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One More Time

While the rest of the gaming world is staring at Error 2389742 screens, waiting patiently for Blizzard to switch the servers back on, or- if they’re lucky- Pavolvianly clicking monsters until they dispense money and items, I’ve started on my second playthrough of 2012 Game of the Year The Witcher 2. It’s Roche’s path this time, and I’m playing a “no mercy, bed everything that moves, jerkwad Geralt” game this time around. Last night I punched a peasant for not paying me. Felt so wicked. I’m markedly better at the game than I was the first time through, cutting through foes without struggling with learning the controls and how to leverage the tools at the Witcher’s disposal. Difficulty? Dark.

Let me be clear about something here. I almost never play through story-based games twice. If a game has a specific narrative line and the gameplay isn’t score or skill based, then my time with the game is pretty much done after the credits. Exceptions are rare. Dead Space 2, Arkham Asylum, and Metro 2033 were the three most recent games I played through more than once. And I’m almost always trying to get back to another playthrough of Resident Evil 4 and any of the Metal Gear Solid titles. But those are top-shelf favorites. Eternal and timeless. And it says a lot about The Witcher 2 that I am buckling down for another bajillion hour trek with Geralt not a week after completing it.

So far I’m enjoying taking a different approach and building out skills differently- the key is that the content of the game and the interpretation of its story material is different. And I know when I hit that fork in the road, there is quite literally a completely different game in the second act. It’s not just a minor variation or a feeble “game plus” option.

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But typically, I could not possibly care less about playing through any of the Mass Effect games again just to see what Renegade FemShep says. I got one of the umpteen different endings in Chrono Trigger and I was content to wait a decade and a half to look up what happened in the others on YouTube in a moment of curiosity. I’ll never know what it’s like to play Fallout 3 as a vampire or what’s it’s like to kill the Little Sisters in Bioshock. I don’t generally care about alternate morality paths, slight variances in endings, or any of that crap. I don’t care about achievements or trophies (that thunk was Brandon hitting the floor). I know these kinds of things add replayability for a lot of folks, but once a game has told me its story, I’m almost always ready to move on and never look back. Unless it’s something like Bayonetta or Vanquish, where performance goals add measurable challenge and incentive. I’ll get those “S” rankings one day.

I can watch a great film endlessly. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched Dog Day Afternoon, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Apocalypse Now, or Touch of Evil. When I got the There Will Be Blood DVD, I think I watched part or all of that film every night for two months. There’s something different about commiting to playing a game and seeing it through to the end. Ultimately, the return on investment in terms of time and energy for a second playthrough is rarely worth it to me. Even the short, sub-10 hour games rarely entice me to have another go. One and done.

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I hear about people doing all of these playthroughs of games, experiencing every aspect of them, and I almost kind of envy them. I wish that I could be so committed to a game. I wish I could squeeze that kind of value out of my purchases. I wish that I could immerse myself that much into a single title and abandon my “love ‘em and leave ‘em” ways. But I can’t. There’s too many games I want to play, there’s always something I want to check out, finish, or master. When I’m done, the games are gone, out of my life. Sold. Traded. Bartered for the next love affair. Nothing I can do, a total eclipse of the heart.

Oh, I’ve intended to play through games again many times. I was certain that I would play through both Bioshock games again. They sat on a shelf and gathered dust for years. I had a giant stack of PC CD-Roms, all games that I held on to with the intent to one day boot up Age of Wonders, Homeworld, Alone in the Dark, and Sacrifice. It never happened. My wife found the pile during a housecleaning binge last year and made me throw them away. It didn’t hurt. I played those games, finished them, moved on. Remember them fondly.

I knew with The Witcher 2 that I needed to start playing it again right away or else it wouldn’t happen. I would put it aside, other games would wind up in my rotating, ephemeral collection and it would get shunted to the side. It’s a playthrough already at risk. Dragon’s Dogma next week. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. Anarchy Reigns. Whatever. It’s going to take some willpower for me to go through the entire game again. But I did not want to miss a sizeable percentage of the game’s content, which I hold in such high regard. I could have waited for a rainy day. But rainy days never seem to come when there’s always something new to play.

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Michael Barnes

Games writer Michael Barnes is a co-founder of as well as His trolling has been published on the Web and in print in at least two languages and in three countries. His special ability is to cheese off nerds using the power of the Internet and his deep, dark secret is that he's actually terrible at games. Before you ask, no, the avatar is not him. It's Mark E. Smith of The Fall.

21 thoughts to “One More Time”

    1. I got the image, where was the reference? Not going to lie; I was hoping Daft Punk was going back to it’s cartoon roots and make me happy again. Damn you Barnes.

      1. Was considering the title a Daft Punk reference.

        Have to admit I too was hoping for a more Daft Punk-themed post rather than more Witcher 2 crap. 😉

        1. We can talk Daft Punk. The last I heard they were working with Giorgio Moroder (!) and Paul Williams (!!!!!!).

          Giorgio Moroder as in “Midnight Express”. and Paul Williams, as in Phantom of the Paradise…oh, and “The Rainbow Connection”.

          1. I was so excited for a daft punk article on NHS. Way to bait and switch.

            Still, I’ll add a +1 for the reference.

    2. I think +1 in an article that’s easily a 10/10 won’t make that much difference. 😉

      Excellent article, Barnes (as usual). Tell Henselt I said hello.

  1. Other than maybe “Autoduel” back in the 1980s, I don’t think I have ever played a story-based game over again either until just recently. After I finished “Mass Effect 3”, I decided I was still in the mood to keep playing, so I went ahead and created a FemShep character in “Mass Effec 2”. I am about 40% or so the way through it and am enjoying the re-play. I don’t see this pattern repeating often though.

    I do re-watch movies like crazy. Back in college, I watched “Reservoir Dogs” five days in a row when it was in the theater.

    Other than one major exception (the GRRM series) I also almost never re-read books.

    1. Autoduel. Wow. Now THAT takes me back!

      I don’t really re-read books either…not sure why I have HUNDREDS Of them!

      I did read the Gene Wolfe stuff a couple of times and I do occasionally re-read a shorter Dick novel…but yeah, I’m not really into multiple readings. Apart from Watchmen, which I read annually. It’s a tradition.

      1. I have had the same “Watchmen” re-reading tradition since I first read it when I was 16 years old. It never disappoints.

        I loved Autoduel. Initially I named every car I had “Shadowfax” and then subsequently I switched the name of my cars to the “Porkchop Express”.

  2. I am so looking forward to what happens when you take Roche’s path. Following up the playthrough right away is a very good plan, as the two paths tell two very large sections of story, there’s a bit of overlap, but there’s also a great deal of content which is unique to each route.


  3. I’m predicting a “Five Great Things about The Witcher 2, Act II, Episode II” Though, since I haven’t read Episode I, there may not be five things.

    But then again… GOTY!

  4. Since you’re playing on Dark — and because what I’m about to say isn’t a spoiler for you anymore — I feel compelled to offer the following warning: The part in Chapter 2 where you go into the mists and enter into the various ghost bodies to break the curse over the valley will make you want to jab hot pokers into your eyes. It’s the one part of the game where the difficulty has not been judged correctly at the Dark difficulty level.

    The reason? Your witcher powers are removed for the duration of the segment until you get to the last boss fight. So get ready to take on up to 5 enemies at once without the ability to roll out of the way, or to use signs, sword oils, and other potions. Technically, if you potion up right before going in, skip through the scenes as fast as possible, and just rush it, the potion effects should still work on you (although you won’t have any visual confirmation of this, and it may be a rumor). The only defensive ability that works is block, and if you aren’t going the Swordsman route (I was rocking a full Signs build), you probably won’t have leveled it to the point where it will be useful.

    I’m GOOD at the game (there were maybe 3 or 4 set-piece battles in the whole game that gave me trouble, and took maybe 20 minutes each to get around), but that one section held me up for upwards of 4 hours. I very nearly quit.

    Fair warning.

    1. Oh god. Yes. I forgot about that. Yes, potions work within the sequence as long as you’re quick, and I would suggest you are, because the timer on Swallow and clearing the fights is brutally close. I -was- a swordsman and this section was hair loss inducing. I feel sorry for anyone who went the signs route.

      It may have been smoothed out with the Enhanced Edition but I’ve got a nasty feeling it’s still lurking there, waiting, in the darkness, like some festering sock at the back of the bed.

    2. Yeah, I had warning about that part on Hard too…but I didn’t think it was very difficult. It did take a couple of tries and I had that dang “potions running out in the cut scenes” thing going on.

      Once you max out Quen and learn to use Yrden effectively, the tough fights aren’t quite so hard.

      But do you even go through that scene in Roche’s path?

      1. You do. That’s one of the few “communal” scenes as it builds up to the battle for either side.

  5. I feel so unworthy. You consider yourself a slacker for not playing through multiple times more games. Yikes – it is rare I ever get through a single playthrough, although my GoG shelf numbers dozens and my Steam library is probably over 50. The only games I ever really playthrough are co-op games, and that’s only because my partner in crime is a completist. I get bored too easily, I guess. I play a game for 10 hours, figure I have all its playing twists and turns, and the story never makes me want to finish it. I’d rather read a book at that point, I guess.

    1. Well…I’m starting to get like this too..I’m finding that I _care_ about completely fewer games. It used to be that I’d play through anything, now if I get bored or if I think it’s falling apart, I’ll just give it up. It’s not worth it to be able to say you finished a game.

      You’re right, after about 10 hours of almost any game you’ve likely seen everything significant it has to offer…_unless_ the story is there to make the remainder compelling or if there’s a longer development curve.

  6. Totally with you on the achievements thing. The only thing I care about with them is when they point me to something interesting I might not have thought to do otherwise.

    Story games generally are one shot for me too. I simply don’t have the time to run through a 20+ hour game multiple times, hell I can barely manage once with my schedule. Most of the time when I try I peter out less than halfway through. The only series where I’ve done multiple playthroughs (more than 2) is Mass Effect. Before that I have to go to Metroid Prime I think.

    1. I think I may have played Metroid Prime more than once, actually. I can’t remember, those three games all blend together for me.

      I just don’t get achievments at all…I don’t understand the mentality of a micro-award that really isn’t anything. It’s almost like the No-Prize Marvel used to give away to readers that found mistakes.

      1. Getting a NO-Prize strangely came with respect though. I remember reading the letters pages in my comics and getting really excited and jealous of dudes that won the No-Prize. In my tiny brain they came from Stan Lee himself.

        With achievements, I just don’t care. There’s magic there, just silly bragging rights.

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