"Oi Witcher, killed any monsters lately you ****ing ****sucker" - being a witcher is indeed a thankless task.
Released back on the PC in May 2011 to rave reviews The Witcher 2 is an adult, gorgeous and frequently brutal RPG. Released next week just as Game of Thrones is back with us in the UK on Sky Atlantic, the timing is fantastic and it is very easy to draw comparisons between the two. If you loved Skyrim, if you love Game of Thrones then you are going to fall head first in love with The Witcher 2 .
Whilst it would have been a far easier task to simply port across the already available critically acclaimed PC version the team at Projeckt RED clearly haven’t rested on their laurels and have taken the decision to enhance the game whilst moving across to the humble Xbox 360. It is completely unfair to call this title a port as the development team have clearly made a conscious effort to improve upon what is already one of the best RPGs in recent memory. Building upon the original game additional gameplay has been added, a brand new CGI intro sets the scene and perhaps one of the bigges andt most jarring issues with the original game, the lack of tutorial, is rectified in this enhanced edition.
It’s a better game now than it was when originally released; loaded with all that additional content and a whole new community of XBOX 360 gamers are now able to enjoy it, ceasing to envy their power rig PC owning friends who have no doubt been rubbing it in for many many months.
Looks wise the game is very accomplished, probably akin to running the PC version on medium settings but that is by no means a criticism or indeed a bad thing. The world is still rich with colour and detail add to this the excellent character modeling and some very interesting creature design it all adds up to a truly good looking game. It’s not the best looking title to be found on the 360 but it’s not far away. Coming on two DVDs the game is best installed to the 360, as with all games of this ilk and whilst there is the odd random glitch here and there it’s a tight, well executed package.
For those new to the franchise you play as Geralt, the witcher, banisher of vile beasties and all round general bad ass. Having lost his memory he is framed for the murder of King Foltest of Temeria and sets off with a few friends to catch the actual killer and clear his name. Whilst that may sound like standard RPG storytelling, convoluted even, the story is the driving force of the game and will pull you in as you progress past the prologue. Unfortunately the newly added tutorial whilst essential for new players is dull as dishwater, some may even say the prologue does just enough to keep your interest; however at the end of the prologue the story comes alive magnificently in a beautifully crafted cut scene setting the tone for the rest of the game and from here the only way is up.
No punches are pulled during the sprawling plot and the story is so much the better for it - there are no Hollywood ‘high five’ moments to be found here, much like the earlier mentioned Game of Thrones, The Witcher 2 is brutal in its realisation of the story and the world it is set in. The end to end story is broken down into a series of chapters with some unique features along the way to keep you on your toes. Each chapter is punctuated with graphic novel style cut scenes, all of which are flawless in execution and brimming with bloody brutality. The only criticism that could be levelled at these lies in the voice over of these sequences - yes it’s the story told through the eyes of a companion and yes it’s completely relevant, sadly the voice work within these cut scenes is hammy and more than a little camp - it simply doesn’t seem to fit with the overall mood the game revels in.
Bookends aside the voice work throughout is genuinely funny and not for the easily offended. It is rare that a game will make you chuckle as the result of expletives but the writing is so fitting to the bleak world it just seems to work really well. If the other content within the game didn’t quite warrant an 18 rating (which it does) then the language throughout would push it way over.
To add to the generally great (and often Welsh!) vocal work within the playable game is a grand score worthy of gracing any RPG. Important moments are accompanied by a sweeping orchestral soundtrack and combat benefits from the pace of the heart pumping music.
Many have likened it to Skyrim and whilst there are some similarities it’s surprisingly more akin to recent Rockstar efforts. If you enjoyed Skyrim then you will be very much at home in the world created here and with the many RPG traits but the gameplay and story driven, often staged events, do not echo Bethesda’s classic and are more akin to a Rockstar effort. The Witcher 2 is as much a linear story driven experience as it is an open world adventure. Each key story segment is contained and this is not an open world adventure but it doesn’t matter one bit. The mix of the story hurtling you forward is wonderfully married with the ability to take a breath and head off on some side quests. Side quests that are indeed frequently entertaining, often very large/long and in some cases feeding directly into the main story via individual character interactions. It’s a lovely touch to have a seemingly throw away decision made four hours previously manifest itself in the main quest and fundamentally change the storyline.
As an RPG it has everything you could possibly want; armour, armour upgrades, short and long range weaponry, loot, levelling, skill trees, crafting, magic, potion making and sexy time with other characters. It reads very much like a checklist for modern RPGs and that is by no means a bad thing, The Witcher 2 merrily ticks all the right boxes when it comes to RPG mechanics. As a player you are granted such freedom when tackling a given quest or combat situation it can be a bit daunting at first, however this is helped by the excellent button mapping job that has been done to accommodate the 360 controller. Attempting to combine spells (signs), throwable items and hand to hand combat can often push your hands & fingers into the most bizarre positions but overall it’s all quite manageable, only really becoming a problem with multiple enemies on the higher difficulties.
What is definately not like an old school RPG is the tight responsive combat. Peering over someone's shoulder while they play The Witcher 2, witnessing them hacking away at multiple enemies it would be easy to ask the question “is this a new hack and slash title?” NO, it really isn’t. The wealth of combat options available coupled with the well mapped responsive controls makes for some enthralling battles but by absolutely no means is this a mindless button basher. At times it is punishingly difficult but never frustrating and ultimately if it all gets too much you can pop to the menu drop the difficulty for a few minutes and move on. The only real criticism that can be levelled at the combat is the sometimes odd hit detection, making it tough to know if you have been wounded and the odd sound drops when taking on multiple enemies.
As an action adventure, it excels, as an RPG it excels and as a story driven adventure, guess what...it excels. There are some very minor issues but they will in no way diminish the experience; most are instantly forgettable.
The Witcher 2 is as brutal as it is beautiful, lovingly crafted and showcasing adult storytelling at its finest. It’s big, it’s very clever and it’s a must buy.
Here is a excellent recap of events from the first game to bring 360 owners and PC newcomers up to date