For all of the well-deserved attention and praise that modern fantasy role-playing games like Dragon Age, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, and Dark Souls receive, there are a few aspects in which they can improve, whether it is through enhancing elements like stiff animations, polishing clumsy combat, or offering a rich storyline. Which is why it is surprising when a relatively under-the-radar series like The Witcher, from Polish developer CD Projekt Red, can provide such a high-quality experience without much of the comparable presentational follies. The sequel, subtitled Assassins of Kings, which was released for the PC early last year and is now available for the Xbox 360, improves upon an already solid original foundation and offers one of the best console experiences to debut this year.
Similar to Dragon Age and Skyrim, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings allows you to build friendships (and possibly cultivate romance) through the use of dialogue choices, with the difference here being that you have a limited amount of time to mull over your responses. This, of course, causes morally grey decision-making to be even more difficult. These are fully voiced affairs and the animation is stellar. You will not find many stiff, robotic movements that deter from the important atmospheric immersion.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings' story takes place immediately after the ending of the first game. Based on fantasy writer Andrzej Sapkowski's popular Witcher novels, it should be no surprise that Assassins of Kings boasts a grand amount of skillfully written lore that creates a fully-realized world (the setting is rich fantasy, rife with influences of Slavic mythology). Reflective of the universe first established in the novels, the game also revels in the idea of morally grey. There is no real black-and-white, right-or-wrong differentiation. This setup allows for some relatable characters and intriguing storytelling where each relatively important individual has their own agenda (multiple disparate plotlines and decision-respective endings await).
Perhaps most refreshing is that lead character Geralt is not really a blank slate (his simultaneously off-putting and likable personality makes him difficult to get a clear read on). Usually, you are given an empty character in which to inhabit for the purpose of giving the player a vessel to experience the adventure vicariously. Instead, here, the developers have offered a very deliberate experience to appreciate Geralt's story.
Geralt of Rivia, aka the White Wolf, is a painstakingly trained-from-birth assassin with the focused task of hunting and defeating the various monsters that plague the land of Temeria. As a hunter-for-hire, rest assured, dozens of quests from a wide-ranging cast await you. How you interact with your companions will also open up more quests in Assassins of Kings.
Luckily, sword-wielding Geralt can also craft potions and utilize simple magic spells – like fire, telekinesis, or charming an enemy to temporarily fight by your side – to complete his objectives. Earning experience points allows you to improve your skills in each of those paths. Combat-wise, do not expect button-mashing to get you very far. Paced combat of dodging and finding vulnerabilities in your enemies' attacks constitutes smart strategy.
As far as progression goes, do not expect the open-world sandbox presentation of Skyrim. While Assassins of Kings does have an explorable open feel to it, it is a much more linear affair. Its focused nature and self-contained chapters play to its great strengths.
The proliferation of bloody violence and meaningless sex and nudity should clue you into the fact The Witcher 2 is intended for adult audiences. In spite of these superficially mature themes, Assassins of Kings actually does require a mature, intelligent approach thanks to its smart combat and complex storytelling. No matter how you reach one of the different endings, you are sure to have a heck of a time getting there.
GameDynamo's Score for The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (X360)
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