On the surface, CD Projekt’s The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings and BioWare’s Dragon Age II seem to have a lot in common. Both are single-player role-playing games set in dark and gritty fantasy worlds filled with racial tensions and political intrigue. Both offer real-time combat, moral choices and more dialogue than an off-Broadway play. Both games also managed to stir up a little controversy over their “mature” content, whether it was awkward man-on-male elf action or collectible playing cards featuring half-naked women.
If you’re a die-hard RPG fan, odds are one, if not both, of these games are already on your must-buy list. If you’re a console gamer who doesn’t own a gaming PC, however, Dragon Age II is your only choice. Although it has been hinted that The Witcher 2 could make it to consoles in the far-flung future, it would be a first for the series and a longshot at best. But if you’re a PC gamer who’s still on the fence about whether or not to spend the $60 – or if you’re just trying to decide on which game to spend the cash first – don’t worry. GameZone has you covered with a look at how these two highly-anticipated titles measure up.
Let’s face it – neither The Witcher nor Dragon Age: Origins were winning any awards for their looks when they were released in 2007 and 2009, respectively. Dragon Age: Origins was especially lambasted by critics for its outdated looks and the near-comical blood spatter that covered NPCs after every battle. The Witcher, meanwhile, was built on a heavily-modified version of BioWare’s Aurora Engine – the same engine used to build Neverwinter Nights in 2002. So, how do the sequels look? CD Projekt has ditched the Aurora Engine and built an entirely new one for The Witcher 2 and it shows. While Geralt of Rivia’s world is still dark in tone, it is also more vibrant. Spell and lighting effects have improved, character models are more detailed and the monsters you encounter are far from the standard orc and goblin fantasy fare. Dragon Age II’s graphics engine has also been improved, though the game remains as blood-soaked as ever. Ferelden seems to be less washed out, judging by the few screens and videos released so far, and character faces appear less craggy. Ultimately, though, it’s still the same engine with a new coat of paint. The Witcher 2 is being rebuilt from the ground up, and has the potential to be one beautiful RPG.
One of the most important ingredients in a great RPG is a great story. The problem with comparing storylines, though, is that one man’s War and Peace is another man’s A Shore Thing. Both The Witcher and Dragon Age: Origins managed to provide worlds filled with interesting lore, engaging plots and colorful characters, although I personally preferred the antics of Alistair, Morrigan and Oghren to dour Geralt and his supporting cast. As in the previous titles, moral choices will play a large role in the sequels and there will be plenty of chances for romance as well. I’m intrigued by the framed narrative BioWare is creating in Dragon Age II. Spanning a decade, the story of main character Hawke will be told by a NPC as you play the game and your actions will shape the events that follow. Sort of like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, only with more killing. Also, the ability to import a save game file from Origins and Awakening will be available. If you enjoyed playing the Mass Effect series, and enjoyed seeing how your choices carried over from one game to the next, you may want to check out what’s happened in Ferelden since your last visit.
In The Witcher, if you want to play something other than a grim-faced, womanizing albino mutant you’re out of luck. If you want to put on a dress and wave a staff around, you’re out of luck. If you want to play a female character…well, you get the idea. Dragon Age II has the upper hand when it comes to character creation simply because it offers the player more choices. It offers a couple of different classes, each with their own specializations and abilities, as well as an impressive amount of spells. Also, much like Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard, Hawke will be fully-voiced and will be less of a blank-slate than Origins’ Grey Warden. If you’re not a fan of Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels and find Geralt of Rivia to be an unlikeable character, there’s little incentive in picking up The Witcher 2 over Dragon Age II.
Combat in The Witcher relied on timed mouse-click combos, different stances, consumables and a handful of spells. Although it wasn’t a bad system, it felt a little bloated and unwieldy, and CD Projekt has completely revamped it for Assassins of Kings. Right now, though, there are no specifics on what the new system will be like. Origins’ gameplay, on the other hand, was highly-touted as a “spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate,” and was a more strategic, turn-based affair. It appears that the PC version of the sequel won’t stray far from the same formula, even though BioWare is promising a more streamlined experience the second time around on consoles, with controls better suited to a gamepad. Both versions of the game will also feature a new dialogue mechanic similiar to Mass Effect. With so little information out there right now about both sequels, and no demos available, it’s a toss-up on which will have the better gameplay and comes down to personal preference – do you want turn-based combat or a click-fest?
The Witcher 2 or Dragon Age II?
If the concept of “Mass Effect with swords” turns you off, go with The Witcher 2. If you want to root for the indie underdog, as opposed to the AAA title, go with The Witcher 2. But if a wider range of character options and a more cinematic experience is important to you, take another trip to Ferelden. Either way, RPG fans will have a lot to be happy about in Spring 2011.