The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (Enhanced Edition) – Game Analysis & Review
By Patrick Newman
Developer: CD Projekt RED
Publishers: Microsoft Windows, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Namco Bandai Partners
Engine: RED Engine
Platform: Xbox 360
Release Date: April 17, 2012
Genre: Action role-playing, hack and slash
After nearly a year of anticipation, The Witcher 2 has finally arrived on the Xbox 360, in a near-flawless port from the PC original. Developers Metropolis Software House and CD Projekt have added four hours of new gameplay to the title, in addition to re-working the interface to be more console-friendly. Otherwise, most aspects of the Witcher 2 experience have arrived intact, which is welcome news considering the rave reviews that accompanied the original. A fantasy RPG for adults that rides high on political intrigue and a sense of history about its fictional realm, The Witcher 2 stands apart from the majority of fantasy titles in its unwillingness to allow players to passively participate. It’s a game that manages to be adult not only on a superficial level (there is plenty of gore and nudity here that will satisfy those cravings), but in its tone and themes, rewarding upper-level gamers with a narrative that refuses to slow down and explain itself.
With a fantasy backdrop tuned closer to the setting of A Song of Ice and Fire than Lord of the Rings, The Witcher 2 takes place in a fully realized fantasy world that’s driven to war by relatable political machinations, rather than forces of Good or Evil. The protagonist, a monster hunter named Geralt of Rivia, is drawn into a heated conflict between the kingdoms of the realm when he is tied to the assassination of King Foltest, and sets out to find the king’s true killer. The personal journey of Geralt, in which he pursues a lost love and seeks redemption for past sins, is set against the backdrop of a war recruiting a large ensemble that consists of dwarves, elves, knights and dragonslayers.
The narrative of the game is massive, and clearly made for those who appreciate total immersion and labyrinth plotting. Though not an open-world game, like Skyrim, The Witcher 2 is bursting with story. The dialogue is dense in the most positive of senses (some of the monologues here would be welcome in a novel), and tailored to fit characters of every race and social class. Even when Geralt is simply traversing the game’s environment, conversations can be overheard from NPC’s that reveals much of their problems and desires, making this a fantasy realm that’s filled out to the margins. Above all, the moral dilemmas of Geralt’s numerous quests are foregrounded, making this a story as much about hard choices as it is about typical fantasy feuds and trappings.
With a sword of steel meant for killing human opponents, and a silver blade meant to defend against otherworldly creatures, Geralt has his work cut out for him in the game’s numerous combat sequences. Based in not only melee combat but in magic (six signs, or spells, are available for specific purposes in each fight), the game’s action is rooted in a strong sense of strategy. Even on the “Normal” difficulty, a straightforward, hack-and-slash approach will rarely work, and so a combination of bomb, traps, spells and swordsmanship is usually required to slay your enemy. Though learning The Witcher’s complex combat system on the streamlined Xbox 360 controller can be daunting at first, the developers have done an expert job of adapting the game, and the learning curve is actually pretty shallow (Roughly 1-2 hours).
The Witcher 2’s story is divided into a three-act structure that truly changes depending on the choices Geralt makes in a given narrative. These story changes not only alter the nature of the quests, but sometimes drop you in an entirely different location, moving you from the city to the deep wilderness or vice versa. The cast of characters changes depending on your choices, as does the exquisite dialogue. More so than even other fantasy RPG’s, which by their nature are driven by varying shades of cause and effect, The Witcher 2 manages to be several distinct gaming experiences grafted into one.
Though not without some minor faults, such as the on-again, off-again manual targeting system or an ending that opts for paving the way towards a sequel than providing an appropriate narrative payoff, The Witcher 2 is the very best that the genre has to offer. With a constant stream of choices for the player to choose from that alter the story in dramatic and interesting ways, the gameplay is never quite the same when played through twice. The game’s melee and spell-driven combat delivers powerful sequence after powerful sequence, in face-offs with humans and monsters alike. Moreover, the world that provides a backdrop for the action is rich and novelistic, with human and politically charged motivations influencing the decisions of characters rather than arbitrary heroics or villainy. For hardcore gamers (especially fans of RPG’s), or even fantasy die-hards tired of waiting for new episodes of Game of Thrones, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is an essential entertainment.
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