My fellow gaming community, I must admit the sad fact that I own a Mac. I love it, and yet I resent the fact that it keeps me restricted to console gaming, never to join the elite social class of PC-players. One time that was more aggravating to own an Apple product than any other was the release of “The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings,” a PC exclusive action-RPG. Those who prefer the keyboard to the controller gloated all over the internet about how they were awarded with a beautiful-looking and beautifully-written epic unsoiled by the current game market’s tendency to dumb itself down in order to appeal to a wider audience. I and all the other console-playing proletarians had to just huddle together in defeat, telling ourselves that it is ok and that “Skyrim” is just around the corner anyway. But lo and behold, Polish game developer CDProjekt Red took about a year to convert “The Witcher 2” into something an Xbox 360 can read as well as take out some of the game’s tweaks. Now I proudly own a copy of “The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition.”
“The Witcher” is a fantasy series that actually continues a popular Polish book series of the same name. It tells the tale of Geralt of Rivia, who is a witcher, a mutant who is specially trained to kill monsters for profit and remain as neutral as possible in the affairs of politics and other people. Geralt is conveniently stricken with amnesia and thus has forgotten all the adventures he had on paper. The dramatic twist of the story is that he lives in a world where it seems that the people are most often the biggest monsters, and they all seem to want Geralt to pick a side. In many ways, you could probably call “The Witcher” series the “Game of Thrones” of video games, considering the more intricate and dark take on fantasy. A king takes a city to regain his bastard children, racial disputes are rampant between humans and elves, and you need to decide how serious Geralt is with his relationship with the sexy sorceress, Triss Merigold.
Another nice aspect is the lack of a rigid morality. There are no outright good and bad options, there are merely choices that you make and the resulting consequences of those choices. In fact, the entire second act and much of the third is different depending on who you ally yourself with: the human faction that tries to keep peace but has a nasty habit of persecuting nonhumans or the elves that fight against racial injustice with medieval terrorism. There is blood, there is sex, and there is harsh language throughout the story. It is not because it is a teenage-boy’s fantasy, but rather an adult’s acknowledgment of these things in the world. It is a mature game for an actually mature audience.
That being said, those who buy the game on Xbox are at a bit of a disadvantage. “The Witcher” was also a PC exclusive that was planned to be brought to consoles as well, but never quite made it. So those picking “The Witcher 2” up on Xbox will most likely have no idea what is going on in the plot. Why does Geralt carry two swords as long as this game’s full title? Who’s the bard named after a flower? Where am I? Without playing the first game or reading the books, a bit of the context is lost. To make things a little more annoying, the choices made in the first game have a slight effect on a few things in the second, so the game automatically decides what you would have done in the first. Not that there are many of these instances, but it’s a notable nitpick for those who are obsessive-compulsive about their role-playing.
The game requires a good head on your shoulders not just for the story, but the gameplay and interface as well. Opening up the menus for the first time is intimidating to say the least. Trying to brew a potion or upgrade your weapon seems more like making a 3D pie chart on Microsoft Excel at first. There is so much to manage, and almost all of it necessary to do that it can seem overwhelming and unfriendly. However, given a few hours, I found it to be easy to work with. It may be an eyesore and a bit complicated, but once you know how it all works, everything is smooth and intuitive.
Combat is also more challenging than most games these days, even on the standard difficulty. You take damage quite easily and a lot of the time you are greatly outnumbered. It appears that the controller has a better combat interface than its keyboard companion. There’s a bit less lag in command, which can actually become your downfall; the temptation to simply button mash is prevalent. Just charging in will leave you dead in seconds. You must be able to prepare before battle with stat-boosting potions and laying down traps while also being able to think on your feet to keep yourself alive with magic, parrying and dodging. I will say that the parrying and dodging mechanics are bound to get on your nerves more than a couple times. You have to pull the right trigger for a good second before Geralt takes a hint and slowly raises his sword in a blocking position; it’s like he’s trying to make sure we get a good look at his bicep rather than preventing a halberd from slicing through his shoulder. This frustration may lead you to constantly dodgeroll all over the place, but often Geralt will land in the camera’s blind spot, which can sometimes have two angry men with sabers just waiting for you. All of this isn’t to say that it isn’t fun. It is actually really engaging and immensely satisfying every time you emerge victorious from a battle. Like everything else about the game, if you put in the time and effort to work with it, the payoff is great.
But there are two big questions to be answered with “The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhance Edition.” One is, what are the changes between enhanced edition and regular? Well, there are few physical things you get by buying the enhanced edition. The game comes with a map of the game world, the soundtrack, and a quest handbook, a little booklet that gives a brief rundown of every quest in the game. As far as the in-game, there are many little additions and changes. For one, there are more cutscenes than the original, which give some much-appreciated context. Then there is four more hours of gameplay, mostly in the form of sidequests in the third act. They also changed a few mechanics such as weakening one of the more exploited defense spells and getting rid of the sequence in which Geralt delicately drinks his potions like fine wine (considering you drink potions quite often in the game, you’d have to suffer through this minute long process constantly). Finally, there are minor adjustments to animations and new items throughout the game.
The second question is, should I get the game on PC or Xbox? As I’ve said before, unless you’re willing to look some stuff up, you won’t know the events of the first game if you are the console player. Also, as is the case with most games, the graphics, while still beautiful, are noticeably less crisp and dynamic on console than PC. And, unless you install the game to your hard drive, the Xbox version has a few issues with loading all the textures during cutscenes, making everything take place in blob world for a few seconds. However, the combat does seem to be a bit more fluid with a controller in hand, and when you are slicing and dicing through spider crabs, you don’t tend to harp on the aesthetic of it. The Xbox version does very well seem to contend with it’s older brother. Still, if you’ve packed enough power into your PC that it can punch holes in the moon, don’t deny yourself from a great game that was originally made for you.
“The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition” is a wonderful and intricate beast of a game. It’s like a tar pit, it’ll be a bit messy getting in, but soon you’ll find yourself completely absorbed in it. If you are a fan of RPGs or the fantasy genre in general, you need to check this game out.