CD Projekt RED’s PC epic role-playing game The Witcher 2 is reinvigorated with The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition, an updated version ported over to the Xbox 360 home console. Transcending its PC exclusive home to an unfamiliar realm of restrictive hardware is a tall task even for the much celebrated Polish publisher/developer. Aiming to reproduce the critical success the studio garnered last year with the PC release, what CD Projekt RED have managed to create in the Xbox 360 version is an artistically rich story retold and re-engineered so seemlessly, it is nothing short of an astounding achievement.
Developer: CD Projekt RED
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PC
Genre: Role-Playing Game
Release: (AU) April 18th, 2012, (EU) April 17th, 2012, (NA) April 17th, 2012
Having never played the original The Witcher or the sequel spawned for the PC last year, I wasn’t too sure what to expect from The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition. I’d heard PC gamers abuzz after having experienced it, with many regarding it as one of the best releases for the format in 2011, so naturally there was a sense of high expectation before I even drew my sword from its sheath. Based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s novel, The Witcher 2 is set after the events of the first title where our main protagonist Geralt of Rivia, a mutant Witcher with magical abilities is now charged with the protection of the King of Temeria, King Foltest. Without giving too much away, what transpires are a chain of events catapulting the wise-talking hunter on an epic journey.
The Witcher 2‘s story is self-encapsulated and despite not having played the original, the main plot is remarkably absorbing from the outset, filled with engaging dialogue delivered through convincing voice acting. Characters and events from the first title are referenced to provide for a richer backstory, but if you’re like me and only experiencing The Witcher series for the first time, the well-told narration immerses you into the lands of Temeria comfortably enough for everything to make perfect sense without ever feeling like you’ve missed out on any key points.
The story is anything but linear with the choices and actions you do or don’t do having direct consequences impacting future events, ultimately affecting your travels in the world of Temeria. With more than one path to choose from, replayability is strongly encouraged as it’ll take more than one playthrough to discover all the different scenario and the sixteen endings available. The Enhanced Edition packs together all prior downloadable content and delivers an additional four hours of quests, along with 35 minutes of cinematic cut scenes offering a more enriching, in-depth experience over the original The Witcher 2. PC gamers who purchased the game need not feel hard done by as these new extras are available as a free update patch to existing owners, a generous gesture that many developers could take a leaf out of the CD Projekt RED workbook.
Designed with a mature audience in mind, there’s plenty to see and do to occupy your time when deviating off the beaten track, such as participating in the all-new arcade arena mode, arm-wrestling townfolk, developing your relationships with females or paying a visit to the lasses down at the local brothel. There aren’t many titles out there willing to venture into the more sordid topics and this is where The Witcher 2 shines, pushing the envelope of mature themes like sex and violence with gusto. The Witcher 2 doesn’t sugarcoat subjects as it touches on the not so ‘kid-friendly’ themes, poising thought-provoking questions deep into Temerian politics to engage and simulate the mind. It won’t be everyone’s cup of herbal tea but will most certainly add an extra dimension of realism to differentiate itself from the many role-playing games currently on the market.
Speaking of realism, the world of Temeria is bought to life through CD Projekt RED’s meticulous design for one of the most vivid and atmospheric worlds ever created for a video game. Townsfolk banter and the overall architectual and environment designs complement the period in which Geralt resides to bring it all alive, an often neglected fundamental when developing a role-playing title of supposedly epic proportions.
Powered by the state-of-the-art REDEngine technology, CD Projekt RED pushes the Xbox 360 to its absolute full potential. Due to the limitations of the six year old console and the demanding processing power exerted on the platform, graphical glitches, screen tearing and frequent load times are sadly evident. These issues can be alleviated by installing The Witcher 2 to lessen the burden on your machine and improve the overall performance and play experience, however it won’t completely fix the problems; but rather minimise the amount of noticeable drawbacks. I could condemn the development team for not optimising the game to produce a more flawless experience, but its a commendable effort that they were able to extract so much from a restrictive environment and deliver one of the most well-presented role-playing games in recent memory. The PC version still reigns supreme if you’re a gamer who prefers having total control over tweaks and presentation options.
Without the flexibility and customisation of a PC keyboard, special attention has been taken to adapt the control mechanics over to the Xbox 360 controller and despite the obvious limited input options, The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition retains an intuitive interface with a fairly easy to access menu system. Perusing for a key spell, equipment or reagent for crafting can be overwhelming at first glance given how in-depth CD Projekt RED have chosen to take The Witcher 2, however familiarisation of buttons does become easier to comprehend the more you play. A specially tailored tutorial for the Xbox 360 gently eases newcomers to the control schemes and combat system, plus has the added benefit of helping recommend a player’s chosen skill level to ensure the best possible gaming experience. The gameplay mechanics allows players to set a quick-access menu, making switching between commonly used spells and items efficient during the dynamic, high tension combat. Preparing for tactical battles with weapon enhancing oils and preseting options prior to engaging the enemy not only opens up the whole battle experience but also makes for a less stressful encounter.
It’s hard to fault The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition with all that it has to offer, from its immersive tale and branching storylines to its rich combat; all housed in the beautifully crafted virtual universe in which it all takes place. Far and beyond just a lazy port, the thoughtful attention to detail and genuine effort CD Projekt RED have devoted reflects in just about all facets of the game. You’d be hard pressed to find another title that offers as much, or delivers it as well for that matter. The only real drawback is its availability on PC in which case, if your PC setup can support it, I’d recommend going with this option purely for the diversity it offers. The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition is one of this year’s must-have RPG experiences and a highly recommended purchase for Xbox 360 owners.
9.5 – Excellent. Fun, enjoyable, engaging, and memorable but is missing that little something that will make it exceptionable. People will fondly talk about this for generations to come.