The first word that came to mind when I finally got my hands on The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition was Quality. Quality of content, quality in the richness of detail in the characters, environments and even the way the game’s non-playable cinemas added to the epic feeling of the living world CD Projekt RED has worked so hard on. It’s not hard to look at the screens in this article and think that the Xbox 360 can’t do some of the stuff you’re seeing, but in fact, you can expect the game to be surprising in a number of ways when you finally get your hands on it next week. I got to play an early portion of Geralt’s adventure last week when WBIE rolled into NYC (with a trio of excellent games you should keep an eyeball on) and I wanted to stay in front of that big screen for a few hours longer diving more and more into what’s looking like one of the best games of 2012.
When The Witcher 2 was originally released for PC last year to great reviews I was one of many would-be players whose creaky old computers just weren’t up to speed to suitably run the game even on the lowest settings. When I heard a 360 version was finally being made, I was quite happy not only for myself, but for anyone who missed out on the original game who was wondering what all the fuss was about. The fuss, by the way is well deserved thanks to that outstanding attention to detail the dev team, artists, sound designers and voice actors have put forth in bringing the world of the fantasy book series to life. There’s a grand story unfolding behind everything, but the game excels so well at putting you into Geralt’s shoes so well that it feels like playing a really incredible fantasy movie at times.
Choosing how to answer questions in the game is another cool thing that’s a big draw. Unlike many other RPGs that tread a clear good or evil path with few actual deviations, Geralt’s decisions echo throughout the game with different events taking place at some point based on how you handle situations. Some effects are instantaneous, as in having to fight a certain person to the death on the spot, while others are more subtle, as in you won’t know for a few hours what the repercussions of your actions will be. The game does such a great job at ambiguity and actually reflects how some real life decisions can put you on the spot when there’s no “winning” solution that you’ll probably not be so pleased with cookie-cutter RPGs of any type afterward.
As for those of you worried about the game not being “like Skyrim” in terms of who you play or how deep the customization elements are, get over it. Not every RPG is a carbon copied template of each other and as much as I love my western role-playing games, there’s something equally amazing about many European-developed titles that deserves as much, if not more respect. This is a story-driven game where you’re playing as a specific character full of flaws, some mean physical scars and legendary appetites for certain pleasures. Like him or not, there’s a lure to playing Geralt that puts the character high up on my list of favorites. He’s not a typical do-gooder, but you can have him stop peasants from being mercilessly killed by the army he’s working with. Some of the men he’s working with fear him and his powers, which comes into play when he’s accused of a horrific crime committed by the titular assassin, a burly but fast-moving guy who gets an incredible CG intro created by Polish director Tomasz Baginski.
Gameplay is fast and responsive with a fantastic auto camera system which means you can play one-handed if you like and never need to use the right analog stick. While the difficulty was set to Easy for the demo, Geralt could still be killed if placed into too much danger. His swordsmanship and spells are second to none, especially with the newly tweaked 360 controls that allow you to slow time briefly when you need to select a spell to use against the hordes trying to poke Geralt full of holes in one way or another. If you’re in need of treasure or want to find out where to head next, that medallion around his neck can be activated to make objects of interest shine briefly. Add to that the assorted potions that can be brewed to boost his skills, make him see in the darkness and more, and you have a game that can be played in different ways depending on how you use what’s available.
As noted above (and seen throughout this article), the game looks fantastic. I couldn’t believe it when the developer’s Marketing Specialist, Agnieszka Szóstak told me it took less than a year to get the game done for the 360, as it looks like (and IS) a whole lot more than a bare bones port. Over 30 minutes of new cinemas, every bit of content from the nine PC expansions, two new missions to play that add a few more hours to the experience plus an already crazy amount of replay value all made me actually want to put a deposit on the Collector’s Edition of the game (something I rarely do). Sadly, the Xbox 360 box is sold out everywhere, according to Szóstak (and poking around the internet confirms this), but I don’t mind not getting all the extras in the set other than the “making of” DVD because I want to see what magic they’re weaving overseas in their studios.
April 17, 2012 is flying up rather quickly (much like the wild dragon encounter from early on in the game I got to play through), so if you’re an Xbox 360 owner looking for the next great RPG for the console, you know what you’re going to buy. PC owners who already own the game are in for a real treat as well, as CD Projekt RED is giving those fans the bonus content free of charge. PlayStation 3 owners are out of luck for the time being (and there’s no forthcoming news of any port as far as I know), but I say if you can afford it, it’s actually worth buying a 360 just to get your hands on one of the best RPGs you’ll ever play. That and there are a hell of a lot more great exclusives on the console you’ll probably want to buy. That said, I need to go free up some space on my calendar so I can settle into Geralt’s world for a spell. Hopefully, some of you out there will also be taking the plunge…