CD Projekt’s port of their acclaimed RPG The Witcher 2 brings the continued tale of Geralt of Rivia to the Xbox 360 in spectacular fashion. Bundled as the “Enhanced Edition,” the game ships with over six hours of bonus content, a physical copy of the haunting soundtrack, a full-page quest guide and a beautiful two-sided map. The console version remains true to the PC original — violence and sex scenes intact — and handles the transition from keyboard to controller with ease.
Framed for the assassination of the very king he was sworn to protect, The Witcher 2 kicks off on an epic if not sometimes confusing tale of political turmoil and shadowy conspiracy. Fortunately, Geralt has a more personal and compelling reason to see these twists through, driving the action and interest forward during even the most convoluted of plot twists. Along the way, Geralt is forced to choose sides, picking allies and foes as he quests to find the truth behind both the current events and his own mysterious past.
The friends and enemies forged along the way feel meaningful, though the consequences of your actions are rarely immediately apparent. Paths of good or evil can be difficult to distinguish and many times you’ll find yourself lost in some moral middle-ground. Ignoring the needs of others in favor of your personal interests also provides a rewarding path as you draw near the end of the game.
Largely broken up by chapters, each of the game’s segments are defined by a central town or hub that serves both as a backdrop for the main story as well as a place for you to pursue secondary content. From contract missions and NPC-given side-quests to games of dice, arm wrestling, and fist fighting, there’s never a lack of content to explore.
Chapters are tied together with beautifully crafted cut-scenes and real-time rendered set-pieces. Some of these scenes play out in a graphic-novel style while others are narrated by the bard Dandelion. Fully-rendered CG movies — such as the one that plays at the start of the game — are stunning and rival even those of super-studios like Square-Enix.
A wealth of information can be found by exploring the world; from texts that outline specific weaknesses and tactics for various monsters to back-story surrounding the current and past political environment. Recipes for potions, enhancements, and equipment can also be discovered. Collecting the abundant reagents scattered throughout the world will allow a crafter to create these items for a small fee, while potions and oils can be made yourself.
As you level up, you’ll unlock talent points that may be spent on skills from any of four schools of knowledge — basic skills, sword (combat) related skills, magic skill, and alchemy skills. None of the skills present a game-changing boost in and of themselves, but by the time you fill out one of the trees, Geralt will be a powerful force to reckon with. The system is satisfying without feeling cheap or over powered.
Geralt’s fluid combat style is a step up from the PC exclusive first game, though stances have been removed in favor of a simpler heavy-and-light attack scheme. Pressing the shoulder button brings up a radial menu and slows down time without pausing the action entirely. This allows for both quick selection of skills and items while keeping the urgency of the fight at hand. Combat can be paused in order to apply oils and various other items, and the strategic use of these resources is critical to your success in battle.
Given the ease at which you can find yourself on the losing side of an encounter, the game’s auto-save system leaves much to be desired. Sporadic and undependable, it is not uncommon to find yourself caught off guard by a difficult fight only to find that you’ve lost a half hour of progress when you die. You’ll also notice times where your auto-save log has three or more quick saves with only seconds between them. Fortunately, you can save at any time (outside of combat or scripted sequences,) but you’ll have to traverse a couple of menu screens and select a save slot each time. The inclusion of a quick-save key-press would be a welcome addition.
Replaying segments can be exceptionally daunting given the game’s lack of a fast-travel system. You’ll find yourself backtracking on foot to revisit each area’s locals constantly. A hard-to-read world map and an undependable mini-map can make reaching your objectives downright maddening — though it could also be argued that the system is more realistic and forces true exploration while you search for your various destinations.
Towards the end of the game, there is a noticeable shift in focus from action and combat to story and dialog. This feels a little anti-climactic, though the payoff in story largely makes up for the drop in pace. Plot lines that were hard to follow or seemingly unimportant suddenly become clear as the larger picture unfolds. While not everyone will be happy with how the game ends, it does a good job of answering questions while leaving the player with enough reason to want more.
The Witcher 2 saw great success when it released last year for PC. Playing the Xbox 360 version, it is easy to see why. Though a few missteps lead to occasional frustration, a gripping story keeps the controller in hand. CD Projekt’s devotion to their fans with the inclusion of the “Enchanced Edition” (and a free upgrade to those who had purchased the ‘vanilla’ game on PC) is refreshing, and makes the decision to jump into the game that much easier.