It would take a lot to ruin game powerful enough to make me write what is essentially fan fiction in my review of the PC version. Looks like CD Projekt just didn't apply themselves enough to failing. Jerks.
I suppose if I was dealing with attempting to make a hero like Geralt of Rivia look like a clumsy putz I'd probably fail as well. The dark and dashing Witcher is just too cool to show up in a sub-par game. If I tried really, really hard he'd probably just wander off to a better game, leaving me with Konami's Blades of Time, and nobody wants that.
So Geralt instead tears his way through another crop of game critics, carefully swapping between silver swords for online publications and steel for print.
The Witcher 2 is a game that is desperate for people to describe it as 'adult' and 'mature', ideally while using words like 'gritty' and 'dark' at the same time. A lot of games are like that, but usually all you get as a result is a lot of swearing and the same old cartoon violence and moralising. In that sense action role-player The Witcher 2 is different, but even with its new enhancements it still has trouble fulfilling its true potential.
You're Geralt of Rivia, a stoic and distinctly un-heroic monster hunter with a few memory problems and a faintly inexplicable way with the ladies. Though sworn to impartiality on matters of the state, he is drawn into this complex political maelstrom by a series of regicides that brand him a criminal and pull him back into his own, forgotten past. The Witcher 2 is a game for adults, and not just because of all the sex and violence. It expects you to be intelligent and interested, to care about the political machinations, racial tensions and complex history of its world. Plenty of games shield you from their lore, afraid that it might scare you off. The Witcher 2 drops you right in the thick of it, and expects you to deal with it.
Curiously for a PC game hanging from a branch of Tolkien's family tree, The Witcher 2 is as much Rockstar as it is Bethesda. While this may not be an open-world game, the way that linear story and non-linear play link arms is reminiscent of Red Dead Redemption. Cut-scenes trigger when you approach key characters or areas, while the way missions are received, juggled and delivered is very Grand Theft Auto.
Where CD Projekt's game surpasses this influence is in the branching story: choices that halt you in your tracks as you realise the full weight of their repercussions, not only to those around you in the game, but also to your story, your legend. John Marston was tethered to Rockstar's tale, but you define the both the fine detail and grand sweep of Geralt's, deciding one moment whether to save the women from the burning building or topple the corrupt commander before he flees, before choosing which key character you will chase for the next 10 hours, altering the game experience dramatically.
The Xbox 360 release benefits from a reasonable difficulty curve, but there are some frustrations here and there. The manual targeting system is fiddly enough that you'll likely let the game's auto-targeting take over for you, unless you face a single enemy, or maybe two. You might inadvertently tumble toward an enemy behind the one you meant to attack and find yourself in the center of a deadly mob. There are also moments when basic actions don't feel as responsive as they should; unsheathing your sword might take a couple of button presses, for instance. Yet the action is largely satisfying and enjoyable. There's a palpable sense of weight in every swing. Geralt might somersault toward his victim and slash him with a steel sword or use a flaming staff pilfered from a succubus to land slower, heavier blows.
The aesthetic presentation, both visually and aurally, have a very visceral quality to them, making the imagery more effective; deaths are grisly and violent, the aftermaths of armies' raping and pillaging can be clearly beheld, and the music and accompanying sound effects do well to establish the tone of each particular scene. The art style is also very unique – the armor and uniform designs remain distinct and aesthetically interesting while still having the appearance of practicality – female soldiers are not clothed in scraps that leave little to the imagination, while male characters are not wearing the latest hip threads that would feel more at home in a Prada advertisement than a war-torn battlefield. The game's environments are incredibly well-designed and meticulously detailed, as well as large enough to promote exploring without being so massive that the player gets lost too easily.
The aesthetics fare incredibly well on a technical level, as well. Some accommodations had to be made in order for the game to be properly ported to the 360, but the result is nothing short of amazing – despite the Xbox 360 hardware going on seven years since its release, CDProjekt has certainly created some immensely impressive visuals out of the aging console. The level of visual fidelity comes at a small price, however; small amounts of texture pop-in can be witnessed, and the loading times can be a bit long. Fortunately, both of these problems can be mostly rectified by installing the game on the 360's hard drive, though even without it the problems are minor, at worst. The music is also incredibly well composed, with some truly stunning pieces by sound designer and composer Adam Skorupa.
Considering how hugely successful the game is on so many other levels, complaints about menu systems and an occasionally clunky control scheme seem petty and trivial. The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition is one of the most engaging and immersive games of this console generation, drawing players into a complex narrative, full of character, an excellent script and a rich gaming environment. The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition is more than a match for the might of Skyrim, an epic fantasy yarn that's a real force to be reckoned with.
My copy just arrived; can't wait!