The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition, released April 17th, 2012 on the Xbox 360 is an action-RPG from CD Projekt RED based on the novels of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. Originally released in 2011 on PC, The Witcher 2 is widely considered to be the most engaging and visually adept nonlinear PC RPG ever created. I sat down this weekend to see if the same can be said for the Xbox 360.
Assuming control of the witcher protagonist Geralt of Rivia, a professional monster hunter with a comfortably loose code of ethics, The Witcher 2 begins where the first in the series left off – an assassination attempt has been made on King Foltest’s life, and as it was Geralt who prevented it from reaching fruition, the King has demanded that he remain at his side during the war against the La Valettes.
“Sometimes you’ll find yourself in a groove, slashing and slaying and blasting entire groups of monsters at a time, and then, as if out of nowhere, a Nekker’ll sneak up from behind, and that’ll be the end of your story.”
The story arc is convoluted, complex and, most importantly, unique to each person to experience it. Littered with difficult choices that often take Geralt down different directions, and accompanied by a cast of characters as down-to-earth and rugged as the world they inhabit, The Witcher 2 offers a genuine story-driven experience without the shackles on linearity.
Further developing Geralt outside the main story is achieved by the use of side quests, which aside from forming an essential method for gathering materials and gaining experience, will often develop to reveal much of the lore and history of Temeria, and occasionally, that of Geralt and his mysterious past, too.
“An attempt to engage in battle ‘guns blazing’ will almost always end in swift demise.”
This experience is often intensified, both as a result of graphical prowess – something that continues to amaze me on the Xbox 360 – and the atmosphere created by the citizens of Temeria. At no point are you allowed to forget who you are or what you’re doing; some people will love you, others will hate you, most will fear you, and the combined experience is a living, breathing RPG world like never before.
And it’s a realistic world – sometimes you’ll find yourself in a groove, slashing and slaying and blasting entire groups of monsters at a time, and then, as if out of nowhere, a Nekker’ll sneak up from behind, and that’ll be the end of your story.
“Though your choices in the talent tree will vastly impact your combat efficiency, it’s your preparation for combat that will be rewarded most.”
Though to be fair, this isn’t a common scenario. It’s far more likely to be killed in battle well before finding any sort of groove; monsters and humanoids alike will have no trouble taking down an underprepared Geralt, often with a single blow to a less-than-protected back.
Combat in The Witcher 2, particularly on Dark difficulty, is as brutal as it is rewarding. An attempt to engage in battle ‘guns blazing’ will almost always end in swift demise – it’s the responsibility of the player to prepare Geralt for these battles well in advance (or more commonly, after several painfully frustrating defeats). Fortunately, there are several ways in which this can be achieved, and discovering them forms the heart of The Witcher 2 gameplay.
“The lower Geralt’s vitality, the less damage he’ll inflict with a sword.”
Progression takes the form of talents, whereby a point is earned for every level attained that can be allocated into one of 4 areas: training, swordplay, magic and alchemy. Allocating these skill points into areas that directly benefit your style of play is essential, as the benefits provided are crucial to success.
Though your choices in the talent tree will vastly impact your combat efficiency, it’s your preparation for combat that will be rewarded most. The use of Alchemy to create potions and blade oils, the careful placement of traps, sparring use of daggers and bombs and constant hunt for crafting materials to create new weapons and armour will all impact Geralt’s survivability in battle on a massive scale. As will careful management of vitality – which is used both when casting magical signs, and blocking and attacking with a sword.
“That is the magic of The Witcher 2, offering both a compelling story, but too, the freedom to make your own decisions, and revel in their impact on the world around you.”
The lower Geralt’s vitality, the less damage he’ll inflict with a sword, and the more damage you’ll take when blocking, so ensuring that signs like Aard and Quen – used to knock back opponents and shield Geralt respectively – are used minimally for those specialising in swordplay is another essential element to success.
With the exception of Insane difficulty, in which saving is disabled and death is permanent, Dark difficulty is the most challenging version of The Witcher 2; however, it’s also the most rewarding, offering a series of cursed weapon and armour sets that cannot be obtained in other difficulty modes.
“The Witcher 2 has remained every bit as competent on console as it was on PC.”
But, no matter which difficulty you choose, which path you walk, which items you craft, which characters you coddle and which you kill – the decisions will be yours to make, and the consequences yours to face. That is the magic of The Witcher 2, offering both a compelling story, but too, the freedom to make your own decisions, and revel in their impact on the world around you.
None of this has changed during the transition to the Xbox 360; with few minor exceptions, such as some notable texture-popping and irritating issues with sounds levels during dialogue, The Witcher 2 has remained every bit as competent on console as it was on PC, and with subtle inclusions of the Enhanced Edition, is now better than ever. – Cody Hargreaves