Coming off some mediocre-to-decent experiences with RPGs in late 2010 and early 2011, I was floored the first time I played through The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. The game was beautiful. It was mature. It was pretty damn tough.
Best of all, the story was well driven, but not too linear. I put the game at the top of my “best of 2011" list, trumping even the mighty Skyrim. I may be crucified by some for saying that, but I flat out had a better experience. I was easily able to play through The Witcher again, whereas other games felt like a chore to start up a second time.
I couldn’t be more excited to hear the game was finally coming to consoles. Now the other guys at Crave could get their chance to play the game I raved about. I had some doubts though. The kind of intense detail and action-packed combat on high settings was taxing enough on my PC. I couldn’t imagine the same results coming from an Xbox 360.
When we hit up PAX East earlier this month, we looked at a quest from the game’s DLC. Immediately we noticed a few graphical issues. A few instances of screen tearing were the worst offenders. Thankfully, I didn’t notice any during my playthrough. There is, however, texture popping during cutscenes when the focus switches between characters.
For me, it’s light enough to pass over. I love the character interactions and variety in conversations. The awkward pauses and seemingly misplaced gestures were there in the first release of the game, but didn’t affect my overall opinion of the game. The Witcher 2 does well enough when it matters to override the minor flaws.
So what’s different from the PC version besides a mouse and keyboard? It starts before you even take the disc out of the case. The packaged game is noticeably heavier than most. That’s because the case contains three discs (the soundtrack and two game discs), your standard insert guide, a double-sided map and a 90-page quest guide. That’s right. They included a guide for nearly every quest in the game. I personally like to head out and find my own way in a game world like the one The Witcher offers. But I wish I had this thing last February as a reference when I needed that little push.
When you do load up the game, you’re asked whether or not you want to try the tutorial. Even if you played the game before, you want to do this. I can’t thank CD Projekt RED enough for adding this to the game. I was overly confident on my first go at the PC version, and got my ass handed to me right out of the gate. Combat in The Witcher is diverse and elaborate.
You won’t get too far just by swinging your swords wildly in all directions. Trust me on this, I tried. The tutorial quickly introduces you to everything you need to survive. Movement, camera control and interacting with the environment take no time at all. Then you move on to the good stuff. Magic and alchemy have huge roles in The Witcher 2. You’ll need to know exactly what each of your five spells (called ‘signs’) do, and when it’s best to use them. Alchemy offers you the ability to craft potions to boost your stats, traps and bombs to help in a fight, and oils to augment your weapons. It’s a lot to take in at first, but you’ll be thankful you learned this from the start, because utilizing everything in your toolset will make life better when you get into the bulk of the game.
The way targeting works is also new. This is a wonderful improvement from the combat system in the PC version. Instead of locking onto an enemy depending on where you’re facing or which direction you’re moving in, you can toggle through the next closest enemies with a flick of the thumb stick. This makes transitioning between targets and using effective crowd control more intuitive and accurate.
The last thing the tutorial shows you is the arena. This is where you test your mettle. The tutorial version determines what difficulty level is suggested for you for the rest of the game. It’s a nice touch. The later version is a separate game mode with scores that are ranked online.
The game takes off from here. It’s just how I remember it. I tried my hardest to make different choices from my first experience. Even when I failed at that, I was still satisfied. The Xbox 360 version comes with all of the previous DLC from the PC built in. For me, this meant new areas, quests, items and characters, including the oversized alcoholic bridge-keeper from “Troll Trouble.”
I have a ways to go before I’m ready for the new Dark difficulty mode. As a somewhat new action-RPG player, the game can be brutal enough as it is. If you aren’t ready to use every spell and item at your disposal, as well as the old “hit and run” tactics, then you’ll wind up replaying sections of the game multiple times.
My advice is to be patient, pay attention, and learn from your mistakes. Figure out what works for you and stick with it. Most of all, take in everything the game has to offer and just have fun with it. And one last thing, save often.