image013 Ploughing, Alchemy, and Drinking Enhanced in The Witcher 2

I remember seeing the booth for the original Witcher at E3 several years ago. The outside of the booth had a dark forest motif with a hanging victim on the side. I thought that they might be going for the shock factor to get attention to their game, especially since they were a small developer. I went inside the presentation room and found out that it would be based on a Polish book series featuring the character Geralt. My skepticism went up higher.

Finally the developer started showing the game and I knew that there was something special. Using the Aurora Engine they licensed from Bioware, they were able to craft this world of the Witcher. The combat was interesting, with multiple stances to determine the speed and power of your hits. Alchemy was an integral part of the game, where you would create your own potions to heal Geralt or enhance his abilities. Decisions would be made across the moral spectrum. If you got drunk, the screen would go blurry and affect your accuracy. The only issue for me was that it was going to be PC only. Rumors of a console version never came to fruition. Hearing that The Witcher 2 would be headed to the consoles made me want to check out the game, and now that it is here for the Xbox 360 in an Enhanced Edition I finally got a look at the world of the Witcher.

In The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings you again take the role of Geralt of Rivia, one of the last remaining Witchers. Witchers are travellers that have been given special training to fight off monsters, even to the point where they are genetically enhanced. The Witchers are a dying group, and their numbers are dwindling. At the start of the game he is being interrogated about the assassination of the King of Temeria. He retells the story of the events leading up to the king’s death, where he was a bodyguard.  The story then unfolds based on the decisions you make.  Even early decisions can have consequences late in the game. Who you help out and align with makes a huge difference, and there are several different endings that you will get depending on these choices. To say anything more about the story would spoil the experience, even if it might not be your exact experience.

If you are unfamiliar with the setting of the Witcher games, then you’ll be surprised at the world. While you might see some of the familiar conventions, this isn’t your typical fantasy. You may have elves and dwarfs, but a sense of death and dread flows over the entire world. It almost seems like everyone has a weary look in their eyes. If you are looking for something with any kind of pastel colors, or a bright and cheery disposition, you won’t find it here.

CD Projekt RED should be applauded for their efforts to bring the controls to the console. Movement is handled similarly to a third-person action game using the analog sticks to move and look around, with the D-pad sheathing and unsheathing your sword. The buttons determine the type of attack you perform. While you can select your target, most of the time the auto-targeting does a good enough job that you won’t deal with it. Occasionally the button presses to unsheath your sword don’t seem to be as responsive as it should be, but it’s not something that ruins the experience. There are also several menus that you have to deal with since this is an RPG. Creating your own potions and dealing with your inventory gets a little clunky, but it’s still manageable.

Combat is an integral part of the game, but you won’t necessarily find the gentle learning curve here. In fact, if you are expecting one, you might end up getting frustrated. You may actually have to run away from monsters that are too powerful for you at that time to stay alive. You can prepare yourself for combat by using potions that enhance your abilities or give defenses against specific kinds of damage. You also have a steel sword and a silver sword. You’ll interchange between these two swords depending on if you are fighting against monsters or humans. A short tutorial that wasn’t in the original game is included, but you will still have trouble at times with the combat.

The story is definitely for a mature crowd. Witcher 2 earns its M rating with the amount of violence, sex, nudity, and language. However, the world is also full of politics, and the decisions that you have to make have consequences behind them that need careful consideration. Men and women both hold positions of power, causing rifts within the land. You might be told of a reason for a quest, but then later discover that there were other less scrupulous reasons for what was requested of you. Deciding who you trust and believe will be a constant struggle.

You might wonder if this is just a cheap port, but I can say without hesitation that this is no cash grab. The Enhanced Edition includes a CD soundtrack, a couple of story adventures, new locations, a tutorial to help you get an understanding of the combat, and content from all the DLC. There is even a Dark Mode which adds a level of difficulty.  Arena Mode is their version of Horde mode where you can fight against waves of monsters. These are all extras that could have been sold as add-ons later, but to have them included is a great value.

The Xbox 360 can’t handle the resolution of the PC version, but it holds its own. The world created looks great, with the outfits of everyone varied and monsters looking different, even amongst the same race. The scars on Geralt are easily seen, and you can tell just by looking at his face how travel weary he is from his adventures. A few compromises needed to be made, such as pop-in and textures, but they aren’t anything major and they are only things that you will probably notice if you already played the PC version.

Voice acting can be difficult in an RPG because of the number of characters involved, but CD Projekt RED has done a fine job as well. Geralt is very subdued and quiet, making his reserved voice perfect. Kings and other rulers have a bravado in line with their ego. The dwarves are rough and loud.

While I am disappointed that the original Witcher game never made it to the consoles, I am happy to see The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings make it on the Xbox 360. This will introduce the world of the Witcher to a new audience. If you haven’t played the PC version, you probably don’t need to go out and purchase this version. If you haven’t gotten a chance to play it yet, then take a look at the Xbox 360 version. You won’t be left disappointed.