‘The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings’ Enhanced Edition Game Review
PC gamers have known how brilliant CD Projekt RED’s Witcher series is for some time now, but now Xbox 360 gamers can finally see what the fuss is about with the new improved Enhanced Edition.
It won’t take long to appreciate its greatness. In the first chapter of The Witcher 2, there’s a quest that makes you deal with a gigantic, drunken troll. He’s mourning the decapitation of his wife by some human hunter, and has been shirking his hysterically stereotypical bridge upkeep and toll collection job. Your task is to get that bridge up and running again, and while you can kill the distraught troll to finish the quest (you monster!) you can choose to find the hunter who killed the lady troll and avenge him- first by finding her head.
Now here’s where it’s easy to fall in love with the game — start a quest in another RPG and you’ll likely get a marker on your map (or even on-screen) to show you exactly where to go, who to talk to and what to kill. That does happen in Witcher 2 when a character or location is known to you, but it’s more likely that you won’t know and will have to do some legwork, talking to the people in town and actually exploring the place. This game does not hold your hand and treat you like a child.
In the case of this quest you’ll soon realize that in the nearby town some of the single gentlemen enjoy decorating their houses with the heads of wild animals in order to woo the ladies. Nothing says love like a stuffed head. You have to go house to house to see if anyone has a certain troll head adorning their wall. Find the person who owns it and you have a whole range of options for each stage of dealing with things, from getting the head back, finding out who the current owner bought it from, and then dealing with the hunter. A lesser game would have you simply moving from point to point on a map and clicking on things- here you’re exploring the world and really living out the experience.
It doesn’t hurt that the story in Witcher 2 feels like something out of A Game of Thrones, a mature and brutal story all about politics, Kings, loyalty and commitment. You play as Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher. Witchers are humans that are genetically altered at a young age specifically to kill monsters that plague the world. They’re trained in sorcery, swordsmanship and alchemy and Geralt is known for wielding two different swords on his back- a steel one to deal with humans and a silver one to deal with creatures. There aren’t many Witchers left in the world but everyone respects them… or fears them, at least.
You join up with Geralt as he’s being interrogated in a prison for the assassination of a King that he was supposed to protect, and through the investigation you’ll flash back to gameplay segments that show exactly what happened. The story picks up from there and is as epic as you’d hope, with massive battles, inventive quests, and a huge cast of characters.
We fear that 360 gamers will be afraid to jump into this second installment knowing nothing of the series. They shouldn’t be. Some old characters and plots return but it does a good job of explaining things for newcomers, and while the games does throw a lot at you at once, there’s a new tutorial level to get you up to speed. You’ll really need it because the combat can be brutal at first, although the 360 controls in particular are cleverly laid out and it’s easy for you to perform any abilities you need to.
The combat does feels similar to a game like Dark Souls, where every swing of your sword has an impact. This also means that if you don’t don’t learn how to block, parry and dodge correctly you’ll soon wind up dead, especially when you face a group of enemies. Fortunately you start the game with the six Witcher spells learned in the first game, one (Quen) that gives you a defensive shield that’s practically a necessity during some of the tougher fights. You can also use alchemy to create oils to coat your blades and drinkable potions that boost your stats and abilities, and you’ll need to find out what works for you in order to stay alive. It’s a must to use all the tools at your disposal for combat, especially considering that the game’s auto-save doesn’t quite work as advertised. Oh, you’ll see the little autosave icon swirling around in the bottom right corner of the screen frequently but you’re never quite sure when it’s actually working. It’s definitely recommended that you save as frequently as possible. Thankfully it’s very quickly done, although an auto-save button like in Mass Effect 3 would have been nice.
Speaking of Mass Effect, there are many ways through The Witcher 2 and a lot of tough decisions you have to make along the way. While this is a lengthy game it’s one that you’ll want to immediately play through again just to see what else could have happened. You will grow to genuinely like Geralt and understand his motives, pulled into the story via some fantastic writing and well-developed characters, with a nice streak of humor through the whole thing.
But if top-notch gameplay and plot isn’t enough, note that this Enhanced Edition is a significant improvement over what PC gamers originally got last year. There’s an absolutely stunning new opening animation, the graphics (especially the lighting) has been improved, there’s new cutscenes, new characters, new quests that total an additional four hours of gameplay, every one of the nine previously released DLC packs, and a “Dark” difficulty mode, if the game somehow isn’t challenging enough for you. (The one thing that could have been improved a bit is picking up items- for some reason the camera has to be perfectly aligned at dropped loot to pick it up, and when you do you get a whole clump of stuff, no matter if you wanted it or not.)
If that wasn’t enough, the game comes bundled with a soundtrack CD. We’re blasting it right now and it’s making us feel like rushing off to war with a sword, a world map, and a 90-page strategy guide that covers the entire game.
All of this adds up to a package that you should run out to pick this game up right now. It’s simply one of the best RPGs of this console generation, polished to near-perfection.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition ($60) was developed by CD Projekt RED and published by Atari for the Xbox 360 and PC. This review was taken from 35 hours with the Xbox 360 version with a copy provided by the publisher.