The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings – Enhanced Edition (TW2) on Xbox 360 has fast become my favourite RPG of the moment. Its fluid combat, emphasis on realistic characters and approach to mature themes beating out Skyrim for its comparatively unwieldy combat, and Mass Effect 3 for its anaemic and compartmentalised approach to its role playing. All in all, it’s another incredible effort from Polish developer CD Projekt RED, who hit the ground running with TW2’s predecessor and its first ever game, The Witcher for the PC in 2007. However, the game is far from perfect, with a lot of the previous games’ design flaws making their way to this new, enhanced edition of the sequel.
Porting controls from the PC has always been a tenuous business of what to keep, what to omit, and what to make contextually sensitive; especially considering the fact that a suite of keyboard controls can very rarely fit onto four face buttons, a D-pad, and four shoulder buttons. The result, though effective, takes a considerable getting used to, but will have you pulling off combos with aplomb, momentum making each swing much faster. The only problem I found is clicking left stick. Given the tense nature of combat, it is easy to grip the sticks, accidentally finding yourself activating your medallion in the middle of a swordfight. As such, I would have appreciated the option to at least disable it manually.
Combat as a whole is very satisfying, balancing your success on the edge of a knife. Since you are now only able to drink potions whilst meditating and no traditional health potions exist, you need to learn when to attack as well as how much to attack in order to prevent taking an axe to the face. The weight of your movements and whether you are utilise fast or heavy attacks, means you can’t just run in and spam A, requiring you to think about positioning. Sure, there are abilities to mitigate just how careful you need to be, but the game does not discard the importance of the basics, and when you face larger and larger groups of enemies, the importance of preparation with potions and blade oils becomes ever more prevalent.
The visuals for the game have been brought over somewhat intact from the PC version, but compared to that of the original game, it’s still a massive step forward. The original Witcher was filled with reused character models, dungeons, and bland textures that made every NPC (even the scantily clad women), look like poorly animated mannequins. Even though a few textures like to straight-up disappear once the game is installed to the hard drive, or turn a funny translucent rainbow, ninety-nine percent of the game will be its normal, opaque standard. The foliage in Chapter One looks very well rendered, and is a big improvement over The Witcher’s artificial looking pseudo-forests.
The original also made a name for itself by approaching the darker nature of its characters; abandoning the increasingly popular morality system present in many Western RPGs. With all groups seen as guilty, your character remains a neutral party; able to see the horrors committed by both sides, your choices not seeing immediately evident results until later in the game. In TW2, the game splits down two paths, depending on whom you choose to side with, resulting in different side quests, main quests and end game. The conflict remains the same, but from two different perspectives. While everyone is friendly with you to begin with, the game subtly reminds you that, given the right motivation, any of your supposed ‘allies’ can turn on you. Instead of shoehorning you into ‘good’ or ‘evil,’ TW2 excels at depicting everybody as a real person. Everyone has blood on their hands and everyone has an ulterior motive. It’s the intrigue that makes the game’s otherwise generic premise more involving.
While a small part, the soundtrack is absolutely fitting and shifts seamlessly between dialogue and combat-heavy sections. A bad soundtrack always sticks out, but a good one involves you in the story more than any wall of text could, and it’s this category that The Witcher 2 fits amongst.
There are, of course problems that do not escape the trappings of this largely coherent and well designed experience. Most notably and frustratingly, is the quest tracking. Chapter Two on both sides has this particular problem. When the quest tracking works, it’s fine. But when you are looking for the entrance to a crypt, you must refer to the horribly designed map, which lacks markers to important quest areas. It instead ends with you searching for something vaguely resembling what you are actually meant to looking for.
In one quest during the first chapter, you must find and destroy four monster nests in a forest outside of the hub area. There is no quest tracking of any kind for this quest, and no distinguishing features on the map, leaving you to either stumble upon them by accident, or consult the wiki, which I had to do far too many times to find what I was looking for.
Similarly, in Chapter Two, I was told to find search the ravines and while I knew where they were, the quest tracking icon was pointing in exactly the wrong place. The brothel, to be exact, and if an optional objective was available to you before you progressed further with the quest, the journal does not track it or acknowledge that you can still go ahead with it. In fact, the journal’s ability to track objectives as a whole is hindered by the fact that it doesn’t track objective progression traditionally, like in other RPGs. Instead each quest is read out to you like an epic written by Dandelion, your ally from the previous game. It’s unnecessary and goes to show that if it worked before, why bother changing it, especially if it doesn’t give you the full breadth of what you are able to do within a quest.
As for pacing, while the prologue and the first two chapters are of a brilliant length and feel, the third feels rushed; hurriedly putting things to bed and leaving plenty unsolved. It’s all followed by a less than satisfying epilogue that ties up all character-based loose ends not addressed in the previous chapters, and a To Be Continued finale. It essentially makes the whole ordeal feel like you have accomplished nothing, which is a shame, considering the meaty intrigue-filled middle of this great title.
- Reviewed On
- Xbox 360