The Witcher 2 is an attractive, maddening, immersive, frustrating, compelling, confusing experience. It sets bold new standards in dark, adult fantasy while at the same time staying well away from mainstream accessibility. It’s the kind of game into which diehard fans of western RPGs—of which I am one—will sink their teeth, relishing the complex flavours of each glorious bite while at the same time cursing and picking out gristle from between their molars.
What's most impressive is the effect some of the bigger decisions have on the storyline, with the plot carrying along an entirely different path depending on how you act. This is probably why the game is shorter than last time, at around 20 hours - but it's no excuse for the rushed and unsatisfying finale.
One of the hallmarks of The Witcher 2 is its maturity. This doesn't just apply to the gore or sexual content. Yes, the limbs of your foes fly as you chop through the enemy, and Geralt does engage in "adult situations" with some of the game's female characters (although the sex cards are gone). But like the first game, the maturity applies to the reactions of NPCs and the entire story. Witchers aren't exactly embraced by the people, and many react with fear or disgust when Geralt appears. Some children even get scared. It's nice to see characters have such reactions.
The difficulty curve is all wrong, too. This is one of a very special few games that manages to get easier the further you progress into it. After the first few hours your skill tree opens up, and suddenly, with each level, you’re an increasingly formidable opponent. Yet your enemies never quite scale up in the same way, meaning that by midway through Chapter 2 the difficulty problems have largely ironed themselves out. It’s a relief when that happens, but it really should have been the difficulty of the opening that was addressed, not that of the rest of the game.