The Witcher 2 Extended Edition Hands-on
Developer: CD Projeckt RED / Publisher: WB Interactive / Platform: Xbox 360 / ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs] / Release Date: April 17 2012
Say to yourself the words ‘Enhanced Edition’ and ‘PC to console’ and, odds are, you’re not thinking pleasant thoughts. They might sound like “Oh great, I’m paying for bumped-up visuals, a refugged control-scheme and not much else,” or they might sound like “Oh man, are they going to have to rock-stupid this sucker down!”…but either way, they’re not pleasant thoughts. Well, just this once, the ‘Enhanced Edition’ of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings might make you believe in Good Magic again.
So, back-to-front: We got not merely our eyes but our filthy corpse-looting mitts on The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings just the other day, and at least one thing seems clear: Despite the developer’s faintly amusing claims to the effect that players new to the Witcher ‘verse can just jump right in, there is nothing dumbed-down here—and if the news alarms you, well, that’s just a shame. Beyond a brief animated movie (in the game’s Extras section) offering a broad-strokes overview of what a Witcher is, there isn’t any thematic baby-sitting here, and you’re likely to soon find yourself desperately dog-paddling in the sprawling ocean of Andrzej Sapkowski‘s Witcher lore, clinging to the lifeboat of one of the game’s numerous exhaustively expository cutscenes. It’s all Thorny Political Intrigue here and Wars and Rumors of Wars In The North there, and it’s on you to be quick and perceptive enough to sponge up the inforbarrage (it helps if you played the original Witcher. A little).
Much more importantly, the control doesn’t feel dumbed-down, which it something of a piece of wizardry in and of itself. A full mouse-and-keyboard scheme down to an Xbox 360 controller is a rough transition, and The Witcher 2 by-gods makes damned sure you’re going to be using every last one of those controller inputs (that includes ‘clicking’ both analog-sticks and relying on the Back button). From what we’ve experienced, the designers have determined to optimize the game for controller-based gameplay without compromising on the complexities of a game experience designed for the PC. And of course, all the while, there’s more than enough violence, profanity, sexual content, cynicism and overall, general nastiness (human, Witcher, and otherwise) to give The Witcher 2 a respectably large patch of ESRB warning-label real estate, too.
There’s just no nice way to put it: Even the most experienced, determined, ambidextrous, and visionary hack-and-slash veteran button-masher is going to die numerous terrible, pitiful deaths here, if he/she tries to fall back on that skill-set. The Witcher 2 obliges you—right from the tutorial—to master a reel of precision, canniness, and timing in combat quite beyond the typical high-fantasy outing, console or PC-based. The combat scheme is a surprisingly complex—and every bit as surprisingly elegant—Witcher’s-brew of constant critical or mandatory dodging, parrying, counter-attacking, bomb-chucking, sword-swinging (and it has to be the right sword of the two you’re packing, or your attacks will achieve approximately squat), trap-laying, magic-casting, potion-chugging and, occasionally, abject ass-hauling when necessary. Many games, particularly high-fantasy ones, claim to require such a variety of combative change-ups—but The Witcher 2 is totally serious; you can easily find yourself laying three or four distinct brands of magic on the same enemy just to wear him down to the point where you can actually start wailing on him.
Is there any point, you ask, in venturing back into the sprawling world of Geralt of Rivia if you’ve already plowed your way through the original PC version released earlier? In a word, yes: Beyond the enhanced visuals (including some new and truly spectacular lengthy cinematics), you’ll find all the DLC content added to the original PC version, Arena combat, and the ‘Dark’ difficulty-mode. If you make your way to the game’s third Act you’ll also explore two entirely new quest-branches, totaling an estimated four additional hours of gameplay (two new locations, three new characters) in the game’s final Act. The aforementioned updated tutorial is also technically a new asset…although, frankly, one that probably should have been part of the original release.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition comes to Xbox 360 on April 17, ready or not; and if you’ve somehow managed to largely button-mash your way through your high-fantasy adventures all these years, you are NOT ready.