The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition
Developer: CDProjekt Red
Publisher: Warner Bros. Games
Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC
Release Date: April 17, 2012
Price: $59.99 (Available Here)
It’s not every day that an RPG like The Witcher 2 comes around. The gritty, realistic world is portrayed is more reminiscent of Game of Thrones than it is Warcraft, and everything from the themes, to the politics, and, yes, to the sex, makes it a game that earns its Mature rating. The Witcher stunned reviewers and players last year when it launched on PC, but does the same ring true for the newly released Xbox 360 version? Or is this yet another poor attempt at cashing in on a port?
The Witcher 2 puts you firmly in the boots of Geralt the monster hunter, otherwise known as a Witcher. When Geralt becomes involved in plots that involve military invasions, regicides, and some subtler subversions of power, he quickly starts making big decisions and fighting world-altering battles.
The various regions of Aedirn, Temeria, and Vergen are each unique in their culture. For example, Vergen is a dwarven mining town, and you can tell. The disgruntled miners are much more uncouth than the people in the more civilized villages of the game, and the entire geography of the town is based upon connecting it with its central quarry. Decisions such as that can hinder gameplay when you’re running around trying to find people, but the payoff is that the world just feels real. You’ll become fully immersed in the reality of The Witcher 2, and there’s no shortage of side-stories and characters around, and some of these can be as interesting as the plot threads wound by the main story.
Along the way, Geralt will be confronted with some major decisions, but there’s no morality meter here. The Witcher 2 intentionally keeps the questions it asks of Geralt and your/his moral fiber in the gray area, and presents the consequences of those in game. For example, the aforementioned town of Vergen can be ruled out of someone’s game almost entirely based on a choice made earlier in the game. Instead, that part of Geralt’s journey will take them to another part of the world entirely. Additionally, during high-pressure situations, like a battle, there’s a limited time to make your decisions, which means you’ll be going with your gut reaction a lot more often than you would in other games that freeze entirely when the conversation options pop up.
All in all, The Witcher 2 weaves a fantastic, mature yarn that will keep you wrapped up in it right to the very end.
Combat is the bread and butter of a Witcher: there are all manner of beasties to be sliced and people who are “monsters” (kind of a cop out, but I let that one slide) to be diced.
Thankfully, The Witcher 2 is an action-based RPG; a port to Xbox involving quickslot bars and thirty different action buttons might have been a little hard to pull off, but the game transfers over fantastically thanks to its focus on moment-to-moment action. This is no mindless button-masher, however. The difficulty of The Witcher 2 can be brutal even on easy, and the game heavily emphasizes a flow through combat. Dodging, striking, parrying, casting magic, striking again – you won’t survive if you don’t vary your tactics and stay in constant motion, Geralt may be a heavily enhanced monster-hunter, but he’s still a sack of meat and can easily get overwhelmed if he gets himself surrounded or knocked to the ground.
To help you dominate you foes rather than barely surviving them, the game’s implemented several crafting systems. Alchemy allows Geralt to create potions from ingredients he can buy or find, and each potion has its benefits. Geralt can also create oils for his swords which will allow for greater damage or bleeding effects, and there’s also bombs and traps to be made. In short, if you invest in Geralt’s arsenal, he can become a god of the battlefield. That is not to say that combat becomes less challenging, but the more tools you have to overcome a problem, the likelier it is you’ll emerge unscathed on the other side.
Oh and there are boss fights. Would a Witcher truly be a monster-hunter if he cowed from the bigger (literally) challenges? These encounters range from interesting and challenging to boring, “please beat down my health bar” affairs, and you’ll occasionally question their necessity. It doesn’t happen to often, but the game can have pacing issues at the culmination of some quests, wherein you’ll be grinding through wave after wave of enemies or a less-than-interesting boss fight just begging to hit the next plot point. Though that serves as a testament to the power of The Witcher 2‘s story.
But The Witcher 2 is an RPG at heart, so combat is only half the experience. Almost literally.
I found myself spending as much time talking to people in town as I did slaying monsters. Beyond just learning more about the world and completing side-quests, careful exploration if the hub worlds can lead to rewards in the form of new gear, plot-related tidbits, arm-wrestling and boxing minigames, and humorous Easter eggs (such as a clever reference to The Lord of the Rings in one of the Vergen side-quests). Oh and sex.
Getting to know the characters who are friends of Geralt is an adventure in itself, and they’ll often be included in main story or side missions, marking their importance to Geralt, and to you as a player. When they get into trouble, you genuinely worry about them, and that’s something the design team over at CDProjekt should be very proud of.
Audio & Visual
The Witcher 2 was easily one of the best looking PC games ever to be released, but there are definitely fewer bells and whistles on the Xbox, particularly with regards to the lighting. Texture pop-in is also frustratingly common, even if you do install the game onto your hard drive. It’ll occasionally happen in-cutscene when the camera cuts to a character, and then when the camera returns to him/her later on in the same cutscene it will happen again.
There’s also the black wall of a loading screen as you pass between areas, and though the load times are generally bearable, it would have been nice to be given something to stare at other than the empty blackness currently present in game. It does a lot to hurt the immersion so well established by the game’s story and design.
Those complaints aside, The Witcher 2 is still a gorgeous game and the sound design is also top notch. The sounds, themes, and voice-acting are all of a generally high quality. Though it’s easy to see that the game was created by non-English speakers as the timing of jokes or sarcastic comments from characters can sometimes feel a little off. Regardless, the game has wonderful production values and it is definitely one of the better looking games on the console. Just not the best looking.
The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition for the Xbox 360 set out to bring an amazing PC experience to the home console, and, in most cases, that experience has been well and truly preserved. If you enjoy mature stories (a la Game of Thrones), decisions with consequences, hardcore action games, or good games in general, do yourself a favour and get The Witcher 2. It will provide you with hours upon hours of great gameplay and narrative, and at the end you’ll be pining for more.