When The Witcher 2 launched on PC last year it was widely heralded as one of the best Western RPGs in recent years and it met both critical and financial success. As with any popular PC game, almost as soon as it was released a number of observers wondered how long it would take before The Witcher 2 was ported over to consoles.
First things first let us be clear, The Witcher 2 has not been simply ported over to console. Instead what we have is a loving adaptation, taking all of the content from the PC original, including the downloadable missions, and tweaking it to cater to the Xbox 360. No content has been removed; it has simply been tweaked to improve the experience.
As well as some adjustments to the gameplay, including a new lock-on system and a dynamic camera, they have also added about four hours worth of new missions, and hours of new cut-scenes. The good news for PC owners of the game is that CD Projekt Red will be releasing all of this additional content as a free update when the game launches on Xbox 360, clearly displaying the developer’s dedication to their fans.
In terms of narrative you take the role of Geralt of Rivia, a famous professional monster killer that finds himself caught up in a conspiracy revolving around treason, regicide, and revolution. Playing through this massive adventure across three substantial lands will last approximately 40 hours, depending on how invested you get in the side missions, making this a hefty game.
There’s a real sense that the world you inhabit is a real place, with a great deal of variety in terms of accents, and a wealth of incidental NPC dialogue that really helps to establish the world around you. I lost count of the number of times that I found myself just stopping to listen to a conversation that a group of random passersby were having and becoming completely engaged in their mini-narrative.
The high quality of the graphics and sound design goes a long way towards creating a strong sense of immersion. Environments seem to go off into the distance for miles on end (even if sometimes you come across the odd barrier stopping you from venturing any further, such as water or a waist high wall). There is the odd graphical flaw every now and then, such as textures popping in or screen tearing, but these can be reduced by opting to install the game to your Xbox’s hard drive. The overall quality of the game’s visuals is phenomenal, making it one of the best looking RPGs on consoles by far.
As with many RPGs these days the game features numerous in-game choices that can dramatically change the world around you. What sets The Witcher 2 apart from other games is the fact that the morality system is so complex. There are no obvious good or bad decisions, and more often than not making the choice that you feel is morally right will have unintended repercussions later on down the line. In other games, such as Mass Effect or Fable, there is a very clear distinction between good and bad choices, and as such there’s little tension when it comes to making these decisions. Meanwhile in The Witcher 2 some of the choices are agonising as you try to second-guess the game.
Sometimes navigating can be a little problematic; unlike so many other games that tend to take us by the hand (a la Fable’s breadcrumb trail) The Witcher 2 gives you a map marker roughly indicating where you need to go. This only really becomes a problem when you reach multi-tiered environments, as there is no real indication if your objective is above or below you. In one town in particular I spent a long time wandering around trying to find a specific character’s house only to eventually realise that it was located above me the whole time. You could easily pass that off as my own stupidity, but at a recent press event even the designers of the levels found themselves getting lost on the odd occasion.
Combat is tight and varied, with a whole lot of depth. As well as your standard fast and heavy attacks, which can be linked together in numerous combinations to perform devastating combos, there are about half a dozen spells to use as well as projectiles and traps. The sheer variety in terms of combat means that no two fights will ever be the same, no matter how many times you play through the game. Sure you can get through most fights by simply bashing the main attack buttons and dodging out of the way, but in order to make it past some of the more challenging battles preparations must be made.
Rather than having weapons that can be upgraded with permanent boosters Geralt has a number of creatable potions and oils that he can apply to his equipment to offer short term upgrades. Similarly between battles Geralt can consume potions that grant him new abilities, such as the Cat potion that improves your vision, allowing you to see in the dark and locate enemies through walls. To balance things out each potion you consume has a certain toxicity level. Should you consume too many potions too frequently and you will poison Geralt, meaning that you cannot simply rely on potions all of the time.
In terms of customisation there isn’t really a whole lot you can do. You can craft items of clothing and weapons and equip them, but for the most part there is not a great deal of variety. It would have been nice to be given the opportunity to customise your character, but at the same time, as a result of this lack of customisation, Geralt has a very strong defined sense of identity. If your favourite thing about role playing games is creating your own character then you may feel disappointed at first, but I personally feel that having a powerful refined identity that contributes to the narrative is more important than being able to choose what colour trousers you wear.
The combat itself is actually fairly challenging even on the lowest difficulty level, but for those that relish the opportunity to test their mettle the developers have added a brand new Dark Difficulty mode. I would recommend only attempting this once you have completed the game at least once, or if you’re a masochist.
As an added bonus all retail copies of The Witcher 2 come with a free soundtrack CD, a map of the world, and a booklet at no extra cost. Considering the high quality of the game and the freebies there really is no excuse not to give this game a shot.
Graphics: 4.5/5 – At times it is one of the most graphically impressive titles on Xbox 360, with fantastic environments and lighting. At times you get the odd bit of texture popping and screen tearing, but not enough to diminish the overall experience.
Sound: 5/5 – Spectacular music and brilliant voice acting. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Gameplay: 4.5/5 – Varied and deep combat, a complex morality system, and a wealth of side missions will keep you occupied for hours on end.
Longevity: 5/5 - As a game on its own The Witcher 2 will last a good 40 hours to complete. Take in to account the fact that there are sixteen different endings and you may very well have found a game that will take the rest of your life to complete.
Overall: 4.5 out of 5
The Witcher 2 is easily one of the best western RPGs in recent years. The entire experience has been refitted to cater to the strengths of the Xbox 360 and all of the love and attention that has gone into the game shows in every single polygon. If you’re a fan of fantasy RPGs then this is a must buy.
- Luke Mears