The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings was released last year to unanimous praise on PC, winning multiple awards and gaining countless new fans in the process. Critics were enamoured with the game's vibrant fantasy locations, wonderfully crafted visuals, excellent combat system and a plot shaped not only by a flexible script, but a player's approach to the action. With rumours of a console release coming before the game had even launched, an Xbox 360 port seemed inevitable.
Developers CD Projekt want the Xbox 360 version of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings to be more than just a straight port, however, rebuilding the game with console users in mind, and adding previously unseen gameplay sections and cinematics. We managed to sneak some hands-on time with The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings to see how Geralt of Rivia's Xbox 360 adventure is shaping up.
Castles, dragons and difficult decisions
After witnessing a brand new opening cinematic, exclusive to the Xbox 360 version, the story begins with Geralt of Rivia facing charges of assassinating the very monarch he was sworn to protect. Told in flashback form, the game's prologue centres on an uprising against King Foltest - our murdered member of royalty - and his brutal and bloody military campaign to reclaim his illegitimate children.The opening stage is bright, noisy and visually impressive, suitably conveying the size and scope of the ongoing military undertaking.
During each interrogation sequence, players are given different options to further explain the plight of the king, while in-game decisions - such as killing or sparing enemies - impact subsequent scenes and shape the game's final act. Though not completely sold by the flashback approach to storytelling, it works during the extended introduction, serving to motivate players to find out more.
As players storm the heavily fortified castle walls, combat sequences are steadily introduced, giving players the chance to play around with swords and magic (dubbed signs). Players can incinerate the enemy, use telekinesis, set traps and even convince opposing soldiers to become temporary allies. Our favourite power sees Geralt unleash a powerful wave that sends unsuspecting soldiers flying off the edge of towers - kind of like the Force Push. A chance encounter with a dragon, meanwhile, sees players duck and weave their way to safety in another of the game's impressive and explosive set pieces.
Fast forwarding to chapter one, Geralt now finds himself in Flotsam, a picturesque town on a river surrounded by a gorgeous, thick forest. This appears to be the first time players are given complete freedom to roam the lands, accepting quests and performing tasks to further the story. It all leads to a battle with the Kayran, a tentacled beast playing havoc with Floatsam's trade routes.
Before the battle begins, however, Geralt needs information on how to beat the monster, as well as a few rare and essential potions. In addition to getting information from various brothels and bars, Geralt can compete in underground Fight Clubs, tackle the town's finest arm wrestlers, and earn extra cash by doing jobs. One of the more surreal tasks involves Geralt tackling a drunken troll who has destroyed the town's bridge in a booze-fuelled outburst over the death of his wife.
Although impressed by the size of Floatsam and its countless sights and sounds - and by sounds we mean campfire songs and stories - the game's mission signposting is a little hard to follow. Despite highlighting the area of the map players need to visit next, it remains far too easy to get lost along the way. A wrong turn among the forest's branching path will lead you to an impenetrable outer wall, while a character of interest becomes impossible to find within buildings with multiple floors. It's more than a little frustrating.
Out Of Control
One of the more difficult processes when converting any PC game to consoles is how best to implement the controls. While it's hard to say at this stage whether or not there will be extensive controller options, one thing is perfectly clear, the magic menu is a little cack-handed. It works like your average skills wheel, the kind of which you'd see in Mass Effect. Players hold the bumper button to open it, moving around with the right analogue stick and selecting a sign with a face button.
Selecting a sign is a lot more difficult than it sounds, however, with players having to highlight and select spells simultaneously - all on one hand. The pause menu, while more straightforward and easier to navigate, does feel a little content heavy and clunky, especially when compared to the streamlined menus found in most console role-playing games. This will probably please fans of the PC release, worried that a console port will dumb things down, but it might prove hard to swallow with the casual crowd.
Despite a few minor issues with controls and concerns over signposting, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is shaping up to be must for any role-playing fan. The branching narrative, excellent (and occasionally funny) script, sparkling visuals and diverse backdrops are the components of a capable and and well crafted game, one that will benefit from additional content and a little extra development time.
All signs suggest it should join Mass Effect 3, Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim as the latest essential Xbox role-playing game.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings for Xbox 360 will release worldwide on April 17.
Watch the Xbox 360 exclusive opening cinematic for The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings below: