If you prefer to play your games on a console rather than a PC, then chances are you’ve probably read about CD Projekt RED’s The Witcher 2, but have yet to sample its delights. That, or your PC gaming pals have been telling you about how good it is since it was released for the platform in May last year. Don’t worry though, you’ll soon be able to discuss the epic RPG with them, as The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition is heading to the Xbox 360 on April 17th, bringing with it a few console specific changes. Has the transition to the Xbox 360 hurt the game, or is it just as good as its PC counterpart? Read on to find out.
Game: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition
Developer: CD Projekt RED
Publisher: Namco Bandai
With the land of Temeria embroiled in political conflict, The Witcher 2 kicks off with Geralt of Rivia in prison, wrongly accused of assassinating King Foltest. Geralt is, of course, the game’s protagonist and a Witcher – known for his strength, magical abilities and monster slaying prowess. He’s also a bit of ladies’ man, but sex is the last thing on Geralt’s mind at the beginning of The Witcher 2, as he’s hell bent on escaping the prison and tracking down the real assassin. After a quick re-cap of events leading up to King Foltest’s assassination, Geralt (with a bit of help) manages to escape the prison and sets off on an epic journey that will eventually lead him to the Kingslayer, and also aid him in discovering parts of his lost memory.
The story is most definitely one of the strongest points of The Witcher 2, as it touches upon and deals with topics most games wouldn’t dare, or just wouldn’t be able to handle as well. As mentioned before, Geralt’s a hit with the ladies in Temeria, and even the sex scenes (there are a few) are handled quite well. It’s a mature tale that rightly earns its 18 rating, but that’s not just down to the violence and sex, the topics the story touches upon play their part too. That’s not to say the story is extremely serious, far from it, as it’s filled with moments that will make you chuckle. The use of the word “plough” instead of a certain well-known curse word is particularly funny, and is guaranteed to get a laugh out of you when you hear it uttered.
That said, the most impressive part of The Witcher 2’s tale isn’t its tone, it’s the way it unravels thanks to the choices you make. Most RPGs give you the illusion of choice, and tack on a number or symbol that gives you immediate feedback, letting you know if you made a good, evil or neutral decision. Whilst there’s nothing particularly wrong with that kind of system, The Witcher 2 goes down the opposite route, making the story more personal and engrossing. Throughout the game, you’ll be asked to make choices, but not once do CD Projekt RED make any of them obvious. In fact, there is no good, evil or neutral choice, instead you’re encouraged to make the decision you want. In most cases, there’s no instance feedback, but you will see and feel the repercussions of your choices as the game progresses. It’s a superb method of storytelling, giving each story based moment in the game (big or small) some weight, making you genuinely think about the choice you’re about to make.
Make no bones about it, if you’ve got a beast of a PC capable of running The Witcher 2 on the highest setting it will look better than the Xbox 360 version. That said, CD Projekt RED has done a fantastic job in bringing one of the best looking PC games around over to the Xbox 360 without losing a great deal of visual fidelity. If you were to compare the Xbox 360 version to the PC one, it would probably sit somewhere between medium and high, with the former setting being more prominent. Compare it to other high end Xbox 360 titles, and The Witcher 2 shines brightly. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say it’s one of the best looking games on the system. CD Projekt RED’s RPG more than matches up to the big hitters on Microsoft’s console in terms of technical oomph and visual style.
Character models and environments look fantastic, with some impressive textures and visual effects backing them up nicely. The game runs very smoothly as well, with the frame rate being stable throughout, even during some of the bigger combat scenarios. Sadly, the Xbox 360 version does suffer from texture pop-in, an issue that is most noticeable during the beginning of cutscenes. This is the case even if you install the game’s two discs to your hard drive. Textures will take about a second or two to load in, which isn’t that long at all when you think about it, but noticeable due to the fact that the rest of The Witcher 2’s visuals are so wonderfully crafted.
Complimenting the game’s visuals extremely well, the audio in The Witcher 2 is also very impressive. Sure, some characters in Temeria might only utter a line or two, but almost every person you come across in the game has a voice. Whilst some character’s voices aren’t particularly great, the majority of the voice acting in The Witcher 2 is stellar. There’s a distinct “ye olde English” vibe to the land of Temeria that’s replicated well via the voices of the characters you come across throughout the game. Some characters will sound Welsh and others will sound Scottish, yet each one is believable within the confines of The Witcher universe.
Geralt’s confident, yet calm voice is the obvious audio highlight, but some of the chatter you hear as you explore the land of Temeria is just downright hilarious. Whilst some of it is repeated if you visit the same location more than once, you’ll still find yourself chuckling away at the conversations or random shouts you hear. As mentioned earlier, you’ll find that the word “plough” is used quite often, especially if you’re conversing with a Dwarf or happen to be in a tavern at night. It’s actually hard to fault The Witcher 2’s audio, each aspect of it has been so expertly put together, helping to create a believable and immersive universe.
CD Projekt RED are a development studio known for their attention to detail and quality, a fact which shines through with the Xbox 360 version of The Witcher 2. They could’ve gone down the easy route, toned the PC version down a little and simply ported it over to the Xbox 360, but that’s not how they work. Whilst the PC version was playable with a control pad, it wasn’t exactly built around it. CD Projekt RED has completely overhauled the controls with the Xbox 360 pad in mind, allowing you to target enemies using the LT and cycle between them using RT. This makes it easier for you to pick and choose enemies you want to attack with heavy or quick strikes using one of your two swords, as well as your Sign abilities (magic) such as Ingni (fire) and Aard (push).
Whether you’re taking on multiple enemies or giant boss, the combat in The Witcher 2 is incredibly satisfying, but it can be a little overwhelming at first. If you’ve played the original release on the PC, you’ll probably testify to feeling a little lost during the first couple of hours of the game. Thankfully, that feeling is eradicated in the Enhanced Edition, as CD Projekt RED has included a tutorial at the start to get you used to the game’s core mechanics. You’ll get introduced to the basics of magic and melee combat, which includes a look at how to parry and riposte, both of which are abilities you’ll be able to unlock via as Geralt levels up throughout the game. In fact, in true RPG fashion, The Witcher 2 allows you to upgrade Geralt via four different skill trees, each one relating to a specific skill. You have training, alchemy, signs and swordsmanship, with each path offering its own unique benefits. You’ll probably want to pick one path and stick with it to make matters easier for yourself, but you can also choose to be a jack of all trades and tackle the game that way, but you might find certain battles later on in the game to be difficult.
Speaking of difficult, play on anything above the easy setting and you’ll find The Witcher 2 to be quite the challenge. Even some of the earlier enemies will cause you some problems, but if you be patient and calculated with your attacks, you’ll eventually succeed. If you go in to certain battles and just spam your magical or melee attacks, you won’t get very far. As stated earlier, it’s all about being patient and picking the right time to strike your opponents with your sword, signs or both. There’s a refreshingly old school feel to core mechanics of the combat, yet thanks to the multiple abilities at your disposal it feels up to date at the same time.
If you do find yourself in a spot of bother, you can buff up Geralt, his weapons and armour with a number of potions and enhancements. You can choose to create potions by collecting recipes and ingredients, or simply purchase them from a vendor. Each potion will have a different effect on Geralt, with some increasing the speed of health or magic regeneration and others increasing his resistance to certain attacks. You have to be clear of enemies before you can down these potions though, as Geralt has to go into a meditating state to drink them. Even then, you’ll only be able to drink two or three, as too many will increase Geralt’s toxic levels. Enhancements work in a similar way too, but you can apply them to your sword or armour at any time rather than having to wait until no threat is in sight. There’s an incredible amount of depth to the potion drinking and enhancements, as making the right choice before going into battle can be the difference between success and failure.
The quests bring all of the above together very nicely, with each one differing enough to keep you more than interested in The Witcher 2 right up until the end. There are plenty of side quests too, most of which you can pick up from notice boards in the towns you visit. Mini-games are present as well, including the likes of arm wrestling and fist fighting. Some of the quests during one particular section of the game do feel like one big fetch quest, but thankfully the combat along the way manages to keep them somewhat interesting too. The majority of quests task you with venturing across the vast land of Temeria, and whilst its a pleasure to explore, it would’ve nice if the game had a fast travel option that allowed you to quickly get to already visited locations. In addition to that, the world map in The Witcher 2 isn’t particularly great, occasionally making it difficult to find the location of your next quest.
If you do the odd side quest whilst tackling the main story content, The Witcher 2 will take you anything between 25-30 hours to finish, that includes the additional four hours of gameplay and new cutscenes featured in the Enhanced Edition. If you’re a completionist then you can probably add another 10 hours to that figure, as well as another playthrough or two thanks to the way story branches at a certain point in the game. The package includes an Arena mode too, allowing to take on wave after wave of enemies in a true test of your combat skills. Simply put, The Witcher 2 is a RPG full of fantastic content, and you’d be crazy if you didn’t want to experience the epic campaign at least one more time.
Whilst technically it’s a port of the PC version, slapping that tag on The Witcher 2 for the Xbox 360 would do CD Projekt RED’s hard work a massive injustice. Not only have they faithfully brought across a deeply engrossing and mature RPG to the Xbox 360 with all the original content intact, they have added to it and made changes that suit Microsoft’s console to down to a tee. Sure, it doesn’t live up to the standards of a high end PC, but it’s more than a visual match for any other title on the Xbox 360, or any other console for that matter. Don’t even think about it, if you love RPGs, you need The Witcher 2 in your life. An early contender for game of the year, and an essential purchase.