The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings was one of the biggest releases on PC last year, and received a huge amount of praise for its mature content, harsh but nuanced combat mechanics, and gritty well realised high fantasy setting. The tragic thing was that so many missed out on it due to not having a PC powerful enough to run it. A year later and Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings has been re-released as an enhanced edition for Xbox 360 – with a free enhanced content patch for PC versions – and it’s better and more accessible than ever.
For the uninitiated, The Witcher universe began as a series of novels by Andrzej Sapkowski which inspired the original game back in 2007. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings carries on from the end of its predecessor, sporting the convenient but justified amnesia narrative device. You play as Geralt of Rivia, one of the few remaining witchers. Witchers are humans that have been genetically enhanced and trained to fight monsters and make use of alchemy, magic, and advanced sword handling. Having been blamed for the murder of King Foltest you begin a quest to clear your name and defeat the actual king-slayer. The referenced backstory may go over your head, this is especially so if you haven’t played the original title, but even still the only people who are going to feel completely in the loop will be those familiar with Sapkowski fiction. However, no matter your previous experience, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings does a great job at creating a fascinating world, and it’s easy enough to follow this insular tale even if the grander narrative remains a mystery.
Choice is a key factor in The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings and it has a profound effect on how the narrative unfolds. Consequences to you choices can be seen immediately or sometimes hours later. In fact a choice in act 1 changes how the rest of the game plays out, even changing the locations you can visit in act 2. The choices you’re given don’t fall into the clichéd ‘good’ and ‘bad’ categories either. There are tough decision to make but it’s easy to see the thought process behind either action. The way choice is implemented in Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is a tremendous example of the maturity this title is trying to convey. This is not a RPG to be dismissed for using profanity and sex, it all comes together to weave a gritty and cynical tale – with some amusing dark humour – to form a mature experience seldom seen in other games.
Outside of the main quest are plenty of side quests to lure you from the critical path. They’re well worth hunting down too, adding substance to the world and offering some truly interesting stories. Finding some of the more intriguing ones, however, does take a bit of exploration. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings hides content within it’s sprawling world. It certain adds to the wonder and tangibility of the adventure it’s just a shame it’s so easy to miss some of the best parts.
The trial by fire start the PC version gained notoriety for has been addressed in this enhanced edition. You now have a short tutorial at the very beginning of the game that teaches you the basics. It’s a very welcome addition that better equips you for levelling your character, item management and creation, and most importantly the combat. Combat is harsh and frantic, and receiving a few pointers at the beginning helps prepare you for the difficult task ahead. It will still catch you out on occasion though. Potion drinking and coating your weapons with oils are an important pre-fight ritual that is easy to forget about. Adding buffs to both you and your weapons proves to be a hugely important factor in managing the difficulty of encounters. However, even with good prep work, a fight can go sour at any moment. Combat is dynamic and free flowing. You have complete freedom of movement as you lay traps, throw bombs and daggers, cast spells, perform quick light attacks and slower heavy attacks, all between blocking, parrying and dodge rolling. You have a expansive arsenal begging for tactical deployment, and thanks to excellent control mapping, it all feels comfortable and intuitive. When you find yourself up against multiple opponents, the last thing you want is for them to surround you. Being aware of your surroundings and making good use of all your abilities is the key to victory.
As you level up you can choice to go down different skill trees to customise Geralt to fit your play style. Focusing on your swordsmanship will yield powerful new abilities such as the repose and adrenaline fuelled finisher, whilst following the alchemy route will make your traps, potions and oils more potent, and the magic route improves your spells. Picking up a few skills in each tree is the best way to start, as Geralt’s initial stats in all disciplines are very basic. You need every advantage you can get to progress.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is a hard game but rarely unfair. Instead it asks a lot of you as a player to learn the intricacies of combat down to a fine art. For the less patient, it may prove to be too much to handle but for the majority, it reinforces the gritty feel of the adventure. Unfortunately checkpoints are a bit unfair and far apart. Getting into the habit of manually saving often is a must over the 30 hour adventure – more if you indulge the side quests.
When you’re finished with the campaign the new Arena mode offers an entertaining distraction. The Arena pits you against waves of opponents with the goal to defeat them all. Not only is it a great way to experiment with the combat and hone your skills, but it’s pleasantly compelling modes that you can easily sink several hours into. It’s a testament to the fluidity of combat that Arena mode proves to be such fun.
Indeed the Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is a hugely enjoyable a pleasantly different RPG. The writing is sharp and believable with quality voice acting to back it up and the additional four hours of content over the original release, as well as the tutorial, better control mapping and a new way of storing items all make this enhanced version live up to its name. It’s hard not to be impressed, and if gritty high fantasy is what you’re after, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is one of the best experiences around.
MLG Rating: 9/10 Platform: Xbox 360/ PC Release Date: 17/04/2012
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition by the promoter for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.