STAFF REVIEW of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (Xbox 360)

Friday, April 27, 2012.
by Adam Dileva

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Box art To be honest, I?ve not played the original Witcher until somewhat recently when it happened to be on sale. I tried playing through it; I really did, but was never able to finish it, though I always wanted to as I really enjoyed the characters and lore. The original Witcher released for PC back in 2007 and was very popular, and then last year PC gamers finally got a sequel, The Witcher 2 which turned out to be one of the best RPGs and game of 2011. The Witcher 2 was a mature action RPG that told an incredible story and had a solid foundation of game mechanics behind it to back it up. The problem for most gamers though is that unless you had a high end PC, you probably weren?t able to play it. Fast-forward a year and here we are, with the release of The Witcher 2 for Xbox 360.

After seeing all the footage for Witcher 2 on PC, I was honestly quite skeptical at how good a port it would be to console, as history shows us that quite a few PC games don?t always port well when having to be crammed into a console. Something has to give, and sure, it does here too, but not in any way that deters from the gameplay experience. The 360 version won?t look anything like the PC counterpart running on Ultra, but it does look fantastic for a console game and I?m quite surprised at how well it runs without slowdown or any major issues. It?s not completely necessary to have beaten or even played the first Witcher, as there is a recap included that sums up most of the important events that unfolded in the first game to catch players up to speed on what?s happening.

The Witcher 2 includes a deep and engrossing story that I can?t say enough good things about and a dynamic combat system that is much more skills based rather than stacking stats. The world looks lovely and incredibly detailed and all the characters are believable due to not only their excellent voice acting but because of how they?re portrayed. Things are much more complicated than ?good? and ?bad?, and characters will show their flaws, however so little which makes them that much more believable. The plot is captivating and I found it hard to put down due to its clever writing and excellent pacing.

For those that never experience the first Witcher, you assume the role of Geralt of Rivia, a professional monster slayer who?s lost his memory and trying to remember his past, piece by piece. Not only is Geralt a master of blades but he has the ability to use signs, a sort of magic that allows his role to be offensive, defensive, or supportive. Geralt is also an alchemist, making many potions along the way as you pick the nearby shrubs and bushes for rare ingredients. Being one of the few known Witchers left, Geralt will do what it takes to keep his lands safe.

It?s the thirteenth century, and the land of Temeria is consumed with political turmoil. Geralt seems to be entangled in this mess and awakes in a dungeon prison, shackled and bound. Vernon Roche has imprisoned Geralt for the supposed assassination of King Foltest. Geralt did not commit this crime, but has to explain his actions and everything that happened up to that point in a series of flashbacks, when he was actually trying to protect the King. Honestly, I don?t want to get into the plot much further simply because I truly enjoyed every event, spin, and surprised that was thrown my way. The subtitle of the game is ?Assassins of Kings? and you?ll learn quite early on why it is called so. There?s an overlaying plot of Geralt trying to attempt to recover his lost memories and why he has amnesia, and as you progress through the bigger plot points, smaller bits of memory will be revealed to Geralt about his former life.

I can?t say enough flattering things about the storyline and writing quality as I hung on every word and didn?t even skip any dialogue sequences, as I wanted to hear every line spoken. The Witcher 2 is without a doubt written and meant for adults, not only because of the rampant sex and violence (which there is much of), but the whole overlaying feel is so dark and gritty that you really need to pay attention to grasp all the minute details. It?s refreshing to see that everything in the world of Temeria isn?t so black and white, and you can?t always decipher who are the good and bad guys based on their looks. You?ll need to make important decisions as you progress; even choosing sides at one point, making all your decision feel like they actually have merit and a consequence.

At certain times you?ll even have a few short moments to pick your dialogue choice, and while these timed discussion options are rare, it makes you think quickly on our feet and seems to happen when it is really important to the storyline. The timing of these feed into your emotions at that point of time and really makes the choices you decide much more powerful. Be warned though, there are ?wrong? choices that will lead you to a game over screen if you?re not careful with your words at the proper time.

I?m not sure why, but I expected your average ten to fifteen hour game, what I got was well more than double that. Depending on your choice of difficult when starting out, you?re set out for an adventure that can take well over forty to sixty hours, contingent on how thorough with side quests and how much exploring you achieve. I never felt like the game was being dragged on arbitrarily for no reason and the well written and acted storyline kept pace the whole time, especially when I met some talking trolls. There is a high amount of replayability here as well given that there are many different story-altering choices to be made. You?ll need to play through Geralt?s journey a few times if you want to see all the events and sides to the story, though it won?t become tiring as the whole game is filled with quality content, start to finish.

While the story and plot took the driver?s seat for me, if a game isn?t fun to play, it doesn?t matter how good the story is. Luckily that?s not an issue here, as the combat is very action and skills based. Even from the very beginning, you?ll see how tough your enemies can be and no fight will be simple until much later on when you have a vast array of skills at your disposal. Part of Geralt?s definitive look is that he carries two swords on his back, one steel and the other silver. The steel blade is meant to be used against normal human-like enemies while the silver blade will deal more damage against unearthly foes. Geralt also has access to very powerful magic signs that aid him in battle which range from a simple fireball to even setting up magical traps on the ground.

Geralt?s signs become very powerful later on as you progress their ranks in the skills tree, but that?s not all that will help Geralt survive. As he?s an experience alchemist, he can make not only potions to help his offense and defense, but also create bombs and traps. You need to meditate when crafting and wanting to use a potions, which makes this segment of the game much more of a preparation game rather than spamming a button for a heal when you get low on health. This requires you to be much more definitive in your actions and deliberate in battle as the battles are fluid and will require more strategy as you venture further against multiple enemies. The only issue I really had with the combat mechanics is the very finicky targeting system, though you learn to work around it as you become more comfortable in battle.

The Witcher 2 might seems like any other loot based RPG at first since you?ll be searching bodies and barrels everywhere, but truly there?s so little meaning to coin in this game that I can actually count the times I upgraded my sword and armor (both of which are usually given to you after meeting a milestone in the storyline). Realistically, unless it?s a massive upgrade, it won?t really affect your combat performance all that much. The down side to having so much loot but nothing to do with it? You?ll have to constantly be finding a merchant to sell as I was almost always overweight and had to dump a lot of items. It doesn?t help that the inventory system itself is terrible and makes it even difficult to see what item you are currently using without having to compare against each item. It?s convoluted and you can?t easily see if an item is an upgrade with a simple glance.

So you may have noticed that to box boasts an ?Enhanced Edition? right on the front, as this is all the extended DLC and fixes that the PC players eventually got which relieved many of the issues that were apparent at launch. These extra features include more quests and gameplay, a super difficult Dark Mode, storage containers, new characters and locations, gameplay fixes, and even a new opening cinematic that looks absolutely stunning.

As I said before, this isn?t going to look anything like it does on Ultra settings on a PC (I?d say more like Medium), but it does look quite good on the console. There are a few minor issues though that plagued me throughout even with both game discs installed. There are big texture pop-in issues that happen quite frequently (seems to be almost every time the camera switches angles in a cutscene), some screen tearing at points, and various minor bugs (having issues going through doors at times or NPCs acting oddly), and a map system that only shows your end point, leaving you to figure out how to get there on your own. Normally I wouldn?t have an issue with my hand not being held, but there were a few quests that I had to go online and look up a walkthrough as I got stuck for quite some time in the second major city without any help of how to get to my destination. All of that being said, the combat and story are so well done and memorable that it?s actually rewarding to overcome these issues.

Everything in The Witcher 2 is very memorable and enticed me to continue playing, whereas I found it daunting to chug through the original Witcher and never did get around to finishing it. You?re in for a treat of amazing visuals, voice acting, animations, and storytelling that seems criminal to not be on TV. The Witcher 2 is extremely dark and adult orientated, even prompting my wife to ask why this isn?t a TV show as it reminded her of Game of Thrones. That being said, this is a very adult game full of cursing and even borderline softcore porn scenes, though it?s done in a classy way. This game is not meant for kids in any way, shape, or form.

If you didn?t have the powerhouse gaming rig to play Witcher 2 on PC last year, do yourself a favor and don?t miss it this year either. The 360 version may not be the pinnacle version, but it?s done well enough that there?s no significant detriment to tarnish the experience the developers originally intended. Witcher 2 is a very mature game, not only in content but also in execution. I?m not sure how they got a high-end PC game to look this well done on a console but they did it and impressively without any compromises. I know I?ll be thinking of Geralt when the Game of the Year nominations for 360 starts rolling around at the end of 2012.

Overall: 9.7 / 10
Gameplay: 10.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10


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