For the longest time my only experience with the world of The Witcher was reading the occasional comic on Penny Arcade. But one day, console-owners rejoiced when developer CD Projekt RED announced they were bringing an expanded version of the acclaimed The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings to the Xbox 360.
This console version seemed like the perfect opportunity for those who missed out on the first two games to dive into the series, but did The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition survive its transition from PC to console?
Well, you know what they say about things that appear too good to be true…
For people new to the series, you play as the titular witcher: Geralt of Rivia. A witcher is a mutant whose job is to essentially slay monsters for gold. Because witchers aren’t entirely human, they’re looked at with distrust and sometimes outright hate from the populace at large even though they provide valuable services.
Despite being a monster hunter, by the time the game ended, Geralt hasn’t done that much monster slaying for profit. Instead, the player gets wrapped up in a nearly impenetrable plot tied together with poorly designed game mechanics. Those coming into the game looking for a simple hack n’ slash action RPG will be sorely disappointed.
If you try to fight that way, even in the game’s tutorial section, you will get destroyed. Despite being tweaked to accommodate an Xbox 360 controller, combat in The Witcher 2 is an overly complicated affair with severe balance issues. In the beginning of the game Geralt, the White Wolf, is weaker than a kitten, but by the end of the game you’re a walking murder factory able to eliminate foes with your blades, magical Signs, and a whole array of alchemical potions and traps. The crux of the problem is all of these tricks and traps are incredibly difficult to use.
The targeting system is incredibly finicky with Geralt sometimes hopping incredible distances between foes when the player wanted to fight the guy right in front of him. Also I found the camera controls to be too loose when aiming ranged weapons; even worse, there’s no option to adjust the sensitivity.
The game’s controls were unresponsive, sometimes requiring multiple button presses, especially when I’d try to cast a magical Sign or throw a bomb. All in all, the combat in The Witcher 2 evolved into something I dreaded to more of a minor chore by the end of the game. The Witcher 2 prides itself on telling a “gritty” and “mature” tale that you won’t find in other RPGs. Well its story certainly is gritty, but for those new to the series, it’s also completely impenetrable.
In this Enhanced Edition, the developers added several cutscenes to bridge this game with the first one that fail to do their job. There’s such a thing as starting a story in media res, but The Witcher 2 takes it to ridiculous extremes.
You start the game fighting alongside some king as he goes to reclaim his bastard children from some rebels. You don’t know any of the characters. You don’t know the kingdoms and the different powers. And you don’t know why Geralt should care about any of the people around him. When this king gets assassinated you’re supposed to instinctually know just how big of a deal it really is. The game tells you that redheaded Triss Merigold is important to Geralt, but I never felt any big connection between them because it never showed me their bond.
It didn’t help that both their voice-actors are laughable. Geralt’s in particular is especially flat and monotone. Both Mark Frost and Peter Egan do a good job with their roles though. Players new to the series will struggle trying to understand all the different terms and names while the game continues to reference past events like we know what it’s talking about. Geralt in particular is fascinated with something called the Wild Hunt, but it never makes an appearance in this game.
Everything is poorly explained and such a mess that by the end of the game, I’d stopped caring about anything other asking the game to point me in the direction of who I needed to stab next. When the developer has to include a conversation between the main character and antagonist with over ten different dialogue options, each of them long-winded, you know they dropped the ball when it comes to story.
The game does present the racial tensions between humans and non-humans, much like Lord of the Rings’ elves and dwarves, in a believable and nuanced (also “gritty” and “mature”) manner, and there are several choices you can make over the course of the game about who to support in this conflict that lead to radically different outcomes. However, none of them satisfy because of how the game loves to keep the player at a distance. The Witcher 2 feels like a game that actively works against the player rather than with them.
A lot of the game’s mechanics revolve around pure guesswork. The game loves to tell you what you’re supposed to do next in a quest, but most of the time these hints are so vague and the mini-map is so useless that you can spend up to a half hour wandering around trying to find a single quest marker. The same guessing approaching even applies to combat as well. Many of Geralt’s abilities are activated by mediating and drinking potions before combat. To be clear, you can’t swill down some strength enhancing brew mid-fight. Instead, the game expects you to guess when you’ll get into a fight and be preemptively prepared. Problem is, when you don’t know what type of monsters you’re going to be fighting, you might find yourself drinking an entirely wrong combination of potions.
Obviously the visuals aren’t as good as they are on PC, but they still are some of the best seen on the Xbox 360…when they’re not constantly plagued by clipping and texture pop-in. During dialogue scenes, every time the camera changes angles all of the textures have to reload even when the game is installed to your console’s hard drive (which the instruction manual strongly hints you should do).
I’m not sure who this version of The Witcher 2 is for. PC gamers have probably already played it, and all the extra content included in this port is available to them for free. Unless they want to use a 360 controller that badly, they have no reason to purchase this. New players, already at a disadvantage by starting a series midway through, will find themselves lost and confused by the messy, dense plot and poor exposition that assumes the player is incredibly familiar with the game’s world.
Poor player direction and feedback, a complicated combat system, and a backwards difficulty curve round out the experience. Despite all the additions and enhancements, The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition is an unsatisfying game that won’t appeal to series newcomers and never lives up to its own ambitions.
This review was based on a retail copy of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition for the Xbox 360
Gamer Limit gives The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition a 4.5/10.