Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Witcher 2: The trouble with Nekkers

I am having a love hate relationship with Witcher 2 at the moment. I love the detailed world, the gritty characters and rich storytelling in many of the quests. I hate ... well let me give you an example of what I hate.

Last night I started playing the game in the hope of knocking off a few of the side quests that had accumulated in my log. An hour and a half later when I switched off the game to go to bed I was only half way through a single trivial noticeboard task called "The Nekker Contract". Here is what that task entailed:

I got a quest from a noticeboard which explained that the woods near the town are infested with  Nekkers, aggressive goblin like creatures who attack in groups.  Geralt decides to put an end to this menace by finding and destroying the Nekker nests. The nests aren't marked on the map so I had to wander around the very confusing forest until I blundered across one. Witcher 2's useless rotating mini-map was no help at all. Once I found a nest I had to kill the horde of nekkers guarding it and then click on the nest to destroy it. Only that didn't work. The screen said "Press X on your game pad to destroy the nest" but pressing X did  nothing. The nest seemed to be made of twigs but various attempts at burning it did nothing.

So .. what I was  actually supposed to do was navigate to an obscure sub menu of a sub-menu where Geralt stores all the information he has learned about various creatures. Then, providing I had killed enough nekkers to get 3/3 knowledge about them I could read a line that says "grapeshot bombs are the best way to deal with nekker nests".   I am not joking about a sub menu of a sub menu - the exact process is press left trigger then select meditate then select the character menu then select attributes then scroll over to the knowledge tab and then scroll down to nekkers. None of this is explained in the game.

Now I knew that grapeshot bombs were needed to destroy the nests but I didn't have any and I didn't know how to make them. You might be lucky and it might be the first merchant you visit or you might be unlucky like I was and not find them until the very last merchant I tried.

Eventually, equipped with grapeshot bombs I went back to the nest, fought off the newly respawned nekkers again and clicked X again. This time I got an animation of Geralt dropping a bomb down the nest hole and "boom". It was destroyed.

Unfortunately I wasn't yet finished. That was only the first of four nests I have to destroy. I wandered around the confusing forest for a bit longer and finally got a second one but after that it was late and I needed to go to bed with only half the quest completed.

The Nekker Contract is a long tedious quest with ambiguous and arbitrarily obscure requirements. Thankfully it is the worst example I have seen in the Witcher 2 so far but some of the other quests have come close. I find myself compelled to compare my Witcher 2 experience so far with Dark Souls. I loved Dark Souls and it had plenty of long obscure and ambiguous tasks.  However there are differences. In Dark Souls these difficult tasks are absolutely central to the challenge of the game. Completing such a task in Dark Souls brings a major reward such as rare weapon or access to a new area of the game. The Nekker Contract in the Witcher is a completely optional side-quest whose only reward is a handful of experience points.

To be honest at this stage after playing the Witcher 2 for about twenty hours I feel like I have been the victim of a Bait and Switch exercise. I was immediately hooked by an opening sequence that is worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. Out hero is in chains and subject to interrogation, through his recollection we experience  rapid succession of dramatic events: a sexual encounter with a beautiful woman, a massive castle siege and subsequent assault, an encounter with a dragon. After that roller-coaster ride it is quite a comedown to get bogged down in a forest searching for vermin nests. Admittedly there have been some interesting side quests including a boss battle with an octopus creature and cleansing a restless spirit from a ruined asylum. Unfortunately these exciting scenes are gated behind a series of tedious errand quests. Overall the pace of the game feels slow and it is not helped by how much I have come to hate navigation in that confusing forest. Hopefully later areas of the game will be more open and easier to navigate.

EDIT: I finally completed the Nekker quest last night (after resorting to an online guide to help find those last two nests) and I did get a schematic for a pretty nice sword as a reward in addition to those experience points. I believe the sword schematic is only given if you complete both the Nekker Contract and its sister quest the Endrega Contract which I had done earlier.

EDIT 2: To be fair I should also point out that the sister quest "The Endrega Contract" was much better designed despite being apparently similar. In the first instance the Endrega Eggs that needed to be destroyed were closer together and easier to find than the Nekker Nests. In the second instance instead of having to figure out and then track down an obscure bomb to end the menace the Endrega Contract requires you to fight two spiderlike minibosses. These were very challenging fights but at least it was fighting and I felt a sense of achievement from finally overcoming them.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I've had tons of trouble with this as well, I'm glad you got through it though :)