The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings – Enhanced Edition
Based on a series of fantasy novels by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski, The Witcher 2: Assassin’s of Kings – Enhanced Edition tells the tale of Geralt of Rivia. Geralt is one of the last witchers and makes his living as a professional monster slayer.
A port of the PC exclusive released back in 2011, the Xbox 360 version improves on its PC sibling with a number of new features. These include Dark Mode, a new difficulty setting, Arena Mode, where players pit their skills against unending waves of enemies, content from all nine previously released DLC packs, and two new story adventures totalling over four hours of gameplay.
Right from the start, it’s immediately apparent that The Witcher 2 boasts one of the densest and richest game settings in recent memory. A great deal of this is due to the detailed world and excellent character work established in Sapkowski’s novels. Anyone who has read the novels can attest to the fact that Geralt’s world is a living, breathing universe which approaches Tolkein-sian levels of detail.
At the onset, Geralt finds himself protecting King Foltest during the siege of La Valette Castle. After a great deal of bloodshed, Foltest is finally reunited with his two illegitimate children, Anais and Boussy who are accompanied by a blind monk. Believing the danger to be over, the witcher lets his guard down and is caught by surprise when the blind monk reveals himself to be an assassin. Slitting Foltest’s throat, the kingslayer leaps out a nearby window, leaving Geralt alone at the scene of the crime. In an effort to clear his name, Geralt vows to track down the kingslayer and this is where the game begins in earnest. It’s a riveting and mature tale which doesn’t back down from the heady themes found in the novels. Issues such as racial discrimination and the horrors of war are brought up constantly throughout the game, lending the plot a weight which is noticeably missing in other RPGs such as Reckoning: Kingdoms of Amalur.
As is usually the case in RPGs, a great deal of time is spent on levelling Geralt and developing his skills and abilities. This is accomplished through defeating enemies and completing quests. Thankfully, Geralt is extremely proficient with both his steel and silver swords and can make short work of most enemies. Combat sees Geralt flying back and forth in a dizzying dance of steel and blood. He’ll leap through the air dishing out one blow before spinning in the opposite direction to land another. This display of acrobatics bears some resemblance to Assassin’s Creed 2′s ballet of pain, but isn’t quite as fluid. It requires a sense of timing and a degree of awareness to Geralt’s surroundings. In the early going, blows from behind the witcher can deal up to 200% damage! Good thing he has other tricks up his sleeve.
The witcher can utilise some basic magic in the form of signs. These range from the Aard sign, a telekinetic forcewave, to Quen, a defensive buff. Strategic use of the signs can drastically affect a combat encounter and give Geralt the edge he needs to walk away from a scuffle. In addition to sword and sorcery, Geralt can also use secondary weapons such as throwing daggers, bombs and set traps.
In addition to the main plotline, there are plenty of side quests to wile away your time. These range from avenging a she-troll’s murder to exploring the ruins of a haunted asylum. Varied and entertaining, the side missions offer a welcome change of pace and, thankfully, don’t rely on inane fetch quests.
The one truly bad aspect of The Witcher 2 is inventory management. Ideally, an inventory system should feature a user-friendly interface which minimises the amount of time spent sorting out items in a menu. Unfortunately, the in-game menus feature too much information on each tab and are often confusing. Take the act of comparing damage values on two swords. Doing so in The Witcher 2 requires selecting a sword and then selecting an additional option to compare it with the currently equipped weapon. The logical solution would have been to include the damage values in a rollover. This is just one example of how the menus can be needlessly cluttered. It might seem like a minor issue, but given the amount of time you’ll spend navigating them, it quickly becomes a rather annoying flaw.
Developer, CD Projekt Red has done an amazing job in bringing Sapkowski’s vision to life. The Witcher 2 features some truly astounding art direction with incredible amounts of detail displayed in all facets of the game. From the coat of arms emblazoned on the uniforms of a Temerian soldier to the intricate detailing on Geralt’s potion pouches… it all adds up, creating a level of immersion which few other games have achieved.
Remarkably, the Xbox 360 version’s visuals compare very favourably with its PC big brother. Save for less sophisticated lighting, and lower quality textures, the entire affair looks wonderful and runs smoothly. There’s also some input delay when interacting with objects in the environment. Hitting a button to climb a ladder, only to see a second pass before Geralt decides to clamber up can get annoying. But, it doesn’t detract from the fact that The Witcher 2 is one of the best looking games available on the 360 and its success as a port is a testament to CD Projekt Red’s skill.
The soundtrack is the work of Adam Skorupa and Krzysztof Wierzynkiewicz and it does a fine job of crafting an aural experience which blends perfectly with the aesthetic direction of the game. The score features a wide variety of tracks which help to set the tone and atmosphere of each encounter. From the choral arrangements of the title theme Assassins of Kings, to the booming of drums on The Path of the Kingslayer, The Witcher 2′s orchaestral score provides a lush sound-scape which pulls the gamer further into the incredible world which CD Projekt Red has created.
Voice acting for the most part is good if not great, and is aided by a well-written script which packs some hilarious dialogue. The writers have done a good job in writing Sapkowski’s characters and this has allowed for a memorable experience from start to finish. It helps that the characterisation is consistent with supporting characters such as Triss, Vernon Roche and the like all receiving their a moment in the sun. Unfortunately, there is one area where the vocal performances falters and this is with regards to the repeated lines of NPCs. Like most modern RPGs, there’s a great deal of recycled lines spewed by unimportant character in the background. It isn’t game-breaking by any means, but it does break the immersion a little.
The Witcher 2 is a deep and rewarding journey through a wonderfully detailed universe. It’s not afraid to challenge the gamer and in doing so, makes it one of the most memorable gaming experiences in recent memory. The fact that CD Projekt Red was able to produce such a competent port for the Xbox 360 bodes well for future releases from this talented studio.