As far as mature fantasy epics go, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings stands shoulder to shoulder with many of the industry’s finest – boasting some of the most advanced storytelling and considered combat we’ve seen this side of the “next” generation. Whilst its linearity may not conform to the open-ended action-RPG manifesto that gamers have come to appreciate, the extravagant array of brutality, sex, magic and crafting ensure that The Witcher 2 is one hell of an immersive, authentic fantasy experience.
Picking up from where the original left off, amnesia-suffering protagonist Geralt of Rivia suddenly finds himself a prisoner at the mercy of King Foltest’s men in Temeria after being framed for a crime which he did not commit. With revenge on his agenda, Geralt – a “Witcher” in possession of superhuman strength and magical prowess – sets off with his band of faithful’s (including the seductively alluring enchantress Triss) to clear his name, avenge the King and discover more about his past…
In terms of the narrative, this exposition really serves as a mere taster for the myriad of intriguing and well-rounded plot-lines that The Witcher 2 propels its players through – enhanced by roughly four new hours of new material and additional cut scenes. Yes, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings: Enhanced Edition (and there’s a mouthful) is more than just a port of one of the PC community’s most critically and commercially successful games, it’s a whole new experience adapted and remastered by Polish developers CD Projekt RED. Whilst I’m not really a PC gamer, I can appreciate the extensive lengths the developers must have gone through in order to whittle a keyboard-heavy blockbuster RPG down to just a few buttons and two analogue sticks – whilst still retaining a sense of depth within the inventory and potion-brewing menus.
And boy will that be the first thing you recognise as you begin to assert yourself within the aggressive confines of the Northern Kingdoms! Very much like being thrown in at the deep end, even a brand new tutorial introduced just for console gamers will do very little to quench the daunting aspects of handling tactical combat, potion-brewing, spell-casting, meditating, equipping, long-range attacking and enchanting. Whilst the first few levels presented entirely through flashback (an absorbing framing device which works extremely well here as the games’ prologue) will hand players their collective asses, mastering tactical combat soon becomes as effortless as navigating the chunky inventory menus – although with that said, certain fights with large enemies may take a few tries as players really will have to “test” fight (and subsequently “test” die) in order to learn what strategies must be implemented to take down the baddies efficiently and without using too many resources next time. Combat here really is a refreshing take on the hack-n-slash genre, with the standard sword-swiping button-bashing taking a back-seat in favour of throwing bombs, knives, laying traps and blasting enemies with varied and deadly magic. It works well but as I say, it will take some getting used to.
Gameplay is your usual fare of fighting, stealthing, escorting and enhancing – with a few shaky quick-time moments thrown in for good measure. Geralt is an intriguing protagonist and somebody you genuinely want to explore deeper, and this is partly where The Witcher 2 differs from Skyrim (a game of which Assassins of Kings cannot go five minutes without being compared to). Unlike Skyrim, The Witcher 2 is linear to a certain degree and whilst both games allow gamers to “create their own journeys” this is all under the guise of Geralt’s over-arching mission. Again, there are dragons here – but these guys are omnipotent fire-breathing death-traps, completely the opposite of Bethesda’s winged beasts which are treated more like occasional “trophies”. Both games are fantastic in their own ways but I find the comparisons really tenuous – it’s like me calling The Witcher 2 another Game of Thrones just cos’ of all the stabbing… and all the tits.
Sound really is the 12th man here; a vast audioscape of dialogue, diegetic atmosphere and soundtrack all used effectively in order to help immerse players into the gorgeous locations in which the game takes place. The voice acting, in my opinion, is the unsung hero of this game – however this may be due to my bias Birmingham City roots as it seems many of the Northern Kingdoms’ inhabitants have just been transported straight from the Midlands and plonked into a fantastical version of Solihull. The unpolished, laughable regional accents really are a charming addition to The Witcher 2 – and I’d have them any day over archetypal fantasy enunciation. It’s this fleshed out universe which adds far more layers to the game than it needed to have, and it’s this which helps the title stand out as one of the better fantasy RPG games that players can pick up for their consoles.
In conclusion, aside from a few questionable quick-time events, texture popping and daunting first few hours, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings: Enhanced Edition really is a premium title dazzling with quality, gloss and a lot of love and attention. It’s easy to see why this was one of the highest rated PC games of all time, as the characters are intriguing, the locations beautiful and the combat refreshing. With hours of new content added for console gamers, it would be hard not to recommend The Witcher 2 to fans of action, adventure, fantasy or RPG games. Heck, even if you’ve already played the game on the PC it may be worth owning just for new characters, moral choices and developed narrative alone. It’s no Skyrim killer, but that’s because it’s really nothing like Skyrim at all – it’s a well-rounded, authentic fantasy experience and one I couldn’t rate highly enough. As those brummy compadre’s would say, The Witcher 2 on the Xbox 360 is “bostin’”.