The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings - Enhanced Edition|
Iíve always been fond of role-playing games ever since my brother got me hooked on Dungeons & Dragons several years ago, so it was only natural that when I moved on to video games my love for the genre would follow me there. I tend to stick with the fantasy games like Dragon Age, Skyrim and more recently Kingdom of Amular, but Iíve recently been addicted to the Mass Effect trilogy, so it was nice to return to my medieval roots with The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings - Enhanced Edition. I was interested and quite envious of this game when it released on the PC last year but unable to play on my all-about-work Mac, so when I heard it was coming to the Xbox 360 I was ready to pounce.
Having never played the original I sought out the special flashback recap video CD Projekt RED had prepared for people in my situation, and while it was very informative I donít think it really mattered, as I was able to slip into the already-in-progress story well enough. The game opens with a stunning cinematic that shows a daring assassination of a king while onboard a ship. You are then whisked away to a brief tutorial level that teaches you the various controller commands and a few abilities of our hero, Geralt of Rivia. Youíll forage the forest for herbs, brew a potion, camp out until dawn, and ultimately engage in arena combat to learn combat and spellcasting. Then you have a more pertinent cutscene followed by finding yourself chained up in a prison cell getting pummeled by guards. Eventually you are taken into an interrogation room and asked to retell a series of three events that you will actually get to play out as you flash back.
Letís get one thing clear right away. The Witcher 2 is more of an action-adventure than an RPG. Yes, there is a heavy stat system in play and a vast skill tree with all sorts of customization paths to tweak this game to your liking, but for me, the true definition of a role-playing game is where you get to create your own character and actually ROLE PLAY. In Witcher 2 you are playing a pre-established character, so you immediately lose that attachment and invested interest you normally have in a game like Dragon Age or Skyrim. Plus, female gamers have an additional level of detachment playing a male hero, especially in a game rife with nudity and sex. Itís sad to think anyone old enough to legally buy this game would get aroused by the digital ass crack and nipples being flaunted as early as the first mission, yet the game clearly inserts such scenes in their attempt to give their game that ďadult edgeĒ factor.
Itís also worth noting the ďEnhanced EditionĒ suffix now attached to the title. This console release now includes 4+ hours of additional gameplay spread across two new adventures, along with the aforementioned opening assassination movie created by the award-winning Polish CGI-film director Tomasz Baginski, as well as numerous other recap videos, more than 30 minutes of additional cutscenes, an exclusive tutorial, the new DARK difficulty mode, and all nine of the DLC packs previously available to PC gamers. The term Enhanced hardly does this game justice Ė it should have been called the Ultimate Edition.
While not much of a ďrole-playing gameĒ The Witcher 2 is a fantastic action-adventure with one of the most unique combat systems Iíve seen in any game. First, itís real-time, so even when you open your radial menu to select a weapon, dagger, bomb, or cast a spell, the enemies are still advancing, admittedly as this eerie slow-motion speed, yet the intensity remains, especially early on when you are still getting used to using the interface. The 360 controller works well enough, and while I never played on a PC I can see the benefit of having more inputs available.
Dodging is a big deal in this game, and it is often easier to simply roll away than to block, unless you are going to attempt a riposte. You'll also need to keep a watch on your encumbrance. If you start collecting too many items your movement and evasive tumbles will slow or even become impossible. Like all other games in the genre, expect to spend plenty of time managing your inventory, not only equipping the items you want to use but figuring out what to sell or discard. After the brilliant loot interface in Kingdom of Amular, it was disappointing to go back to the primitive "take it all" option in The Witcher 2.
Geralt has an interesting set of spells that can trap enemies or set them on fire or my favorite, brainwash a target to fight alongside you for a short time. Not only does this reduce the enemy by one, it also can distract and even kill other enemies Ė a most useful tactic since you are often outnumbered in most encounters. Having come from hundreds of hours in Kingdom of Amular and Skyrim I was no stranger to picking plants and crafting potions. The Witcher 2 is heavy into alchemy and crafting, but youíll have to navigate some serious menus to do so. It's a rewarding system if you put the time into learning how to prep your weapons and use potions.
I was initially put off with the gameís approach to potion consumption, but then I realized that The Witcher 2 is far more realistic than any other game in the genre; after all, if you are in real combat you canít just say ďtime outĒ while you quaff a healing potion. In this game you need to anticipate upcoming danger, choose up to three potions, and then consume them prior to the action. The effects of these potions will appear as cool-down icons, almost like buffs in an MMO, at the top of the screen, so while you canít instantly heal in the heat of battle, you can have ongoing healing taking place for a set amount of time. It requires a certain mindset adjustment, but once you adapt itís actually a refreshing way to do things and adds a bit of strategy to the mix.
Another thing I wasnít prepared for was the amount of dying I would be doing. Even in early encounters that you might think would be simple, I was dying repeatedly until I would eventually stumble on the right tactic. The game checkpoints at logical locations, but you are also free to save anywhere and anytime, and I encourage you to exploit that feature or risk replaying lengthy portions of the game.
The Witcher 2 is a massive and very mature story with a lengthy core narrative full of political and racial intrigue and plenty of side quests and diversions to fill in your spare time. The tavern is home to several such parlor games. It was also interesting to find that obtaining and reading the books in this game will not only give you valuable insight into the rich history of the world but also increase your intelligence, so donít go selling them off too fast.
The back of the box boasts a ďnon-linearĒ story and while it is true there are 16 possible endings, the path to any of those is actually quite linear. I never felt I had the choice of where to go or what to do; at least not on the scale of other games in the genre. You are usually on a very clear and obvious quest path, again, making this an action-adventure game with RPG-like character customization. While there is no real morality system to worry about keeping in balance you are frequently presented with choices, both in action and conversation, but these are hardly good vs. evil moments Ė more like choosing to be a ďnice guyĒ or an ďjerkĒ.
The Witcher 2 looks really nice on the Xbox 360 but Iím not overwhelmed like some other reviews Iíve read. Personally, I think Skyrim looks a lot better as far as realism, and even Amular has a more colorful Fable-like quality when it comes to fantasy appeal. The Witcher 2 certainly has all the scope and sweeping landscapes contrasted with realistically dirty and depressed slums and villages, but it all comes as the cost of limited draw distance with plenty of pop-up, both in objects and textures. It gets quite annoying during some of the in-game cinematics where the camera cuts to a new view and a second later all these textures suddenly fill in the missing details, but such is the limitation of a fixed hardware console. Likewise, characters look great when standing still, but once they start moving they lose their detail and some of their animations are a bit stiff.
I enjoyed the music for the movies and the gameplay, and there is plenty of realistic sounds for nature and the environment as well as combat and fantasy effects for spells and such. The voice acting is very high quality for all the primary actors, and there are plenty of humorous lines that can be overheard if you take the time to listen. While I donít mind cursing to make your point or set a certain mood it seemed that some of the language and slang was just a bit too gratuitous and contemporary and didnít fit with the fantasy era.
The Witcher 2 kept me quite busy for just over 42 hours these past two weeks. Iím still not convinced this is the best RPG out there, or if itís even an RPG at all, but it is a fantastic action-adventure title with a great story, some innovative weapons and magic combat, and a truly unique potion-crafting element that might just set the bar for future games. Iím guessing if you have a PC capable of running this game then that would be the preferred format, but if you are resigned to playing your games on a console then The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings - Enhanced Edition is a competent port and an adventure worthy of your time and money.