The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2012-05-01 Xbox 360 Action/RPG M (Mature) CD Projekt RED / Warner Bros.

Ever heard of doing it witcher and striga style?
He downs a flask, tries to get it on, falls fast asleep and she wakes up a virgin in the morning.

No, I didn't make that up. I learned it from the whores in Flotsam. It's amazing what we can pick up on if we just spend the time to listen, or what can happen if we only take the time to try things. While playing The Witcher 2 isn't "new" to me (was loving it on the PC until the hard drive exploded, Michael Bay style, taking all my game saves with it), I've been looking forward to play it on the Xbox 360. Even if only just to enjoy everything on a larger scale (50" HDTV) but especially without my keyboard awkwardness of mistyped commands. I'm happy to report that I get along with the controller much better than with AWSD and a trackball!

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings came to me as one of the 1000 review copies given via a contest... but I still had ordered a Dark Edition just because I couldn't go without the goodies.

I already have a series of Witcher memorabilia and my own claymore, so I really HAD to have it (thanks Tom for helping me find one!). But my Dark Edition and its amazing contents of awesomeness were stuck at a Purolator office for 6 days because they never told me where I was to pick it up, and the review copy arrived even later than that. But at I have them, and I treasure them, and I've played the crap out of them (well, just one, the other I am keeping sealed).

Similarly to when I first played the original The Witcher on PC, this time I sat down with the controller in my hands and was lost to the real world for six hours. And after the six hours had gone by, I felt like I had spent most of the time running around, playing poker, arm-wrestling and engaging in brawls. And seeing what each of the girls at the brothel had to offer (don't give me that look, you know you would too!).

Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition begins with a tutorial that I have no recollection of from the PC version. Here you have the chance to become accustomed to the basic controls, as you learn about alchemy, meditation and the different aspects of combat.

For those unfamiliar with The Witcher, here's a quick overview: Geralt is not your typical hero. He's a mutant, a swordsman and a monster slayer. The game is a complex and very mature RPG that offers you choices that are not exactly "black or white" as far as progression. The world, people's actions and the events surrounding you will change according to the choices you make.

The game has had a makeover as far as certain cutscenes go, and we can see it right at the start of the game where Letho infiltrates a ship. In awe and silence, I watched the impressive freezing spell take over people and ship alike, as the assassin moves in on King Demavend. Fast forward to a bruised and scarred Geralt running in the woods, and your game begins with imprisoned Geralt being interrogated. The "real" story and gameplay begin with the events leading up to King Foltest's assassination and Geralt being accused of it. With a staged prison break, it's up to the Witcher to clear his name and find the culprit. Sure enough, Geralt's been brought back from the dead twice and suffers from the worst case of video game cliche (amnesia) ever, so we will also be working on recovering his memory in the process.

Clumsy me took time to adjust to the controls, as usual, but it was a much better adjusting process than that of the PC experience. The one thing that still stumped me on occasion was pulling up the Signs menu during a battle; doing things while rushing never has a good result, but with practice, it became less aggravating and my movements more precise. This time around, there was no confusing the blocking with dodging or bomb throwing, since everything is mapped to a specific button. Combat is one of my favorite things and I really like the freedom of choice of going from a strong to a fast attack and using signs in between, without ever breaking my combo. Furthermore, I can customize it to my liking by distributing points into the skill tree in any way I prefer. I'm not crazy about the QTEs, but at least now I can actually do them properly since I'm not mistyping stuff on a keyboard.

A simple press of the "Back" button will take you to the journal menus, where you can check quests, formulas, character and location info, the map and of course, your inventory. The inventory does have the useful sorting features to show items of a specific category only, but scrolling through all of them was somewhat annoying with the triggers.

I make a lot of use of the journal, as I tend to pick up all kinds of quests all at once, and then get completely lost and sidetracked without knowing what I was working on anymore. In fact, my gameplay sessions are a bit like this:

"Quest xxx - go there and pick up the... oh look, herbs! Ah, monsters! Whew, ok now I can... yay! HERBS! Damn it, more monsters! Oops, I need to sell again, back to the merchants. Wait, I have something new I can make, where's the crafter? Crap, I'm missing materials, let's go to the storage at the inn first and... Oh yay! More herbs! O hai, I didn't talk to this guy here yet... Dice poker! Woo!! Wait, where was I going again?"

Maybe I have ADD. Maybe not. But I do hop around from one task to the other a bit too often, so hooray for the precious journal/encyclopedia!

Speaking of encyclopedia, there are several ways to fill up the journal with information. The obvious would be by reading books, particularly about monsters, since that greatly helps in finding their weaknesses. But you can also discover facts about creatures by killing them many times. While talking to people, you will sometimes have the option to intimidate them to tell you the truth, or you can simply force them to do so by using the Axii sign.

I was fairly annoyed by Geralt's limited carrying capacity, but then I discovered the storage feature at the inn and that all went away. And even better when I discovered all my items were still there even if I as at a different storage location. Sometimes, the toughest part is finding the person that holds the storage!

As for the major differences from the PC version, the new content (which is also available as a free download on PC for those who already own The Witcher 2) includes new cinematics, some new quests, characters and locations, which should add up to an extra four hours of gameplay.

Personally, I am happy with what I got from this console version. I feared the graphics might have been dumbed down, but everything still looks gorgeous and small details such as feathers flying as you kill a harpy, or blood and clumps of flesh splattering everywhere when a rotfiend is killed are worth noticing. I like the subtle effect that gives away Places of Power and the orangy sparkles that gather near herbs. I especially like the spell effects and brawling or combat animations. But the best moments come from simply stopping to admiring how vast the landscape is and running through massive areas without frame issues.

While I can't really complain much, I did experience some awkward moments that I must share. Random cutscenes would have strange camera angles, a particular one with Zoltan where I'd be staring at the sole of his shoes when he spoke, and could only see half a Geralt on the side of the screen. In another occasion, a dialog with Vernon Roche turned out with random screens of nothing but a block of blue and white textures. And on another couple of other occasions, the dialog scenes just didn't happen. The initial sentence would go through, but then there would be no sound, no subtitles, and all of a sudden the scene would end and I was controlling Geralt again without knowing what just happened. The worst was during a quest on Act 2, I got completely stuck on more than one occasion while trying to burn the corpses, unable to move or interact with anything for a few minutes. I honestly thought the system froze, but no, it just became unresponsive until the flames appeared. And that little delay between killing and looting a corpse is still there, as we wait for it to turn into a pile of entrails, and that really annoys me!

The Witcher 2 isn't a game that you can just rush through to see the ending. It's meant to be played slowly and enjoyed thoroughly, learning all that you possibly can about everything. There are references to the past, to Vizima during the first game, to events and characters in the books, which make it so much more enjoyable for those who are familiar with the game lore. And for those who aren't, there is no reason not to pick it up, even if these little extras will go unnoticed.

I got drunk out of my mind, tried to cross the river on a whore's ass, woke up nearly naked by the river with a silly tattoo on my neck. I helped my digital counterpart Anezka complete a ritual after many failed attempts at an epic battle with wraiths that kept on coming. I helped Ves deliver a baby while keeping guards at bay. I survived the mists, summoned a sorceress' ghost and broke a curse. I killed trolls, nekkers, drowners, harpies, bandits, hallucinated about a chicken and towering penises, gathered feathers for some guy who likes to dress up as a bird, and slept with some shapely ladies. And how could I forget all the fighting, the dice poker betting, the arm-wrestling... Yes, because I may be an unbeatable fighter, an expert swordsman, a proficient alchemist, with some cool magic powers to boot, yet once again I become a gambling addict, a hoarder, a womanizer. But above all, I am a Witcher.

...well, at least while playing Assassins of Kings anyway!

Looking for more about the game? Read Didi's first impressions, E3 2010 preview, and E3 2011 Xbox 360 preview.

Check out more videos of The Witcher 2: Assassin's of Kings Enhanced Edition here: