The Witcher 2 was a big hit for the PC last year, hailed as one of the best Western RPGs in recent years. With both critical and financial success like this game had you had to believe a console version was on its way. Low and behold almost a year later and the Xbox 360 gets its own version of the RPG epic. Let me start by saying, this isn’t your basic port with this enhanced edition offering new cutscenes, four hours of extra gameplay missions and a number of tweakings that suit the interface of the new hardware.
I originally accepted this review out of curiosity, to see how this unassuming game about a white-haired ‘witcher’ in some archetypal old fantasy setting could have garnered such a following. Taking a chance and loading up the game, things started in a worrying manner with tutorials complex and confusing, combat often clumsy and the story initially overwhelming. However it wasn’t until I was further into my adventure that I truly found myself invested in the branching choices, the characters and just where I may end up next. This in turn made all the other niggles I originally had with the game suddenly feel less distracting.
The Witcher 2 tells the tale of Geralt of Rivia, a travelling mutant monster-hunting-swordsman-alchemist on the run after being accused for the death of the Temerian king. To make things worse powerful factions are trying to take advantage of the post-regicide chaos resulting in a revolution. To venture through Witcher 2 and the game’s three substantial lands will last approximately thirty to forty hours depending on how invested you are in the side missions, making this a very bulky RPG.
The great thing about Witcher 2 is how actions you take have meaningful consequences on the story later in the game. I’m not talking basic things like better treasure or experience like most RPGs would alter but rather ones you’ll really notice and impact how you play the adventure.
A smaller example occurs early in the game when you must hunt down a traitor named Aryan La Valette. While the final result can see you either killing him, dueling him into surrendering or even just talking to him, how you go about things will impact whether he shows up again to help later on. Spare him and he’ll be there to aid you in a later dungeon, kill him however and he won’t, leading to an entirely different approach and series of scenes. This element is only expanded further as you approach the end of the first act and begin the second with the overall result being impressive to say the least.
Whatsmore with these choices, the line between good and bad decisions is often hazy meaning what you may think is taking you down a righteous path may in fact have darker repercussions further on. It’s this sense of judging what you think is best in your eyes as opposed to just knowing what is right and wrong that sets the Witcher 2 apart.
As mentioned previously battling can feel unsatisfactory at times. The combat itself is slow and there can be a lag between button input and expected action, while targeting the desired character can be erratic. Your enemies make haste to attack you during these moments of adjustment and it’s all too easy to be felled especially early in the game before combat perks are unlocked and applied. One of each of magic spells and sub-weapons can be equipped at one time; switching these during battle slows down time while you deal with a clock-face style quick menu. While many of these options are available, combat with lesser foes tends to devolve into straight up mashing the standard fast and heavy attack buttons and block buttons once enemies rush the player, strategy be damned. Bosses however do put up a good fight and allow you to experiment with your strategy and weaponry.
There is a pre-fight ritual in mixing and drinking potions with beneficial properties and applying oils to your blades. This is accomplished by use of the cluttered and oddly structured menu system (mixing potions is under the meditation sub-menu). To feed into these preparations, a great number of minor items are discovered while traversing the world, the context-sensitive action button alerting you every few steps of the way to another stash of items.
You may unfortunately find your trails hindered along the way with annoying occurrences popping up every so often. The waypoint system fails, the maps can be unclear or the game in any other way inadequately communicates what you are supposed to do next. Its little things that add up to hurt the overall experience.
Graphically those worried about any huge loss in quality from its move to the now 6-year-old console can rest easy as this is a fantastic looking game. Overall there is an impressive amount of detail and some dazzling set-pieces which add layers to the immersion of a breathing world and story. Sure there are moments where stunning vistas don’t seem quite as breathtaking as they once did on the PC version, but its small differences that can hardly be faulted in such a remarkable feat.
The Witcher 2 is a game with a handful of issues. Whether it’s the difficult, often confusing interface and the clumsy combat system that frustrates as much as it excites or the fact the game takes its sweet time to really get going, but all this becomes minor when you consider the richly woven plot, its genuinely natural-feeling branches and the game’s overall big production values. This is an enthralling fantasy epic with a narrative far deeper than any RPG in recent memory and fans of fantasy or RPGs should definitely give this a look.