Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: CD Projekt Red
People have been clamoring for a console port of the excellent PC Witcher series for years now, and we’re getting at least halfway there with this release, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition for Xbox 360. Granted, you might feel a little lost coming into the experience without having played the original Witcher, a game you should totally seek out if you have an opportunity to do so on PC, but Witcher 2 works really well as a stand-alone tale for the most part. It’s also a damn good port, and hopefully it appeals to folks that haven’t played it before, because CD Projekt Red really poured a lot of work into pulling this off.
The Witcher 2’s biggest strengths lie with its excellent world, characters, and overall plot. It’s one of the most well thought-out RPG stories you’re likely to find across any platform, full of not particularly pleasant characters inhabiting a dark fantasy world that’s certain to draw comparisons to the now wildly popular A Song of Ice and Fire novels (Game of Thrones) from George R.R. Martin. The world found in the Witcher 2 is often harsh, ugly, and downright cruel, just like most of its inhabitants.
Battling through moral quandaries, demons, and other obstacles is Geralt of Rivia, the “hero” of the Witcher series, and the character you have direct control over. Geralt is a mutated human, specializing in killing monsters, that’s suffered a severe bout of amnesia and is stuck trying to piece his life together. After the king he was in service of is murdered, Geralt now faces the harsh sentence of Regicide, and needs to clear his name. These two plot lines interweave a tale of political conspiracy, more kingly murder, former friends turned foes, and a number of complicated elements that propel Witcher 2 past normal video game plotline fluff. Seriously, this story is about as involved as you can get, and it doesn’t hesitate to bathe you in terminology, names, and other lore that you might not fully grasp the first time through.
That’s not to say that it’s overly confusing, just that you’ll find yourself actually needing to pay attention to the events around you. It also has one of the best morality systems in place I’ve seen in a video game, in that there are a number of choices that need to be made that aren’t clearly good or evil. In fact, The Witcher 2 literally swims in a sea of grey moral issues, which really forces the player to make decisions based on what they actually think is right or wrong, as opposed to what the developers have deemed to be good or bad. These choices also have definite impact on not only the ending, but on current world events, and resonate throughout the story. Rarely do you make a choice that doesn’t have some significant impact, which is another huge plus.
Combat is another area where The Witcher 2 shines. It’s based on third person melee fighting, wherein you’ll use either a silver-forged sword for fighting monsters, or a more standard steel/iron variety for human foes. You can draw either weapon at any time, and outside of switching hands they work pretty much the same way. You can opt to battle freely with limited assistance from the game, or lock on to a nearby opponent to focus your attacks. While locked on you can also hold down the right trigger to maintain a defensive posture, used for deflecting and parrying attacks.
It’s easy enough to switch between enemies, and you’ll often be fighting groups of bad guys. It’s also remarkably easy to get overwhelmed when playing on any difficulty above easy, so don’t approach this as a simple hack and slash system. Geralt is aided by both magic and other tools, along with a variety of potions and oils that can be applied to his weapons for added bonuses. Using magic to incapacitate one enemy, then tossing down a couple traps to tie up more foes, while honing in your attacks on the biggest bad guy in the group is often a great way to approach fights, but you’ll find that there’s a lot of flexibility in the way you can approach just about every battle, which keeps the fighting from ever growing stale.
And while I really do love this title, there are a couple things that constantly bugged me throughout. One has to do with the loot system, which I guess compares a bit to the current-gen Fallout titles. There’s stuff to pick up just about everywhere in The Witcher 2, a lot of which seems like random junk but most of which ties into the game’s crafting and alchemy systems, which are pretty involved. However, when you’re looting different areas, houses, fields and so on, a lot of the materials are grouped together, and there’s no good way to just pick up the exact items you want to grab. Instead you need to grab things as a group, which becomes problematic due to the fact you have a weight limit on what you can carry. It’s easy enough to dump things you don’t want after picking them up, but being able to fine tune what exactly I’m picking up would have been great.
Another issue, tied into the crafting system, is the way purchasing schematics/plans/recipes works. Once you buy or find a plan to build traps, potions, or whatever, you can just visit a shop, pay a little money, and build said item provided you have the materials available to do so. But with dozens upon dozens of things to craft, keeping track of the schematics you currently own becomes a little problematic, especially when you’re going to buy new ones. Vendors will literally re-sell you plans you already have, and once you hit the last chapter of the game you’ll find yourself constantly running up and down the list of your own plans to make sure you’re not double buying things. It seems like this could have been streamlined or handled better than it currently is, and I wasted a fair share of currency on making stupid mistakes like buying the same plan twice.
Lastly, targeting NPC’s for conversation is less than ideal with analog targeting controls. This is an area that a mouse would really come in handy for, especially within the inns and bars where the NPC’s tend to gather. If they’re grouped tightly together it can be a pain to hit the one you mean to talk to. This is a pretty minor complaint overall, as a lot of characters are there to just provide filler text and don’t bog you down in a literal conversation window, but it’s one area that I could certainly tell PC controls would provide a better experience.
As a whole these complaints are pretty minor, they just stand out as something that gets more annoying to contend with the more you play the game, but do little to impact my overall enjoyment with the title. It’s worth mentioning that the game is absolutely beautiful, and while I’m sure there’s some loss in fidelity transitioning from PC to Xbox 360, it’s a stunning port overall. It’s easily one of the best looking titles on the hardware, with almost no technical issues marring its presentation.
So yeah, you should probably pick this up. It’s a fantastic game, even set aside from playing the original Witcher, so don’t be put off by the fact that you might not have played the first game. For console only players that have heard PC gamers talk endlessly about the merits of this particular title, you’ll finally get a chance to see what all the hype has been about. I don’t think you’ll come away disappointed in the slightest, as The Witcher 2 really delivers in every way imaginable.