The Witcher 2: Assassination of Kings Enhanced Edition
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Publisher: Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: April 17, 2012
The Witcher games are based off of a number of short stories and novels written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. In the Wiedźmin (Witcher) books, witchers are monster hunters who undergo physical mutations and intensive training as children, and have superhero-esque abilities. In Poland, a movie and TV series was released based off of the books, however they were so bad that the screenwriter remained unnamed in the credits, and the actor who played Geralt demanded to have his name taken out as well. Thankfully, the pc game had a better critical reception, and spawned a sequel, as well as a wave of desire among console gamers for their chance to play as Geralt of Rivia. After a false start and years of rumors, that time has finally come- The Witcher 2 was released for the Xbox 360 a little under a year after the PC release. Here's a breakdown of the game and whether it's worth 60 of your hard earned dollars, or just another Wiedźmin flop.
The Witcher 2 is the second in a series of games chronicling the journeys of a witcher named Geralt of Rivia, which has been further divided into chapters. Each part of the story stands on its own, but also links with the rest to blend onto the overarching storyline. To put it frankly, the plot of The Witcher 2 is probably the most well-written game that has come out for the 360. Like a tapestry, each story thread is beautiful on its own, and then when woven together they create a work of art. To understand the plot, you don't have to have played the first game, however some of the discussions between the main characters may be confusing initially. Through beautifully drawn "graphic novelesque" flashbacks, enough back story is given that new players can learn of Geralt's past, and veterans won't feel like they are being spoon fed a story they already know.
The world of The Witcher 2 is gritty and harsh, and Geralt's journeys are without a doubt written for an adult audience. Besides having copious amounts of bad language, gore, female nudity and sex, The Witcher 2 tackles drug use, rape, politics, racial insensitivity and class warfare. Alternately heartbreaking and amusing, the game spends time really creating a cast of good, evil and gray characters that players will care about, especially Geralt himself.
There are two brothels in TW2. They do lineups and soft porn, just like HBO's Cathouse series, and the girls have names like Arseletta and Licking Lucy. Win.
Each side quest is interesting and the secondary characters he meets along the way are equally as colorful. The localization is excellent, with none of the awkward speech that English speaking RPG fans have learned to expect from European developers. Even the journal entries, part of any RPG quest log, are written from another character's point of view and are more than just hints to you on what to do next, they're entertaining and worth reading even if you are not lost.
Like Fable, Mass Effect, and a few other console RPGs, the story of The Witcher 2 is basically a playable Choose Your Own Adventure book. With every dialogue choice, you get to customize Geralt's personality in ways that actually sound realistic. Whether he's humorous or cruel is really up to you, and the way other characters interact with him reflects your choices. Different questions open up more conversation options, and can give you plot information that you otherwise would never learn. Beyond dialogue, there are several pivotal points in the game where players have to make major choices, of who to ally themselves with and who to save or let die. With many different endings to the game, these choices really matter- but it's not just about the endings. Different choices will lead you to different areas, different plots and different sexual conquests. In fact, to experience every area and quest the game has to offer, you need at least four different play throughs.
In combat, Geralt can alternate between sword attacks and casting signs (magic) to either damage the enemy or buff himself. There are also a large number of different traps, bombs and throwing blades to help in the most dangerous situations. Geralt was animated with many flourishes and grandiose gestures to make you feel like an expert swordsman, and the whole experience looks quite fluid and impressive. Geralt fights with 2 swords, but not at the same time, and in the beginning it can be difficult to remember which button unsheathes which sword. The game takes care of this, however. Hitting the button to cast a sign will cause Geralt to pull out the appropriate sword for the enemy he’s facing. The trend in action RPGs lately is to simplify combat, making them more button mashers than anything. Going into the Witcher 2 expecting Fable combat is a huge mistake. Like the world Geralt inhabits, combat is tense and unforgiving. Dodging and blocking are important skills to utilize, especially since there are no instant use potions or healing signs in the game and Geralt will frequently outnumbered in fights by five or more enemies.
The beginning of the game offers a tutorial that barks orders like a drill sergeant, but it will most likely still take new you many levels to get accustomed to the controls and you'll end up dying like you’re playing Dark Souls. The autosave feature doesn’t kick in as often as it seems like it should, so you need to get accustomed to saving frequently (although, be warned, there are only a few save slots, regardless of hard drive size). Around level 10, it starts to feel more familiar, and the fights are much more manageable.
Take a hint, Geralt... you'll need this!
Even as the difficulty becomes less overwhelming, the game play is probably the weakest part of The Witcher 2. The controls are sluggish and unresponsive at times, making switching between magic and swords something that can't be done on the fly. The impressive flourishes can get so lengthy that combos have to be cut short just to be able to dodge in time. The magic and sword strikes have such powerful knock back that you will often have to dodge towards the enemy between blows, just to get in range for another strike. This gets frustrating against enemies that block, because they regain their guard more quickly than you can roll to them and you end up rolling into an attack. The overpowered bombs are great to have in difficult fights, but throwing knives are useless due to an extended aiming process, and traps need to be set before a fight starts in order to avoid taking a ton of damage while trying to set them.
Ways to make money are important in this game, where loot has virtually no resale value, and quests don’t pay considerably. Luckily the crafting system is extensive and the best armor and weapons in the game can be crafted with items you'll most likely have on hand, since you will have most likely hung on to everything you've come across due to low selling prices. Geralt can also use alchemy to create his own potions, which is only worth using if a player levels alchemy to a high level. The effects from basic potions often have negative side effects that end up hindering more than they help.
Besides looting houses, money can be made through several enjoyable mini games that really hit the mark. Every town has a number of people for Geralt to beat in poker dice, fighting, and arm wrestling. Poker dice is just like poker, but with dice. There aren't really any instructions with it, but there are numbers on each die and the hands are basically the same as regular poker. Completely luck based, it's not a reliable way to make money. The fight club is just fist fighting using QTE. It's fun, easy, and kind of satisfying, as every opponent is horrible looking and easy to imagine as some kind of pedophile or lecher. Arm wrestling is a simple game of keeping a cursor in the middle of a moving target that shrinks as it gets to one end of a line. Because there's no way to adjust the sensitivity of the controller in the game, this one may be more challenging than the rest.
Another problem with the inability to adjust the controller's sensitivity is the very flawed targeting system. Basically, looking at something is targeting it. In tight quarters, or when there are many possible items to target, there's no way to lightly nudge the stick over- it swings wildly. This seems to be a problem caused more by the porting of the game than anything else- the system most likely works very well on a PC.
The Witcher 2 is not a fast paced game. The fastest way to travel is by leveling up dodge and dodging around, but that doesn’t work in towns. There’s no sprinting, and no fast travel, except the occasional transistion to a location using a cut scene. While this isn’t a gamebreaker, it’s something that may irritate gamers used to games that allow you to warp between areas.
By far, the biggest failure in the Witcher 2 is the map. Without dimension, without reference points, without any sort of roads to show you how to get to point B from point A, the map is a disaster. I don't need a glowing trail or my hand held, but I do need some sort of distinction between the top of a mountain or the cave underneath it. The markers occasionally don't show up at all to direct Geralt, leaving you to wander in circles around confusing towns and forests. There are times that the map will lead just where Geralt needs to go, but most often either luck or the Internet will come into play until you learn their way around.
And sometimes the small map disappears from your HUD altogether...
After the story mode, the game also offers an arena mode, which essentially encapsulates all the worst parts of the game without any of the fun. Starting with a nearly unarmored and unarmed Geralt, you will fight through waves of better prepared enemies to earn points and money. The points are posted to a leaderboard, and the money can be used to buy better gear and pay mercenaries for their assistance. On the positive side, in this mode Geralt levels up very quickly, even when you die, however none of the non arena achievements will unlock in this mode.
If you’ve never seen the opening sequence of The Witcher 2, it simply needs to be seen. It’s a fantastic scene, showcasing some of the most incredible art ever made into a video game. The fire, ice, destruction and even the gore is painstakingly rendered into a fantastic cinematic that has no peer on the Xbox 360. That is not to say, however, that every cutscene in the game is up to that same level of quality.
The guy is on an ice boat that is shattering into a gazillion pieces and sinking under him, and you can see the hair on his forearms. Incredible.
The graphics in the Witcher are hit or miss. There are basically three quality levels, the opening CGI, the in-game CGI and the gameplay animation. For as high as the opening CGI set the bar, the rest of it became remarkably ordinary, and that's just disappointing.
Texture pop in is a problem with every in-game cutscene, just like every graphics heavy game. In a cutscene, every time the camera changes, the textures have to reload. It was hard to watch sometimes, and made things in the backgrounds look like they were moving. Even when they were loaded, there was no collision detection, as hair and necklaces freely swung through characters’ bodies, characters walked through each other and metallic objects fluttered in the breeze. Occasionally the frame rate would drop, and it would appear to just completely skip parts of scenes altogether.
During saving or loading sequences, the screen will flicker between a black screen and the game several times before finally loading. This also happened when achievements would pop. Installing the game did not change these issues. Several times it appears that the game is frozen, but it eventually comes back. There were no problems with freezing, corrupted saves, or sticky walls/ invisible rocks, so none of the graphical issues ended up interfering in combat or anything else.
Come on, Geralt, try to see things through Triss' eyes for once!
The scenery in the Witcher is beautiful, the fire and water look real, and there are some lovely characters. Things are somewhat monochromatic at times, and the night scenes are a problem, although there is a potion that allows you to see in the dark. The whole experience is better on an LED TV, or at least a larger HDTV, as smaller TVs and regular definition TVs lose a lot of the detail that makes the game great.
While the Witcher is filled with realistic characters and some lovely sorceresses, during close ups that suffers, and the characters appearances aren’t quite as polished as they seemed before. Alicia Silverstone would have called them “So Monet” in the 90s.
The townspeople seem to suffer from inbreeding, as there are only around 5 character models for each race and gender, and they only have 3 or 4 outfits. Considering CD Projekt Red went to all the time and trouble of giving each of these people a name, whether they were interactive or not, the lack of individuality makes them seem vaguely unfinished.
While the graphic quality of this game definitely varies, in general it matches up well with other games that have come out in the last few years, and the intro blows the rest away.
Second only to the story, the audio is one of the most enjoyable parts of the game. Doug Cockle, the voice of Geralt, is top notch. The rest of cast is excellent, as well, and adds up to an excellent experience, which doesn’t happen that often in video games. The music of the game is excellent, calm when it needs to be, and appropriately ominous at all the right times. Sound effects are well done and add to the game’s immersiveness.
LENGTH/ REPLAY VALUE:
At around 20 hours per playthrough, The Witcher 2 is short by RPG standards. It is, however, a game that requires multiple playthroughs, and the game length feels just right, if a little rushed at the end. It could have used a few more hours- something in between the second and third chapters, perhaps- but all in all it ends up being a fairly good length.
There is a great deal of replay value, as choices during the game mean that you will have a completely different story their next playthrough. There are always things that can be done differently, choices that can be made another way, and more than just mopping up achievements will bring you back, although that will be necessary as well.
BOTTOM LINE :
There are so many good things about The Witcher 2, that I can understand the large number of perfect scores floating around the internet for it. The story and soundtrack are as near to perfect as a 360 game has come. It is not, however, perfect. There are a lot of issues with the controls and responsiveness that should have been addressed. While it starts out head slammingly hard, the difficulty drops sharply, and makes the gameplay feel uneven. It showcases some of the best visuals for the 360, it also has frame rate, flickering and just plain quality issues that take away from the enjoyment. And don’t forget... the map is so bad! Still, I can see a huge market for a Witcher 3 game (me, me, me, ME!!), and hopefully other PC game developers will start bringing their games to the 360 as well!
LENGTH/ REPLAY VALUE: 9.5
FINAL SCORE: 9/10
And, because it's one of my new favorite things in the world, I'll leave you with some more screenshots of the opening cinematic!!!
Keywords: The Witcher 2, review, official thread, gratuitous 90s references; review