One of the first things you'll be greeted with as you embark upon The Witcher 2's lengthy campaign is a tutorial. This is new for the Enhanced Edition. You'll be shown the ropes with a quick combat lesson and then you'll be tossed into an arena.
Inside the arena, you'll fight waves of baddies until you die. Once you die, the game considers how far you've made it and then it suggests a difficulty for your playthrough.
Here's the thing: the combat in this game is hard. Hard enough, in fact, that I got slaughtered during my first play of the arena and was told to play the game on easy. That's where I rebooted and tried the match again. That time, I won normal. I could have selected normal difficulty the first time, but I felt that I honestly didn't know enough about the combat system in order to proceed.
I suppose that's one of this game's major flaws, then. The combat is hard, and the game doesn't do a very good job of explaining it to you. In fact, I'd wager that I wasn't even remotely proficient in combat until around five or six hours in.
Get Ready to Roll
Fighting demands that you constantly roll, lay traps, cast signs, defend, consume potions, oil swords and equip a whole slew of extra weaponry. This has to happen for almost every encounter in the game. Once you learn the system, you grow to love it immensely. Getting there, however, is a bit challenging.
That challenge could prove itself to be a fatal hurdle for some gamers. If you're the type that would rather enjoy the story than get hammered by groups of baddies, you can switch on the easy difficulty. However, easy is exceptionally easy. You'll literally be able to spam the quick attack button through every single fight.
Hard is impossible (in a good way, for some of us), normal is hard and easy is crazy easy. There's a big gap there, and that may hurt the game for some.
That's just one of the beauties of The Witcher, though. I never played the original game, so I can't speak towards how that one handled traditional mechanics. This game, however, is a straight, tough, well-woven RPG.
Your Choices Matter
Without spoiling the fabric of this tale, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings follows the crusade of Geralt of Rivia. Geralt is a Witcher (think wizard with the ability to drink potions and fight awesome monsters). You'll fight with a varied cast to bring down a kingslayer and unravel the conspiracy around him.
The story itself actually hinges on tough, veiled decisions. I say "veiled" only because the decisions you make in this game don't necessarily stick out like a sore thumb. There isn't always a clearly "good" or "evil" path. Instead, you'll be presented with decisions that make you consider characters and their relationships to you as both Geralt (the main character) and the player.
There's one major, major decision that comes at the end of the first act that literally forced me to walk away from the game for a bit in order to think. It wasn't so much a situation where going one way would ruin another, but it was one that would shape the rest of my experience throughout the game.
The choices here matter. And they're presented in a way that provides a great sense of subtlety.
I did encounter a slew of bugs, glitches and impasses that forced me to revert to old saves or restart my console in order to proceed. While hunting for quest items, there were times when I'd find the required ingredient, pick it up and sit back as my quest never updated to the next phase. There were moments in cutscenes where NPCs were to be shot by arrows; instead, they got stuck on a rock and never died. The game simply stayed in that state for around four or five minutes until it black screened and the cutscene ended.
Bugs like these, while almost expected in larger titles like The Witcher 2, really hurt the level of immersion intended. Where story and moment building are executed so well in this game, the bugs on my playthrough ripped me out a little too often.
This One Packs Good Value
All told, the Enhanced Edition comes with all sorts of extras. Players will see a new, awesome intro cutscene, they'll have extra quests, new starting armor and a ton of gameplay fixes. It's not exclusive to Xbox 360 gamers, either. If you own The Witcher 2 on the PC, you can download all of these goodies for free.
The physical copy of the game also comes a great little strategy guide and a soundtrack CD. That all sells for the standard $60 mark. In terms of value, this title has a lot going for it. This Xbox 360 translation has been well worked and makes a lot out of the getting-older system.
Ultimately, deciding whether or not you'd enjoy The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings comes down to considering one major point: do you enjoy more traditional, hardcore RPGs? This title has so much to offer if you like the genre it's set in. In fact, I'd go even further and say that The Witcher 2 is a must-own title for lovers of story and well conceived mechanics.
I'll leave you with this anecdote: after around 25 hours on my first run, I intend to play the game soon and remake one of my major decisions. I play a lot of games; to say that I'll set aside another 25 hours right after finishing a title should stand as an indication of how much I enjoyed The Witcher 2.
We purchased a copy of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings for the Xbox 360 with company funds. We installed both discs inside the game on our console's hard drive before playing. We completed the story on normal difficulty overall, while switching to both "easy" and "hard" for testing purposes. We focused mainly on the main quest and finished the tale in roughly 25 hours.
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