Review: 'Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings' extends legacy with a deep storyline

 Each level Geralt gains gives him points to unlock new abilities, and every ability has two levels to unlock for maximum impact.

Story highlights

  • The game was recently ported to the Xbox 360 to open it up to console audience
  • The swordsmanship tree is all about the combat and boosting defenses
  • The mature plot is handled very well while not getting bogged down for drama's sake
Let me start by saying "Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings" is rated 'M for Mature' for a very good reason. There is more cursing in the game than at a Yankees/Red Sox playoff game and quite a bit of nearly full frontal nudity.
Developers at CD Projekt RED have been very upfront about this title being for adult audiences and make sure people can't be surprised by the content.
Even the storyline involving, monster-hunter extraordinaire Geralt of Rivia, is more in line with a plot from "Game of Thrones" with its political intrigue, backstabbing and power struggles, than your typical "kill the monsters" role playing game (RPG).
"Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings" was released last year as a PC-exclusive title, but the game was recently ported to the Xbox 360 to open it up to console audiences. The "Enhanced Edition" for the Xbox 360 also offers new content, about four more hours of gameplay and many updates to the interface.
Using the Xbox 360 controller to narrate the action can be quite the agility test. Each button, including the triggers and shoulder buttons, will be used constantly and, sometimes, in a hurry. Preparations for combat, which are almost always necessary, will require multiple button pushes to cycle through numerous menus for potions, oils and the like.
If hacking and slashing your way through a campaign is your style, this game is not for you. Here, combat is largely about proper preparation before battle, then making sure to use the right combination of attacks -- depending upon your opponents.
Fortunately, the action slows or stops when you try to access magic ("signs"), but that also requires a couple of button mashes, some joystick movement, then more mashing to get back to the action.
While the PC version allows for hotkeys to make accessing abilities faster and easier, the console controller doesn't have that option. It takes some getting used to, but becomes second nature as the game progresses.
As with most RPGs, there is a certain amount of hunting and gathering that goes on. All different kinds of herbs, trinkets and supplies are lying around, waiting for Geralt to pick them up and convert them into potions, armor or oils. Inventories will fill up fast, but you'll need every scrap to gain advantages in combat.
Leveling up through earned experience allows players to augment certain abilities through skill trees. A training skill tree is unlocked at the beginning and lets players enhance abilities. The other three trees will help shape how Geralt plays and where his strengths will lie.
A magic skill tree powers up spells and unlocks new mystical abilities. The alchemy skill tree boosts gathering and blending abilities as well as increasing the effects of potions and oils. The swordsmanship tree is all about the combat, boosting defenses and damage through different skills learned.
Players will have to concentrate on one of the three specialty trees to really get the best abilities. Each level Geralt gains gives him points to unlock new abilities, and every ability has two levels to unlock its maximum impact.
The environments are fabulously rendered and the lighting is superb. Buildings have their own individuality and subterranean areas don't just feel like recipients of a copy-and-paste tool job that some games appear to rely upon. Different races look and sound unique and the level of immersion is very deep and rich.
The missions and side missions follow along a fairly laid-out path. For all the environmental splendor, there is little reason to go wandering around the countryside unless you just want to see how much work the developers put into the forests (hint: a lot; it is gorgeous).
The story is all about king-killing, kingdom-making and political intrigue. Some of the dialog would probably play out very well in the halls of Congress (minus all the swearing, I think). Even though Geralt is a renowned monster hunter, there are very few true monsters to be slain. Yet, it is all done within the context of the story and accomplished very well.
A few buggy moments slow down the game. Following other characters during missions can be hit and miss as the leader is stopped or slowed down by every rock, twig and bump in the road. However, it only bogs down the pace and never crashes the game.
Overall, "Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings" does a great job of extending its legacy with a deep storyline, intricate combat and a level of immersion that keeps players interested and involved. The mature plot is handled very well, not getting bogged down in the minutiae of drama for drama's sake.
Cursing and nudity aside, the mature themes are really aimed at an audience who is interested in living the lifestyle of another the era rather than just killing everything in sight.
"Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings" is available now for the Xbox 360. It was previously released for the Windows PC in May 2011. It is rated M for Mature due to blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content, and use of drugs. This review was done with the Enhanced Edition for the Xbox 360.