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Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings logo  VS.  Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings logo
Review/Comparison Written by: Alex Sandell

After receiving a review copy of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition for the Xbox 360, I decided to play the PC version of the game (my 3rd time through) simultaneously with the Xbox 360 version. I played 3 hours per sitting - 90 minutes on the PC version, 90 minutes on the 360. At least that’s how I started. 18 hours into this grand experiment (and/or geeky lunacy) and 9 hours into each version of the game, I set the PC version aside and began playing the 360 version exclusively.

Is this to say that the 360 version is better? The 360 version is close enough to make it the better option for those who prefer gaming with a controller over a keyboard and mouse. The PC version of the game and the 360 version use the same 360 controller, but developer CD Projekt Red has done such an excellent job at revamping and streamlining the controller layout for the 360 that going back to the PC version started feeling painful, despite those pretty, pretty PC graphics.

Witcher troll battleGraphically, the PC version is superior, but the 360 version is more impressive. How? The 360 version somehow took the graphics of the PC version -- which wouldn’t even play on “high” settings until I upgraded my PC with a $390 graphics card, last year -- and made them comparable.

Yes, we see more pop-up. No, we don’t get as much depth of field. Yes, there are more jaggies. No, the texture quality isn’t as detailed. Yes, there is screen-tear (this was the hardest for my eyes to get used to, but my girlfriend couldn’t see it, even as I was frantically pointing at the screen screaming, “Right there! Look! It just happened again!”). But the console this is playing on is seven years old and was half the price of the year old video card that is used in my PC.  
How did they pull this off?!?

After a beautiful CG intro. created for this version (and, thanks to CD Projekt Red actually rewarding paying customers, instead of punishing them for their loyalty, now available as free DLC for those owning the game on the PC), the graphics may initially underwhelm -- especially if you’re coming off the PC version. But just wait.

Wait until you’re running from a fire-breathing dragon. Wait until you see the sun begin shining through the trees at dawn in the forest outside of Flotsam (the lighting effects in this game are beautiful -- noticeably better than those in the PC version). The further into the game you get, the better the game looks. By the time you finish, you’ll look at your 360 and wonder if someone quietly replaced it with an Xbox 720 while you were away. The Witcher 2 is the best looking game on the console.

The Witcher 2 is no slouch in the gameplay department, either. If you can imagine a Western style RPG (Fallout, Elder Scrolls) merged with a JRPG (Final Fantasy, Persona 3) by way of George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones) -- you can get a sense of what The Witcher 2 has in store for you. The game is dark, gritty, absurd in the best possible way, and adult. It is not like any other RPG you’ve ever played.

There’s a choice system in The Witcher 2, but most choices aren’t presented as “good,” “in-between,” or “bad.” They’re just choices. Like in real life, you can’t even be sure if you’re making good choices (or “bad” ones, if that’s your style) until the choices have been made. Like in real life, you’ll kick yourself a few times, knowing you chose poorly a number of times, despite trying to do the right thing. Many times the consequences of your choices won’t be revealed until hours later.

No matter the choices you make, the game will send you on a bevy of quests the likes of which you have never seen in a game. In the first 5 hours alone, you can try to help an alcoholic troll get off the sauce, you can seek out the embryo of Endrega (don’t ask) to help a witch cast a spell that may take the curse off of a medallion you got from a dead boy who was killed because you gave the boy bad advice at the start of the game (again, choices matter and you don’t always know if you’ve made the right ones), or you can collect some mucous from a gigantic sea monster who has been randomly picking fishermen off the docks and devouring them.

With mucous, embryos and vodka soaked trolls, you may start getting the impression the game is in the slapstick vein of the Fable titles. Get rid of that impression immediately. Despite the unique nature of the quests, this game takes itself seriously. It tells a grown-up story in a grown-up way. If you have any doubt about how serious this game can get, wait until you hit the haunted hospital early on. The quest is like Look at the mess you made!something spit up from Hell -- and it’s nerve-racking enough to have you feeling shaken up by the time it’s over, if you can make it that long without taking a breather.

 The Witcher 2 is an all-around amazing game. I never hooked up my 360 to the Internet while playing, so never downloaded any patches, and the game had but one glitch. And that glitch was funny enough I wondered if it was kept in on purpose. When climbing up a ladder at the very beginning of the game, our “hero,” Geralt, literally has his head up the king’s butt. It was clearly a collision detection issue, but my girlfriend thought it made for grand humor. After coming off of Skyrim -- which was glitchy to the point where I started wondering if Bethesda Game Studios had a vendetta against its loyal fans -- a gigantic RPG that ran virtually glitch-free without half a dozen patches felt miraculous.

Are there problems with the game? Yes. But what it gets wrong is hardly worth mentioning. Forcing gamers to set up and take potions before -- and making potions off limits during -- a fight is a little sadistic (these are also the only times in the game where you can’t save). Despite the tweaks made to the menu for the 360 release, it is still a bear to navigate. An immediate fix I’d recommend is to make sure that after upgrading a sword or armor, the sword or armor you just upgraded remains selected. For some reason, after you upgrade a weapon or a piece of armor, the game sends you back to the top of the item list. If you want to add more than one upgrade, you have to scroll all the way back down to the item you had just scrolled down to a minute earlier. But these are minor nits to pick at in a nearly perfect game.

Gerald in the thick of itThe Witcher 2 is the whole package. What CD Projekt Red pulled off, in their first console game, is something many developers are still striving for in their fifth or sixth console entry. The music, the graphics, the gameplay, the quests, the story, the voice-acting, the environments, and the art-design are all top-notch. How a company developing for a console could hit it this far out of the park on their very first try is something of a welcome mystery.

In a “battle” between the PC and the 360 version of the game, only PS3 gamers lose (hopefully CD Projekt Red makes that right, soon -- everyone should get a chance at playing this game). The downgraded graphics are a little hard to get used to if you’ve spent dozens of hours on the PC version of the game, but going back to the less-than-perfect control scheme on the PC version, after playing the 360 version, is even harder. Would I recommend this to those who have already finished it on the PC? Probably not (although it is fun to compare the two). Would I recommend this to those with a 360 who have never played it? Unconditionally.

The Witcher 2 is the best RPG of this console generation, and one of the best games to grace a seventh-generation console. I don’t know how they did it, but I’m sure glad they did. Those of you waiting for something better can stop your waiting! The Witcher 2 is likely “Game of the Year 2012” for the 360 (or any console, for that matter). What are you still reading this for, when you could be playing? Go now, Witcher ... there are monsters that need slaying and worlds that need saving!

Specs (both versions played on a 50-inch Panasonic Plasma 1080p HDTV, for comparison purposes):

Settings on the PC version of the game used for this review:

Anisotropic Filtering - 10x
Anti-aliasing - 4x
Lighting Quality - High
Texture Quality - High
Shadow Quality - High
Grass Quality - High
Decals Fade - Medium
Depth of Field - Enabled
Visibility Range - Average
Small Animals Number - Average

Settings on the 360 version of the game used for this review:

Power Button - On

A few gameplay tips I learned throughout my many adventures with The Witcher:

- Avoid playing on “easy,” if at all possible. When they say “easy,” they mean it. It turns the game into a button-masher, where you can just press “A” and/or “X” from beginning to end. “Normal” is a little more difficult than most games at “Normal” settings, but stick with it.

- Many battles have a “safe spot.” This is probably the most important thing to remember when feeling overwhelmed. When you’re facing what seems like insurmountable odds, find this safe spot and let your health regenerate. Then go fight some more. Wash, rinse, repeat.

- Don’t skip the cutscenes and -- if you have the time -- read the journals. There is a heckuva great story being told in this game. The more you put in, the more you get out.

- If the sword with the silver wolf head on the handle is at your back, the sword you’re using is steel (for humans). If the sword with the silver wolf head on the handle is in your hand, the sword you’re using is silver (for monsters). If you’re using the wrong sword, you’re in for a world of hurt.

- The magic sign “Quen” can be your best friend in a difficult battle. When all seems lost, give it a try.

- To level up press the back button. Once there, you’ll see your item list. Hit the left or right trigger until you’re at the leveling up tree. If you play the tutorial, you know this already.

- Play the tutorial.

- When done, there’s an amazing prequel just waiting to be played. Despite being 5 years old, the original Witcher is still a great game. No, you don’t need to play that one first. But if you loved the second, there’s a lot more waiting for you, should you choose to delve even further into this wonderful gaming universe.

Geralt ready to kick ass Feedback is always welcome! We take all kinds, here! Email the author of this review! 

All contents, excluding screenshots and The Witcher 2 logo are Copyright 2012 Alex Sandell/Juicy Inc. Copy this without my permission and I'll send Geralt to find you and shove his steel sword straight up your ass (remember, steel is for humans, silver is for monsters)!

Screenshots and logo are courtesy CD Projekt Red and may not be reproduced without permission.

A copy of this game was provided by CD Projekt Red and Warner Bros. for the purpose of this review. Thanks, guys! Sincerely, the game was better than even I expected. And I've been a fan for a long time!

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