Monday, 4 March 2013

Replay: The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition Review

Reviewed on: Xbox 360

CDProjekt RED's fantasy RPG The Witcher 2 came to Xbox 360 in 2012 in an enhanced form with extra content, cutscenes and bug fixes. Though on paper the game is a straight forward fantasy RPG, in practice the game is one of the most unique, believable and forward thinking RPGs to have come out in years. Rather than the usual Elves and Dwarves high fantasy that one would expect, the game uses a gritty tone and highlights the racial tension between humans and non-humans and has realistic, grimy settlements rather than epic castles and palaces. The game focuses on Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher, who is a mutated human capable of using magic and hunting monsters. He is hired to protect King Foltest but, as the name of the game implies, there is an assassin out with a penchant for Regicide. He kills Foltest and Geralt is framed for the murder. Upon escaping from prison he embarks on a quest to find the killer and clear his name.

The prologue of the game is very scripted and structured but it serves as an enjoyable and exciting tutorial as well as a great set up for the game's story. After this the game begins to open up, though the early quests do keep you on a short leash, they allow for some degree of freedom and the game does become less linear as you progress. The game relies heavily on a deep and believable story which touches on some real issues. The main issue is one of race, with the tension between humans and non-humans constantly at the forefront of the game's narrative. This is made all the more interesting by the fact that, as a Witcher, Geralt experiences racism from both humans and non-humans because he is part human and part non-human. For some the story will be too dense, too non-linear and too intense to get into, this is not an airy fairy fantasy story the likes of which you might find in an Elder Scrolls game, but if you like your fantasies to be mature and serious then there is a lot to like about this story.

The game is heavily focused on combat and has a very unique approach to it. The combat system is a mix of light and heavy attacks, blocking and parrying and features some cool finishing moves but combat is no walk in the park. To survive most fights you'll need to take time to prepare. Geralt's medallion glows if there is danger so you have time to act. You enter a radial menu and can choose potions that help you in the fight, you can also go into the weapon menu and enhance your weapons with oils and you can choose traps and bombs to equip. The fights can be challenging but because the system is so good the fights don't get frustrating, though it is important to know when to run away and when to stand your ground. The system does take some getting used to, it is not overly accessible, and whilst this may turn people off I would still argue that it is great and I'd really urge players to stick with it. The rest of the game focuses largely on exploration, conversation and taking part in some surprisingly fun mini games such as arm wrestling and bar fights.

Most of the game's story is divulged through conversation rather than cutscenes. Things unfold largely during talks with the game's numerous, and mercifully interesting, characters. The few cutscenes that there are do look amazing. The Enhanced Edition comes with extra cutscenes and they are sex in graphical form, even on the 360. I can only imagine how good this game looks on a top end PC. The environmental and character graphics fortunately also look amazing but there are plenty of issues with textures having to load in as you are playing which does spoil the otherwise awesome graphics of this game. This may be fixed if you installed the game onto the hardrive, which the developers do recommend, but I simply don't have have the space to do this. Even with these issues though the game is one of the best looking things on the 360, with stunning locations, a superb draw distance and fantastic character details. The only other issue is that the facial animations for the characters don't necessarily match up with the tone of voice which does sometimes mean that characters don't seem as sincere as they should. Thankfully this only happens occasionally so it isn't a huge issue. To be honest I get the impression that most of the graphical issues stem from the fact that the game is running on a far weaker system than it was intended to, the 360 is not a gaming PC and so it is understandable that it might struggle.

Sound wise the game is jaw dropping but far from flawless. The effects, ambient noise and soundtrack are all incredible. Standing in a forest is incredibly immersive because you can hear the rustle of leaves, the sound of birds, insects and other animals and if you pass by a flowing stream it sounds like a real stream. The score for the game is just as good, with a superb blend of rock and metal songs being played alongside more typical orchestral work. The problem comes from the voice acting, most of the time it is pretty solid and the characters are convincing but occasionally they sound lifeless and dull and fail utterly at conveying any sense of emotion. This is a huge problem for such a story driven game as it really yanks you out of the game world and reminds you that you are playing game. It's not a deal breaker but it is probably the game's single biggest flaw.

The Witcher 2 is a great game but its flaws stop it short whenever it shows signs of belonging among the great RPGs of all time. Perhaps The Witcher 3 can throw off these flaws and be a truly awe inspiring RPG, in the meantime I suggest buying this and making do with a great but flawed fantasy RPG that is totally unique

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