A mature RPG for mature players – so we won’t mention the boobies!
Unlike many RPGs, The Witcher 2 doesn’t allow the player to create their own character. This is a story driven RPG and the story revolves around Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher of the title and the player’s character throughout this adventure. A Witcher is a mutated human with abilities that far surpass everyday folk and they usually make a living from doing things that the everyday folk cannot, such as taking care of monsters.
However, the game begins with Geralt slightly side-tracked from his usual monster pursuits, being that he is chained up in a cell. Through a series of playable flashbacks, we come to learn that Geralt was acting as bodyguard to King Foltest when he was unceremoniously slain by another Witcher, with Geralt getting the blame. And so, it will come down to Geralt to not only clear his name, but also capture the Kingslayer and explore his forgotten past with the help of a cast of highly detailed, and mostly quite likeable, characters.
The world in which Geralt of Rivia exists is living and breathing. From the very beginning of the adventure, the player is confronted with a world brought to life and filled with character. Simply walking amongst the general population in any of the settled areas, the player will pick up snippets of conversation further fleshing out this world and the general worries of the inhabitants.
Whilst the main story, with the hunt for the Kingslayer and the gradual return of Geralt’s memory, is incredibly engaging, there is far more to do beyond following the main quest. NPCs found throughout the land are looking for a Witcher’s help and will gladly offer rewards for what are mostly straight forward quests. However, some of these requests for help go beyond being just simple side-quests and and offer memorable twists of their own, with choices to be made as to how the player proceeds. It all reveals how much thought the developers have put into creating this world in which the player will want to spend time.
And that time spent playing The Witcher 2 will be quite substantial. Although the main game time clocks in at somewhere around 45 hours, including the newly added content, that doesn’t take into account the amount of time spent retrying sections of the game after dying. The difficulty level is set quite high on normal difficulty, which will leave the player having to carefully plan and prepare for every encounter. We are not talking “Dark Souls” difficult here, but still much harder than your average RPG. Setting the game on easy, which is usually more suited to the casual player, certainly brings it to a more acceptable level – but where does that leave the more casual gamer? Struggling, I would guess.
The big concern with this title would be the translation of the controls from keyboard and mouse to the humble Xbox360 controller. The action side side of things have come across very well, being much more suited to a controller anyway. Heavy attack, light attack, dodge and the use of whichever sign (Geralt’s magical powers) is currently selected, are all assigned to the face buttons. The previously chosen items – bombs, traps, throwing knives and such, are assigned to the right buffer. The left buffer gives access to the different signs, item and meditation for alchemy and potion drinking. Left trigger locks onto a target and right trigger performs a parry once the skill has been learnt. Then the d-pad is all about drawing and putting away weapons.
Where things get more complicated is in the menu and inventory. There is simply so much to keep track of, with weapons, armour and so many ingredients for potions or enhancements, that things can get a little overwhelming. Considering that there is so much to keep track of, it actually works better than perhaps it should, but it will take some getting used to.
For all of its splendor, Witcher 2 is not without faults. Getting things to highlight, such as when searching dead bodies and such, can be a bit hit and miss, often resulting in the player having to move back and forward to actually pick things up, and some items may be missed altogether. There are also the overwhelming “atmospheric” sounds that seem to drown out conversation at times, especially when in a tavern where things can be a bit rowdy. Then there are the inhabitants of the Witcher’s world who, while going about their business, quite often get a little stuck. On more than one occasion I found myself in conversation with a character, only to be distracted by random NPCs coming in and out of view as they tried unsuccessfully to pass us on their pre-determined route. It was like when they try to do live interviews on TV with people in the street and you always get some muppet jumping around in the background saying “look mum, I’m on TV!”.
It is perhaps testament to how involving and how engrossing this game is that little discrepancies, such as the ones mentioned above, become so noticeable. They don’t damage the game in any way, but for the briefest of seconds they do burst the highly detailed bubble in which the player has become immersed.
It is no secret that The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings was a wonderful game on the PC when it launched last summer. It may have taken a while for CD Projekt RED to bring the game over to the Xbox360, but I can assure you that it was worth the wait. What consoles gamers now get is the same game, but with more content and more cut-scenes than the original PC game at launch. It has been polished and refined into a masterpiece. Worries over how good the game would look on the Xbox360 can be cast aside, as the developers have pushed the hardware to it’s limits, ensuring the game looks as beautiful as it possibly can. It is advised at the beginning to install the game onto the console’s hdd for a better experience, but even without the game looks as good, if not better, than most currently available titles.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is quite simply the best RPG to appear on the Xbox360 so far. The mature fantasy world and the high level of difficulty will mean that it is not for everyone. But if you think you can handle it, The Witcher 2 will provide an unforgettable experience which will keep pulling you back for weeks and weeks.