The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition
Developer: CD Projekt RED
Price: $60
Platform: PC & 360

In 2007 CD Project RED came out of nowhere and decided to drop The Witcher on us which told the tale of the monster slayer Geralt of Rivia who not only suffers from amnesia, but a pain in his ass called Drowners. Besides a few rough spots The Witcher showed us a brilliant world based off the book series by Andrzej Sapkowski, and is one of the few games where I actually want to read all the little notes scattered around. Four years later and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings graced out computers with one of the most polished RPG games in a while. In similar fashion to The Witcher receiving an ‘Enhanced Edition’, TW2 is also getting the same treatment, but this time 360 owners get to join in on the party. All copies of the 360 will be physical versions of the new Enhanced Edition and PC versions are being updated with the new content for free.

The game opens up with a quick reminder that our buddy Geralt still hasn’t recovered from his amnesia but isn’t letting that get in the way of his Witcher full time job. This time he’s helping out his new ‘buddy’ king Foltest who’s going to be out of the picture faster than Sean Bean in Ronin. Geralt is awkwardly caught at the scene of the crime only to quickly escape from prison. You’ll venture to various locals and meet a host of colorful characters that will lead you towards the true kingslayer. The thing I love about TW2 is that all of the quests have some sort of variety that keeps you wanting to stay up late just to finish up the next quest phase. Even the side-quests are given better treatment with some even influencing choices you’ll see in the story. The thing I love most about the game is the setting, everything is just incredibly grimy and it handles one of its main themes (racial tension between humans and non-humans) in a serious and realistic way. Just like in the first game you’ll have to make some tough choices in this game, and by tough I don’t mean you’ll be picking what color you want your ending to be. You’ll feel like the developers took out the color from your moral compass because most of the choices in this game are as grey as grey can get.

One downside to the campaign is that the 360 version lacks the save import feature to carry over any choices made in The Witcher. While I’m sure it’s not a big deal to anyone who didn’t play the first game, it still would’ve been nice if they could have included a sort of interactive comic showcasing the major choices like Bioware did with the PS3 version of Mass Effect 2.

If you go into The Witcher 2 thinking hack/slashing your way through the game will cut it, you’ll be thrown on your ass harder than Jazzy Jeff. This is a game where you have to be aware of enemies trying to get around you, your position, and what type of enemy you’re facing; you just won’t fight a guy with a halberd the same way as a guy with a sword and shield. Besides your light and heavy attack you’ve also got a block that you can’t crutch on due to the fact that it takes out a bit of vigor each time you block a hit, a riposte used for parrying enemy attacks, and a dodge that will become your best friend. The combat in this game is tight and incredibly focused with Geralt pulling off some brutal attacks on his enemies. You’re equipped with a steel sword that’s made to do more damage against human opponents and a silver sword that’s going to be your monster slaying tool. There’s a collection of other minor weapons such as daggers and warhammers you can equip, but I never saw any point in using those. I sort of wish they didn’t replace your primary because I loved at the very least equipping any minor weapon in the first game just to see my witcher decked out in gear. You’ll also be able to equip throwing daggers, bombs, and traps to help you out during fights. Besides the physical abuse you’ll put enemies through, you’ll also be able to unleash your inner wizard on them. Your vigor bar, besides depleting whenever you block, is used for your magical skills. You’ll be able to unleash a torrent of pain on your enemies with an incineration spell, a sort of force push, a magical trap that snares enemies, hypnotize foes for a time, and a shield that will become best buddies with you and the dodge button. All of these skills start out mildly useful, but once upgraded in the magic skill tree, they turn you into a formidable foe that will send your enemies running. The controls have thankfully adapted perfectly to a controller which is no surprise considering the PC version had controller support.

As you level up in the game you’ll acquire talent points that you can then use in the skill tree. It’s separated into a small training tree with some basic skills and then 3 massive trees that focus in swordplay, magic, and alchemy. Don’t even bother thinking that you’ll be able to max everything out since you’ll most likely only be able to either max out a single tree and dabble a little in others or become a jack of all trades sort of witcher. Each tree definitely has some skills that make them all worthwhile to invest in with various skills able to be upgraded a second time. Some skills will also have an empty circle in their image, this means that you can equip a mutagen to enhance that skill. Mutagens all have various effects such as increased regeneration or elemental resistances.

Without some proper planning you’re most likely going to meet a quick end in The Witcher 2, so it’s smart to always head into a battle with some potions. Unlike other games where you can just pop a potion during a fight, you’ll have to do it before. Your health and vigor regenerate on their own during and after battles, albeit incredibly slowly. Taking a Tawny Owl for example greatly increases the rate that your vigor regenerates, there are other alternative potions such as Lapwing that give greater results at the cost of some side-effects like reducing your vitality. These potions can be made anywhere you’re not in direct combat and will last a certain amount of time depending on the potion and on any skills you may have invested in. You’ll also have oils and armor fragments that can be used to upgrade your gear; for example you can throw an insectoid oil on your sword if you know you’re about to go into a fight against a bug-like enemy.

So to make those potions you need to prepare for combat you’ll need to play around with the alchemy system. Whenever you’re in a safe area (any place where you’re not being slammed by enemies) and you can open up the radial menu to go into the meditation menu. In here you’ll be able to create various enhancements such as potions or oils, bombs, traps, drink said potions, view your character development, and wait time which is great for me because I don’t trust the dark. When you enter the alchemy section you’ll be greeted with a slightly confusing menu but after playing around in it for a few minutes you should have no issue. It’s here where you’ll be able to see any diagram you have for crafting and the ingredients needed for making them. Each item requires a certain group of ingredients, but the neat thing about the Witcher is that you don’t specifically need a cheese wheel to make a health potion. For example, the potion Swallow requires 1 vitriol, 2 rebis, and 1 aether ingredient. You can mix up any ingredients you have as long as they have one of those substances. For the vitriol requirement you could supply either some nekker eyes, teeth, necrophage eyes, balisse, or white myrtle petals. All of these items include the substance vitriol and are all acceptable to use to craft the item, although it’s smart to always use the item you have more of since the game might put a rarer ingredient in a slot instead of a more common one.

Besides the main campaign, there’s also an arena mode you can tackle that’ll pit you against increasingly difficult groups of enemies as you soldier on. In it you start at level 1 with just the most basic weaponry, and as you get through each wave you’ll be granted gold and a choice of reward such as a shiny new sword or some boots. There’s a shop to drop some well earned gold at and three companions you can hire to join you until they die. There’s a leader board feature that tracks your highest score with other players, but that’s as close as you’re going to get to an online function.

So people already know that The Witcher 2 is one of the most gorgeous games on the PC, but many people were curious how well it holds up on the 360; here’s a hint, fantastically. If I were to compare them to the PC version, I’d say it’s around the low/medium area, but the art style still keeps things looking aesthetically pleasing. It does suffer from some odd pop-ins at times, but it’s a minor gripe in a game this gorgeous. It’s one of the few fantasy games released this gen to really convince me that I’m really in this hard fantasy realm with gorgeous locals such a bustling forest, an elven city, and a devastating battlefield littered with the reborn specters of fallen soldiers. The Enhanced Edition also features some reworked graphics and lighting that will also be updated into the PC version. As with any game, the soundtrack is a key component to nailing the atmosphere and TW2 is buried in atmosphere with various tracks that help set the mood perfectly. The sound team also deserves a nod with fantastic work on the sounds in general for things, but it’s the ambient music that really sold me. There aren’t many games I play in surround sound, but it puts a huge grin on my face when I finally find one I can abuse my speakers with. On another note, for best results I highly recommend installing both discs onto the hard drive.

The Final Word
It’s always a treat to see a port as well put together as this is with almost no compromises. With 30+ hours to sink into the game with newly added side-missions and the arena mode, your friends won’t be borrowing this game from you anytime soon. 360 owners owe it to themselves to try out one of the best RPG’s to release this gen and I honestly can’t wait to see what CD Project RED pumps out next.

- MonsterVine Rating: 5 out of 5 – Excellent