Retrospective Review: The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition (360)
With most peoples attention on the new generation of systems, it’s easy to forgot some of decent games available on the 360 and PS3. The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition remains as one of the most overlooked titles on the 360. A fantastic port of the PC classic, The Witcher 2 is still worth picking up today, even more so with the Witcher 3′s delay into early 2014. But just how good is the 360 version of The Witcher 2?
The dark and brutal tale of The Witcher 2 had PC gamers stunned and in awe of what they had just experienced. The Witcher 2 was the definitive story driven role playing game of last year, now its time for The Witcher 2 to launch its assault on consoles. Does this fantasy tale of revenge mange to carry over to the home consoles, or is the quality lost in translation?
The Witcher 2 sets the tone for its story telling nature from the off. Opening up with series protagonist Geralt being questioned over the murder of King of Temeria, King Foltest. From here Geralt begins his vigilante search for the true King Slayer. The land of Temeria is in chaos with various factions tying to take advantage of the death of the King. Geralt’s search is met with plenty of twists and turns with each outcome affecting the story line. The Witcher 2 is jam packed with decisions for the player to make, no matter how big or small every decision has a impact on the storyline. These decisions don’t just result in a extra bit of gold or loot, or even a new skill, they do in fact shape the overall story telling experience. This allows the storyline to twist and turn to the extent the player is left pondering their own actions.
It’s rare for video games to implement player decisions in such an effective manner. It never feels like you’re simply in a game world following a storyline, instead it feels like this game world bows to your choices and actions. It’s a true sense of role playing that is rarely achieved in video games. Examples of big decisions come early on in the shape of Geralt’s encounter with a traitor by the name of Aryan La Valette. Geralt can either strike him down in a duel or talk him into surrender. Talking Valette into surrendering effects the early stages of the game and adds a whole new cut scene in the process, as well as affecting Geralt’s reputation with the world’s factions.
The range of consequences your decisions have can be felt within the first chapter of the game. There’s a number of different outcomes very early on with two totally differing climaxes, both of which feel as well worked as the other. The decisions can even propel your adventures to different towns during the second chapter of the game. While both towns share familiar maps and primary objectives , the NPCs (and thus conversations and personalities) and secondary quests are unique to their respective towns. This adds a genuine sense of choosing your own path within the world as well as giving the world a true feeling of being alive.
Interaction between Geralt and the supporting cast (as well as the NPC’s) never comes off as feeling trivial. Conversations flow naturally and engage the player regardless of the subject. This is both a testament to the high quality script and the voice acting. The over use of British (cockney for the most part) may boil the blood of some but they do serve purpose. Accents differ depending on location, much like real life, and how privileged the NPC/character is. It’s a nice touch that a lot of modern role playing games tend to forget about, and it adds a realistic layer to the world.
One issue that carries over from the PC original is the the over-abundance of ‘hidden lore’. While the game has plenty of back story for the player to look into, it’s easy to become a little confused as to some of the game’s lore. An example of this is that there is no obvious reason for everyone’s hatred of Nilfgaard. Characters and NPC’s will often curse the name of Nilfgaard but rarely do they give a clear reason why. Reasons can be found if the player takes time out to search through the mountains of lore to look up Nilfgaard. It’s not a huge issue but does catch players off guard. It’s a subjective issues if this is a case of too much of a good thing.
The Witcher 2′s combat system has slightly been improved upon during its transition from PC to console. The core combat involves switching from sword type and spell type depending on the enemy and situation. Geralt is armed with one steel sword (used to slay humanoids) and one silver sword (used to slay creatures) along with several spells. The spells range from setting enemies alight to buffing Geralts defense temporarily and useful stun attacks. The controls are easy enough to adapt to with the X controlling your attacks (holding X results in a heavy strike, tapping X in a light, quick attack) and the triggers acting as your defensive skills and ‘focus’ move. Focusing on a target allows Geralt to counter enemy attacks (once the skill is unlocked) by a well timed button push while in defensive stance. Geralt can evade enemy strikes via simple push of the B button however spamming the move is a bad idea.
The stamina meter plays a large part in the games combat. Spamming the doge button is a huge drain on the stamina bar, this has a effect on Geralt’s ability to cause damage and parry enemy attacks. Other methods of combat can be found in the shape of taps, throwing daggers and bombs. These items offer a number of tactical routes in combat such as stunning enemies, and in some cases turning enemies against each other.
On any difficulty setting, bar easy, players will find themselves struggling against early enemies Geralt encounters. This highlights the importance of drinking potions Geralt can create. Potions are created by combing various herbs found throughout the game. Combing potions is a key element to The Witcher 2′s gameplay, as each potion plays its part in establishing Geralt’s combat efficiency. Some potions increase damage done with swords, others increase stamina regain. The potion side of the game allows the player to approach combat in the way they prefer as well as adding a slight touch of strategy to proceedings.
The combat has always been some what of a thorn in The Witcher’s side as a franchise but things have improved slightly in its debut on the Xbox 360. Improvements in the combat are partly due to a new upgraded interface specifically designed for the 360. This doesn’t mean its flawless however. Things can become quite messy when forced into a corner by a number of enemies, this creates a tricky situation of trying to attack one target at a time. The camera also comes into a play and can often blind side the player leading to a few cheap hits and in some cases death. At times the ‘invisible’ walls also rear their ugly head adding to issues the combat suffers (although this issue also applies to exploring too). While these issues aren’t game breaking by any means they are never the less frustrating.
The presentation of The Witcher 2 is to a high standard. Environments are well detailed, there’s a obvious attention to detail in each location Geralt finds himself in. The Witcher 2 has a decent range of locations to venture through, from inner city streets to grimey towns by the sea, the game never falls below a high standard of visual quality. The way in which the environments are lit play a key part in their beauty. Lights reflect and bounce in a natural manner, which adds extra detail to the world. Some sections mange to look so fantastic that you cant help but just stand back and take in the sites.
Character models and animation are a key attribute to the success of The Witcher 2′s storytelling. Characters look fantastic due to a number of reasons. The majority of models have at least one unique feature to them, be it a scar or a spot. This adds that sense of humanity that is necessary for a video game character to be believable. The NPC’s rarely look alike, resulting in the world feeling that little bit more natural. The core cast of characters play host to the greatest detail, for obvious reasons. Their eyes glaze and move in such a manner you almost forget they are simply a video game character. Facial animation is smooth and never comes off as synthetic or unnatural. This attention to detail aids conversations between characters, helping them to become engrossing and natural.
Audio wise, The Witcher 2 is a treat and the musical scores are a vital part to the drama on offer. From booming music, which evokes a feeling of combat and tension, to soft pieces that bring a sense of calm, The Witcher 2 has it all. Sound effects are crisp on the ear and particular kudos go to the work on the creature sounds which avoid coming across as generic. Voice acting is one of the many highlights of the experience, from the smooth tone of Geralt to the arrogant almost pretentious voices of his enemies , The Witcher 2 never lets up. A strong script requires strong voice acting and thankfully The Witcher 2 is a prime example of this. There are only a few examples (mostly minor quest givers) of what could be considered flat voice acting, beyond that however there is only quality.
The main issue the Witcher 2 suffers from, is its the somewhat abrupt ending. The first two chapters are nothing short of epic. There are a number of sections in which the game commands the players attention and appreciation for the work at hand. The first chapter of the game sets up the games atmosphere and themes, easing players for the experience they are about to embark upon. The second chapter ramps up the drama and tension within the story and feels like a run up to an explosive climax. The third chapter however brings a ending that doesn’t match the build up. Side plots feel like they have ended prematurely and feel a little rough handed. Some characters roles in the plot are dumped to ensure a quick route to the ending. It leaves a few question unanswered and detracts from the sense of scale the storytelling has managed to create. It’s not a terrible way to end the game, it is in fact a rather rough way to end it.
The Witcher 2 is a genuinely a fantastic role playing experience. The power the player has in their decisions is unmatched in modern day video games. The core combat has been slightly improved upon with the games transition to the Xbox 360, but its not without a few fiddly controls and camera angle issues. The visuals are top notch as too is the audio, its nothing short of a treat to open your eyes and ears to. Rarely does a game mange to engage a player in such a manner in which they feel like the story bends to their will and not the developers.
Multiple endings add replay value, and the game time of around 20-35 hours of core content guarantee you’ll get your moneys worth. The Xbox 360 version of The Witcher 2 is a showcase in how to port a PC game to the consoles successfully. Everything works well, both in a gameplay sense and a technical sense. With a extra four hours of new content added to the 360 version there is even a reason for PC Witcher 2 veterans to experience the story on the consoles. The only true issue the Witcher 2 struggles from is the half baked climax, it simply does not match the rest of the game’s high quality of story telling and writing.
Bold, beautiful, brutal, dramatic, glorious, engrossing and epic are just a few words to describe this role playing experience. The Witcher 2 is quite simply the best story driven role playing game on the Xbox 360. Minor faults are drowned out by supreme quality. The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings is a must play experience that will satisfy anyone (RPG fan or not) who can appreciate a well crafted role playing experience with epic story telling.