Review: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings was released to great critical acclaim on PC last year and now it’s being released on the Xbox 360 with extra bells and whistles. So have CD Projekt Red make a great game even better?
The Witcher 1 and 2 was a PC only game which made a name for itself with a combination of dynamic RPG gameplay and a mature approach to storytelling. The Enhanced Edition of The Witcher 2 brings this not only to the PC as a free update, but also to the Xbox 360 where we find our protagonist Geralt of Rivia wrongly accused of murdering a king. Luckily, being a witcher he has all the powers of a warrior mage and sets about trying to prove his innocence.
Combat is a real treat made possible by an excellent control system that while taking some getting used to, gives an excellent sense of control once learned. The use of magic spells (‘signs’) is limited by your vigor meter and therefore you must cleverly switch between this and swordplay, which keeps the gameplay varied. On top of sword based parrying and thrusting, you can also use items from your quick inventory like bombs and throwing daggers which slow down time while you aim. Flicking the right stick up or down switches between nearest and furthest targets and allows you to effortlessly switch between enemies in front and behind you. Adding yet further to the excellent combat are the traps you can make which lend the fights a strategic element, as you plan ahead to lure enemies into them.
Part of a witcher’s skill is in his potion making and this can be used to enhance a weapon’s damage, create healing potions or to make all sorts of other special ability enhancing mixes. Gathering the resources for these is not a chore in the least thanks to the witcher’s medallion. Pressing the left stick in will make Geralt touch his medallion revealing any nearby resources available. This also reveals any items that can be looted and points the way to any nearby doors or areas to be explored. This is a brilliant way of providing optional help to the player without pointing everything out for them. It is up to the player to decide if they want to use it or not. One minor gripe is that the minimap isn’t that easy to read and the items on the map are hard to distinguish from one and other when they are close together.
Leveling up gives you a skills tree that stretches out in various directions (swordsmanship, alchemy, magic, etc) thereby letting the player decide how they wish to level up their witcher and adding replay value to the game.
Quests in the game range from enjoyable set-piece battles, protect-the-target style operations, resource gathering tasks and many more. All are enjoyable and well thought out with side-quests sometimes helping you in the main storyline by making life easier. For example, on an opening quest I took time out to help a young soldier who later distracted some guards for me as a thank you. This interweaving of side and main quests encourages the player to explore the game to its fullest and is another example of good game design. Although generally annoying in most games, the quick-time events that happen now and then are a fun, inclusive event that further help the player feel part of events. Whether running away from a dragon or aiming a giant crossbow they are all smartly woven into the game.
CD Projekt Red have said that they think that this is one of the best looking Xbox 360 games on their market and I’m inclined to agree with them. From the opening movie the visuals are impressive and lend an air of reality to the world of the witcher, from the muted greens and browns of the forest to the shadowy confines of a dungeon jail. Sweeping vistas and boggy swamps are all spectacularly rendered and imposing castles tower above you. Character animation is superbly detailed and the game has a lived-in, earthy look that makes you feel part of a medieval world where life can be dirty and unpleasant. Or bright and glorious, provided you’re a noble.
Adding to the gritty feel there is plenty of bad language and nudity but here it feels appropriate to the tone and spirit of the world that the game is portraying. This alone does not make a mature game of course, but the storyline is thought provoking and adult as well so I would feel comfortable describing the games content as mature. With dialogue choices the Witcher 2 takes a more interesting view by not pointing out which choice is the ‘good’ choice, giving a moral ambiguity that compliments the tone of the game.
Some of you reading this may already own The Witcher 2 on PC and are wondering what’s different in the Enhanced Edition. Well, what you get is around four hours of new gameplay (taking total gameplay to around 45 hours) and 30 minutes of cutscenes which includes new quests, new characters and locations. There have also been over 100 fixes and improvements to all areas of the game.
This is a high quality release with impressive production values across the board. The wary, watchful witcher makes for an intriguing lead character and the world he inhabits is convincing and magical all at once. A contender for game of 2012, for those looking for an RPG with a little more spice and variety, The Witcher 2 will cast its spell on you!
[Version review: Xbox 360]
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition is out 17 April 2012 on Xbox 360 and you buy it from our online shop. It’s also available to download as a free update for existing The Witcher 2 PC owners.