The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Review

Our Rating
out of 5.0

This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.

All is not well within the world of Temeria. A king has been slain at the hands of a Witcher and Geralt of Rivia is set up to take the fall. As he sets out with a small band of allies to clear his name, a larger conspiracy begins to unfold around him.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is a third person action RPG that takes place in the medieval land of Temeria. Originally created last year for the PC, the game has arrived on the Xbox 360 with some additional content. It’s not terribly often that we see a game ported from the PC to the console nowadays, primarily due to the complexity of the keyboard controls being translated to a controller, but I’m happy to report that the alchemists at CD Projekt RED have done a remarkable job.

Combat in The Witcher 2 is essentially a third-person hack n’ slash style of gameplay where you trudge through a given area, encounter a monster or bad guy, use your mix of weapons and gadgets to take them down. And then wash, rinse, repeat.  There are three primary areas of a Witcher’s arsenal: weapons, magic, and alchemy. His preferred weapons are his steel and silver swords. Steel swords are most effective when fighting against other races such as the humans or elves, while the silver sword is most effective against monsters. Swordplay is fairly straightforward, having a swift attack that deals less damage, but can be used rapidly to keep an enemy off their balance, while a heavier attack deals more damage, but is slower. You can also use oils to coat your blade to give it additional attributes such as increasing the amount of damage dealt in a blow, or poisoning your assailants. Some oils are made especially for increasing damage against certain beasts such as insectoids or specters. These oils, as well as potions can be created using alchemic formulas.

In the world of Temeria, alchemy allows a Witcher to create the aforementioned oils, as well as potions, devices such as traps or bombs, and more. Each item requires a formula and a collection of the components to create them. These components are mostly found by simply exploring your environments. To save on the typical “click on everything and see what happens” mentality of most RPGs, these items are tagged when you’re close by to let you know that something can be investigated or retrieved. Once you’ve collected the necessary ingredients, you can create your item by going into the Alchemy Menu to assemble them. An interesting concept of The Witcher 2 is the toxicity effect of potions that you consume. When you drink a potion, the toxicity level in your blood increases. While it decreases gradually over a period of time, adverse effects such as hallucinations or reduced Vitality (Life) can be experienced. If toxicity ever reaches 100, you die.

Along with your oils and potions, you can also assemble bombs and traps in the same manner by finding the appropriate formulae and items. Bombs and traps can inflict not only damage, but certain statuses against your unlucky opponents such as freezing and  poisoning. Bombs carry the advantage of dealing Area of Effect (AoE) damage, allowing you to afflict multiple enemies at once. Traps are devices that must be set, and only one enemy will trigger them.  Items such as weapons and armor can be crafted as well by collecting the necessary items and taking them to a craftsman or blacksmith. Like the alchemic items, you’ll need a diagram for the crafter to be able to create what you’re looking for.

Magic plays a role in the Witcher as well in the form of Signs. Signs (which are essentially runes) can give Geralt the ability to cast certain spells such as knocking back an opponent, incinerating them, creating a temporary shield, and more. Use of a Sign consumes one bar of Vigor. These Signs can be assigned for use through a wheel-type interface (much like Mass Effect); however, only one can be used at a time.

While the use of potions and spells, and the choice of what blade to wield can give you a level of strategy to apply to a given scenario, it essentially comes down to a good, old-fashion button mashing experience; and, aside from the occasional big bad boss monster, you’ll find yourself just going with a particular “one size fits all” build, which is a shame because the game really could have had an opportunity to shine in this department. It would have made more sense to use the selection wheel for activating the particular spell or gadget instead of equipping it, reducing a lot of overhead on an already full control scheme.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is a game that was developed on the PC, for the PC, and then ported over to the Xbox 360. In order to do this, a number of considerations have to be taken into account when porting the game to a console; primarily with the controls. Condensing the use of potentially 105 keys (or more between the mouse and keyboard) to a controller that has two analog sticks and fourteen buttons is a serious hurdle for anyone to take on, and while developer CD Projekt RED does a commendable job of doing so, there is a lot to get used to. The downside to this is that while you’re given a thorough tutorial along with a prologue story that does a good job of helping you get acclimated to the controls, the story kicks into high gear fairly early and you wind up missing some of the intricate background conversations and side stories while you’re trying to figure out how to play the game.

This is a shame, because the story of The Witcher 2 is very rich, not only in the main plot, but in the little side conversations that you encounter along the way. You’ll find people talking about their everyday lives, or their thoughts on an upcoming battle, and it gives you a real sense of a living, breathing world around you. With a superbly written story, a cast of likeable characters and a laundry list of veteran voice actors, the game really takes on a life of its own and draws you in. Adding to the experience is the game’s ability to give the player quite a bit of free rein in how the story plays out with multiple plot lines and endings, allowing each player to craft their own unique experience to an extent. A fair bit of warning to those who have little ones, however; there’s not only harsh language and plenty of gore to go around, but also a bit of full frontal nudity and “strong sexual content” as the ESRB puts it. This is definitely a game for adult eyes only.

You’ll find that the story, for being a sequel, is quite accessible to those not necessarily familiar with the original game. While some of the events of The Witcher are mentioned in the second installment, they’re fully explained to keep the player informed and not left frustrated for having not played the original before jumping in. Of course, if you really want to catch up on the story before you dive in, CD Projekt RED does have a primer video for you to enjoy online.

Which leads us into the visuals. CD Projekt RED has crafted a resplendent world of varying colors, terrains, and architectures that widely vary as you move from the human cities behind massive walls of stone and mortar, to deep and lush forests and more. The detail in The Witcher 2 is simply a marvel to behold! The developers really took a lot of time to get everything just about perfect in the land of Temeria from the character models to the environments. An excellent example of environmental detail would be when you’re moving through the woods. You can’t help but notice that, unlike many other games, the trails  are broken by overgrowth that partially conceals the path and oftentimes will cross over streams, creeks and swamps much like they would in a real living forest. From an artistic perspective, The Witcher 2 appears to be very much on par with Skyrim, and in some cases looks better, which is no surprise as they use the same Havok engine to run on.

However, with great graphics comes a cost, and with The Witcher 2, it comes in the form of a slight but fairly frequent texture pop. Installing the game to your hard drive does reduce the intensity of the textures popping , but not the frequency. On a positive note, there doesn’t appear to be any frame rate issues. Some of the animations could have used some polish as well, especially those dealing with Geralt as he opens doors, ladders, or climbs down from ledges. It’s rather awkward looking as he stops at a door, centers himself in the doorway, squares his shoulders and then turns the knob. The same centering action happens on the other aforementioned animations as well which detracts from the overall immersion factor.

The final weapon in The Witcher 2‘s arsenal is the fantastic soundtrack. From those serene, quiet moments in the middle of the woods to the heart of battle, the in-game effects really do a lot to draw you in, but the music is what really sets off the mood. It features a healthy mix of tribal drums over orchestral sounds and is accented by the deep chops of heavy metal guitar riffs reminiscent of eastern European folk metal. Fortunately for fans of musical scores, the enhanced edition of the game also carries the soundtrack on a separate disc, which will immediately make its way to your mp3 player if you’re like me.

The Witcher 2 is a game that all RPG aficionados will love. It gives players the depth of the old paper-and-pen role-playing games and combines it with an involving story and fantastic gameplay elements. Although a steep learning curve, as well as animation and minor graphical issues do take away from the overall experience, this game is one that you should pick up.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings receives a 4.25/5.0.

Our Rating
out of 5.0

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