With the upcoming release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on my mind, it seemed like an appropriate time to strap on the steel and silver swords and wander into the wilderness with CD Projekt Red’s, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (Enhanced Edition) for the Xbox 360.  I was completely new to this series, as I’d been given a copy of the original Witcher for PC, but was unable to play it, due to outdated hardware.  Thankfully, prior story knowledge is not dire, because plot tidbits are explained and filled in as the story progresses.

You assume the role of expert monster hunter/slayer and witcher, Geralt of Rivia, the protagonist of the series.  At the beginning of the game, Geralt is imprisoned for, and charged with, the death of a king.  After a somewhat lengthy tutorial in the form of a prologue/castle storming/battle sequence explaining the happenings of the assassination, and why our hero was found alone over the corpse of the beloved king, he is set free to prove his innocence, regain his lost memory, and kill the correct kingslayer before more dastardly goings-ons can commence. The remainder of the game is spent exploring, fetching, and fighting through three different settings in the world.  As you progress through the story missions, you begin to remember pieces of past events through flashbacks.  While adventuring and investigating, Geralt will have countless interactions with various NPCs in the world.  Different dialogue choices you make can alter how the story plays out, how much information Geralt receives, and who Geralt can take to bed, resulting in one of MANY very mature love scenes, featuring a plethora of polygonal naked prostitutes.

The controls for the 2nd installment in the series worked correctly approximately seventy percent of the time. The remaining thirty percent just made me laugh. There weren’t enough control bugs to make me throw down my gamepad and quit, but there were enough to cause me to die a horrible death at the hands of a Nekker or two on a couple of occasions, forcing me to restart from a previous save file.  The general functionality of the controls made sense overall, but they were a bit clunky for my liking.  Roll to dodge was my best friend in battle, but I found myself tumbling right back into the hands of the enemy on more than one occasion.  There was a slight delay after hitting the designated buttons during combat, as well.  This, coupled with rolling back prematurely, left Geralt more than bruised a few times.  What helped me a great deal in battle, were the skills I received via experience points that are used to upgrade one of four different skill trees.  Points (talents) can be put into magic (signs), alchemy, swordsmanship, or the more general and generic “Training.”  Geralt uses five signs: Axii (mental control over a person), Aard (force push), Igni (fireball), Quen (magic shield), and Yrden (rune traps to immobilize enemies). Through the trees, Geralt can upgrade these signs, as well as his vitality (health), vigor (mana pool), and sword play to ultimately up his game to staggering degrees.

The in-game graphics are quite impressive for the 360, when they finally come into focus.  I had to wait far too long, far too many times for my surroundings to render, or for an NPC’s armor to come into view, showcasing the tiny details of battle-born dents and scratches.  As I said, those details are impressive, but that loses luster after you’ve waited twenty seconds for them to appear.

One of several camps inhabited in a beautiful world.

 

Cut scenes, also, look brilliant when they load properly.  During the prologue, especially, as a scene was building intensity, it would cut to a cinematic, just to have that momentum stopped by a loading screen mid-sentence.  There were some different cinematics, however, that resembled hand-drawn animation, which depicted Geralt’s past.  These were carried out flawlessly, and with a touch of beauty (I’m a sucker for hand-drawn animation).  One of my favorite visual aspects of W2was the lighting in various scenarios throughout the game.  Whether you’re standing by a campfire at midnight, running around a village at nine A. M., or winding through a dungeon maze, the lighting (or lack thereof, in some cases) is always perfectly shaded and shadowed against the changing backdrops.  This lends itself quite perfectly to the X Factor category on this occasion.

The sounds of the game were more hit than miss, mostly. Sure, the NPC’s chime-ins get a bit repetitive after you’ve cruised by them two or three times on a fetch quest, and the howls in the forest never produced an actual wolf; however, the remaining ambient noises, the crackling of fire as I passed a torch, and the clang of metal during combat more than made up for that.  If nothing else, the light, happy music during the dice poker game was enough to make me want to learn the lute.

The acting was decent, save a few missed inflections.  The editing was mostly bad, however, leaving more than a few jokes to fall to their tragically unfunny deaths.  For example, a character’s joke would rely completely on an interruption by another conversing character, but when edited together poorly, it results in too much space between character’s sentences, leaving me wondering why they just didn’t say the word.

There are a few things that work really well in W2, and a few things that don’t (we’ll start with the bad, and end with the good.)  As previously stated, the visual rendering delay can be a bit of an annoyance, but it was most definitely not something to stop playing because of.  Nor was the A. I.’s idiocy (CONSTANTLY running into walls, running circles in place, or taking an awkward amount of time to answer a question), unless you’re easily agitated.  What almost caused me to turn the game off and go outside, however, were the constant glitches. On one occasion, in order to progress the main story along, I was to fight a particular character and his goons, then gather his belongings. The goons proved to be a decent challenge, but the mini boss just stood there.  He would neither take, nor execute any damage, causing me to restart my game, once again, from a previous save file (I recommend you save often.)  In another instance, Geralt was having a much needed confab with an NPC concerning the ongoing story, when the audio completely cut out.  Had I not had subtitles on, I would have been completely clueless as to my next destination.  Another glitch, which happened about seventy-five percent of the way through the game, would have definitely caused me to quit, had I not been completely invested in the story.  I was fighting a group of Endregas (spider-kind), and rolled prematurely back into the fight, allowing the beast to swipe a couple of times, taking the rest of my health away.  I should have died, but I didn’t.  I was granted access to the rest of the battle, taking no more damage, but also regenerating no more vigor.  I even tested this new found invincibility, only to discover that I was, indeed, impervious to damage.  I button-mashed my way through the rest of the game (restarting from various saves, just to be sure), without dying another time.  Absurd. Absolutely absurd.  If you like that sort of thing, by all means, exploit away, but it definitely cheapened the game more for me.

Fist fighting, although just quick-time events, proved to be an addicting departure from normal gameplay.

 

What did work well for me, aside from the decent graphics and lighting, were little details. These included the previously mentioned dents and scratches on the armor in the game, as well as fun minigames (dice poker, arm wrestling, and fist fighting).  The minigames provide a relief from hunting the kingslayer, and allow you to earn a (very) little amount of extra coin on the side.  What stood out to me, also, was the main menu screen.  As I progressed through the game, the menu background would change accordingly, reflecting a somewhat lively scene from the setting Geralt was currently inhabiting. The use of signs and swordplay (before the invincibility glitch) was also very satisfying once I figured out the proper strategies needed for each specific scenario.

Dice Poker was a fun way to pass time and build Geralt’s reputation around camp.

 

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (Enhanced Edition) for the Xbox 360 is an engaging Action-RPG with an interesting story, fun gameplay, and fantastic visuals (when rendered) that had me hooked until the end.  A few glitches here and there were a slight annoyance, but not enough to turn me off of a very good game at its core.  With different ways to level your character, and various dialogue choices to alter given information and relationships, I will be questing to find the kingslayer at least two more times, and taking different paths each time.

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