lunes, mayo 07, 2012

Review: The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition (Now, in English)

If you like reading, and especially, reading books of the epic fantasy genre, I'm pretty sure you are hearing the same two things time and time again: In one side, there are the people who insist in renaming George R.R. Martin's work to "Game of Thrones". On the other hand, there are the ones that are talking about an obscure book saga, written by someone with an unpronounceable name: The Witcher Saga, Geralt of Rivia, conceived by polish writer Andrezj Sapkowski, and currently being published around the world.

Today, we are pleased to enjoy the first appearance in consoles, exclusively for the Xbox 360, of the book-inspired videogame saga, The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition, developed by the Polish studio CD Projekt Red, adding new and unedited content to the PC version that went on sale more than a year ago. Are you ready to step into such a unique world?

Story: A world full of grey.

I know it's no good to overuse topics, but any epic fantasy enthusiast knows that the majority of worlds portrayed in their pages, regrettably, are always extreme, of whites and blacks, stories about holy saints or devilish demons, being the same on the worlds that those books inspire on the videogame realm, always populated by characters ruled by the political correctness. In the world written by Sapkowski, and expanded by the expert minds at CD Projekt Red, it's just the contrary, a world full of grays in which even the most innocent one has gone on a fling once or twice on his lifetime, and all the characters are always moved by their own interests and passions, never feeling the need to act like as a leading role.

With this background we find Geralt of Rivia, a witcher, but it's not a witcher in the way that Lord of the Rings or Advanced Dungeons and Dragons has taught us. In this world, witchers are hunters, deadly mutant men more powerful than the most humans thanks to their training, in which they are forced to take all kinds of poisons and compounds since they were kids. The witchers are usually poor devils condemned by the society, although the people are incapable of living without them... Who else would deal with the troll plague ravaging the village?

At the beginning of the game, and due to reasons I won't explain you (But if you want to know them, you really should read the Sapkowski books! They'll teach you all you need to know about the world Geralt moves on), Geralt is involved in another senseless war, the kind of war kings declare for trivial causes like the outlining of a border, a family grudge, or because the king in question was found on the wrong bedchamber with the wrong wife. Regrettably for Geralt, this stupid war will give him more than a headache, because his old friend and ally, King Foltest of Temeria, will be assassinated during the conflict, leaving Geralt as the only suspect for the regicide. Nevertheless, he will be assisted by one of the best men of the now defunct Foltest, Vernon Roche, to find the true culprit, try to clear Geralt's name and find the true motivations behind the assassin of kings on the way...

Gameplay: A big action-rpg.

There were two big and feared questions about The Witcher 2 on console regarding it's gameplay (And, to tell you the truth, they're the same for every game ported from the PC to consoles). Would CD Projekt Red be able to give a good control formula given the limitation in buttons of a gamepad? Most importantly... Would the game stay as fun as it was on PC? Luckily, we can now answer both of these questions, and the answer is yes.

The Witcher 2 is played like an action-rpg, letting us control Geralt in third person, just as the genre rules dictate. The controls have been adapted to the gamepad perfectly, letting us play in a comfortable and useful way, although  the lacks in a gamepad comparing to the keyboard + mouse combo: With the analog sticks we move our character and the camera, and we'll use the face buttons to make all the combat-related actions. The bumpers and triggers are reserved to more specific actions, like blocking, focusing the camera on an enemy or opening the pause menu to select a different equipment or sign. We'll be introduced to all these commands by a tutorial, but it feels a little bit clunky and dense, trying to show us all the possibilities of the control layout in just a few minutes. But, don't worry, after a few intense combats we will end up dominating the control scheme.

In combat, the game is truly dynamic, being closer to the "arcade" feel of hack'n'slash games than the paused and turned action of classic role playing games. Nevertheless, the game has enough mechanics to avoid the usual "smash the A button to win": We will have to consider the nature of our enemies, human or creature, to select the best weapon to confront them. And if the fight turns out bad for us, we can always use our special witcher skills, named "signs". We will learn a total of 6 signs, magic-powered skills that will give us the upper hand, surrounding our enemies with flames and fire, sending them away with a telekinetic pulse, or just trying to control them and make them fight on our side for a little while. And if preparation is your middle-name, we can take advantage of the alchemy system present in the game, impregnating our blade with the finest oils to improve our combat, or swallowing all kinds of potions to acquire temporally superhuman traits, like regeneration, night vision or extraordinary strength, at the cost of polluting our body and weakening it due to their toxic components. But remember: You can only access these options before getting into battle, so don't rely on these kind of items to escape from an ambush!

Leaving the combat aside, the rest of the game maintains the lineal path we already saw on PC. In general terms, we will find a new lead on the mysterious assassin of kings, leading us to a new town. In this town we can choose between following the main story arch, make some time exploring the town, gambling in dice games, or we can even make a living through the quests that townspeople and local nobility will entrust us with. These quests will cover a wide spectrum, being as inane as getting some ingredients to make a potion with them, to giving hunt to a creature who has poked its nose in the wrong place. Every one of these quests also comes with an complex storyline, putting us in the scene in a natural way, avoiding that awful feeling of being someone's errand boy. It's also worth highlighting all the possibilities we will be able to pursue in order to finish a quest. Maybe it's a bit cliché in this day and age, but our choices in The Witcher 2 will actually count for something, and I really mean it. Our way of dealing with problems, choosing who we will back up and who won't, or even the degree of implication we will assume dealing with a specific trouble will mark our game, drastically changing the storyline we will play. And, remember, in Sapkowski's world such things as good and bad choices don't exist, just characters with their own circumstances.

Finally, it's also worth noting that the version we will be playing on our Xbox 360 is the Enhanced Edition, meaning that all the DLC's published to the are included for free in the game, and also is included a lot of fixes and additional content. It's true that a player who has never played The Witcher 2 will have little interest in this, but any player that has already beaten the Witcher 2 will have a lot of reasons to come back for another ride: a new tutorial, new quests adding up more than 4 hours of gameplay, it's competitive new game mode "Arena" or the challenging Dark difficulty, in which the death of Geralt is permanent,  are just a few examples of what old players can expect of this Enhanced Edition.

Tech and sound:

There is no doubt that the tech in The Witcher 2 was one of the finest selling points on PC, raising the bar on how a game should look like, but it's also a point of concern in this console version. Being sincere, Xbox 360 was a powerful machine back in 2005, but nowadays it's struggling hard, trying not to fall behind the times and the more powerful graphics and tech possible in modern PCs.

However, the port of The Witcher 2 to consoles is doing pretty well on the graphics side. It works flawlessly and without frame rate drops, while almost all of the advanced graphic effects present in the PC version make their appearance in 360: Its fantastic lighting engine, its detailed characters and animations, the subtle atmosphere, always between a fairy tale and the gruesome Middle Ages... CD Projekt Red has really done their homework, delivering an astonishing game that won't leave us longing for the technically-superior PC version. Actually, I can't help wondering how they have achieved this graphical level... Is it maybe a trick, simulating the most advanced effects using pre-rendered movies? Or were they able to optimize their code to the point of being able to get more out the Xbox 360 than expected? I really don't know, but the truth is that The Witcher 2 will look awesome on our HD TV's.

Voice acting in the game is superb, although we will only  be able to hear it in English, leaving other languages aside (But I actually think it's not a bad thing... Just remember that awful spanish voice acting on The Witcher 1!), and the games soundtrack is just delightful to the ears. Composed by Adam Skorupa (Who also composed The Witcher 1 soundtrack) and Krzystof Wierzynkiewicz, the game soundtrack is just epic and mythic, being able to take us to another world and another time, where Euribor, if it's actually something, is the name of an elf and nothing else.


In the end, there is no doubt: The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition is a masterpiece, just like its predecessor on PC. Its port to console is just perfect, preserving the game essence, at the same time it has avoided the limitations imposed by the platform, like old hardware or the inability to use a keyboard and a mouse, transforming them into formidable strengths. The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition is a must-play game if you like epic fantasy, role playing games, action games, or if you just want to try something different, a new world so natural an believable that it's captivating.

The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition pushes the genre forward, reminding us that in order to have a great role playing game there is no need to have a huge open world or thousands of quests as an errand boy. It suffices with having a good story, a rich background worth knowing, and a character development that has nothing to envy from other literary or artistic media. In conclusion, one of the games of this year, totally recommended.

Score: 9,5

This review was revised by @Kaabiitorori and his amazing girlfriend, Gabz. Thank you very much for your time, guys!!
Permalink - Divagué a las 9:28 p. m.   

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Alex - Sandor
27/03/87 - Aries
Villalba, Madrid
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Version 3.0 al fin, después de 3 años de haber creado el diseño anterior. Este diseño, aparte de haberme servido para trastear un poco más con el codigo HTML, esta hecho para adaptarse lo mejor posible a las resoluciones de 1024x768. Y de paso, he descubierto las sangrantes diferencias entre utilizar Internet Explorer y Mozilla Firefox... En fin. Diseño dedicado a Halo 3, un juegazo con todas las letras.

Sobre mi

MÚSICA: M-flo, WarCry, La Unión, Blink-182, Disturbed, Rammstein, Monkey Majik.

LIBROS: La Saga de Geralt de Rivia, trilogías del Elfo Oscuro, el Imperio e Inquisidor Eisenhorn.

ADORO A: Keanu Reeves, Víctor García, Sean Connery, Chiquito de la Calzada.

BABEO CON: Tifa Lockheart, Rukia Kuchiki, Kasumi, Mai Shiranui, Winry Rockbell.

CINE: 300, trilogías de Matrix, Indiana Jones, Stargate, Star Wars y El Señor de los Anillos.

TV: Star Trek the New Generation, Perdidos, Kyle XY, Prison Break.

ANIME: Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex, Cowboy Bebop, Black Lagoon, Golden Boy.

WARHAMMER: Tau, Ordo Malleus, Reinos Ogros, Lord of the Rings.

VIDEOJUEGOS: Monkey Island, Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, Halo, Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Half Life, Max Payne.

CONSOLAS: Xbox 360 Elite (Negra), Wii, PlayStation 3 (320 Gbs), Xbox Crystal, Game Cube Platinum DOL-001, PlayStation2 Silver (PSTwo), PlayStation (PSX), Nintendo DS Lite (Negra), PSP (PlayStation Portable) Slim and Lite Ice Silver, Game Boy Advance SP (Negra), Game Boy Micro (Plateada), Game Boy Advance (Blanca).

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PORTATIL: Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi2528, Intel Core 2 Duo T5750, 3 GBs DDR2@667MHz, 250 GBs SATA, GeForce 8600M GS 256MBs GDDR2@667MHz.

NETBOOK: Acer Aspire One, Intel Atom N270, 1 GB DDR2@333MHz, 120 GBs.

PARA TERMINAR: En definitiva, soy alguien demasiado raro. Metepatas, listo, vago, cabezota, lógico, práctico, mimoso y adoro la informática. Mi máxima: "No es que me haya equivocado, es que te lo he explicado mal".

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