This week, I had a chance to sit down and play through a few hours of the upcoming Xbox 360 version of the 2011 PC-exclusive game The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. The Xbox 360 version will launch on April 17th.
I'm happy to report that the port meets expectations in every way—close your eyes and picture "The Witcher 2 on Xbox 360." Are you imagining that? Good, because that's what you're getting. As far as I'm concerned, that is a good thing.
If you'd like to know what The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is all about, I recommend reading our own Mike Fahey's fabulous review of the game. It's a role-playing game in which you really play a role, where choice and consequence make themselves known in occasionally earth-shattering (and game-experience-changing) ways. It's well-written and surprisingly sexy and earthy and totally good.
So, on to the Xbox 360 version. I've "confessed" this before (as if it's some shameful crime!), but I actually found that the best way for me to experience The Witcher 2 was by plugging my PC into my TV and playing with a controller. Oh, how glorious it looked in full HD! Furthermore, the controls lent themselves to the Xbox 360 controller very well. In fact, the game seemed to have been designed with the controller in mind; menus featured button-specific prompts, and the entire game, including the menus, could be navigated with a controller.
The new version is much the same, with some slight but noticeable tweaks to the control layout. The button-mapping is somewhat different; face-buttons are more in line with a typical console game (A replaces X as the interact button, Y replaces B to cast signs), and targeting is now tied to the left trigger. The interface, too, has changed, with a page-based pause interface that lets you flip through your map, journal, and inventory just like in any other console RPG. It all feels and works better, though doesn't change things too much in practice. The guys from CD Projekt Red weren't sure whether the remapped controls would come to the PC version, but I hope that they do.
I'll get this out of the way—despite the good-looking screenshots you'll see in this post, The Witcher 2 for 360 does not look as good as its PC counterpart. No huge surprise there, since no feat of programming on earth could get an Xbox 360 game looking as good as The Witcher 2 running on Ultra or High on a current PC. But that's not to say it looks bad—while the lighting effects and high-res textures did serve to make the PC version look jaw-droppingly good, much of The Witcher 2 PC's look derived from a lush, well-realized art style. That art style carries over to the new game. If you hadn't payed The Witcher 2 on PC, you'd probably never notice that it doesn't look as good as it could. The only thing that sorta bummed me out was that Geralt himself looks a bit... gaunt? Drawn? At times, he looks looks younger and just... different than he did in the PC version, like some of the character has been leeched from his face. But really, don't let that bum you out—Xbox players won't even notice.
What's great is that everything else is essentially unchanged. You'll get the same twisty, shades-of-grey story, all of the quests, all of the big decisions, all of the lusty, sexful exploits. You'll also get all of the post-release DLC, including several additional quests, the new, smoother tutorial, the fighting arena, and a brand-new chunk of DLC that adds four hours of content to the game's comparatively thin-feeling third act.
I played through a good amount of the new content, and it feels appropriately Witchery, revolving mostly around exposing the plot to kidnap King Foltest's children from the first act. I checked to be sure, and yes, PC players will receive this DLC for free just as they have all other DLC, presumably when the Xbox version launches.
The Witcher 2 on Xbox 360 is very much the same excellent game that PC players got to play last year, lightened a bit in the graphics department but in most every other respect identical. I'll note that while I was at the event, I had a good time listening to the gentlemen behind me, writers for a to-remain-nameless Xbox-centric magazine, who were playing The Witcher 2 for the first time. I recalled my own first encounter with the game as I listened to them wrestle with its unforgiving difficulty and rough combat edges.
"How do you replenish your health in combat?" asked one.
"You don't," said the PR rep.
Yep, that's The Witcher 2 alright.
Lustful silver fox
two swords, two ladies; one heart