Developer: CD Projekt RED
Publisher: Namco Bandai
We already knew that The Witcher 2 was a cracking game. Dave's review of CD Projekt RED's fantastical RPG last year lavished it with high praise, even as I wept as my faithful PC at the time departed this world. The love that the developers showed for the platfom was clear, and when The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition was announced for Xbox 360 was announced, the questions that surrounded it were mostly technical. Bad ports can, after all, wreck a triumphant parade with torrential rain.
We needn't have worried.
The Witcher 2 continues the adventures of Geralt of Rivia, a white-haired, gravelly-voiced mutant who, as the titular character, is able to manipulate magic, craft and drink toxic potions, and go around slaying monsters with his shimmering silver sword. He is a man (well, something more than a man) who fosters high scruples, ponders his actions carefully, and is beholden to no man, nor country, nor king. He tries to do what is right, and what is honest...and he loathes politics.
It is only natural, then, that his adventures see him become embroiled in twisting tales of political intrigue, as nations, races, and magical sects vie for power. In a time when adult fantasy's cultural capital is at a high we've not seen for the best part of a decade, thanks largely to the return of HBO's Game of Thrones, CD Projekt could not really ask for a better climate in which to release a game. Skyrim's star has blasted the genre wide open in terms of gaming, but it is the failings of story-oriented RPGs such as Dragon Age II and Lord of the Rings: The War in the North that The Witcher 2 addresses so well.
Not exactly an open world game, but certainly an expansive one, Geralt's second adventure sees him move through three chapters - each with their own impressively sized locale, usually consisting of a town or city, and surrounding areas to be explored. Someone has been murdering monarchs, and Geralt finds himself framed for regicide; his escape is inevitable and, once free, he moves to track down the Kingslayer, clear his name, and uncover the reasons behind the assassinations.
The bumper pack of content that makes up this Enhanced Edition is so well integrated that you won't ever know that it wasn't part of the original game unless you directly compared the two. All of the DLC up to this point is included, along with a new content as well including a fresh, well-constructed tutorial, and a mission that sees you squirrelling away a highborn lady from the watchful eyes of her mage pursuers.
It is in combat, though, that CD Projekt RED's craftsmanship for this adaptation shines the brightest, delivering a control scheme and interface perfectly suited to the Xbox 360 pad. Light and heavy attacks are mapped to the A and X buttons respectively, with B offering up an evasive roll, and Y and RB providing hotkeys for your Signs (magic spells) and crafted secondary weapons (bombs, traps, daggers etc.). LT allows for better targeting than the original game did, letting you lock onto targets by holding the trigger down, making one-on-one battles (and boss fights in particular) far more enjoyable. RT brings up your block, with an unlockable character upgrading yielding the ability to parry and riposte.
The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition can prove tough at times. Indeed, anything higher than the easiest difficulty level will present players with a stern challenge, when the enemies begin to approach in numbers. The controls are extremely responsive, but there is balancing to be done between mixing up lighter, immediate attacks, with the ponderous animations (yet higher damage) of the heavy attacks. On a personal level, this game appears to do exactly what Demon's Souls (and Dark Souls for that matter) failed to do in my own eyes: provide a hardcore RPG combat experience that doesn't rely on hamstrung mechanics to up the difficulty curve. If you die in this game, you'll know absolutely that it was your own fault.
Much of that will be down to preparation. Geralt can't drink his potions in the heat of battle, so it's important to meditate (and save your game) before you think you'll be approaching a showdown. Though the game generally does a good job of autosaving before difficult fights, it tends to load up after the brief cutscene, giving you no chance to imbibe. There are no health potions, as such; only those that raise Geralt's regeneration rate, and so forward thinking is a must. Mixing things up with the oils and poisons that you can use to coat your blades is important too, and can often give you a crucial edge in battle, so too might littering the battleground with traps and snares.
Of course, you can buy all of these accessories should you wish, but the game provides systems for alchemy, potion brewing, and item crafting. All you need to do is find the menu, gather the ingredients and then either meditate to engage in a spot of herbalism, or take said items to a blacksmith. Forging better weapons, concocting one's own potions and chemical armaments such as grapeshot bombs or fiery deathtraps, will delight RPG fans.
As well as feeling native to the Xbox 360, though, the Enhanced Edition manages to look the part as well, pushing the console to it's limits. Though perhaps not offering the breathtaking views that Skyrim enjoyed as a part of its giant world map, this is a port that manages to make the medium PC visuals run smoothly on the Xbox 360, which is no mean feat. Though there was the very rare glitch, by and large The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition is an aesthetic delight, with the varieties in location rooting the player in a game world of vibrancy and colour.
Moreover, it is perhaps out of combat that the game separates itself from the rest of the pack, delivering missions that require thought of word as well as a sturdy sword arm. The conversational riddles, and light puzzle elements that were once BioWare's stock in trade inject diversity into missions that too many games simply resovle through hacking and slashing. The developers clearly recognise that the combat system is a strength, but this is a game as much about careful consideration and decision making as it is about hitting monsters with a sword.
With a purported sixteen different endings, a slip of the tongue is able to carry your Geralt to completely different areas than the route mine took, and the extra cutscenes, and narration from Geralt's erudite companion Dandelion serve to satisfy most desires for closure and explanation. Consequences are felt more keenly in this game than in most of its peers, and the desire it instils for multiple playthroughs is almost unparalleled.
One day in the future, someone might get around to writing The Dummies Guide To Porting PC Games to Consoles. When they do, one can't help but feel that it would be remiss of them were they not to include a section on The Witcher 2. CD Projekt RED haven't just ported a PC game across to consoles, rather they have taken what was an utter triumph on one platform, and made it feel completely native on another, multiplying their audience, and no doubt making new hardcore fans in the process. As a technical achievement, the Enhanced Edition is a resounding success. As a game, twelve months have actually served to improve upon a game that shone so brightly last year.
- A technical triumph, and an almost perfect port
- Excellent value, excellent story, excellent combat
- It's The Witcher 2. Enhanced. On a console.
- Could perhaps use a fast travel option in some cases
- Orientation occasionally an issue
- One or two small graphical glitches
The Short Version: With the Enhanced Edition, CD Projekt RED have rewritten the book on how to develop the perfect port. As much at home on the Xbox 360 as it ever was on the PC - a noticeably better game, in fact, than it was originally - this is a game that will thrill RPG fans with its mature storyline, branching, adult narrative, and compelling depth. Unmissable.