Last year, one of the most compelling and refreshing RPGs released on the PC. CD Projekt’s The Witcher 2 was lauded by critics for its incredible story, amazing graphics, and choices that actually matter (looking at you Mass Effect 3). Unfortunately, the steep hardware requirements meant only a small demographic could play this gem. That is, until now. Through some technical wizardry, CDPR managed to port TW2 to the Xbox 360 with a plethora of new goodies. The question that is on everyone’s lips is, “Well, how is it?” In a word, awesome.
Let me go ahead and get this out in the open. The Witcher 2 is not for kids. Topics such as racism, rape, and torture are explored, and there is lot of sex. A lot of it. The sex is handled very casually – nothing like the super awkward groping in the Mass Effect trilogy. These reasons make The Witcher 2’s story the first "made for adults" RPG I have played. Maintaining a spoiler-free summary, you are the titular Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, framed for the murder of the king. With aid, Geralt must clear his name. Obviously a lot more happens as various political schemes unfold, battles are fought, and mysteries are revealed. The story culminates with an ending that ties up most of the questions and sets the stage for The Witcher 3.
Legolas he is not.
One of the narrative's highlights are the choices Geralt must make. Most gamers are accustomed to the “strangle the murderer” or “save the orphan” choices popularized by titles such as Dragon Age or Mass Effect. The beauty of Witcher 2's choices is you have no idea what the “right” answer is. Do you kill the drunken troll that has been harassing travelers, or do you dig a little deeper and find out that the only reason he drinks is because hunters killed his wife? The idea that your actions have consequences is accentuated at the end of Act 1. Based on your decision, Geralt will journey to two very different areas for Act 2 each with its own quests and story. This requires at least two playthroughs to experience the full story, and believe me, you will want to play through several times.
Solely completing the game's main quest will take you about 20-30 hours depending on difficulty and your familiarity with the combat. Finishing all the side quests and exploring will add about another 10-15 hours. Multiple choices and endings encourage multiple playthroughs, as well.
Combat in The Witcher 2 is fast and relentless, similar to a game like Dark Souls. You will die a lot. The tutorial and prologue do an okay job of getting you accustomed to the combat, but they don’t do a good job of teaching you about the preparation aspect before battle. Unlike every other game in the genre, you can’t pop a potion in the midst of a fight. You must meditate beforehand to drink potions and coat your weapons with oils, runes, etc. At first this concept seems weird and unnatural, but after you get your butt handed to you several times, you will learn what potions and oils work best for the situation.
This situation calls for the "run like hell" potion.
After you collect enough XP, you level up (shocker, right?). With each level gained, you receive one talent point that you can then spend on the Talent Tree. There are four branches to this tree: Training, Swordsman, Alchemy, and Magic. Each one is pretty self-explanatory, and they all contain some pretty sweet abilities like group finishers and slowing down time.
Apart from the main quest, there are side quests and monster contracts. The side quests are pretty straightforward, although they reveal some really cool stories, and short minigames include arm wrestling and poker tournaments. Monster contracts are a really interesting version of side quests. Being a Witcher, you are sometimes commissioned to eliminate several critters nearby. Rather than run into the wild and get your ego bruised, you need to do some research. You can go to a bookstore and read up on the monster, learning their weaknesses and crafting potions and oils tailored for that specific creature. It is a truly refreshing take on the standard “kill the monsters” quest.
Anyone who has seen The Witcher 2 running on a high-end PC knows this game looks gorgeous. Obviously the developers had to partially downgrade the graphics so the game would run on Microsoft's console, but the game is still very pretty. All the environments are varied, and the shadowing is superb. All in all, this is one of the finest visual treats on the Xbox 360. There is some noticeable texture pop-in even with the game installed, but given the level of detail, this is easily forgivable.
The king looks more brooding on the PC.
The soundtrack and voice acting is, for the most part, fantastic. The score is a good blend of epic fantasy adventure and serene woodland strolls, and with the exception of two or three characters, the voice actors perform well. The man who voices Geralt nails the cool, casual badass. Kings sound regal and powerful, peasants sound despondent and irate, and bad guys sound appropriately menacing. The ambient audio, however, ranges from brilliant to hilarious. Wandering around the map, you will hear birds chirping, wind rustling, and water rushing. Wandering through a town, you will probably hear the same line of dialogue fifteen times (thankfully no arrows in the knee) – again, a minor annoyance.
If you are a fan of fantasy games, RPGs, or just a good story, you owe it to yourself to play this game. Great graphics, challenging combat, and choices that actually matter are icing on the cake. Texture pop-in is noticeable, and many will find the combat challenging, but those are minor complaints in an otherwise phenomenal RPG.
Published by: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developed by: CD Projekt
Release Date: April 17, 2012
Number of Players: 1
Platform: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PC