The game is a hefty experience, made more impressive by the way that side quests are handled. You can certainly stick to the critical path, charging forward with disregard for the things happening around you, but your experience will likely feel barren and cold. There are typical “kill the monster” quests (that is what Witchers do, after all), but even those are exciting because the game doesn’t hold your hand.
Not only will you have to seek out the beasts’ dens, but in order to know how to well and truly end the threat, you’ll need to research. Books will speed you along your path to edification, but simply encountering a breed of monster enough times will help Geralt learn how to deal with it most effectively. These are the most traditional of quests, and even they were fun.
The remainder of the side quests, of which there are many, always felt organic. Walking into the town square and seeing a crowd of people upset at a shop owner could be ignored and just taken in as “local color.” The larger diversions, like a quest early on to investigate the ruins of a flame-gutted hospital, managed to be worked into the main narrative cleverly. Your rewards for pursuing these lines of inquiry come not only in the form of gold and experience, but a richer understanding of Geralt’s world. This is masterful storytelling.
When you have grown tired of hunting down kingslayers, there are three in-world minigames to spend (or earn) coin playing. Dice poker might be the most frustrating of them. As with any gambling mini-game, you can fool the system by regular saves, if you are that hard up for money. The arm wrestling and fisticuffs endeavors are more enjoyable, though. There are quest lines tied to each, and while they bear some narrative fruit, you’ll likely tire of them.
The presentation of the game is astounding. The game is undeniably gorgeous, even after being repurposed for a system nearing the end of its lifespan. Animations felt natural, and I couldn’t help but notice the realism in soldiers struggling to reload and cock back a cross bow before I could close the distance. Silly them; they were never fast enough.
I delighted in the cinematic cutscenes. They are some of the most gorgeous I have seen on the Xbox 360. They also provide a wonderful contrast to the more artistic sequences that resemble a mix between action comic and medieval woodcut.
Also, for those that hate cutscenes that break immersion, you’ll be happy to know that all of in-game sequences are rendered in-engine. Geralt’s equipped arms and armor will appear in these segments and are not replaced by some stock outfit and sword. There is some minor screen tearing that you will likely notice, but this will largely depend on your sensitivity to it. The game is also not without its bugs. There was one instance, in particular, that caused confusion with the narrative. A main character appeared out of nowhere and started hacking up another main character with his sword. It turned out that the aggressor had merely jumped his cue (as he did appear later in the scene). While this left me scratching my head, it was more humorous than anything since the victim was, for the sake of the story, programmed to be invincible.
The audio is equally impressive with a sweeping and majestic soundtrack and intricate sound design that makes the forests, towns and rivers come to life. The voice acting is second-to-none from the lowliest peasant to the haughtiest king. Between the deftness of the storytelling and the believable voicing, CD Projekt managed to make the jumble of names that accompanies any tale of political scheming accessible and memorable.
It bears mentioning that there is an arena mini-game accessible from the main menu, and its inclusion as a combat training tool is interesting. In the arena, you’ll start fresh, earning a new level, gold and one of three random rewards for each victory. You can trade in unneeded equipment and purchase new supplies between fights. You can also hire a mercenary to give you an assist. It’s an interesting take on horde-style gameplay, but you probably won’t spend too much time here. That is more of a commentary on how engaging the story of the main game is, though.
The Witcher 2 feels like a gift from a loving developer. CD Projekt could have been content to keep the game on the PC platform and never diverge from that course. However, they believe so deeply in the world of Geralt of Rivia that it was only obvious to them to introduce as many people as possible its wonder. Every RPG fan should give this dark, mature tale a chance. There is nothing else like it.
Here’s the Rundown:
+ Stunning presentation paired with masterful storytelling
+ Elegant combat that only becomes more enjoyable as time goes on
+ A clever system that rewards education and preparation as much as brute strength
+ Side quests that aren’t time sinks, but enrich the overall experience
+ Choices cause the narrative to branch significantly leading to replay value
– Minor screen tearing
– Minigames aren’t terribly exciting
– Minor, but nonetheless noticeable bugs
9 and 9.5 represent the pinnacle of the genre, a game that defines what that genre should be about. These scores are for games that you not only feel would be worth your purchase, but you would actually try to convince your friends to buy them as well.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition was developed by CD Projekt and published by Warner Brothers Interactive. It was released on April 17, 2012 at the MSRP of $59.99. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.