As I was driving to work yesterday, I caught myself actually falling asleep at the wheel. I spilled coffee all over my crotch and that didn’t even arouse me. I am exhausted and I’ve been like this for weeks. Well, the team at CD Projekt RED is partly to blame. After conquering the PC crowd with The Witcher and The Witcher 2, they decided to give more gamers like me, the opportunity to enjoy the masterpiece that is, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, as the Enhanced Edition on Xbox 360 and PC. This is a review of the Xbox 360 version.
The team rewrote the game code and added some new content such as the intro, the tutorial, new quests and more. The enhanced edition, which is the regular price, comes with two game DVDs, an audio CD with game music, the world map, a quest handbook and game manual. It is incredible value for money. To make this all possible, the developers listened to feedback from fans and the majority of the improvements came from that input. To begin with, how could I call myself, “a gamer”, not having ever played this title before now? It was awarded PC game of the year by many outlets. If you are a fan of the RPG genre, you would be remiss to pass on this title. It breaks the mold; it reinvents the basic storytelling structure, in which you have recently been sold by other developers, as the best gaming has to offer. No my friends, this story, with its deep, intelligent, branching moral choices and well written narrative, is the best of what is around. It is the promise of hope for our future gaming experiences. The dialogue is natural and there are some conversations where you will have to pick your response in a timely manner. This is used in dire situations, similar to responding with an immediate reaction in the real world. This approach has a good flow and it feels organic.
The game’s intro movie is brutal to say the least. It sets the tone for the game. As you push start to play the opening, somewhat cumbersome tutorial, pay close attention as you will need to rely on this information for the rest of your combat experiences. The fighting is very strategic and challenging; even on the easy difficulty setting it can sometimes be frustrating. I wasn’t bold enough to brave the dark mode, which is the game’s most sadistic and masochistic difficulty.
To better succeed in battle you must obtain recipes and ingredients for potions, these need to be taken prior to combat. Before my first boss fight, I had forgotten to prepare and it was devastating. Unfortunately, you can’t meditate in the middle of a fight, so plan ahead! Watch your foes as they fear their demise, wait, then hit them with a magic spell or two just for show. It is so satisfying.
The swords in this game are also important, they come in two varieties, steel for human and silver for beasts. Although both can be used against each enemy, choosing the correct weapon and applying the correct oils will provide a more advantageous effect. The game has a lock on mechanic while fighting and when you down one opponent you will automatically and very quickly slash into the next closest enemy. Blocking, rolling and parrying are critical to gaining the upper hand. Be sure not to leave your back exposed as enemies will inflict double the damage if they hit you from behind, which can sometimes be an instant death. It feels as though the developer may have taken a cue from Demon Souls as although the strategies necessary to overcome your opponents are not as precise as From Software’s respectable work, they do have some similarities.
You play as Geralt of Rivia, known to some as The White Wolf, renown to all as The Witcher. As a child he was subjected to mutations and was trained in sword and sorcery. He is a superhuman, monster slaying bad ass that has returned from the events that took place in The Witcher 1. He must defend his home fortress and his king. He must protect the ones he loves and recover memories of his own personal past, because his history in his mind is just that, forgotten. Usually, when I’m wrapped up in an RPG, I try to be the Ferris Bueller of the world. Within this narrative, it is impossible to make everyone happy. You will, without a doubt, hurt more than just feelings. My Witcher was more of a Han Solo/Terminiator, some people will actually run in fear when they walk up to your character. I guess it could just be that body part hanging from your waist that you call a trophy. While in a conversation with many of the characters you meet, you sometimes get a chance to pull off a sort of Jedi mind trick. With the snap of the fingers and a glow of Geralt’s animal eyes, the results can be astonishing. When I realized I was going to intimidate a lot of people, I sort of gave up on being a good guy. I once told two guys I would lead them to safety only to turn and laugh as I led them to their deaths screaming. I had over 50 bios in the menus for characters I had interacted with. They all had their own story that fit into a world I was fighting so desperately to remember.
The game is brutally violent but also possesses intelligent and serious tones and has a healthy dose of humor. One of the characters that made me laugh the most was Mavrick. He crapped his pants out of fear. So people were calling him, “The Crapper” and obviously with good reason. By the way, a lot of characters in this game crapped themselves publicly out of fear. Poor Mavrick should have just gone and hung out with those guys. They could have started their own defecating army. Chances are they would have stunk out all of their enemies, far, far away. Anyway, Mavrick wanted my help, I just never got around to it. I will on my next play-through. There is also the circus lady in Chapter 3, make sure to save 200 orens to pay her. She’ll show you something unique and it’s worth every penny. As for staying on top of the overall story, I highly recommend hitting the select button and pulling those triggers until you see the menu with character bios and also books. Read them, and really anything else that will help you wrap your head around the story and it’s characters. Just go all in, take in every piece of knowledge you can.
The narrator is Dandelion, and actually Geralt’s friend. As you play through the game, making important decisions and completing quests, there is something important for you to notice. Dandelion adds entries into the journal that detail your progress and summarize your journey. Dandelion’s updates are used in a very unique way, a way that I’ve never seen done in a video game before, well, similar to Alan Wake I suppose but completely different and with more effort. Anyway, he is telling your story as it has just happened and it can, very much be a different story with each play-through. With each of the games different branching directions and up to 16 separate endings, Dandelion has an awful lot to tell.
As I mentioned the mature rating is there for good reason, don’t let the kids play this one. Just to emphasis this, there is a dark story, racism, very foul language, brutal combat, amputated heads, public hangings, rape, murder and plenty of raw adult content. I hate to overuse comparisons but the Game of Thrones HBO series is a good example and this game has a very similar tone. That particular television show, with all of its glowing praise, has a comparable type of content in both quality and quantity. I will speak to a specific part of the adult themes you come across in various well done cut-scenes. Within the first few minutes of the game’s actual opening, Geralt is in a tent with his, “close friend”, and Sorceress, Triss Merrigold. Obviously they are a lot closer than I am, to my own personal close friends; I mean we hang out, but not literally. Miss Merrigold and The Witcher let it all hang out in the tent. Well that is, we see that Triss is a very proud all natural woman. This scene in particular had me quoting a famous line from the movie, Revenge of the Nerds. As soon as you withdraw from your close friend, and leave the tent to walk your first steps in this exciting action adventure, you realize how alive every bit of this world is.
Your surroundings are overflowing with details, from the archers doing their duties to the birds flying overhead. When I walked over the top of a campfire, I actually caught on fire. I’ve always wanted developers to pay attention to the details as simple as, a fire actually burning you. It pulled me in. It almost feels like you are there, as a rare Witcher, begrudgingly leaving the side of your comfort, ready to take on the violence, to clear your name, to regain the knowledge of who and what you are. Like the beginning of a good book or brilliant opening to a critically acclaimed film, this is a glorious prologue. Really, this is where the game grabs you and doesn’t let go. It is wooing you, showing you the first sign that if this game is this good all the way through, then I’m hooked. My friends, get ready, it’s going to be something to remember.
One more mention just to stress, this is a mature game. Geralt later in game falls into a situation that had me dreaming up a new, “if I could choose a superpower what would it be scenario”. Triss magically disrobes, I mean she actually uses magic to make her own clothes disappear. Could you imagine the fun you would have at the grocery store with this one? Or at work, church or anywhere for that matter, it would be a brilliant power. It would also be entertaining if the main character himself had this power to use in game at any time, to any one, in any situation, with a simple push of a button. The kings telling me off again, oh well, I’ll just have to embarrass him in front of all these citizens. Oh yeah, there are also prostitutes in the game world. Virtual virginities will now be lost the world over. I once saw a lady of the night in the middle of the day. I paid her a handsome sum just to talk, I swear. Whistling Wendy was her name. It was part of a quest, I might add, so don’t think I’m lying. If you don’t want to take part in these moments of leisure, you don’t have to. I’m not one to mix business with pleasure but if I were to do that, out of all the entrepreneurs I came across, personally I would go with Arseletta. I’m just saying, its such a great name. There are also mini-games involving dice, arm wrestling, and fighting. You can also obtain paid quests from random bulletin boards in towns.
The score is driven and powerful. The music wants to tell a story and it does it well. The graphics are incredible, among the best on your console. Though, I do suggest installing it onto your hard drive, as do CD Projekt RED. Although obviously a technical achievement, the game is riddled with texture pop in. There are graphic novel style animations that are intertwined throughout the game and they are done with a level of polish that this product deserves. Side quests are not like that of a traditional RPG. These missions feel more like huge additions to the story, not run of the mill fetch quests. I have noted a few issues I came across in my play through already, I’ll go into a few more, but are for the most part trivial and shouldn’t take away from your experience. Your friends in game can be rude, and shut the door in your face. That is a little annoying, along with the loading screens every time you fight to get through one of those doors. You can push in the left thumb-stick to go into a mode that shows loot in the area, while this does help find items picking them up can be an issue, as when you go to pick up an item, you can’t select the item of your choice, you actually have to collect everything. Sometimes you’ll find yourself running in circles trying to pick up an item, because of A button sensitivity.
My biggest problem appeared when I tried to become familiar with the map. It can get confusing, especially if you are in a multiple level area. Yet, the only real bug I experienced was at two separate points in the game after dying, when my character re-spawned, he wouldn’t move. This led me to reload twice. Also, at one point in the game, I was told to collect my weapons. I couldn’t find them. The person I had given them to, had put them in a container behind the area he was standing. I know, my fault, I should have been more aware. It was pretty late though and I was tired.
One more thing before I’m finished whining, I think it would benefit everyone involved, if there was also a choice to play as a female. That could be very interesting in this setting.
I was immersed in this world from the very beginning until the credits were done rolling and I witnessed the last cut scene. The team that brought us this adventure thanked their loved ones in those credits. I would like to thank the developers and all that helped make this 360 port possible and for pouring their hearts into this fine work of art. It captured my heart and I hope it does yours too. You deserve to play this game and we all deserve to play The Witcher 3. By the way, I was just joking about the poop sock, that’s just plain disgusting. Drive safe, and go pick up The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings-Enhance Edition. Play the game, take a break, go to the rest room like a normal human and then get plenty of rest, your going to need it. I would also like to thank the guys over at The Veteran Gamers Podcast for spreading the word on the great games and the not-so-great. Usually when the guys talk about a game they do a review sound to let you know how good the game is. Well, my sound for this review is a WooHoo!
4.5 out of 5