It’s important to state that I am, for the most part, a console gamer. I love having a controller in my hand; it’s just the way I was raised. I’m no stranger to PC games, or to keyboard and mouse controls—I just prefer a controller when given the choice.
Unfortunately for me, The Witcher 2 was originally released on the PC in 2011, so my first experience playing it was with a keyboard and mouse. I have plenty of experience with computer games (having spent more hours than I care to mention playing MMOs, competitive online titles, and other PC games), so playing a third-person role-playing game wasn’t too far from my comfort zone, but it was still a struggle.
Now, the game had no lock-on system at that point, and although the controls suited the play style, getting used to them required some major adjustment on my part. I wasn’t used to playing this sort of game without the familiarity of a controller. I could see the potential in the game, however, so I pressed on. By the time I beat The Witcher 2, I was quite proud of my mastery of the mouse and keyboard controls.
The implementation of the 2.0 patch brought vast improvements to the game’s control scheme, including lock-on abilities, more responsive and intuitive blocking and spell casting, new game modes, a new difficulty level, and many other changes.
It was after this that I began helping with the creation of The Witcher 2’s strategy guide. I hadn’t needed to play with a controller before, so I didn’t think about getting one when I picked up the game again. Playing on its newly added Dark difficulty made me reconsider, though, as I found I simply could not keep up with the game’s brutal combat. My controller-based mind couldn’t match the required quick movements and split-second reactions to the appropriate keys and clicks of the keyboard and mouse. I felt as if my hands were tied in knots. All the expertise I’d once had was now gone.
So, I got myself a controller and tried again. The button layout for the controller was smart and intuitive. There were no crazy button combinations to remember, or complex movement controls to master. I adjusted quickly and found myself playing what seemed like an entirely different game.
Using the controller was like taking off a blindfold. Geralt, the main character, became quick and agile, darting in and out of combat with the grace and ease of a jungle cat. I was able to roll in for a quick sword lunge and dodge back out of the fray before the creature I was fighting could even react. Throwing daggers and bombs, placing traps, and casting spells were quick and simple actions. All of these things had been possible previously, but the simple switch to using a controller made me feel like I was finally playing a professional monster hunter instead of some guy off the street who wouldn’t (and couldn’t) last two minutes in Geralt’s shoes.
Even the simple act of navigating the environments was easier for me. On the keyboard it seemed I was always making wide turns, or turning too soon. Complicated cities became even more frustrating when I spent half my time running into walls, or not getting to doors in just the right way to open them. The switch to a controller changed all of that. Tight corners were easy with the familiar joystick movements, which meant I could get where I needed to go much faster.
If upgraded fully, Geralt’s roll becomes faster than his normal run speed—something I hadn’t been able to take advantage of before. I had never done this on the keyboard because of how difficult it was for me to control the direction of the roll. Poor Geralt’s face must have been smashed to bits from all the trees I ran into. Again, using the controller changed everything, and I found I could actually control the direction I wanted to go mid-roll.
I enjoyed every second of The Witcher 2 when I first played it using a keyboard and mouse. I enjoyed the game even more once I got my hands on a controller and discovered that the guy I had been controlling for 70+ hours was even more of badass than I’d originally thought.
Was the game great from the get-go? Most definitely. Was there anything inherently wrong or bad about the keyboard and mouse controls? No, they simply were not my forte. Did the simple change from keyboard and mouse to a controller vastly improve my enjoyment of the game? Absolutely.
The transition from keyboard and mouse to controller, for me, was the tipping point in what made an already great game one of the best I’ve ever played. Who would have guessed that the one thing I needed to change was not how I was playing the game, but what I was using to play it?