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The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings Enhanced Edition Review

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Sam Bandah

The Witcher 2 heads to consoles to show the rest of the RPG pack how it's done.

Witcher 2 2.jpg

Published on Apr 12, 2012

You might not think it, but it’s time you played another big RPG. Yes, we know Skyrim took over your life, that you blasted through Kingdoms Of Amalur and were hit hard, one way or another, by Mass Effect 3, but trust us, playing The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings will totally revitalise your inner RPG nerd.

It’s rather fitting that developer CD Projekt Red’s epic RPG centres around the hunt for a murderer of kings, because quality-wise The Witcher 2 arguably slays many of its higher-profile peers. We honestly haven’t played a narrative RPG of this depth since Dragon Age.

Everything in The Witcher 2 is about nuanced layers, each of which slowly peels back to reveal greater depth and surprises. That starts with its story, which is a mature tale of noble intrigue, conspiracy, sex, murder and vengeance.

You play Geralt of Rivia, a witcher who finds himself blamed for the death of his patron, King Foltest of Temeria, and escapes to clear his name, and if this were a book, ‘page-turner’ would hardly describe it.

So many RPGs’ attempts at using sex, bad language and violence to be mature – yes, we’re looking at you, Dragon Age II – are often gratuitous or clumsy.

But here they simply serve a well-written story of a believable fantasy world, one plagued by greed, racism – a major subplot revolves around the uprising of non-human races like elves and dwarves – and self-interest, much like our own.

It really helps that the game world is similarly nuanced, and while not completely open, each of its hub cities – the rebel-infested forest town of Flotsam, the disputed area around upper Aedirn, and the elven city of Loc Muinne – are filled with characters and atmosphere in their shops, taverns, brothels and castles.

Mass Effect-style conversations and real-time third-person combat are the order of the day, but both have surprising depth. Many of the characters you interact with feel realistically motivated; no one is entirely good or pantomime bad.

They all have reasons for what they do. It means quest conversations often aren’t bare-faced ‘good’ or ‘bad’ choices, but something in between – and the game isn’t afraid to grant or deny a quest or reward because of your choices.

Pivotal decisions often have serious narrative consequences; at one point the game actually branches in two entirely different directions depending upon one.

It’s a depth reflected in both its third-person combat and hardcore RPG mechanics. Your bag of tricks is really deep, and we found the key to success was mastering its system of hard and fast attacks with either your silver monster-killing sword or normal blades, and combining it with a multitude of secondary weapons like bombs, knives and traps and your five witcher ‘signs’, or magic spells.

The game’s circular command wheel, which slows down the action as you pick powers or weapons, lets you place magical traps so you can kill shocked foes, turn their attacks with your magical shield, or set them ablaze.

Another makes them turn on each other, and stunning them either knocks them down Force Push-style or allows spectacular one-hit kills. But preparation is just as important as combat management.

You need to equip the right armour and take status-affecting potions to survive really tough battles, and potions can only be made and taken while in meditation outside of battle.

Combat isn’t easy, as all this takes a while to grasp, but once you do you become a whirling dervish of death, and it’s extremely satisfying. Geralt can be customised as you level up, mixing and matching swordsmanship, alchemy or signs skills on your progression tree, and your growing combat prowess ties back into the story.

You feel very much like the hard as nails yet often compassionate witcher, and both NPCs’ responses to you and your narrative choices, good or bad, make more sense.

What makes The Witcher 2 so compelling is that you rarely get genuinely mature themes and a willingness to have complicated role-playing systems in modern RPGs, especially with this polish.

Even quest puzzles are often clever in surprising ways, like having to investigate a murder scene and follow multiple blood trails through a forest with your potion skills, or solving a deadly riddle while several NPCs give you conflicting advice.

The Witcher 2's action set pieces are no less jaw-dropping as you’re in epic sword battles, heroic escapes and fights with monstrous boss creatures right from the get go, and it has great pacing for such a big game.

Its adventure can span up to 50 hours across its two discs, but you’re never bored, driven by both the story and a love of its combat. It doesn’t hurt that The Witcher 2 is a beautiful game either, CD Projekt Red getting a surprising amount out of the 360, and loading times are impressively short.

All this said, The Witcher 2 isn’t perfect; its inventory system is slightly cluttered – something not helped by having to manually discard unwanted items – and your map/quest system often highlights some objectives but not others, making for too much needless wandering.

Throughout The Witcher 2, checkpoints can be a pain too, occasionally leaving you stranded, unprepared, on the wrong side of a major battle. Still, none of its rough edges as a PC port prevent this from being an epic, atmospheric and demanding RPG that you should play right now. 

 

Score Breakdown
Graphics
9.7 / 10
Sound
8.8 / 10
Gameplay
8.7 / 10
Longevity
7.8 / 10
Multiplayer
N/A / 10
Overall
9.0 / 10
Final Verdict
The Witcher 2 raises the bar in so many ways that any RPG fan who misses it will regret it. While it isn’t always easy to play, it’s an engrossing and rewarding experience that exemplifies some of the best qualities of the genre.
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Game Details
Format:
Xbox 360
Release Date:
17/04/2012
Price:
£39.99
Publisher:
Namco Bandai
Developer:
CD Projekt Red
Genre:
RPG
No. of players:
1
Verdict
9.0 /10
The king is dead, baby. Hail to the king
Screenshot Gallery
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