Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings Enhanced Edition (Xbox 360) Review

It's almost been a year since The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings made it's way onto people's home PCs and were pleasantly surprised to find one of the best role playing games of the year(you can read my original The Witcher 2 review here).  At the same time it was a very resource heavy game and a large number of people who were interested probably didn't have a gaming PC capable of running the game or were a console player wondering why this game is so highly praised.  So earlier this month CD Projekt Red have released an Xbox 360 version of the game that is faithful to the original while also bringing in a lot of extra content in an Enhanced Edition of the game.

Geralt of Rivia

So if you are new to the series of The Witcher the story follows the adventures of Geralt of Rivia who is somewhat of a monster hunter by trade and has supernatural powers due to being a mutant.  He also has amnesia and becomes aware of who or what he is and was on his journey as memories trickle in slowly.  So one of the concerns of someone who is coming in fresh is that they probably don't know what happened in the first game as there was never a console port for 360 owners.  So the Enhanced Edition alleviates this problem a little bit with a few added cut-scenes and even a short video explaining what Witchers are.  The Witcher universe is definitely rich with lore so it may be daunting and confusing at times as there are names of people and places referenced in a few parts of the game that are very irrelevant to what your current mission in the game is.  It's not essential to play the first game or read the books from which the games were derived from but it will take awhile for you to settle down and get comfortable.  Unlike most stereotypical fantasy the Witcher universe feels very parallel to our real world in spots as politics, racism, sexism and terrorism are major themes that this game touches upon that we can relate to.

Geralt and King Foltest

The basic gist of the story is that Geralt is on a quest to clear his name as the monarch he was protecting gets assassinated and thus Geralt becomes the fall guy.  While his mission seems straightforward, on the way to fulfilling his objective of finding the real assassin he will get involved indirectly with conflicts that are occurring during his journey in the quest hubs of the game which are usually small towns and camps. You will meet your fair share of dwarves, elves, prostitutes, shady town folk, soldiers, freedom fighters, sorceresses, nobles and monarchs whose interests may or may not align with yours thus it's in your power to decide whether to help them with their situations or not. The plot is morally grey as there is no real good or evil characters in the game. Everyone has their own agenda and the choices you make as Geralt will shape the game's story as you progress further in.  It's up to you to choose what you feel is right and on an initial playthrough you may not know how the plot would deviate if you chose something differently but then it utterly seems brilliant at how this game keeps track of your choices in subsequent playthroughs as events in the story can change drastically in the later chapters of the game just by choosing to do something else.

Flotsam's Forest

Visually the game doesn't look as good as the PC version but it's definitely still a looker for an Xbox 360 game and I would even go as far as to say it's one of the best looking games on the platform.  The frame rate also holds up very well throughout the entirety of the game which is surprising as this was a very taxing game on the PC.  I would highly recommend you install the game on the hard drive as there is noticeable texture pop-in when the game is reading off the disc but other than that it's a feast for the eyes.  The interface menu for the inventory and quest journal in the game can be a hassle to get around as you have to use the left and right bumpers to navigate to specific categories and triggers to switch between inventory, quest journal, map and skill trees.  It's not a very elegant system but is serviceable enough to get by.  The map is not very good although it is a nicely drawn map, the information it gives you is very minimal and there are places and quest areas that aren't quite easily found because you can't quite find the small hidden path that leads to the area you need to go to on the map.

Geralt poking people with his sword.

Combat is an acquired taste, it starts out difficult but becomes easier as you gain skill points every time you level up.  Although the combat is very action oriented, early on you have to be patient or get overwhelmed by multiple enemies.  It's not a button-mashing game and thus requires the player to use a bit of restraint and use everything in your arsenal.  That includes bombs, traps, spells, dodging, blocking and parrying.  The game does come with a tutorial which teaches you some of the basics of combat and how to craft some essential items like potions.  The tutorial itself is a huge leap in convenience over the original release as not a lot of the game's systems were explained in detail but a beginner should be able to understand the basics of the interface and combat after they finish the tutorial level.  I wouldn't say the game is difficult but there is a learning hurdle that everyone must get acquainted with but there's enough depth and skills to build a character tailored to your fighting style.  You can be magic, swordsmanship, or alchemy focused with each tree improving upon specific abilities and items.  For example the alchemy tree would improve traps, bombs and sword oils, while putting points in the swordsmanship tree would improve upon melee abilities.  Geralt is equipped with two weapons at a time, one general weapon slot usually slotted with a steel sword but you can also equip knives, shovels, brooms, spoons if you so desire and then you have another slot for your witcher silver sword.   General rule of thumb is to use regular weapons on humanoids and your silver sword for monsters.

There are boss fights in the game and while they are not very complex or difficult, they can be downright cheap at times.  It's quite possible that a boss will put you in a knock back combo where you can't do anything but watch because you are stuck in a knock back animation while the boss keeps hitting you which is especially true for the Draug fight.  The checkpoint system could have been better during some portions of the game because a death could eat away half an hour of your life if you didn't quite prepare for combat with potions.  It left me yearning for a quick-save button but manually saving becomes your best friend even though it's less convenient than a quick-save option.

The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition is a fantastic role playing game, the Xbox 360 version of the game is of excellent quality without too many issues and very comparable to the PC version of the game.  If you want to explore a mature and dark fantasy universe with a cast of memorable characters and experience the drama and tactical maneuvering between the major factions of power then I highly recommend playing this game regardless of platform.