The Witcher, like Warcraft and Counter-Strike, has traditionally been one of those “PC” titles. The appeal of these games is how much they take advantage of the platform – different controls, complicated interfaces, and in The Witcher 2’s case, graphics that’d be unthinkable on current consoles. Granted, The Witcher 2 was already fun to play on a gamepad and a tad less complex than the original, but it certainly wasn’t something you could look at and say, “Yeah, that’d work great on an Xbox”.
That’s exactly what CDProjekt Red did, though. It’s a perfectly timed move, too, given the recent popularity of Skyrim, Dragon Age, and Kingdoms of Amalur on consoles – people want fantasy, and damn if The Witcher 2 isn’t going to deliver. Still, fans who played this on PC last year have every reason to be skeptical – this is, after all, a game that can bring most computers to a screeching halt if the graphics settings are turned up too high. What CDProjekt Red has accomplished with this version isn’t just a competent port of a great game, but a new bar for how good a PC-to-console port can look.
Graphics aren’t the most important thing in The Witcher 2, of course. This is a tightly crafted action RPG, with a wealth of content to uncover in a surprisingly small amount of real estate. The Witcher 2 is by no means open-world, but there are still plenty of side quests to take on and places to explore, with nothing feeling wholly extraneous (except perhaps the Arena mode, which is, well, an extra). It helps that the story driving these quests along is absolutely gripping.
For those who don’t know, The Witcher is a long-running media series in Poland, made up of several novels, a TV show, and this series of games. It stars Geralt of Rivia, who is a Witcher – a hybrid of human and beast DNA designed to protect villages from monsters. The necessity of Witchers has died down considerably, leaving Geralt and his shiny eyes a bit of a social outcast, reduced to a sellsword of sorts. Conveniently, he begins The Witcher 2 with amnesia, which makes it fairly easy for the uninitiated to jump in and experience the story without needing to know much – even though there’s a 2 right in the title, this is a fairly self-contained game. The setup for the game says enough: Geralt wakes up, fights in a war, runs away from a dragon, and is framed for regicide. You know, normal day and all that.
As a bit of an amoral wanderer caught in the middle of political strife, Geralt is offered some hand-wringing choices throughout the game. The best part of this is how much these choices actually matter – some choices drastically affect the outcome of the story, and one decision at the end of the first chapter sends you in two wildly different directions, effectively locking out an entire area of the game, quests and all. The story is so different based on these moments that it’s worth playing at least twice to get the whole picture. It’s not as simple as having a “good” choice or “evil” choice, either – pretty much everything in The Witcher 2 is steeped in some fairly realistic politics, meaning everyone involved is a little bit right and a little bit of a total jerk. It’s riveting stuff.
The game itself is fairly simple, although that doesn’t mean easy. The Witcher 2 is an action RPG, but it has a large emphasis on planning ahead. Using items to enhance your sword and potions to enhance your stats (and hinder others, making for some interesting balance choices) is a must, especially early on in the game. The combat itself mostly involves dishing out light and heavy attacks, as well as rolling and blocking to avoid damage. Getting surrounded means instant death, unless you put some experience points into protecting yourself from the sides and rear. The skill trees in the game are quite large, and it’s fairly easy to ignore some skills completely and focus on other ones with no real consequence – the game offers a lot of options and it’s entirely possible to focus on the things you find to be most interesting. That being said, The Witcher 2 isn’t always the best at explaining its own game mechanics – there’s a wealth of information available in the menus of the game as well as the included handbook, but not much is explicitly explained within the game. Still, to some people, that’s part of the appeal – The Witcher 2 is unforgiving, and this version is no exception.
It’s sort of a miracle that this game even runs on the 360. The graphics in The Witcher 2 are absolutely gorgeous, and the Enhanced Edition even includes different lighting techniques and slightly better (from a design standpoint) textures than the original release. While it doesn’t look as good as a PC version running at full bore at 60 frames per second, the 360 Witcher 2 runs at an admirably smooth 30 frames per second with nary a hitch, provided its installed to the hard drive. The textures aren’t as high-resolution, but everything is still impeccably detailed, and the environments are rich and full of foliage. It’s a technical marvel, and great news for anyone who doesn’t have a PC capable of running the game – this is hardly a watered-down experience.
That’s the main thing that makes this whole package so attractive, really. The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition is a port that respects its platform and audience, and was clearly crafted as carefully as possible. We’ve seen ports of PC games that insult everyone involved – they often create a shadow of the original product that’s no fun to play and strips the original difficulty down to appeal to “the masses”, as if nobody appreciated challenge anymore. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition assumes nothing, except that you own an Xbox 360 and like to have fun – and with a massive story mode that includes every piece of DLC the PC version has, there’s plenty to be had. This is how ports should be done.