The Witcher 2 Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition - His & Hers Review
His Review by Ian Abbott
Once upon a time there was a Witcher called Geralt. Geralt quite liked to kill humans and lots of other things as well. When he wasn’t busy slaying folk he enjoyed going on exciting adventures in lots of different places, meeting new people and collecting swords and potions. However, poor old Geralt was also quite forgetful and needed some help trying to remember what had happened to him in the past. Some people were spreading nasty rumours that he had done something really naughty and killed a King. Do you think Geralt would do that? I don’t. So what Geralt has to do, with my help, is talk to lots of people, help him clear his name, make lots of people make friends with each other and find out who has been doing all these mischievous deeds.
The Witcher 2 is a grand three act narrative and could easily be called a work of interactive literature. As I slowly discovered the locations and environments, plundered tunnels, questioned villagers, crafted, enhanced and traded my weapons – the journey of Geralt began to enrapture me. I adopted the role wholeheartedly, his battle was now my battle as I endeavoured to re-capture my memory and cleanse the lands. I was catapulted into and embraced this world mainly because of the finely woven quest structure created by CD Projekt RED. The main and side quests were complemented and enhanced by both natural and emotional landscapes of the environments and the characters that each had a story to tell (irrespective of the size of their roles). It was this attention to detail and intelligent design that is virtually invisible to the naked eye but seeped into every fibre of the game that makes this game stand out as a narrative giant.Quests were activated and panned out in a familiar rhythm. There’s fetching, there’s fighting and there’s plenty of arm wrestling, dice poker and fist fighting to build up your personal finances. Even though the structural composition of the main and side quests recurs in each act, there is a significant difference in the characters, landscapes and quests interacted with to keep it crisp and stimulating. I was also presented with enough anchors and references to the past from characters, cut scenes and the environment to educate without it alienating me. As a newcomer to The Witcher series, by the end I felt thoroughly schooled in the worlds of Dwarves, Elves and Humans. The game is entirely self contained and I didn’t need any prior knowledge. The information design, delivery and release were considered and I was rewarded for my glorious and detailed exploration, as I pieced facts together from multiple sources, assembled files of information that aided me in crucial decision making, which is another one of the games great strengths.
Starting with the prologue, The Witcher 2 asks you to make decisions. Lots of decisions about the lives of characters, the fates of cities, to kill or save lives; all huge moral dilemmas. I applaud games that empower the player and let them live with the consequences. What struck me is that The Witcher 2 plays a long game when it comes to decisions and consequences and this is quite exciting and unlike anything I’ve encountered before. As the game progressed, it became apparent that MY plot was thicker than a blue Regicidal cocktail; it was swerving around, taking turn after satisfying turns and completely immersing me in its quest. In the prologue, I had an option to reason with a soldier and his men to stand down and forgo any violence or I could engage in a bout of fine 14th Century swordplay. The result? I was the last man standing. With Tracey, she chose to persuade him to not fight. Within both our games there was an immediate consequence - I encountered totally different characters and plotted an entirely different route through the next scene (a prison) to Tracey and she had to actually help this soldier who’d been captured in the prison to escape. We were both a little surprised and suitably impressed when we described our opening experiences and how different they had been, The Witcher 2 had demonstrated its power of decision and consequence with two genuinely different outcomes. However I had to pick my jaw off the floor at the end of Act III when this character appeared again in Tracey’s game. I was completely stunned. How could and why did CD Projekt bring this tiny character back into the game? Because they could and because it immediately made me question every choice and every action that I’d made in the game. I suddenly tried to map out other miniature crossroads where I could have done things which could have had entirely different outcomes, welcome to the long narrative. The well of respect I had for CD Projekt suddenly got a whole lot deeper.
To encounter and interact with the characters in The Witcher 2 is one of the great pleasures of the game and once again demonstrates the depth and thought which has gone in to ensuring that everything and everyone belongs in this world and nothing is superfluous. My favourites were the salt of the earth dwarves. They were crammed full of wit, some unrepeatable and hilarious one liners and constantly displayed urges to “plough” themselves silly. Sat alongside the dwarves were the greedy and feckless peasants demonstrating an alarming amount of casual racism and always out for themselves. There were dozens of others that made up a veritable conversational feast of experiences from arrogant noblemen who thought they were Mike Tyson in disguise to vodka soaked trolls and harlots and succubuses to tempt Geralt into sins of the flesh. Though the vocal delivery of the characters was A+, the character design, animation and placement within the landscape were distinctly C-. Clothes and hair were stuck rigidly onto bodies and did not waft with motion or environmental intervention. In numerous cut scenes it became obvious that the characters (who placed firmly in the foreground) had not been cleanly integrated with the landscape and the edges and perspective between the two were sometimes askew. This alongside the menu design (it was so difficult to access information, potions and weapons quickly, it interrupted the flow and broke my rhythm of the game) were my only two bristling experiences in my massively positive 50 hour experience.
There are so many things that do belong and make this RPG one of the early runners for Xbox 360 game of the year. It is a well conceived and fantastical world, occupied with eloquent interweaving quests, a considered and complex narrative and is, most importantly, highly playable. The Witcher 2 is a brilliant gaming experience.
Her Review by Tracey McGarrigan
Shaded woods filled with herbs, bandits and monsters. Towns encircled with grumpy guards, stone walls and smithies. Inn’s to play dice or arm wrestle in. Cunning mages wearing sack-cloth hats or intricate beaded bodices. Grubby peasants who work hard and ‘plough’ harder with the velvet clad ladies of the local brothels. Elves hating humans, Dwarves loving beer and Kings declaring war, Temeria is a hive of classic fantasy stereotypes. Walking calmly through the land, a heavily scarred, mottled man with a white pony tail and piercing auburn feline eyes; Geralt of Rivia, with leather gauntlets, alchemical potions and a hefty couple of blades strapped to his back. Though the Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings may initially appear to be a standard fantasy RPG title, underneath the façade, it’s anything but.
Though featuring a typical cast of species, Geralt is a refreshing change to many other leading fantasy men. Lifted straight from the pages of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s best-selling novels, Geralt is already fully fleshed out in a clearly defined role. As a Witcher, he hunts monsters for a living and though his exceptional fighting skills make him a highly desirable asset to Kings and clans, he avoids politics where ever possible. Wherever he roams, ladies instantly lust after the mysterious man and in my game he loved all the ladies. In fact he cuts such a formidable picture in the sack, he can have sex without removing his hessian underpants, unlike his bed fellows who without exception were vocal, athletic, busty nudes. The mage Triss was featured semi-naked on the front cover of Polish Playboy magazine when the game was launched yet despite The Witcher 2 being stirringly adult in content, it appears we’re still too afraid to see male nudity in video games. Elsewhere, the combat is brutal, fast, unforgiving and bloody whilst the language is crude and mature. Compared to other fantasy titles, this is definitely not for a young audience – it’s no fairytale adventure and it’s all the grittier and satisfying for it. Here there’s no invitation to mould him to become either a good or bad character. Rather, when he gets tangled up in the war simmering across Temeria, the way forward is filled with difficult decisions where sometimes just choosing the lesser evil is the only way to progress. It’s this murky agony of cause and effect that sets this game apart from other RPGs.
Ian and I realised we’d chosen to pursue the same major plot thread (Ian hacked and slashed most of the people he came across where I took the more diplomatic, persuasive conversational route) and though I appreciated our usual exchange of what we though was cool or grotty about the game, a persistent, gnawing curiosity to experience the flip side of the tale took hold of me. I decided that I couldn’t write a word until I’d seen how events unfolded when exploring the alternative path and immediately jumped into a second run through which I have NEVER done with any other game before. Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Fable, Catherine, Heavy Rain; all titles with different routes through but that have always left me adequately satisfied after just one run that maybe I’ve followed up with hollow promises to revisit them one day. The Witcher 2 bewitched me, and I couldn’t stand to think of all the other excellent vocal performances, the relationships between the sumptuous, scheming, enigmatic and passionate characters, the detailed locations or the complex storyline I was missing or could influence. Yet still, I wasn’t prepared for was just how totally absorbing and different in atmosphere, plot and emotion the second run through would be. Even the visuals were different, changing from the intricately carved stone dwarven labyrinth town to the sprawling, muddy, cloth tents of an army camp. The replayability factor is here is astonishingly deep, rewarding and powerfully compelling. Depending on whom Geralt ventures off with at the end of chapter one reveals which area of the land he visits next, with the alternative area and characters within it locked away. Decisions here have a genuine and massive impact and are expertly woven to a dramatic conclusion. During the second run, even with the knowledge of what was happening on the other side of the battlefield, who the key movers and shakers were and how their story would have unfolded had I been with them, run-through two was still dramatic and surprising with each story thread as strong and enjoyable as the next. I still had to concentrate on how things were developing as it’s unashamedly complex with lore oozing into every conversation. There are also times when you have to make snap decisions as a little timer pops up. Frantic reasoning, usually when your blade is at someone’s throat forces you to quickly assess situations and make a move. No going off to make a cup of tea whilst you weigh up all the options. It’s exciting, tense and sets this apart from other RPG’s.
Clearly one of the best looking games to ever grace the Xbox360, the attention to detail and intricate locations have a stark, Skyrim atmosphere but are not without beauty, especially when you stumble upon forgotten, romantic ruins or peaceful coastlines. Often maddening to navigate through with dead ends and long treks from one quest to the next, despite having invisible borders to keep you on the path the world is for the most part authentic and wonderful to explore. The menu however is a nightmare. Moving from PC to the Xbox360, though developers CD Projekt have worked really hard on making a smooth transition and have included loads of new features like a better camera system, slicker controls with lock on features, a new difficulty setting and an arena mode where you can be beaten black and blue by a variety of foes, round after round (it’s tricky, neither Ian or I have got past round 11) the lack of a quick click with a mouse makes picking out single items from the inventory tediously boring as scrolling with the controller takes an age. Talking about buttons and menus is boring I know, but as preparation before battle (selecting the right armour, weapons and potions) is a huge part of the gameplay, it’s worth noting, especially as what I usually enjoy in RPGs is the constant tinkering and upgrading kit and items. So compelling is The Witcher 2 though that it didn’t spoil my overall enjoyment and I’d still recommend this as one of the best fantasy RPGs ever. The port over to the X360 is for the most part, good. It’s bigger and better than its PC sibling with over 3.5 hours additional gameplay added including new cinematics, plots and characters, plus there is a jaw-dropping, eye-popping CGI HD movie, directed by BAFTA winner Tomasz Bagińsk that is stunning with slow-motion detail of jowls and arrows and ice shards with a shivering score that overall is totally WOW!
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition really IS enhanced. A heady mixture of adventure, war, revenge, deceit, sex, morals, magic and mystery with blades, alchemy and monstrous armour, to spend an hour with this game is amazing; to undergo two full run-throughs was pure pleasure. The blurring of good and evil with some excellently designed quests and some professional vocal performances, combined with some deeply rewarding mature content makes this a genuinely rewarding and exciting adult gaming experience.
The The Witcher 2 Assassins of Kings: Enhanced Edition is out now for Xbox360.