The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition is just what every Xbox 360 gamer and RPG fanatic could ever dream of. The 2011 smash hit makes its way to the 360 with a redesigned interface, improved controls and combat, optimised engine for the console and four hours of new gameplay experiences, as well as a new intro cinematic.
Narrative and Maturity – The Witcher 2’s darker and more adult-driven narrative quickly establishes to new players to the series that although the game is set in a fantasy setting, people are people. There is no sugar-coating the violent, questionable and dark things Temeria’s citizens say or act, or what its history entails.
The Witcher 2 is a game that expects you to care, to be aware and proactive in the actions you may lead Geralt of Rivia to make and the subsequent consequences which will shape the future of Temeria. Make no mistake; this is an adult’s game, one where you have to be smart. You cannot simply expect to progress without actively involving yourself in the complex tale of sex, lies and violence you are about to shape as Geralt. The game involves you, makes everything from the conversations to the exploration riveting and interactive. You define his story, not the writers.
Complexity in choices and dynamic quests – The Witcher 2 is a RPG and as to be expected, it is heavy on the dialogue and choice. The conversation system in The Witcher 2 is evidently morally gray; there are no clearly defined good or evil choices laid out for the player. When there seems to be, there is more often than not a surprise or twist on the other side. Dialogue options usually consist of two or three quick summaries as to what Geralt might say or think depending on the player’s interests or motivations. Many of the action sequences and main narrative cutscenes have a timer and so the player is forced to quickly react to a situation or conversation presented to them, adding a nice touch of intensity and urgency to the atmosphere of each moment.
From the central, intriguing plot of regicide and identity to the side-plots of murder investigations, monster-hunting and missing-persons, The Witcher 2 has a myriad of quests for the player to immerse and involve themselves in, all with several branching choices and varying outcomes and consequences.
One prominent example is a side-quest early on that involves an Elf woman surrounded by violent and racist town guards accusing her of leading two other militia soldiers to their deaths. The Elf insists she is innocent but the human soldiers of Flotsam, who are well-known for their racial hatred for the Elves and the rebel Scoia’tael, give her no confidence.
The situation can be avoided altogether by the player, but if interrupted, the player is presented with a series of morally-vague options. You can inquire about the overall situation and ignore the woman’s argument in favour of the pressing main quest (and thus guarantee the woman’s imminent execution and termination of the questline), or potentially get involved and convince the guards you can prove she was not linked with the bodies by investigation. Afterwards, the player can accuse her of being a guerrilla, or choose to listen to her explanation once more.
Although it may seem morally right to get involved and help prove and believe her innocence, the quest and its instigators promptly shake their fantasy stereotypes and shove any feeling of moral superiority in your face.
The path The Witcher 2 takes is more of a simple one; usually what you see isn’t what you get, and it is up to you to decide if getting involved or influencing another person or group is truly benefiting Geralt, or anyone for that matter, rather than a broader consideration of what is right or wrong.
Customisation and combat – The Enhanced Edition gives an information heavy tutorial at the beginning of the game detailing the easy-to-use control interface, combat system, and properties of alchemy, side-weapons and armour. The amount of potions, crafting and upgrade combinations for armour and weapons that are available for customisation is impressive. The extensive character development tree also gives players the freedom to choose which talents – magic, combat or alchemy – their Geralt specialises and excels in, rather than being forced to follow a predetermined path.
Combat in The Witcher 2 is fluid and dynamic with every swing of the sword violent and weighty, and every cast of magic tactical and meaningful. Geralt can hack, slash, parry and riposte against a variety of enemies, using the elements of steel and silver and the fighting styles of agile or heavy to defeat each unique enemy. He can also take down several enemies with lethal finishing moves, adding flair, diversity and strategy to each battle. The fast-paced movement across the battlefield make the combat hectic and challenging, but extremely satisfying.
Geralt can also cast a range of spells — such as Igni, an offensive fireball and Yrden, a magical trap — with the touch of a button, shaking up any combat situation. A radial menu contains all magic signs, spells, bombs and traps which can be easily accessed during combat, slowing time stylishly until you make your choice and re-enter the fray.
Lore – The Witcher 2 has an impressive codex of information for all those interested in the universe of the game. The Codex contains most of the game’s lore, characters, items, mission progress and so on. All of it is told and presented in an amusing and unique first-person account of one of Geralt’s main NPC allies who is more informed of the world and its aspects than Geralt, giving both a humorous but plot-logical reason for having such knowledge available rather than an omniscient or detached source. It all adds up to make an endearing and unique touch to the game’s fantasy setting.
Transition from PC to Xbox 360 – CD Projekt Red should be commended for the absolutely brilliant job they have done in the transition from the PC to the Xbox 360. The Witcher 2 isn’t just another cash-in port- the fact that they have added more content and extra cinematic sequences makes that clear from the beginning. But the more time spent with the game, the more apparent it is that the developer optimised its engine to the fullest for the 360’s specs.
The graphics look superb and polished to a level many might not expect possible on the 360. The 360 version also carries a different lighting and art style which results in environments and the characters inhabiting them looking more natural and realistic than the unnatural illumination Geralt and the main characters seemed to have in the original PC release.
Minor technical compromises – The game looks and runs great for the most part, but there is the occasional stutter, frame-rate drop and texture pop-in, with the latter particularly prominent in a few early main-quest cutscenes. These problems can be significantly lessened when the game is installed to the Xbox 360 hard drive.
Poor voice acting and dialogue – A few characters such as Triss Merigold suffer from miss-matched voice actors and bland and poorly-acted out dialogue, and many NPCs share the same voice actor (and character model), particularly the thugs and drunks of Flotsam. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does break the immersion from time to time.
The Witcher 2 is ultimately one of the most satisfying RPG experiences to ever grace the Xbox 360. Its deep and riveting fantasy tale will immerse and challenge players with its complex choices, impressive visuals and visceral combat system. It is very nonlinear and choice-driven and as such would not appeal to a gamer who does not like investing in heavy narrative and non-linear direction, nor would it appeal to those who simply wish or expect to explore everywhere geographically due to its smaller but more organised world structure in comparison to free-roaming RPG titles like Skyrim. But for the hardcore RPG fanatics, loot hoarders and monster-hunting enthusiasts, The Witcher 2 will stand out as one of the Xbox 360’s best RPG titles available.