The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings Enhanced Edition Review
The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings has finally ported to the Xbox 360 and its developer, CDProjekt RED, manage to create a mature, difficult, and deep Fantasy RPG that is rivaled by none. It was clearly written for adults, and not because of the sex and cursing of which there is plenty, but because of the issues that you will face throughout the game. The game is, of course, a sequel to 2007′s The Witcher and both were based on the wildly popular Polish series of novels of the same name.
In it, you play as Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher. Witchers are monster hunters who receive special training and have their bodies modified by being exposed to potions and mutagens at an early age to provide them with supernatural abilities so they can cope with dangerous monsters, so you can imagine how everyone in the world reacts to them. It is a mixed bag of either disgust, fear, or wonder. Geralt is unique in that he could take much stronger doses of the doses/mutagens as a child. In the prologue (*VERY MINOR SPOILER* skip to the next paragraph if you want NO spoilers whatsoever) you learn that another Witcher is traveling throughout the land of Temeria and assassinating kings. After King Foltest, the King in which Geralt had sworn fealty to, dies, you are blamed for his death. The purpose of the game on it’s outset is to clear your name and bring the true Kingslayer to justice. It is a task that will lead you to uncover much of Geralt’s forgotten memories and cause you to make many morally grey choices. The author of the Witcher novels, Andrzej Sapkowski, created the world to be morally ambiguous, yet Geralt seems to have formed his own code of ethics that he lives by. In this way, you will be made to make many choices throughout the game that has resounding effects and that have no clear sense of right or wrong. There is no clear definition of hero or villain. You make difficult choices in whichever way you think is best and you are not meant to feel that you are evil or virtuous. You are a Witcher by the name of Geralt of Rivia, The White Wolf.
The game starts with the option to play a tutorial. Do it, people. This game is very much similar to Dark Souls in that, even after the brief tutorial, there is a steep learning curve. This game does not hold your hand, but that is one of the greatest things about it. The gameplay mechanics are simplistic enough to grasp for anyone familiar with RPG experiences, but they are difficult to master. You are able to equip different weapons and armor on your character, interact with other characters in the world through a dialogue tree, and craft different items such as bombs, traps, potions. You’re also able to improve your weapons and armor by applying different oils and poisons to your blade and by using armor upgrades that you can find and purchase. But, the way that The Witcher 2 goes about doing these things are masterful.
In the game, you can craft potions by gathering materials or purchasing them from a shop and then by ‘meditating’. In order to craft a particular potion you have to already have the corresponding formula. Meditating is also the only way you can drink potions. That’s right, there is no way to drink potions or heal yourself during battle. In fact, in the world of The Witcher 2, there is no such thing as a health potion. The potions that you are able drink before battle only provide buffs to your stats, such as increased health or an increase to the game’s version of mana. Over time your health will regenerate and you can improve particular skills through leveling that will allow you to heal faster inside and outside of combat. In order to craft weapons and armor, you have to, again, have the materials needed and the schematic for the items and then take all of that to a craftsman, such as a Blacksmith, to be made. Simple enough, right? Sometimes. Some materials, such as silver ore which is used to create Geralts silver monster-slaying sword, are difficult to find and expensive to buy, so you may spend a lot of time hunting or looting things to sell before you’re able to get these rarer materials.
The battle mechanics of the game are great. You are armed with two primary weapons, a steel sword and a silver sword. They are each best suited to a particular creature. Your steel sword will be used for slaying humans, and the silver one for monsters. What’s great about the game though, is the options that you have going into battle and knowing when to use what. Besides the normal swordplay of an Action RPG, you are also armed with the Witcher’s Signs, or the games version of magic. Starting out, you are only able to use your signs twice before having to wait for them to recharge, so using them wisely and effectively is the best strategy. Out of the several signs that you have, which are all available at the start of the game and upgradeable through leveling, you are able to shoot a fireball to burn your enemies, stun them so you can finish them off in a single blow, and even turn your enemies against each other for a short period of time. The one that is my favorite and the one I use most often is Quen. Upon using it, Geralt is surrounded in a protective barrier that helps to decrease the amount of damage you take, as well as reflect a portion of it back on your enemies. The only other defensive options that you have are blocking, with your sword, and rolling. You are never given a shield, and blocking only limits the amount of damage you recieve, it doesn’t cancel it altogether. The way you are made to prepare for a battle beforehand really makes this game, first of all, realistic and, secondly, very challenging. Switching between weapons, signs, or the items you’re holding in your pocket slots (eg, Bombs,Throwing Knives, Traps) is done by holding your LB button. This merely slows down time a bit though, so you still have to make your choices on the fly. So, knowing what options you have and planning your battle beforehand are critical to succeeding in The Witcher 2. The targeting system that you use during battle can be somewhat finicky sometimes, though. Often, when I was trying to target an enemy, my camera would swivel around and target another. Also, the only way to lock-on to an enemy is to hold down LT. It would have been much easier if it had been a toggle on/off setup like many other games of it’s ilk. Another complaint is the very hefty and, I think, over-complicated menu system. There has to be, at least, 20 tabs for your item inventory and finding something amongst all of the clutter can be very frustrating.
The game is beautiful. Somehow the developer, CDProject RED, was able to make this port look almost identical to the PC version, a feat nigh unheard of until now and something that I am sure was aided by the use of black magic. The graphics, especially the character models, look amazing. It is, without a doubt, the best looking game on the Xbox 360 to date, in my opinion. There are a few shortfalls, however. Geralt’s hair sometimes looks a little stiff, like a carpet blowing in the breeze. Also, I have noticed some texture pop-in in more detailed areas of the game, such as in the forest just outside of the first city you arrive in. This is just a mere inconvenience however, and the game still looks great. Also, the voice acting in the game is spot on. The translation was done masterfully and, as far as I noticed, there were no issues. There were a few places, especially one early on in the game during a loading screen, that a character was talking and it sounded very scripted. It, unfortunately did not sound natural in any way, shape, or form. But, this was the ony issue that really stood out for me.
The Bottom Line: This a mature, epic tale that has been masterfully ported to the Xbox 360. There is no clear reason to play this version if you already own the PC release, as they are both the same. Throughout the game, you will explore the morally grey lands of Temeria and be forced to make difficult decisions that will have resounding effects throughout the rest of the game. Because of this, it has a huge replayability factor, so that you can see all the game has to offer. It does have a few minor annoyances, such as texture pop-in, some poor voice acting in places, and a touch and go targeting system. But, it is a game that I would recommend to anyone and has become one of my favorite games of all time.
Nizulo gives the game a 9.5/10
The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings Enhanced Edition is now available for purchase for both Windows PC and Xbox 360. As of yet, there are no announcements related to the release of a PS3 version of the game.