[Review] The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings – Enhanced Edition (Xbox 360)
The Witcher makes its console debut with The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings – Enhanced Edition for the Xbox 360, a port of the 2011 PC critical hit from CD Projekt Red. You step into the shoes of Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher who suffers amnesia and is framed as a kingslayer. Over the course of the quest, you meet a bevy of characters, new and old friends alike, and you continually learn more from your past through these characters. Although it combines a comprehensive alchemy system, a dynamic combat system, and a complex leveling tree, it still manages to pull all of its features together into one massive, incredible RPG.
In the midst of the tutorial, you quickly realize that there is a lot to this game. Among being a very story-heavy RPG, it also has a comprehensive magic system, alchemy, deep combat system, a complex leveling tree, and numerous side quests to tackle. In the short amount of time, the tutorial covers all of this in detail. What makes The Witcher 2 so special is its ability to excel in so many different categories, and still come out as one of the most elegantly done RPGs this generation.
Depending on your play style, you will most likely be wielding a sword for a good portion of the game. A rarity for such deep RPGs, this game has an extremely good combat system. You wield two swords; a steel sword, used primarily for humans, and a silver sword, primarily used for monsters and other non-human characters. In combat there is the standard target and block mechanic, as well as parry and riposte. It is an incredibly satisfying system, especially after you have formulated techniques and strategies using your signs, which I will explain in a bit. With the swords, you’re also able to apply a single oil to the blade, giving it that extra boost in order to slay the horde of enemies bestowed upon you.
The magic system in this game further deepens the combat, making it essential to use all of your abilities in order to get past certain sections. From the start, you’re granted five ‘signs’ which you have at your disposal throughout the entire game. Aard, a telekinetic force that thrusts back enemies, occasionally stunning them. Igni, the ability to summon flames and thrust them at foes. Yrden, a magical trap placed on the ground to temporarily stun and injure enemies. Quen, a magical sheet of armor which can endure a single attack. Axii, which allows you to let the enemy forces join your side. Combined with the satisfying sword play, this creates one of the deepest combat systems you can find in an RPG.
One of the most interesting aspects in this game is the use of potions and meditation. While potions do exist in this game, they are not used in the same traditional way as your ‘run of the mill’ RPG. Only while you are meditating are you able to use potions, each of which have a different effect on your abilities, and a different level of toxin. If it exceeds the amount of toxin, you’re unable to consume those potions. With each potion, the effects last for varying durations. They can increase your swordsmanship, increase your magical powers, or cause your vigor and health to regenerate quicker. There’s no quick heal option, and you are unable to meditate mid-battle. This gravely changes combat segments, and preparation is key to every battle.
In order to craft these potions you must collect resources scattered in the nature and throughout barrels and crates in towns. While meditating, you’re able to look through your alchemic recipes, select which potions you’d like to craft, and simply craft as many as you would like to. It’s an extremely streamlined, simple system that makes it very easy to stock up before a big battle.
With each level up, you’re granted a new ability or enhancement through a complex leveling system that includes four different categories; Training, Swordsplay, Alchemy, and Magic. Depending on your play style, you may just focus your upgrades on one or two categories, which is smart, because it is doubtful you would reach the end of any of them from dispersing your upgrade points equally.
One of the best aspects of the game, which truly blew me away, was the impact of player choice. Consistently throughout the game, you’re put into situations in which your decision is made based not on the outcome of the entire game, and a potential bad reputation, but simply the consequence of your action. NPCs will not look at you differently for killing the troll, or deciding that someone lied. It does not affect you, or the quality of the ending you will receive. It’s purely based upon your actions, and the consequences you will receive.
Each town consists of plenty of quests and people to interact with and help out. Some quests are ongoing up until the final mission, due to certain events needing to take place before others are able to happen. There is no shortage of things to do, and you’ll always find yourself engrossed in the quests your given due to the importance of every moral choice you’re supposed to make.
[+Dares to be ambitious and succeeds with flying colors][+Deep, rewarding, and satisfying combat system][+Easy to use alchemy and crafting system][+A slew of quests that will occupy you for hours][+Your choices truly matter, and bare only consequence, not bad reputation]
The world in which The Witcher 2 takes place is filled with people to interact with, monsters to slay, and gorgeous landscapes to feast your eyes upon. Forests are bellowing with trees and paths. Towns are bustling with communities and shops. While the areas of exploration are not vast, the landscapes and illusion of vastness create a seemingly enormous world.
The Witcher 2 is a beautiful game, and the Xbox 360 certainly does the PC version justice. I’ve personally not played the PC version, but this is truly one of the best looking Xbox games on the market right now. The world is so vibrant with color, yet can become so dark with evil and despair. Nightfall is so dark you’ll find yourself struggling to navigate at times. Sunrise creates a beautiful hue in the sky that greets you with the security of morning. It is able to capture so many colors and landscapes, while still maintaining the dark and gritty feeling of the violence and anger that haunt the world of Geralt. It’s rare for such a game to achieve such beauty without sacrificing the dark feeling that is conveyed. The Witcher 2 does it flawlessly.
I did find occasions when the camera would not cooperate, strictly in battle. While in the forest, my camera would often find itself behind the greenery, as it zooms out while in combat. This prevented me from seeing Geralt, and broke the flow of combat while I struggled to find myself.
Every NPC you encounter is unique, each boasting different sets of armor and weapons, making the world feel so alive. Facial animations are incredibly expressive, and the movement of the mouths with dialogue is much more natural than most games. It’s clear that the amount of work that went into finding the correct voice actors for each character you speak with was well worth it. Geralt is a smooth-talking gentleman, if you so choose, and has a finesse with his words. Each character you run into just sounds so natural. It’s clear that the utmost amount of attention was spent on making the cinematics as great as the story deserved.
The soundtrack, which is nearly always playing, is a beautiful orchestrated set composed by Adam Skorupa and Krzysztof Wierzynkiewicz. It’s got a plethora of wind instruments and falsettos, and perfectly compliments the setting in which the world takes place. Its hard to speak of the absence of the music, but it goes without saying that without the music, the general feel of this world could not be captured.
[+Gorgeous game, even if it pales in comparison to its PC counterpart in some aspects][+Maintains a gritty feel while still utilizing vibrant colors][+Incredible facial animations and voice acting][+Beautiful soundtrack perfectly fits the world][*Minor technical hiccups with the camera]
While a sense of exploration may be absent in this open-world RPG, this does not hinder your ability to lose yourself in this world. On your first playthrough, you can easily pour 40 hours into the game. With every sidequest, you could peak at roughly 70. There is never a shortage of active quests and people to help, which at times can be overwhelming, but if you pace it correctly, it’s truly a joy to know that you’ll never find yourself wondering what do to, or where to go next.
This game includes no multiplayer (rightfully so), yet there is still tons of value under the hood. Since each choice in this game can gravely affect your entire experience, you may find yourself in an entirely different area according to some of your choices throughout a second playthrough. Considering the length and replay value, its no question that you’re getting your money’s worth in this package.
[+40 hour experience easily][+Extremely high replay value][+Quest options create varying adventures for every player]
After playing the original The Witcher for a brief period of time, I was a bit skeptical on how I would perceive its sequel. Even more so, I was worried that the translation of such a comprehensive RPG would be a fumble for consoles. To my surprise, this was one of the best, and vast RPGs I’ve ever played. Every aspect of it is capable of being the focus of another game all on its own. It’s able to capture so many different features that aren’t new, but fresh. There is just so much to this world. Every choice matters not only to the story, but to you. It achieves something most modern story driven games cannot; a reason to care. Because of the context of every battle, each individual one is important. You have reason to survive, and reason to persevere. Combining such a seamless experience with the beautiful world, and immense value, this is a game that cannot be missed.
[+Dares to be ambitious and succeeds with flying colors][+Deep, rewarding, and satisfying combat system][+Easy to use alchemy and crafting system][+A slew of quests that will occupy you for hours][+Your choices truly matter, and bare only consequence, not bad reputation][+40 hour experience easily][+Extremely high replay value][+Quest options create varying adventures for every player][+Gorgeous game, even if it pales in comparison to its PC counterpart in some aspects][+Maintains a gritty feel while still utilizing vibrant colors][+Incredible facial animations and voice acting][+Beautiful soundtrack perfectly fits the world][*Minor technical hiccups with the camera]
The Witcher 2 is a world-class RPG. The original game has its followers, but also many dissenters. Rightfully so. A few hours of playing show me that it’s a good game with major streamlining needs. With The Witcher 2, CD Projekt has managed to take that compelling universe and the most interesting mechanics of the original game and polish them all up a bit. They don’t go overboard with it, either.
The Witcher 2 strikes me as Dragon Age 2 done right. The quest system is very reminiscent of Bioware RPG’s and picking up items is identical to Dragon Age: Origins. There are choices to be made and plenty of dialogue choices to choose from, but what’s different is that here they actually matter. At the end of Act 1, you’ll be forced to make a decision that will affect the course of the entire game.
The combat seems to be a mix of Dragon Age 2′s more action-based gameplay, but with a healthy dose of Dark Souls mixed in. Go into battle without making preparations and you will die. The sword strikes are satisfying, the magic is useful, and Geralt can move pretty swiftly in combat. Watching your back is a top priority, especially early in the game and crowd management is key. It’s a fun system and it’s really rewarding when you learn how to use it.
The graphics are amazing, the dialogue is smartly written, and the universe is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. This probably has something to do with the fact that it’s based on a Polish book series. CD Projekt seems to have made something pretty faithful to the original texts. They’ve made it so well, in fact, that after playing The Witcher 2 for a while, I bought the English translation of the first book from Amazon. The only thing that I’ve ever done that with beforehand was the Warhammer 40k series. The universe in The Witcher stands up to even that. It’s that good.
In fact, the only major gripe I’ve had with it is that the map system can be pretty atrocious at times. Sometimes it gets you more lost that not using at all would. In the end, this makes for an experience more like Morrowind, where you’re not always told exactly where to go. In fact, on some quests, you aren’t told where to go at all. This actually increases the immersion for me. It makes exploring far more interesting than following a red dot on a compass.
It’s a hardcore RPG, especially for consoles. Where most RPG’s now are made for the consoles and ported to the PC, this is obviously the antithesis. It’s complex, but not weighty. The menus are actually well-designed and, all in all, the game is streamlined enough to work very well on a controller. This is no shoddy port.
I will say that I haven’t yet finished it. That’s no fault of the game, though, it’s simply from a lack of time to play it. I will get back into it shortly and, frankly, I can’t wait. I enjoy what I’ve played of it so much that I wanted to get my two cents in. The ride so far has been a great one. I can’t wait to see where else it can take me. This game shouldn’t be missed. CD Projekt has made something special.