My first impression of the game, after the first five minutes: "oh wow, what a cool cinematic!"
My second impression, after the first half hour: "oh god, there’s so much to take in. My brain!"
My third impression, after a rather longer time span: "okay, yes, that really got rather good."
So here we are with The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition arriving on the Xbox 360, having had a PC release last year. As someone who’s always looked over at the Witcher series with interest, but never made the plunge, I tackled this sequel as a complete newcomer — as many of you will, I imagine. So for dedicated fans, you can probably stop reading this now and go buy the game, because it’s well worth the investment.
‘Investment’ — that’s a good word to start with, actually. This is a game that might sometimes pretend to hold your hand, but only does so while it thrusts a knife in your back. There is a lot of complexity here, as befits a PC RPG: combat is overflowing with tactical options, levelling up provides numerous questions to answer, and the world itself is not exactly a black and white affair that can be traipsed through without thought.
You are Geralt of Rivia, the titular Witcher, who suffers from a case of amnesia and a grudging willingness to help folks out. Not that those folks are always grateful: this is not a cookie-cutter fantasy world. You know how Dragon Age purported to be ‘dark’ fantasy? Bollocks. This is the real deal. In fact, if you subbed out Geralt for Ned Stark, you’d basically have a fantastic Game of Thrones RPG.
The richly realized world is full of elves as speciesist guerilla operatives slaughtering speciesist humans for doing the same to them. Dwarves live as shadows of their former selves, drinking and fighting their way to oblivion. And every kingdom seems to have rather stupid kings leading them, with stupid wars threatening to erupt for very stupid reasons.
It’s a world that’s full of bastards (literal or metaphorical), full of choices that are far from the BioWare good / evil dichotomy. Often you’re presented with game-changing decisions where nothing appears to be a winning choice — and it’s awesome. You have the power to decide who might rule and who might fall, but when everyone involved is the scum of the earth, it becomes more about choosing the lesser of multiple evils.
So yes, I think we can safely assume the world, characters and story are well worth the price of entry. Just don’t forget the learning curve I touched on earlier: this game demands a lot of you. This is most evident in the combat, which is satisfying and deep when you master it, but a confusing collection of commands when first encountered. A non-descript tutorial takes you through the many layers involved, but it’s still going to take you upwards of an hour to start feeling comfortable.
Make sure you’re a fast learner, though — even on Easy, this is a tough game. It’s essential to prepare for fights by meditating beforehand, crafting bombs, potions, and oils to coat your weapons. Don’t do this, and you’ll find yourself getting slaughtered time and time again.
If you’re inclined to like narratives, it’s worth it. While initially put off slightly by some uneven voice acting, I was soon completely immersed in Geralt’s story. It’s rougher around the edges than the slickly self-assured Mass Effect, but it’s also more interesting in some ways, simply because there’s no moral meter monitoring your every action.
The PC version of The Witcher 2 looks amazing, which befits a game deliberately made to push recent graphics cards. The Xbox version, by comparison, looks… okay, I guess. But that’s only by comparison: do yourself a favour and don’t look at PC screenshots, and you’ll be rewarded with one of the better-looking Xbox games out there. It’s up there with the console version of Skyrim, if you’d like a fairer comparison.
Are you after an RPG filled not only with depth, but meaningful depth? If so, The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition may be just the thing you’re looking for. The learning curve is steep, and it can be hard to keep up with all the made-up words if you’re new to the series, but it’s all worth it in the end. This is a fun world to inhabit, and the narrative weaved throughout is deeply satisfying. Not afraid of a little complexity? Then get this game.