Xbox 360 Review: The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings

Mature gaming is often a strong misnomer. The word “mature” is often substituted for “graphic,” “visceral” or “violent.” Actually maturity is demonstrated through portrayal of events that are adult, substantive and consequential. Mortal Kombat, for example, is often considered a mature game, but really, its simplistic nature doesn’t convey maturity so much as horrific maiming and violence.  The fact is that there are relatively few games that portray actual maturity. They attempt to imply maturity and consequence through arbitrary morality systems, glossing over and gamifying maturity. It is the classic failure you see in lesser works in many genres: showing instead of telling. And let’s face it: human beings are complex. Rare indeed is the individual who is completely saintly or utterly evil. The vast majority of human beings exist somewhere within that spectrum, yet games tend to force us towards one extreme or the other.

It is into the want of actually mature storytelling that The Witcher 2: The Assassin of Kings  steps. Sure, Geralt of Rivia will hack off limbs, cover himself in the blood of his foes, and have wild sexual escapades. But he will also exist in a real sense, a character in a complex world making decisions that vary from self-serving, self-interested to protecting the very fabric of his world. It is refreshing to see a character participating in epic events only as they relate to his own personal struggles. Geralt is not motivated to save nations out of a sense of duty. He is simply endeavoring to survive in the world, to make his way and build a life of his own. Sadly, Geralt is swept away in events beyond his control, and finds himself used as a weapon in a conflict not of his choosing. Geralt has abilities, and everyone has need of what he has to offer. He wishes peace, but is destined to be a pawn of war.

Early game will see Geralt wandering about during the sacking of a town. This is the result.

Fantastic writing and voice acting weave a first rate adventure (though the use of the amnesia trope is unfortunate- the writing here in all other areas is so good, they could have done better). The tale strikes an excellent balance between linearity and player choice. Each chapter provides significant opportunity for open world exploration, which can easily be ignored in favor of pursuing the main story. That story provides plentiful opportunity for choice as well, and those choices will guide the narrative, make enemies and friends, and significantly affect what portions of the game you play. Decision will, as they often do in real life, close off some opportunities forever, while opening other doors.

The level of maturity extends to the combat. Each encounter is a deadly event, and, much like real life, precautions must be taken prior to the event. That classic RPG mechanic of quaffing heath potions repeatedly whenever you’re in trouble won’t work here, for a couple of reasons. First, you can only take potions when you’re outside of combat situations. Secondly, each potion is, to a degree, toxic—drink too many potions, and Geralt will meet an untimely demise. Preparation also includes the harvest of the proper ingredients to make potions, and the crafting of strong armor. Searching for potion recipes and blueprints for weapons, armor, traps and bombs are key to success on the battlefield.

You have a sword for monster and one for humans. Pull the right one.

The thoughtfulness you apply to preparation extends to the combat itself. Enemies will work to surround you, striking you from multiple directions at once. Strategy, proper use of magic, well timed blocking, traps and items will get you through your battles, but take note: combat is tough. Success is built upon identifying and exploiting your opponents’ weaknesses. Assessing your situation is just as important as your ability to hit the X button with lightning speed.  Battles may be won with the casting of the right spell or the toss of the right item. Popping up the spell wheel or the items list in combat will slow down time to a crawl. It’s not a Mass Effect-style pause, but merely a slow down, given you precious time to cast a defensive sign in the nick of time or plant a throwing dagger in your opponent’s forehead. It’s an interesting stylistic choice, giving that Matrix-effect to key moments, and allowing you to experience the supernatural speed for which a witcher is known.  Though the battles are difficult (and on higher difficultly settings, a real rite of passage for the strategic gamer), the tools Geralt possesses make matchups compelling and fun, provided you are willing to truly think them through.

The Witcher 2 offers a refreshing look at the RPG genre. In an era where story driven RPGs are being pushed aside in favor of open-world experience, this effort reaches between the two and fines a happy medium. With a multitude of high fantasy games on the market, this is a unique endeavor, and one which would be appreciated by any gamer looking for a truly mature effort.  There are few true thinking man’s games available on console, games with tough, strategic combat and complex, compelling and adult content. The Witcher 2 fills that void with skill and intellect, and is a must play effort for all true fans of the RPG genre.

Huge massive creature? He's mine.

Pros

  • Skillful, interesting combat
  • Excellent writing, dialogue, and voice acting
  • Interesting upgrade systems and crafting mechanics

Cons

  • Jarringly difficult tutorial could scare off newcomers
  • Not the game to play without all your wits about you

5 / 5

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Author: Tony Odett View all posts by
A member of the Perfectly Sane Show crew and Vagary.tv's Features Editor, Tony brings the smart and funny (and the rapine and pillage...). Also known as The Strategy Gamer, Tony declares it his duty to get as much coverage as possible for what should be everyone's most loved genre.