre as an adult was a daunting task to say the least when these days I tend to enjoy smaller, shorter games that feel a little more focussed in scope. What I liked about The Witcher 2 was how it gave players a good pace and reason to follow through on building your character. It never felt like the game was wasting my time simply because there was always something to do that most of the time had its own stories, characters and arcs and when you compare that to other contemporary RPGs it simply puts them to shame.
To give context to the story of The Witcher 2, the main character Geralt of Rivia is framed for the assassination of King Foltest, ruler of the land known as Temeria. The real assassin is, like Geralt, a Witcher known as Letho. If you’re not familiar, Witchers are mutated humans trained from childhood in combat, alchemy and magic to rid the land of legendary creatures like griffons, dragons and smaller creatures that bother local townsfolk. By the time Geralt’s story begins, Witchers are a dying breed of warriors as most people don’t even believe in monsters. They’re treated as outsiders as they’re a reminder of a darker time for people of the world before order was a more commonplace idea.
Letho is part of a cabal known as the Kingslayers, a group consisting of Witchers that spread chaos in the Northern Kingdoms (the setting of the series) by cutting down kings and their sorceresses. Their motivation is driven by the want for a new Witcher school, one of which an outside source is willing to build for them by destabilizing the regions they have an interest in ruling over.
Why Geralt begins tracking the group down is to clear his name of Foltest’s murder with the assistance of characters you have the choice of siding with fairly early on. One is Vernon Roche, leader of the Blue Stripes, an elite force of Temerian military that are quickly on the hunt for the killer after the assassination. They believe the assassin had help from a guerrilla organisation of non-humans known as the Scoia’tael. The Scoia’tael aim to fight the persecution of non-humans by any means necessary and are generally viewed as bandits by human society.
You can also choose to side with Iorveth, their leader. Whomever you choose, you’ll play through the main story with different perspectives on either side. It forms a diamond similarly to other games that incorporate major choices, but instead of seeing the same content with different characters, The Witcher 2 opens new perspectives and content based on the characters you’re around. Events will play out entirely differently to the other side based on the simple choice of Roche or Iorveth at the beginning.
Either way, your own view of Letho can be skewed so easily from the characters you interact with. Roche sees him as an upset to order and nothing less. Being a Witcher that lived by a code of neutrality, I completely agreed with him. Letho was a cutthroat that simply needed doing away with and by the end of the game that’s what I did. I didn’t care about his motivations or what he had to say; he’s the reason I’m here and why I had to do everything I’ve done until this point. I’ve stuck my neck out for this long and I gave my word I’d kill the man who killed Foltest. By the end, knowing how Letho only did it to bring back Witchers to the world was something that left me feeling almost a sense of guilt, but I knew I had done what I set out to do and that was good enough.
What made Letho an interesting character to me was how he taught the same code as Geralt despite being a Witcher. For me, Geralt was a character not driven by personal gain outside of comfort, but by the life he was trained into his entire life. Letho strived to pave his own path, which is a writing choice that contrasted well to Geralt’s want for a simple lifestyle driven by the job he was created for. It’s rare that a game’s story has me thinking on its characters this long after playing through it, so I can only give praise to CD Projekt Red that made Letho the Boss Rush of this week.