Totally Not a Review: The Witcher 2

To many PC gamers, The Witcher 2 was no small point of pride. It proved to be a graphical showcase, something thought to be irreproducible on the current generation of consoles. It met with lavish praise and some people, fans of the original Witcher game and the new ones alike, declared that developers CD Projekt were fast on the track to be the new standard bearers for RPGs in the industry. We even made it an honorable mention in the 2011 Game of the Year deliberations.

Like a ship in a bottle, The Witcher 2 has been reconstructed inside of a confined space on the Xbox 360 and managed to make some improvements along the way.

As someone that owns The Witcher 2 on PC, I regrettably did not get very far in to the game. While it seems strange to blame developers for giving away too much free content, I was resolute on waiting for the developers to declare the casket closed before really digging in. With the console release, that time finally came, as The Witcher 2 got as content complete as it was ever going to get, which is likely far more than one could expect.

The game follows the story of Geralt of Rivia, a professional monster hunter with amnesia and a cold sense of humor. As the story begins, Geralt is awaiting execution on the charge of regicide and must recount the story of how he got there to have any hopes of surviving. From there, the story takes a number of twists and turns, though nothing terribly shocking, and emphasizes your choices to an extent that most modern RPGs refuse to. Making choices in the game effectively changes the game around you, locking out or giving access to items, quests, people, events, and entire areas. In dealing with many recent RPGs that claim to take choices in to account in recent times, that The Witcher 2 accomplishes it in such a way that makes significant changes depending on what you have Geralt do, is honestly rather unusual (though in a good way).

As a port, The Witcher 2 is admirable, but it is difficult not to feel the gulf between the 360’s 2005 hardware and modern PCs. The image quality difference is immediately apparent and, honestly, might result in a bit of recoiling from people that have a memory of the PC version to compare to in their heads. Those who don’t, however, will find that The Witcher 2 is one of the most graphically impressive games on the 360. The image quality still seems less palatable than, say, Gears of War or Assassin’s Creed, but it becomes often ignorable and eventually (whether due to a change of scenery or just getting used to it) stops being a problem altogether.

Having played the game originally using a mouse and keyboard, I expected to be somewhat flummoxed with how the game converted to a 360 controller. CD Projekt touted the 360-exclusive control scheme (which they purported to be different and further streamlined than a 360-controller-on-PC solution) as something that would make sense for the game. It does work, remarkably well, except for a few situations where actions paired together do not necessarily make sense. Leaving meditation (and further sub-menus such as making and drinking potions) to the same radial menu as magic and sub-weapon selection fails to make logical sense and may confuse people that do not have experience with the game prior to booting up the 360 version. The combat plays well on the controller and actually does provide a better experience in terms of movement and attacking than a mouse and keyboard does. The problem does arise that using a right-analog stick for controlling the camera can often cause you to lose track of your enemies, but that’s not insurmountable. It made me briefly understand why the camera in The Witcher series works the way it does on PC, but it shouldn’t prove to be much of a problem, and is a welcome trade-off for how well everything else works.

When installed, The Witcher 2 does not bog you down with load times or texture loading. When not installed, it may take three to four seconds sometimes for textures to load on scenes, resulting in sometimes muddy messes on establishment shots, somewhat diminishing the purpose of establishment shots. Even when installed, cached textures sometimes will sometimes flush and have to reload during conversations. Characters with elaborate armor settings will say something and the camera will switch to Geralt for his reply or next choice. In the two seconds since the camera changed, somehow the elaborate armor became an untextured mess that pops in as the dialogue goes on. There are also some places where the game loads through doors that do not seem like they should be going to loading screens. As I said, though, they are short when the game is installed to the HDD.

There are some glitches from the PC version that have transferred over to the 360 version. Some quests were not completable because of some items disappearing and sinking in to the ground, some achievements (such as “Finish every monster quest”) triggered despite failing the quest. The autosave is not something you should rely on, as many things you can accomplish in the game do not trigger the autosave function and sometimes they do. The map is sometimes invaluable and often incompetent, where the map will show you paths without regard for height (sometimes leading you to the same spot on entirely different paths) or even mountain ranges. This can cause frustration and hours of thinking the game is asking you to be somewhere that is not triggering anything.

A lot of these issues are niggling, some of them aren’t. As a larger tapestry, one can easily ignore the problems in The Witcher 2 and even forget they are there given enough time with the game. The game holds a banner for what impact choice can have the actual content of the game. I had praised Deus Ex: Human Revolution last year for being almost reckless in how much content they were willing to let the player miss and The Witcher 2 shares that similar quality of caring about the player more than they care about what the player may miss.

In a strange way, The Witcher 2 is the game that Dragon Age 2 wanted to be. It wanted to be an Action-RPG with a focus on longer quests, adult themes, and a darker edge. Where Dragon Age 2 cut corners and made awful decisions at every turn, The Witcher 2 lives and dies by how well it accomplishes all those big things while still doing better at the things it messes up. This title may not be the inarguable standard bearer for modern RPGs, but there is a strong argument to be made that it really should be.