Preview originally written for GamesRadar.com
How does the Witcher 2 feel on a console?
CD Projekt’s The Witcher 2: Assissins of Kings was available to PC gamers roughly a year ago and was met with critical acclaim for its deep, branching story and impressive visuals. This spring 360 gamers are getting a chance to experience the award winning game for themselves.
PC gamers are often treated with ports after a game has done its stint on home consoles. It is rare that this process occurs the other way round. Usually it is the control scheme that suffers when porting a game from PC to a console – it’s hard to map a full keyboard and mouse to two analogue sticks and a handful of buttons without requiring a pain-inducing controller grip or an arbitrary sequence of menus.
CD Projekt, however, have gone our of their way not to make the Xbox 360 release just a quick port, completely revamping the combat and adding additional chapters to the already lengthy story (in addition to creating a ‘protagonist walking toward the camera’ box art that seems to be trendy right now). To get a feel for how well the controls had translated from PC to console in The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced edition, I spent some time with the game’s tutorial.
While it’s not what I set out to preview, the first thing I notice when taking control of Geralt is the impressive visuals. It can’t quite live up what a high-end PC can render, but the graphics are still astonishing for a console release.
The first thing I’m taught to do isn’t how to brandish my sword, or throw a dagger, but to pick and craft herbs. Using the quick select to activate ‘meditate’, you are taken to a menu screen where you can choose to craft items. It does look a little daunting and tedious, but the recepies are pre-made and potions can be crafted with one button press.
I was more interested to find out how combat works, and after learning how to pass time until dawn (‘wait’ is again accessed through the ‘meditate’ menu), I was granted access to the arena.
Targeting enemies is much like what we see from other games – lock on with the left trigger, block with the right – and feels very akin to Assassin’s Creed with the ability to parry and counter, in addition to the quick and strong attacks mapped to the face buttons. Melee combat and animations aren’t as smooth as Assassin’s Creed or other such action games, but that’s not where The Witcher 2 really shines in combat.
The combat really gets interesting when all your abilities on the quick select wheel are made available to you. Holding the left bumper gives you quick access to weapons, items and spells while slowing down gameplay to allow you to think about your selection without being in too much danger.
You’re given access to spells that make you immune to oncoming attacks, stop enemies in their tracks, and allow you to take control of foes to make them fight each other.
Laying a trap to stun your adversary, setting him ablaze with a spell then finishing him off with your sword can be done with just a few button presses, and gives you that “oh my god I’m some sort of genius badass” feeling of satisfaction.
Managing your items and assigning them to the quick select is a chore when the combat can be so fun, but the menu screens (accessed by the back button) make it very easy to find and equip the items you want and is adequately responsive.
Given the tutorial area was nothing more than a circular arena, I didn’t get the chance to truly experiment with the different items and spells that allow for deep and varied combat strategies that are so praised in the PC version. It basically boiled down to ‘hit them with all the things’, which was disappointing, as all the while I was thinking of interesting ways to combine my items and attack tactics.
The Witcher 2 is a fantastic PC game and, from what I’ve seen, CD Projekt has done a good job of making all Geralt’s abilities available to console users with an intuitive system – I just hope later parts of the game still allow for a higher complexity of strategies when it is released April 17th.