Version tested: Xbox 360
Xbox 360-owning RPG fans have never had it so good. The pre-Christmas period brought us the glories of Dark Souls and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and the last few months have delivered the lovable Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning and the hugely impressive Mass Effect 3. With the arrival of The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings, it’s hard to imagine how things could possibly get better.
Normally, it’s hard to get enthusiastic about a console port of an existing PC title. Most are miserable, bug-ridden, half-assed efforts with stripped-back graphics and ill-conceived controls, and even the mighty Bioware has fallen short with its ropey console versions of Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2. The Witcher 2, however, is in some respects an improvement on the original game. It might not look 100 per cent as spectacular as it did on a top-notch PC, but it still looks great. In play, meanwhile, it’s an almost-perfect fit for console gaming.
A Darker Fantasy
Following on from 2007’s PC only The Witcher, The Witcher 2 continues the story of Geralt of Rivia, who happens to be a witcher: a kind of magical, mutant bad-ass specialising in the hunting and slaying of monsters. Geralt begins the game as a jumped-up bodyguard to a warmongering king, but when that king is slain by a mysterious fellow witcher, who cheerfully leaves Geralt in the frame, it’s up to our hero to escape and go on the villain’s trail.
With its political disputes, racial tensions and dog-eat-dog kingdoms, this isn’t your standard high fantasy adventure. Like the Dragon Age games, A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin’s source novels or the books of Richard Morgan and Joe Abercrombie, the world of The Witcher is gritty, cynical, politically aware and happy to deal with the darker aspects of human (or even non-human) nature. There’s sex, swearing and plentiful violence, and if it all gets a little overplayed from time to time, it still makes for an engrossing and unpredictable tale, where it’s sometimes hard to tell the good from the bad.
The Witcher 2 is a combat-heavy game, and one where you really have to think about what you’re doing. The real-time sword-swinging actually works extremely well on a gamepad, and the use of magic, traps and bombs is well-handled. But if you try to play The Witcher 2 as you might a hack-and-slash action game then you won’t last long. It’s all about picking your fights, making sure you block and evade incoming blows, and using magic and traps to control the crowds of monsters until you can whittle their numbers down.
It’s also a game where you really need to get to grips with crafting, potions and armour and weapon enhancements, not least because without them you’re pretty much toast. Spells and traps are now accessed through a right-bumper aiming feature and a radial menu, both of which slow the action down while in use, and while initially you’ll feel a sense of panic as you try to deploy attacks before enemies close, it’s not too long before it all falls into place.
Arguably, the console release improves on the PC version, with a tutorial that does a better job of covering the basics of fighting, pre-combat preparation and inventory management. The development team at CD Projekt has also done a very credible job of making some fairly complex crafting and inventory screens work on an HDTV with a console controller.
Most of all, some of the early sections of the game feel like they have been finessed a little to make them more welcoming. While the PC version has even seasoned RPG veterans swearing from time to time – we were dreading an early encounter with a dragon that made blood boil when we played the first time around – this Enhanced Edition seems a lot more accessible.