The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings Enhanced Edition Xbox 360 review
The epic PC RPG, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, arrives in an Enhanced Edition on Xbox 360…
Having already swept the board of gaming awards on the PC last year, CD Projekt's The Witcher 2: Assassin's of Kings, sequel to the original 2007 PC release, has made it to the Xbox 360, along with all of the downloadable content from the PC game, and a few extra bits besides.
The game follows the exploits of Geralt of Rivia, one of the last few remaining Witchers, superhuman monster hunters for hire. Following on from the first game, The Witcher 2 sees Geralt in a bit of a bind. He's been imprisoned, accused of assassinating the king, and he's left with the unenviable task of proving his innocence, something that's going to take a whole lot of dangerous questing and enemy slaying. Luckily, our Geralt is a little bit handy in a scrap, and his skill with the sword is matched only by his talent for casting signs (spells, basically) and mixing potions. Yep, being a mutated superhuman has its upsides. Gets you the ladies too.
The Witcher 2 is an open world, non-linear RPG that features full, hands-on real-time combat and a branching story that's affected by your decisions. The third person action initially leads you to think that the game will play in a similar way to Lionhead's Fable, and in some aspects, it does. But, these similarities are few and far between, as this is a far more accomplished game than the fairytale RPG-lite.
For one, The Witcher 2 is a far more adult-oriented title, and by this I don't just mean the violence, bad language and sexual scenes. This maturity also comes from the deep and complex story that's packed with excellent characters, and the moral decisions you have to make throughout your adventure. These choices, which aren't as heavily telegraphed as those in games like Mass Effect, really can affect the game world in some impressive ways, and the multiple endings are wholly affected by your actions (unlike games like Mass Effect).
Because of this, the great vocal work, and the overall pristine presentation create a very believable and absorbing world, which is fortunate, as you're going to be spending a lot of time here. This is a big game, packed with content.
Two swords are better than one
Exploring the world of The Witcher is a dangerous pastime, though, and as you wander around the detailed and atmospheric environments, littered with dark, dank forests, ruins, caves, bustling towns and so on, you'll be forced to defend yourself countless times against all sorts of foes, human, and not so human.
It's here where The Witcher does plenty to set itself apart from the majority of the competition. Geralt is a powerful fighter, and at his disposal are a ton of abilities, several of which you start with, and others you'll learn via the various skill trees as you level up. But, even with all of these abilities, Geralt isn't immortal, and the game never lets up when it comes to danger and the threat of a quick, painful death.
The meat of the combat is the melee fighting, mixed up with some magical, sign abilities and a host of tactical choices. Combat, as I mentioned before, is real-time, and you have full control of Geralt. There's no clicking on foes and watching as the action happens automatically here, it's all you.
Using a combination of light and heavy attacks, along with the ability to dodge, block and parry, and later riposte, you have to skilfully defend and attack, often against multiple foes at once. This is one of the major areas where the game shines, and the combat is both challenging and rewarding. Enemies are certainly no pushover, and they'll gang up on you to take you down, not waiting around in an orderly manner to take turns. Because of this, you need to plan your battles wisely, preparing before a fight by drinking stat-buffing potions and selecting the right weapons and spells for the task. This includes correct selection of Geralt's main swords, one of which is a standard blade, for taking on more traditional assailants, and his special silver sword, which he uses for monster killing.
Once in battle, you'll also have to think on your feet, deciding which enemy to take down first, as well as using traps and other abilities and items to gain the upper hand, something you'll rarely have, even with Geralt's skills. The challenge here really is quite steep, and, just as in Dark Souls, button mashing will simply get you killed much of the time. To survive you need to master blocking, dodging and general defensive tactics, and need to learn to balance these skills with your attacking prowess. It's a steep learning curve, but one that pays off with perseverance.
Sadly, this learning isn't helped by an admittedly complex and sometimes clunky control system. It can't have been easy porting such a complex, PC-based creation so used to a full keyboard to the 360, but some elements are needlessly complex. Even something as usually simple as lock-on aiming, which should be second nature, is a little iffy, and the contortions you have to make to utilise some attack and spell combinations can cause problems at times. At first you'll probably die simply due to being distracted by the control scheme, so complicated it can be.
Still, although there's clearly room for improvement in the combat controls, they rarely get in the way of the riveting challenge after a couple of hours with them, and facing foes you know can actually take you down in a heartbeat makes for some satisfying and rewarding battles. Once you master the controls, you'll wish every game of this type utilised such a fluid combat system, as Geralt can transition from sword attack and blocking, to dodging, casting magic and planting traps with the touch of a button. It's very impressive, and makes for a very rich fighting experience.
You'll like it...
Geralt's magical sign abilities are just as important to your survival as your skill with the blade, and there are plenty of them to choose from. Spells include a Force push-like skill that can stun enemies for an instant kill, incinerating fireballs, defensive barriers, paralysing traps and more. These can be quickly switched between with the press of the LB button, which slows down time whilst you make your pick, before returning you to the fray. It's a cool effect, and one that works well.
Of course, this is an RPG, and as you level up you can learn even more abilities. The skills trees are varied though, and split into four paths, so you'll need to carefully decide how you want Geralt to evolve, and how you want to play.
Off the beaten path
Outside of combat, the world is full of character and mystery, and you'll find all sorts of side quests and distractions to keep you occupied. Whether you're arm wrestling guys in the local tavern, helping a troll avenge his late wife or finding ingredients and materials to create potions and craft weapons, you're always up to something.
The world is a fairly open place, and whilst not open world in the Skyrim sense, you're rarely constrained and can usually chart your own course through the game (despite a heavy use of invisible walls and impassable ledges, which is a bit of a pain). The prologue is far more restrictive, playing more like a level-based hack and slasher than an RPG, but once you get into the game proper, it soon opens up into a more flexible and freedom-granting title.
We can rebuild it
CD Projekt spent a lot of time reworking The Witcher 2 for Xbox, and the result certainly shows. Visually the game is impressive, despite several cases of texture load in (even after a full install to the hard disk) and screen tearing, but given the complexity of the world, and the sheer level of detail on everything, right down to the most basic NPC, it's a big achievement.
The world the team has created feels like a living breathing place, thanks to a fully functioning time of day system (some quests and tasks can only be done at certain times) and various gaming mechanics that add to the whole. Some of these work very well, such as the potion making and item crafting, and others don't work quite as well, such as the borderline broken stealth elements, but any issues are minor, and certainly don't detract from the game.
I must say, however, that some side quests fail to create entries in your journal and give you no clue as to where you need to go. This can lead to aimless wandering trying to find an important person to talk to or place to go, and these really should be signposted a little better. Also, in battle, many enemies will hit an invisible patrol line, and back off unrealistically should you cross it. This not only breaks the immersion somewhat, but leads to cheap, guerrilla tactics of hit and run, even when the enemy can see you standing there in plain sight. It's a help, as the game is certainly challenging, but it does stick out given the level of polish elsewhere.
The thing is, although you'll notice these little quirks as you play, you just won't care. The rest of the game is just so enjoyable and the combat so absorbing that you'll quickly overlook any shortcomings. The Witcher 2 is a game that tries to do a bit of everything, and do it well, and it succeeds. It's an excellently produced and skilfully developed RPG that'll keep you busy for a very long time, and you'll want to play it time and time again to see how your decisions can alter the ultimate outcome. It's an essential purchase, and certainly one of the best action RPGs of recent years.