Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy epic The Witcher has long ago transcended its original text format, and has ventured across the spans of multimedia. With comics, movies, television series and other formats to its name, the adventures of Geralt of Rivia have been read and seen by millions. Polish game developers CD Projekt RED have also taken a chance with the series, making their presence known in the gaming world with a video game based on The Witcher, and it’s sequel The Witcher II: Assassins of Kings, both released to widespread critical acclaim. Previously a PC exclusive title, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings has made its way to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 in the form of the Enhanced Edition, which features a slew of bonus content, all the current patches and more. Is Geralt of Rivia’s newest adventure worth the undertaking?
The story of The Witcher 2 takes place a couple of months after the events of the first game. Having defeated the Grand Master and the Leader of the Wild Hunt, Geralt now serves King Foltest as a bodyguard. After a siege led by the King in an effort to recover his children, Foltest is taken by surprise and murdered by a man dressed as a monk. Framed for the murder, Geralt and company look for answers and hunt down the mysterious assassin.
The story of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is some of the best writing I have seen in video games in recent years. Full of excellent dialogue, well-rounded and fleshed-out characters, and a terrific plot filled with twists and turns, The Witcher 2′s story rivals the best in Hollywood or in books today. You will love the large cast of characters, cheer them on and/or smile at their whimsical behavior and comments, while you will hate others and hope for their swift deaths. The deep plot is equally as impressive, weaving an intricate tale full of politics, racial tension and murder without ever getting boring. With beautiful, detailed locations and a variety of action-packed moments, there is never really a dull moment in the game.
The impressive voicework and character models also add to the storytelling experience. The voice acting featured throughout the game is very professional, throughly convincing and full of emotion. The character models are also well done, full of life and capable of facial expressions that are convincing and realistic enough to be enjoyable.
With a story this awesome, it’s a great thing that the gameplay is just as great. A third-person action RPG, players navigate across a number of locations, driving the story forward by completing quests as they go along.
Combat is also one of the highlights of the game. Gone are the frenzied slashes and exaggerated animations found in the first entry in the series, which was more akin to a dungeon crawler. Now the combat animations are smooth and realistic, full of beautiful swordplay, dodges, parries and magical attacks at the touch of a button.
Geralt, being a witcher and monster hunter, can use two swords in order to deal damage to his opponents. By using a steel sword, Geralt can deal damage to humans or elves, and by utilizing a silver sword, he could greatly wound supernatural beings, such as ghosts, monsters, etc. Knowing when to use each weapon is the key to success and survival in a game where the enemy can easily slay the witcher if you let your guard down.
To compliment Geralt’s excellent sword skills, he also can make use of five ‘signs’, a series of hand movements that allow him to utilize magical spells. Ranging from magical traps that freeze enemies in their place and summoning a temporary energy shield, to controlling an opponent’s mind and casting deadly fireballs, the signs add some depth to the combat system.
The witcher also has a number of tricks up his sleeve. Geralt can use a large variety of traps (provided he can acquire the recipes to build them or he purchases them in a store) to confound and deal with his foes swiftly. There’s a large amount of trap types in the game, each with a different use. Ranging from simple explosions to poisonous fumes and , they can tip the odds in the witcher’s favor.
Geralt can drink potions before going into combat in order to improve his stats and can also coat his blades with a number of substances. The former can help improve the witcher’s overall health and resistances, while the latter can improve the blades by adding a number of status effects to sword attacks, like poison, increased damage or more. These can make difficult encounters much more manageable. Potions and other substances can be bought in shops, or created with items gathered around in forests or salvaged from fallen enemies.
Equipment is also available to the player to strengthen Geralt’s defenses. With boots, gauntlets, armor, and armor enhancements, the “White Wolf” will be always prepared for any type of melee. Both weapons and armor can also be created at a blacksmith if the right schematic is presented in addition to the raw materials gathered.
As the player progresses through the story, Geralt will level up, allowing the player to access a skill tree that allows him to gain and upgrade a number of abilities. By selecting skills from four paths: training, magic, alchemy and combat, players can develop the witcher in a number of ways. They can improve Geralt’s spells in order to augment their effects, increase sword damage and acquire new melee abilities, craft with less ingredients, and more.
The Witcher 2′s combat is addicting and is one of the best parts in this game. The fighting is fast and intelligent, requiring the player to think before acting, as button mashing can get you killed fast. Boss battles also change things up a bit, requiring different strategies to take out the big baddies. These battles are welcome additions.
The title also features a couple of mini-games. Returning from the first game in the series is the dice poker, albeit a bit improved. There’s also a fist-fighting mini-game, as well as a arm wrestling one. Both are entertaining pass-times that expand the game’s fiction a bit, but thankfully, they aren’t necessary to the overall plot in any way.
Despite the overall solidness of the title, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings for the Xbox 360 is sadly not exempt of flaws. Common problems that occur in the game are clipping, as character models frequently phase through parts of the environments; character models ackwardly freeze on occasion before a battle begins; menus are very slow to load; ugly textures pop-up every so often, and more. Although these problems are minor and can be overlooked, they’re still present and raise an eyebrow or two on occasion.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition is one of the best RPGs of this year hands down. With a strong storyline, amazing set-pieces, killer combat and more, CD Projekt RED’s latest title is a masterpiece. Unfortunately, it is somewhat blemished with a few problems. Despite these, however, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition is still worth every penny. If you still haven’t gotten it, then shame on you.