Good vs Evil, Right vs Wrong, The Paragon vs The Renegade. For as far as games have claimed to come in the realm of decision-based mechanics, they sure have ignored the inherently grey areas in their definition of “choice.” Enter The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings Enhanced Edition, a port of last year’s PC exclusive RPG that seeks to go against the grain in every way it can. Decisions aren’t a simple schism between right and wrong, it is a PC port that maintains an impressive amount of graphical fidelity, and it shows that medieval fiction does not have to have a script that sounds like it was written by medieval fair rejects.
The Story – Geralt of Rivia is a Witcher, a famed one at that. Undergoing rigorous training and extensive mutation as a child, he was built from the ground up to slay monsters. In the wake of the assassination of several kings throughout the land, Geralt’s fame has made him one of the prime suspects in the most recent king slaying. Fighting amnesia brought on by his own death and revival, he must now find the assassin to clear his name. The tale runs deep with political intrigue, betrayals, and well-thought-out lore as Geralt unravels the mystery and motivations behind the killings.
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Title: The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings Enhanced Edition
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Platform: Xbox 360
Release Date: April, 17, 2012[/toggle_box]
- The Atmosphere - In an age where everyone seems to be more concerned with spectacle than creating a mood, The Witcher 2 turns this cliche on its head and creates a thick, Gothic atmosphere. Towns and cities are not the lavishly decorated, clean-cut locales that many RPG’s have, but are dirty, grimy, and dank, as appropriate for the time period. The music sets perfectly the ominous mood for the story, making a simple trek through the woods at night downright creepy. To top it all off, the voice acting is spot on and the dialog well-written, supporting the already great story.
- The Combat - Rather than giving players a sword and telling them to hack away, CD Project crafted a deep, tactical combat system for the game in which running headlong into a crowd of enemies will quickly acquaint you with the game over screen. Preparation is the name of the game in that you can only drink potions out of combat, traps must be laid, and stat-enhancing oils must be applied to your sword to give you a leg up. Paying close attention to enemy position in combat and skillfully deploying the right moves is vital, and this made every encounter truly invigorating.
- Questing - Side-questing has always been an integral part of any RPG, but it has always been a little unsatisfying due to the fact that many of them are of the “run here-kill that” or “get me this item” variety. Though The Witcher 2 does have quests like this, they are so well explained that I never felt like the quest-giver’s servant. I’m killing this creature because it is blocking a vital trade route into town. I’m retrieving this herb for this person because it will benefit me just as much as the quest giver. There are also a healthy dose of murder mysteries and quirky quests to round out the all-around fun offering of diversions.
- Truly Tough Decisions - Though there are plenty of decisions-based RPG’s out there, none have ever really lent their scenarios a lot of gravity because they have made so clear the schism between what is good and what is bad. The Witcher 2 works entirely in grays. Helping out one race or political party may seem like the perfectly sound thing to do in the moment, until you find out that helping them out caused a massacre back in town, killing countless innocents. There is never a totally right or totally wrong answer to anything, with unforeseen consequences operating in the background of every decision. The fact that an early-game decision totally changes how the rest of game plays out also helps.
- It’s Gorgeous - Though it doesn’t look like it would on a maxed-out gaming PC, this is one pretty port. The character models, even down to the extra NPC’s, are all incredible and well animated. The incredible and consistent art-direction is made even better with colors and textures that pop out of the screen. There is never a dull visual moment in The Witcher 2.
- QTE’s - These were old the moment they were introduced nearly a decade ago. They don’t happen too often, but one wrong button press leads you to your death, and this inflexibility is totally uninvited and annoying. For a game that has such innovative combat, this is a very noticeable wart.
- The Menus - For a game that calls for a lot of menu navigation, CD Project really dropped the ball with menu navigation. It has an extremely clumsy feel and given how frequently you will probably be navigating them crafting traps and brewing potions, this proved to be an annoyance. A very convenient “compare” panel for weapons and armor, however, redeems this problem a bit.
- No Fast Travel - The world is not extremely large, but you will be walking around it a lot, and it is strange that there is no fast travel. I’ll wager around 1-2 hours of my 30 some-odd hours play-through was spent just walking to and from towns in between quests.
- I’m Lost - Given that most Xbox 360 owners will not have had the chance to play the first game given that it was on PC, there is a large amount of context missing from a lot of the story that was probably vital. I found myself lost within the first few hours of the game and am just referring to the story as good because I found myself caring about the characters so much more than why things were happening. Though the game tries to catch players up with some explanation, it wasn’t exactly enough.
- The Map - In a genre that is all about finding new locations and tracking quests, the map is the most unhelpful, utterly garbage piece of navigational equipment I have ever had the displeasure of using. I think I may have developed actual headaches trying to get from one place to another on multiple occasions. It may sound like I am being harsh, but it is inherent that an RPG have a good map, and The Witcher 2 does not.
- Jilted Encounters - Remember up above when I mentioned that preparation is key? Well, there are several times throughout the campaign that all of that is thrown out the window. There were times where I was thrown directly from a cut scene into a tough battle and got slaughtered over and over because I could not prepare potions or anything to lend me a hand. Much like the map, it simply made things frustrating and not at all fun.
- Graphical Glitches and Camera Problems - Not only were there times that an entire town’s worth of textures didn’t load, there was often a good amount of screen tearing and a little slowdown that I ran into. Installing the game helped this, but it didn’t make it disappear. The camera would also go bonkers in tight quarters, leading to some cheap deaths from monsters I couldn’t see. The targeting didn’t always work that great either, something that is vital in third person combat.
Though The Witcher 2 has its share of problems, the positives in the game might as well be an NFL line-backer sitting opposite a toddler on a seesaw. The atmosphere, combat, and story are all executed almost perfectly. Plenty of replay value is added to the game via an early game decision that completely changes what players will see for the rest of the game. With all of the polish and improvements made over the original release last year, The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings Enhanced Edition comes with the highest recommendation.
[box_light]We believe that the score is the least important part of a review. It’s tough trying to assign a numerical value to an experience. Furthermore, is there really a difference between a 7.5 and an 8? Gamers place too much importance on arbitrary numbers. This is why our scores are hidden by default. Only look at them if you absolutely need a number between 1-10 to see if a game is worth your time. You can read our review guidelines here.[/box_light]
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Replay Value: 10
Excellent – This game is beyond amazing–it should be a mandatory purchase for every gamer. But it has some problems that prevent it from becoming a true masterpiece.[/toggle_box]