The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition (Xbox360)

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It would be a difficult task to do The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition justice merely by singing its praises in this review. This game is a breath of fresh air for the RPG genre that somehow manages to excel on both a technical and artistic level. Polish studio CD Projekt RED has crafted something truly special in The Witcher 2 – a complex, compelling narrative that does an excellent job of consistently accommodating player choice.

There are not many games that make you feel like you’re part of an epic work of fantasy fiction, so with this in mind it’s safe to say that The Witcher 2 sits alongside the very best examples of interactive entertainment.

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The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition is an updated version of last year’s award-winning The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings for PC. The Enhanced Edition features all the tweaks and new content added to the PC version via a series of patches, as well as additional cut-scenes, quests, areas and even a few graphical refinements. The game consists of three chapters and spans two discs, although you’ll be spending the majority of your playtime on disc one. The Witcher 2 will easily last you between fifteen and thirty hours on your first playthrough, and it’s definitely worth taking it for another spin as the game’s narrative is structured around two paths that diverge at the end of chapter one.

Like its predecessor, The Witcher 2 is based on a cult series of short stories by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. You are the white-haired witcher Geralt of Rivia – a professional monster-slayer who was genetically modified as a child so he could possess superhuman powers. The game’s narrative concerns itself with Geralt trying to regain his memory amidst a large-scale power struggle between various forces.

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Another witcher with unknown motives has begun to assassinate kings and Geralt sets out to confront this enemy before further assassinations lead to even greater political instability in the kingdom. There’s a lot more to the narrative than this brief synopsis, however, and elves, dwarves and sorceresses soon enter the equation to make the story both richer and more complex.

I can’t say I fully understood every story element that was introduced during the course of my adventure, but thankfully the game comes with lengthy and detailed descriptions of every location, character and quest so all the information you need is there for those of you who want to delve deeper into the incredibly elaborate tale of The Witcher 2.

There are many times when the game’s narrative takes a turn in one direction or another based on your choices. The wonderful thing about these decisions is that they aren’t based on black and white morality like most other RPGs – often they are more about personal preference and which story strand you want to see play out. There are also plenty of optional side-quests that are designed to further flesh out the game’s world and its characters. These are some of the most interesting and cleverly designed side-quests I’ve had the pleasure of playing, and surprisingly they often offer the same degree of player choice as the main quests.

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The combat in The Witcher 2 takes some getting used to and should prove challenging to newcomers. Thankfully you can adjust the difficult level at any time during the game if things aren’t going your way. Geralt carries two swords – one steel (good for slicing through humans) and the other silver (good for dispatching monsters such as wraiths) – as well as knives, bombs and traps. He also makes use of a few offensive and defensive magic spells that can save your hide in tough situations.

Geralt can only brandish one weapon at a time and doesn’t carry a shield so you’ll use your sword to block incoming attacks and your free hand to cast magic. You can roll out of harm’s way and as you upgrade your abilities he will become more adept at counter-attacking and handling groups of monsters. You can also coat your sword with various oils that will boost your attacks for a few minutes.

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If you enjoy the combat aspect of The Witcher 2 then you’ll probably want to try out Arena mode. This is separate from the main game and sees you trying to defeat increasingly difficult waves of enemies. When you die your accumulated score is posted to the online leaderboards and you can see how your efforts compare with your friends’ as well as the rest of the world. You’ll earn weapons, armour, items and skill points for each wave of enemies you defeat, as well as cash that you can use to hire one of three NPC mercenaries to accompany you into battle.

Although The Witcher 2 is as close to perfect as you could reasonably hope for, there are still a few issues worth mentioning. You can’t warp to previously visited areas of the map nor can you put down a waypoint. While most missions show you on the map where you need to go next, certain quests require you to explore a wide area until you stumble on the ‘trigger’ for that mission. This can sometimes feel like fumbling around in the dark and can prove frustrating.

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Another issue I have with the game concerns interacting with people or objects. The ‘talk’ or ‘search’ prompt only appears when you’re a particular distance away from your target, and this often feels strangely random. You’ll be right next to an object yet you can’t interact with it because there’s no prompt. Also, when you come across an assortment of loot you can’t select which items you want to pick up – you automatically take everything. This proves very problematic when you’re nearing your weight limit and can’t afford to carry around unwanted items.

There’s also an area in the game where doors have been added to the Xbox 360 version in order to make up for slower loading times compared to the PC version. These doors don’t make sense in terms of the level’s architectural design and actually confuse you on certain quests because you assume that they lead to people’s homes rather than to the next open section of this particular area.

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The Witcher 2 dazzles from a technical standpoint, though. You’ll need to install the game to your Xbox 360’s hard drive to get the best possible visual experience, and once you do you’ll be treated to faster load times and texture streaming. The Witcher 2 has some of the best lighting I’ve ever seen in a game, and the artistic direction is amazing from start to finish. The game’s world feels lived in and the level design is a lot more complex and naturalistic than many other contemporary RPGs.

The main characters all have fantastically detailed costume designs and their appearances are pleasingly non-generic. I particularly appreciated how the central female characters are conveyed in The Witcher 2 as they are portrayed as strong, feisty individuals, each possessing a unique set of complex motivations.

The game’s ambient sound effects and music also complement the beautiful locales and emotionally charged cut-scenes that lie at the heart of The Witcher 2. There are some truly epic and moving moments in this game that would have only been half as effective had the sound effects and music not been up to the same high standards as the graphics, script and voice acting.

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The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition is an essential purchase for RPG fans whether you choose to play it on PC or Xbox 360. This is one title that constantly impresses and surprises as you explore all it has to offer. The Witcher 2 is one of the best examples of how the games industry is maturing by offering an adult-themed narrative that explores situations, emotions and complex moral dilemmas that are usually reserved for books or films.

If you’re looking for interactive entertainment as its most accomplished, don’t squander this opportunity to be bewitched!