The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition Xbox 360
It is surreal how fast time flies. It’s nearly a year since I bought a new PC to play The Witcher 2 on full settings. I personally felt that The Witcher 2 was robbed from winning the best RPG of 2011. Everyone seems to have given Skyrim the vote, but all that game did was give players vast areas to explore which were never truly that gripping. The Witcher 2, on the other hand, had much more engrossing combat that was challenging, improving over the original game in every way. It also had better narrative, with a mature world that was much smaller than Skyrim, but felt more interesting and full of life due to its compact nature and fewer wastelands of emptiness. Having fantastic graphics, an amazing soundtrack and art direction that made elves and dwarfs feel unique in a fantasy setting – which is pretty darn hard to do nowadays – was just the cherry on the top. It was an exceptional game all around and one of my favourite RPGs of all time.
Now CD Projekt Red has brought this fantastic game to all the Xbox 360 owners in an Enhanced Edition version of The Witcher 2. What does this mean? Well, the Xbox 360 version features additional content, over four hours of new gaming to be had to be exact. There’s also a brand new opening cinematic, new cutscenes, new locations and quests, new characters and an extended ending. That’s a ton of new stuff. What’s even better is this – if you own the PC version already, you don’t have to feel left out as the company is giving you all the upgrades for free. In a world that’s filled with DLC, day 1 or not, and on disc content that you have to pay to unlock, it’s amazing what these guys are doing. They really do care for their fans.
The plot of The Witcher 2 follows the legendary Geralt of Rivia. His profession is a Witcher – people who have been genetically enhanced and mutated from a young age and trained to fight monsters and other unholy beasts. The Witcher 2 follows on from the end of the first game. Hired as King Foltest’s bodyguard after a failed assassin attempt, Geralt is later found in a bad situation and is assumed to have killed the King he swore to protect. The journey that follows is about Geralt trying to clear his name, recover his memories and find the real Kingslayer to stop a plot that could disrupt the rulership of the kingdoms.
As stories goes, The Witcher 2 is a world full of multifarious adult topics such as racism, politics, violence, sex, rape; the list goes on, though this isn’t a cheap attempt to get some publicity. You take part in a believable world where races hate each other because of what they’ve done; commoners cuss and look… well, like dirty commoners. The world of The Witcher is so incredibly detailed that I loved every minute exploring what they put in front of me. It’s just a shame you only get to see four fleshed out areas of this nasty, but beautiful world. The greedy person inside of me wants more.
It’s not just that the story is great and gripping, but the choices you pick over the course of the game aren’t as simple to breakdown as say Mass Effect, where that game simply throws good or bad options highlighted in your face so you can’t miss them. The Witcher 2 stays clear of alerting you to obvious choices, leaving you to interpret if you made the correct choice or not. There’s even one choice in the game that changes the outcome of a certain chapter, taking you on a whole different quest line and area of the map that you wouldn’t experience if you make the other choice. It’s a game that needs to be played through twice to take in everything that it has to show you.
Moving from PC to Xbox 360 was easy in regards to controls since the PC version already has built in 360 pad support. The layout for the pad works perfectly fine, and should be no trouble for anyone to pick up. What people might have an issue with is the challenging combat; there is no button mashing here. The Witcher 2 offers one of the better fighting mechanics for an action RPG and requires you to be patient and wait for openings. Healing isn’t an option in battle; you have to be careful, especially at the game’s opening when Geralt is weaker and will be taken down within a few hits. It’s not quite as tricky as Dark Souls, but, if you’ve never played it, you might need to adapt from other RPGs on the market. I highly recommend you save often. Unlike the PC, the Xbox 360 doesn’t auto save whenever you transition places. I’m not exactly sure what it does to pick its auto saves, but I’ve died and lost 30 minutes of progression because of it. You can save anywhere, so it’s more about remembering than the hassle of actually doing it.
Geralt comes equipped with two types of swords, steel and silver, which are important to defeating monsters and enemies. One can only be equipped at a time, but a quick tap of the D-pad can switch you to the other one in a flash. Geralt can use these swords as quick attacks or slower strong attacks. Chaining these is pretty simple as you can tap them to continue the combo, although using a combo of strong attacks can give the enemy a chance to break out of the combo and block if you don’t time it right. You can also lock onto enemies and dodge attacks by rolling out of the way.
Players have the ability to assign one magic to a button and one support item to another button. Magic can help you freeze enemies on the spot, take over their mind or simply burn them with a fireball. Items like snares, bombs and daggers assist you in dealing damage, and The Witcher 2 neatly implements the ability to access spells and items on the fly by simply holding down LB. Doing so will make the game go into slow motion, allowing you to pick what you want to assign without worrying too much what’s happening on screen. It removes the hassle of stopping and starting to peruse menus when you want to assign something different. Frankly, I’m still surprised this system hasn’t been implemented more.
When you aren’t fighting, you’ll be taking part in quests. What’s pleasant about quests here is that most are detailed and tell their own story, adding personality on top of NPCs you meet around the land. It fills out the lore of the world too, making you want to take part rather than just doing them because they give you experience and new items. Quests can cover all sorts of topics, such as helping a guy steal a merchant’s recipe, helping a troll find his wife and solving a murder mystery in a Dwarven town. Even simple tasks as hunting down monsters – the typical killing quests that fill up RPGs – are given more care here as you have to investigate the monster first to be able to progress in the task. I can probably count the quests that I felt weren’t all that enjoyable on one hand, not something I feel often happens in games like these. Experience points can be distributed into three main roles: Swordsmanship, Alchemy and Magic, giving players different ways to build up Geralt’s ability during a playthrough.
A big question that many people are going to ask is about the graphical quality of The Witcher 2 on Xbox 360. The PC game was a gorgeous spectacle, featuring highly detailed textures and lush environments, meticulous character models and beautiful lighting. When it was all blended together, I felt that The Witcher 2 was one of the best games graphically I had ever seen. That’s not just about realism, but also because of the awesome art direction.
CD Projekt Red have done an amazing job porting it – well, I shouldn’t say porting as they’ve spend ages building it up from the ground to work on the system. The Xbox 360 is around seven years old and the developers have done technical wonders to get it running and looking as good as it does on such old hardware. The game appears to run around 30 fps and compares to the medium settings of the PC version. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect. The draw distance for the foliage is lowered, so you’ll see them occasionally pop in. Also, the textures don’t always immediately load – similar to what happens in games that use Unreal Engine 3 – though it’s not as bad here. Colours seemed more washed out as well, losing some of the richness in the environments. Some of the texture problems can be sorted out by installing the game to the hard drive, which the game alerts you to when you first start it. Even with these niggles, it’s still one of the best looking games on Xbox 360.
The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition dishes out additional content on a game I already loved so much. Gamers who don’t play games on the PC have a chance to play it on their Xbox 360 without that much of a compromise. If you’ve haven’t played The Witcher 2 yet and own a 360, you have no excuse not to buy one of the best RPGs the genre has had to offer for some time. Mature, gorgeous, well-designed, brilliant story and rich with great characters, I could go on about how great it is. But don’t waste time listening to me – find out yourself and go buy it now. It’s that good!