The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings received a wave of goodwill last year from critics and fans alike. It was even dubbed our Shacknews 2011 Game of the Year. By the time the buzz hit a fever pitch, a console version had already been announced, and so I waited. Months later, the Xbox 360 version has been released, and I was as curious as anyone to see how it withstood the lofty expectations set by the accolades -- including our own.
It's easy to see the game's appeal right away. The Witcher makes a strong first impression based on its presentation alone. While the PC version is undoubtedly more impressive, CD Projekt has managed to squeeze some gorgeous visuals out of this console port. I was especially struck by the layers of fabric and attention to detail in costuming. The visual appeal weaves a distinct world, somewhat reminiscent to dark fantasy like A Game of Thrones, which is aided by complex political intrigue that permeates the entire game.
The combat is punishing, and I have to imagine intentionally so. As streamlined as it may be to feel action-focused, it never lets go of its RPG roots. While the combat itself generally feels dynamic and fast-paced, battles require more patience than most modern action RPGs. It took me some time to accustom myself to proper preparation before a battle with the use of potions and oils, since almost any battle could be fatal.
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When death comes -- and it does, often unexpectedly -- the checkpoints have proven frustrating on more than one occasion. While the stacked checkpoints have saved me from being stuck in a particularly tough battle, they come too haphazardly to be counted on. The solution is to manually save, but without a quick-save option (due to controller streamlining, no doubt) that method is more tedious than it should be.
Battle preparations are handled through a menu that also sometimes shows its roots a little too clearly. CD Projekt did an admirable job compressing the various options and menus into a controller interface, but the ways to access them never feels completely natural to the platform -- obviously, because it isn't. It's been easy to momentarily forget how to perform a menu action, based purely on the wealth of options available at any given time.
The game received praise for its moral ambiguity, which is probably the quality I appreciate the most. Despite its linguistic flourishes, the game hasn't left me feeling like I made a choice blindly. The choices, and their possible consequences, are easy to grasp even in the midst of delicate and complex political strife. If I'm surprised by a result, it's clearly because I was supposed to be -- Geralt was too.
And though I can't speak for the PC version's load times, the console version's are a double-edged sword. They're mercifully short, which is a testament to the technical prowess in optimizing this version for its platform. On the other hand, they're also particularly frequent, especially in the cities that are split between three or four distinct parts.
This problem is exacerbated by a map and mission log that hasn't always made my objective very clear. I'm told to find a person in the village or wipe out a monster stronghold, without details of where those are. So I'm left to run around, checking with every villager or throughout the monster lairs, intermittent loading all the while, until I stumble upon the goal.
Those complaints may sound sour on the game, but the experience is so finely-tuned and well-translated into this console version that they're easy to overlook. Some of the rough spots in translating such a complex PC game to the Xbox 360 are, if not forgivable, at least understandable. The praise for the PC version was deserved, and now console players can finally see why.
The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition is now available on PC and Xbox 360. For the purposes of this report, the reviewer rented the Xbox 360 version of the game on GameFly.
Field Reports provide our first-hand experience with the latest games, but should not be considered a review.