CD Projekt Red brings their savage, gritty, and mature title: The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings to the 360 in their console debut. All the amazing and intricate things that made this fantasy RPG one of the best games last year on the PC are here on the 360 in full stride. Controls feel very fluid and combat is more fun than ever. The intriguing political story will have RPG fans new to the series invested right from the start, and will give players who are revisiting it satisfaction with the new elements that were added in the Enhanced Edition. The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings is one of the best titles I have played so far this year.
+Fantastic story with intriguing plotlines and characters
+Terrific and rewarding combat system
+The use of the 360 controller feels even smoother than when you could use it on the PC version
+New cut scenes are very cool and help guide the story
+Holds nothing back on its mature rating.
+Years into the 360’s lifespan it takes advantage of both discs and the visuals are great
-Clunky menu navigation that they should have fixed when moving to a console
-Some long loading times (when installed on your hard drive it helps a lot)
-Some voice actors are not on par with other terrific ones
I was a big fan of CD Projekt Red and their game The Witcher back in 2007. So when the sequel was announced a couple of years ago for PC’s I was very excited. Then I heard about how amazing the brand new engine was they made themselves, and that it would take a powerful PC to run it. I was less thrilled then, since at the time I had not updated my PC for a few years and knew it was not going to work by any means.
Behold the day came when The Witcher 2 Assassin of kings hit the shelves. I found myself staying at my friends house until ungodly hours of the night playing on his power gaming PC and hardly seeing my wife, and when I would see her, I was talking about how amazing this game was (you can check out my Witcher 2 review for the PC here, where I gave it 9 shogun throwing stars out of 10 and was one of my games of the year for 2011) and how I wish I could get her to play it, as my wife loves fantasy RPG’s almost as much as I do.
Not long after its release there were already rumors about how they might be making a port for the 360. I played through most of the Witcher 2 with a Microsoft controller on the PC anyway, so I though with some minor tweaks this might be a rather decent port compared to most. Months and months go by and as it turns out the rumors were true. Only the release date was set for sometime in 2012, and then delayed a few times still. This told me however that the guys over at CD Projekt Red did not just intend to make a generic port. They wanted to spend delicate time making sure that their product was no less than the best it could be for the 360, and even though I had already experienced the story on the PC, I found myself as excited as ever for this release on the 360 with achievements and all! Now that I have had decent time spent with The Witcher 2 Assassin of Kings: Enhanced Edition for Xbox360, I can finally answer all those pressing questions: How does the game hold up from the PC version? Or: How is it as a standalone?
If you are new to the series let it be known that you play as Geralt of Rivia. A white haired, yellow eyed, magic casting, sword wielding bad-ass, who happens to be a witcher (a hired out monster hunter) who has a bad case of amnesia. You find out soon that there is another witcher on the loose killing off kings, and the entire ordeal gets pinned on you, so you must now track down this kingslayer to clear your name. It is definitely a good motivation to get you on your not so merry way.
Like with all true sequels, if you missed the first game back in 2007 you will feel, at times, slightly lost amongst all the characters you have a shared past with. Having the character have amnesia definitely helps the feeling of being in his shoes, as it is very rewarding when someone comes up to you and acts as if they know you, and just when you are feeling out of place, Geralt speaks up and asks just who the hell this person is, as if answering your call. However there are no holding hands or coddling in this game, if someone Geralt dealt with in the past stops by, they will let you know, whether through actions of aggression or praise. On the plus side of this, it does all add to the feeling that you are in a very rich and real world with a deep history and characters that have existed in it. And how deep you want to dig is up to you, with countless books to read on the world, or people to talk to and listen to stories with, you can get your fill of the history on the world of The Witcher 2.
The biggest thing with any port is to get it to feel right. The movement and the controls have to be taken care of delicately, and you can’t make it feel rushed or sloppy in any way. Thankfully the Witcher 2 takes care of those criteria fantastically. The movement of Geralt feels perfect with the 360 controller, and the button layout has been improved from the default of the PC version when you use a wired Microsoft 360 controller. The only part lacking that remains true even on the PC version, is the menus themselves, though artistic, they feel rather clunky, and the navigation with the 360 controller doesn’t help. They definitely could have used an overhaul in that regard, as it is easy to acquire tons of loot early on, and not having a sufficient way to rummage through and sort it out makes it feel like getting all this new stuff can be a bit of a burden at times.
The games combat feels as good as ever (if not better) on the 360. As Geralt you are accustomed to carrying two swords with you at all times: a silver one for the more monstrous and supernatural of foes, and a steel one for the humans, elves and the type. It is very easy to switch between the two as they are assigned to the left and right of the D-pad. You can also string quick and heavy strikes together using the A and X buttons respectively, and dodge away from harmful blows with the B button. As a witcher however, you will be fighting not just with swords but also with spells, or “signs” as they are called. They range from the basic fire ball and force push type, to the more strategic debuffing and trap like. As you level up you will unlock more or simply put more points into one to make it all powerful. During combat you can have one sign equipped to the Y button so you may fire it off frequently. It is also easy to switch during combat as a press of the left bumper will bring up your combat wheel, which brings the action to a very cool movie like slow motion, and then you can select different signs from there, or even select traps, bombs, or throwing knives which can be equipped to another button on the go. It is a combat system that is easy to get the basics, but it takes a while to master, and is there for all the more rewarding when you do. Safe to say you will feel pretty good about your witcher self when you start putting together combos of light and heavy sword slashes, tossing a bomb at upcoming targets, and seeing another enemy from behind run into a sign you set up before hand, only to spin around and toss a throwing knife at him.
The leveling up system works well, although maybe a little confusing at first, but you start to see and feel the effects of your choices right away, whether you are specializing in swordplay and you unlock new moves, or are taking the alchemy tree and are brewing several concoctions before each battle. The potions you can create or purchase can only be consumed before battle, which makes sense and makes you more cautious during battle knowing you can’t drop a bunch of health, and then simply pop a health potion and feel right as rain. The oddity is that the brewing potions is in a completely different menu than consuming them, and feels like a poor choice.
None of this takes away from the heart of the experience, which for me was the story. From the political plotlines, to characters and races you care about, all have you entwined in this beautifully crafted journey. The game does not shy away from its mature rating either, with some of the most intense sex scenes a video game has seen. It all helps add to the realism of this title, where games like Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning thrive off of the bright and fun elements of fantasy, this title seems to engross itself in making it feel as real as a fantasy game can. It feels like the Game of Thrones of video games, but with more monsters.
Every decision you make in the game will be felt in some way, whether with huge consequences, or subtle differences. And with the lack of a morality system in place, all the decisions come down to how you want your Geralt to act, instead of most “this is my good play through” style that most decisions are based around in games. You will not find a clear “good” or “bad” choice, everything in the Witcher 2 falls into a grey category. There are some exceptions like helping an innocent man not being killed is obviously a morally “right” choice, but it is up to you if you want to demand money after helping him, and with no morality meter to ding you, it is completely up to you how you take Geralt through his experiences.
The excellent voice acting only helps to bring these characters to life, and with so much of the game voice acted, it’s a good thing that it is so good. There are some exceptions, when a certain character does not feel up to par to the other high quality ones you have been hearing the entire time. But this in no way takes away from the overall polish and presentation of the experience.
New to this Enhanced Edition are several new quests, which help balance all the acts in the game, as well as a new opening cut scene that also helps shed new light on this kingslayer you are so determined to track down.
Altogether the very few and minor hiccups it has do not detract it from being an overall great experience. The visuals, although not as strong as on a high powered PC, are beautiful, and the longer loading times can be helped by installing the game discs on to your hard drive. Even that the PC version still comes out as the best version of this game (especially with a high powered PC) with better visuals and almost no loading times, the 360 has a lot to offer, and whether you are jumping in to the Witcher series for the first time, or simply want some of those addicting achievement points the PC version doesn’t offer, it is well worth sinking your teeth into this grand adventure, and with this new installment, I can add it to my 2012 games of the year pile! If you are a fan of this genre in the slightest, do yourself a favor and pick this title up!