The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition Review
Game: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Available on: Xbox 360 and PC (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Thinking back to 2011’s Game of the Year awards, there was a title I felt was hugely conspicuous in its absence, that being CD Projekt’s seminal Action RPG, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. Exclusive to PC until now, the game has been re-purposed for the Xbox 360 with a wealth of additional content thrown in for good measure across its two-disc release. Finally, console gamers get to experience what PC gamers have been saying for a while now; The Witcher 2 is an incredible game, but just how does this new console version actually fare?
STORY: Playing as Geralt of Rivia, the player will get to craft their own story within The Witcher 2, whilst experiencing a hugely compelling narrative that kicks off with Geralt as a prisoner. Framed for the murder of King Foltest, only Geralt knows the truth as he was the only witness to the king’s death. Deciding to clear his name, he sets off with Termerian Special Forces Leader Vernon Roche – whom believes his story – to find the real Kingslayer. A concurrent running plot is that Geralt has also lost his memory and will receive flashbacks after pivotal story events. These memories are shown in the form of some truly beautiful, yet highly graphically violent motion comic-style cut-scenes.
The player’s story really is their own in The Witcher 2, with some hugely branching choices to be made that make the story arc play out in a completely different way. This is a game you’ll talk with friends about around the water cooler, discussing what choices you made and why. During the review process I literally decided to sleep on a decision overnight, the possible ramifications of my choices troubled me so. I also discussed more minor story beats with colleagues who had played the PC version previously, we were all stunned when we realised even the smallest choices changed the narrative dramatically.
The really clever thing about The Witcher 2 though, is how the choices are neither black nor white. Shades of grey are often attempted in video games, but never pulled off as successfully as they are here. The reason I had to sleep on the aforementioned decision is because I wasn’t comfortable with either choice; absolutely brilliant storytelling, with no concessions made whatsoever. CD Projekt should be praised for creating a story that is compelling and exciting, with unparalleled immersion, dialogue that is both mature, yet funny and, thanks to all of these things, a story you just can’t put down.
GRAPHICS: As much as it’d be nice to be able to say “The Witcher 2 on Xbox 360 looks as good as it does on PC”, that’d be an outright lie. However, considering the differences in technology, it looks roughly akin to running it on a PC with the medium settings, which is still an incredible feat. CD Projekt succeed in so many areas that others developers often fail; for example, despite there being an incredible amount of spoken dialogue, everything is lip-synced, to create a yet more realistic, immersive, experience.
The Witcher 2 runs better in 720p however, and if you force it into 1080p you’ll more than likely see some screen tearing. That could be said for a lot of incredible games these days though, so it’s not really a blemish on the otherwise stupendous visuals. The Witcher 2 is most certainly the best looking RPG on the Xbox 360, by some distance. The sheer scope of some of the battles alone ensures this.
SOUND: As is becoming a theme, the attention to detail is mind blowing. With some of the missions requiring you to follow a friend some distance, there’s the potential for things to go awry when it comes to going through a “load” door. However, conversations will continue through the loading screens and pick up seamlessly the other side. The loading never takes long anyway, especially if you install to the Xbox 360 Hard Drive, which is recommended, but nonetheless, it’s a nice touch.
The voice acting is some of the best in the genre too, Geralt’s mostly soft toned, calming voice playing a distinct Yin to some of the more colourful character’s Yangs. There is a plethora of accents in play too, from Triss’ American accent, or Zoltan’s Scottish drawl, to some of the NPC’s Welsh accents, the world of The Witcher 2 is a multi-cultural one and it feels fantastic. Be prepared though, there is strong language throughout. It’s to be expected though, given the circumstances, but it’s nice to see dialogue like this included, and not dumbed down.
Even better though is the way the audio is mixed. At one point you’ll be inside a tavern, but if you go downstairs, you’ll hear brawling noises and conversational shouting coming from the other side of a door. Go inside and the volume gets louder, once again CD Projekt excel at immersing the player into this incredible world. The towns are simply teeming with life, it’s a wonder to explore the towns of Temaria, Nilfgaard and so on.
GAMEPLAY: As a Witcher, Geralt has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. As the player, you have two swords, one for humans, and a silver sword for magic creatures, and can swing them using a fairly standard quick attack, or heavy attack. Where it gets interesting however, is the ability to use “Signs”, or magic as most people will recognise it. Obviously you can’t spam magic attacks, so a bar representing those abilities is placed underneath your health bar.
The magic combat lends a tactical edge to combat, as you can – if you wish – simply throw fireballs or do a force push-type attack on the enemies you’ll face, but you can also use defensive spells to protect against incoming attacks, or even take over enemy minds and unleash them upon other foes. It is all very deep and engaging, but Geralt’s skills don’t end there. You can also equip throwing weapons, or traps, which are assigned to another button and add yet more to the combat. Despite the level of depth on offer though, the player never feels over-awed with options, and the combat is incredibly smooth.
As if that weren’t enough, Witchers are skilled in other areas too. Geralt can enhance his weapons or armour with potions and other trinkets with a multitude of effects. Bleeding, poison, additional attack power, there are far too many to list! Of course, throughout the game you can buy, trade or create new weapons and armour, crafting bringing yet another option to the game.
Whilst The Witcher 2 is as deep as you could want for in an RPG, it also understands a player’s needs. If you are tasked with a quest that requires you to come back at a certain time, you can meditate and “wait” until that time. Meditation is where you can also craft and drink potions, and this can be the key to victory in difficult fights. Drinking multiple potions will be toxic to our dear friend Geralt, so you can’t just down 10 potions and expect to get away with it. Potions are mostly for enhancing battle, in the same way you can enhance weapons, potions enhance Geralt overall, basically buffing him up.
What would an RPG be without a skills tree? The Witcher 2 has a massive skill tree that you couldn’t hope to max out on your first playthrough. Split into four sections, at first the training area is the only tree open, allowing you to gain essential skills like parrying, or the ability to throw knives. After the early levels though, you’ll unlock the swordsmanship, alchemy and signs trees, which is where you’ll end up staring at the screen, unable to immediately decide which skills to go for. There is no “experience” to speak of though, it’s more of a natural progression. Completing quests will move along your levels, but you can check up on the progress with a bar on the stats screen.
Questing itself is explained very well too, almost redefining the term “quest log”. As you move along a quest line there will be additional information added to the log itself, some of them end up as short stories, they are so long. You’ll never get lost or come back to the game wondering what to do, that’s for sure.
As you’d expect, there are plenty of side-quests, including mini-games like Dice (a strange, almost poker-like dice game), Arm-Wrestling, and Bare-Fist Fighting. In the latter of these games, Quick Time Events are used, but there are only a handful of these which you can’t avoid if you feel strongly about them, and the way they are used is quite visceral and intense too.
The Witcher 2 isn’t an easy game though, even people who think they are big fans of the RPG genre may find they need to lower the difficulty a little. Due to the huge choices in the skills tree, it’s possible to make the game more difficult for yourself if you don’t choose wisely, though the core skills in the training tree are fairly obvious. That said, there should be no shame in lowering the difficulty if it creates a more enjoyable experience, thankfully you can even do this during the game, you aren’t locked into a difficulty once chosen.
LONGEVITY: Fans of RPGs will find something to love in The Witcher 2, simply because there is just so much to do in the game. A single play through would take between 20 and 30 hours, but the amount of story branching means that there is at least 10-15 of those hours that are distinct to one play through, with yet more branching choices changing things later into the game. The world is so engrossing and engaging that you’ll almost certainly play both sides of the story at least once, which means you’ve an incredible value proposition in The Witcher 2.
The new enhanced edition comes with all of the DLC released to date for the PC version, which adds even more value to an already fit to burst package, including the “Arena” mode, which allows you to take on enemy after enemy in combat. If you want for more content with The Witcher 2, then there’s something wrong with you.
VERDICT: One of the best games of 2011 is now one of the best games of 2012, thanks to this stellar enhanced edition coming to the Xbox 360. Such care, devotion and love has been poured into The Witcher 2 that it’s impossible not to fall utterly and completely in love with it. This is a game you’ll wake up early to play, because you can’t stop thinking about it.
One of the best Action RPGs released in years and a serious contender for Game of the Year 2012, do yourself a favour and immerse yourself in this masterpiece of a game.