Review: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings: Enhanced Edition

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The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings:
Enhanced Edition is many things – some good, some not – but it is
certainly a demanding game.

Indeed, The Witcher 2 is a role-playing
game that demands at least two playthroughs just to make sure one
gets a taste of its entire plot. The idea of offering players a
chance to make meaningful choices is a big one in modern games, and
The Witcher 2 not only challenges players by forcing them to choose
from many tactical options, but also forces them at an early point in
the game to decide which storyline they wish to follow.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings:
Enhanced Edition comes to the XBox 360 from Poland’s CD Projekt Red
and the world of PC gaming.* (The console version of the game features
some new quests that were not included in the game’s initial PC
version, but the people at CD Projekt RED proved kind enough to
deliver the additional content to existing customers free of charge.)

That kind of consideration is almost
ironic, given how grim The Witcher 2′s content is. This is a game
that practically beats its players with a flail to earn its M-rating,
and its developers never shy away from depicting copious amounts of
bloodshed, explicit sexual content and a torrent of profanity. At
times, the game’s makers seem to be shouting “Look how mature we
are! This game has violence and bare breasts!” At other moments,
however, The Witcher 2 is “mature” in a more meaningful
sense of the word. As players fight and connive their way through a
battle-plagued medieval landscape, they are rarely given a chance to
play the role of the pure hero who can achieve the greater good.
Instead, The Witcher 2 plays in shades of crimson and gray and often
forces players to decide what is the lesser evil in a world where the
kings of the game’s title may deserve death.

CD Projekt Red adapted The Witcher
games from the work of Polish novelist Andrzej
Sapkowski. A Witcher is essentially a mutated swordsman with magical
and alchemical skills who makes his living slaying monsters. Witchers
may fight other men, but they live by a code that prohibits them from
assassinating humans for pay.

Players
assume the role of gray-haired Geralt of Rivia, witcher and paramour
of the red-haired sorceress Triss. The game is set in a world
resembling northern Europe in the 13th century and Geralt and Triss
live at a time when the kingdoms of men are at war and humans are
embroiled with racial conflicts involving elves and dwarves. There’s
a lot of world building involved, but this reviewer has to admit
having a hard time keeping track of which kingdoms and factions where
which and what their wars were being fought over. I developed a
simple rule: kill anyone who seemed to be really bad.

(The
game’s publishers seem to acknowledge The Witcher 2 can be a bit
confusing, since the game is packed with a strategy guide. I have to
admit consulting it at some moments when I wasn’t sure where to go.)

The
Witcher begins with Geralt aiding the king of a place called Temeria
in his war to assert control of his realm. No spoilers here, but the
game does force players to make serious choices during the opening
segments. Players must then guide Geralt through three chapters as he
seeks to unravel the mysterious regicides that are playing the game’s
world.

Again,
I’d like to avoid spoilers in the place, but the game’s first really
big moment of decision comes at the end of the first chapter. Players
must decide to side with Roche, a Temerian agent, or the guerrilla
elf Iorveth. Either decision leads to a different road though the
game’s subsequent chapters.

Players
must also choose how to play as Geralt. The game lets players
specialize in swordplay, magic or alchemy, the last choice involves
using potions and handmade bombs to fight enemies. And again,
“choice” is the operative word because The Witcher 2, like
any role-playing game, lets players level up their skills, but is
impossible for Geralt to be an expert fencer, mage and alchemist.
Players must decide which skills best suit there own individual
style.

The
Witcher 2′s combat system is itself rather challenging and the game
asks players to prepare for battles by drinking potions that allow
them to heal faster, deal more damage with swords, or perhaps become
a more threatening magician at the cost of becoming physically
weaker.

The
game’s many combat segments are a bit more difficult than average
games, but Geralt’s fencing moves are not always as fluid as this
reviewer would have liked. The upshot is that players may sometimes
die because they made a mistake, but players may also die because
Geralt … just … won’t move … quickly … enough. That wouldn’t
be so bad except big battles frequently follow lengthy cut scenes and
dialogue segments and the game does not autosave or allow players to
save on their own on the onset of combat.

This
kind of flaw does not ruin The Witcher 2, but is really inexcusable
in any modern game, since players should not have to relive five
minutes of build-up just because they perished at the end of a
10-minute battle. The Witcher 2 makes these kind of problems really
frustrating, because boss fights can be very difficult. It’s a good
thing Geralt is not offending by foul language because The Witcher 2
will probably provoke many a player to yell nasty words at their
television screens.

The
Witcher 2′s visuals are really intended for the higher power of PC
graphics cards, but the XBox 360 acquits itself about as well as the
machine possibly can in portraying the vibrant greens of the game’s
forests or the swirling oranges and reds of a blazing battlefield.

The
Witcher 2 is a heavily story-driven game and is not the kind of title
that encourages players to inhabit and explore a fantasy a realm at
their leisure for hundreds and hundreds of hours. Nonetheless, The
Witcher 2 offers many hours of gameplay simply by demanding players
experience the game twice, if not three or four times, to learn the
manifold consequences of Geralt’s actions. The Witcher 2 is
occasionally a frustrating experience, but a worthwhile one for
players in search of a bloody narrative and challenging gameplay.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings: Enhanced Edition
CD Projekt RED / WB Games
PC, XBox 360 (Reviewed on XBox 360)
Rated M for Mature

*The original Witcher, released for PC
only in 2007, has never received a console port despite reports of
reported plans for one. Let’s hope The Witcher 2 proves popular
enough to justify a wider audience for its predecessor.