The Witcher 2 360 and PC: Impressions
Geralt is a freak, or so I’m told by the vast majority of NPCs. He has white hair, yellow eyes, and one too many mutagenic potions has fried his memory . . . or something. But despite his amnesia, he’s a strong character with deep established relationships. Expect some hurt feelings – even looks of betrayal – if you make certain choices.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings – Enhanced Edition is rated B for Badass and contains the following:
- A heavily scarred hero carrying two full-sized swords.
- Full-frontal nudity within the first 60 seconds.
- An epic battle in place of a slow-paced tutorial.
- Choices that can result in hours’ worth of different content.
This is clearly a different kind of RPG.
Geralt is rarely faced with clear good versus evil choices and story outcomes aren’t governed by a morality meter. The conversation you thought was merely incidental can change your perspective about a quest hours later. Choosing whether to help an anti-human elven terrorist or assist a special forces commander known for *ahem* pacifying non-humans rewrites the entire second act. I’m thoroughly enjoying my second time through the story with the new Enhanced Edition.
Even after extensive rebalancing of the game last year, The Witcher 2 presents a very different learning curve from other western RPGs. Geralt is still trying to recover his memory from the first game. Okay, most games start you off weak, so how is that different? The surrounding world isn’t weak. In fact, it’s dark, full of monsters, and requires a deep understanding of the game’s mechanics to survive even routine enemy encounters.
The previous version had a separate tutorial section; it’s still present here but it’s not particularly helpful. For the Enhanced Edition, CD Projekt RED provides a much more seamless way to learn the game by flashing tutorial tips on-screen as new gameplay mechanics are added. Among the varying weapon types, traps, bombs, alchemy, and the deep magic system there’s a lot going on here. Even after thirty hours with the game, the hardest thing to wrap my head around is how preparation is central to combat. Get yourself in a fight that’s harder than you expected? You can’t chug potions to get yourself out of it. Instead of reloading and rushing back to the same fight, maybe you should meditate and down a health regeneration potion first. While you’re at it, set up some traps to lead the enemy through.
Though it’s no Dark Souls, combat in The Witcher 2 starts off challenging compared to most contemporary RPGs. Dodge the wrong way, miss a block, forget to lay a trap – a single mistake spells death. If you can get through the brutal early learning curve the payoff in terms of story and world-building is huge. Though the story can be obtuse at times, and is occasionally knocked off course by the Enhanced Edition’s added scenes, I love learning more about each character. Maintaining two separate playthroughs only enhances the experience, and it’s fascinating to see how choices lead to different outcomes, meeting different people, and even going to completely different quest hubs.
CD Projekt RED has a solid console control scheme and UI in place but it doesn’t keep pace with the PC version. Combat in The Witcher 2 requires constant movement, with heavy damage multipliers for back-stabs, and moving Geralt with mouse and keyboard feels slightly better. Targeting specific enemies is much easier with the mouse. Dodge-rolling is easier as well because hammering the movement keys ensures that Geralt will roll the instant he’s out of the current animation. The biggest annoyance on console, however, is that when you loot enemies or containers you have to take everything. This means plenty of time spent managing inventory as junk items keep cluttering up your pack. Both platforms’ UI suffers from a vague main map and a mini-map which frustratingly changes orientation based on where Geralt is pointing rather than being locked to a compass.
In adapting the game to the 360, CD Projekt RED put special emphasis on character model resolutions, so Geralt and his companions look rather nice even compared to the PC. I was shocked that the 360 version keeps the insanely detailed environments of the original game. Though the resolution and texture quality take a major hit, the forest surrounding Flotsam (the hub of Act 1) puts even Skyrim’s flora and fauna to shame.
The Witcher 2 is an impressive Xbox 360 title, with heavily saturated colors, a realistic-feeling medieval setting, and it is so realistic that my wife constantly came in from the other room swearing that birds were in the house. If you think that’s good, though, the game approaches photo-realism on the PC and is the prettiest game I’ve ever seen. It’s mind-blowing. The 360 version is a solid adaptation but it’s just that – an adaptation. I’d pick it up only if you lack a capable PC or just prefer gaming on the couch. Either way, this remains a “do not miss” for fans of western-style RPGs.