by Nataniel Hohl
reviewed on X360
The Witching Hour
It’s been a long time coming for console gamers but CD Project and Warner Brothers Studios have finally ported the smash hit sequel to the PC-exclusive The Witcher 2. Admittedly I never got around to playing the original outing of Geralt of Rivia so I didn’t have much context in which to compare the two games but fortunately CD Project has made Assassins of Kings enough of a stand-alone story that even Witcher-newbies like myself can enjoy the ride. But is the ride worth taking in the first place?
Kings And Kingslayers
Never before have I ever played an “M” rated game that deserved the rating as much as this one does. Like other hack-and-slash RPG’s it has its share of blood and gore but in addition to the usual violence it also features enough cussing and swearing to make a sailor blush, heavy drug and alcohol use, nudity, and graphic sexual content. This is definitely one game you don’t want to be playing when your kids or conservative grandparents are around.
For those who may not be entirely clear on what exactly a ‘Witcher’ is; they are basically mutated humans who use swordplay, magic, and special supernatural abilities to hunt, fight, and kill monsters. Unfortunately it would seem one Witcher has “gone rogue” and started killing kings and monarchs instead and it is up to local Witcher legend Geralt of Rivia to find out who and why and bring them to justice. Assassins of Kings may have a slightly more linear and focused narrative than say Skyrim but its compelling story rife with combat, betrayal, love, and even humor more than makes up for its lack of space.
In addition to the game’s main story players can also guide Geralt through a multitude of side quests and tasks and can even engage in a few bonus activities like fist fighting and “poker dice” (think medieval yahtzee). A brief yet informative tutorial helps new players nail down the basics of movement, exploration, and combat and the game’s difficulty can be switched on the fly if players find the challenges to be too great or too meager.
A Witcher’s Toolkit
As Geralt defeats enemies and completes quests he gains experience and leveling up allows the player to allocate points to various skills located in four different skill trees. Some skills increase Geralt’s health or damage resistance while others can grant him entirely new attacks or abilities including the use of various off-hand weapons like bombs and throwing knives. New armor and weapons either bought or found can be augmented with various materials and enhancements, allowing Geralt to put more hurt on the beasts he encounters or simply giving him an added layer of defense.
Combat offers a nice mix of style and challenge, forcing the player to think on the fly and use their abilities wisely. Geralt sports two blades, one steel for humanoid adversaries the other silver for monsters, and switching between the two mid-battle is as easy as pressing left or right on the D-pad. Geralt also starts out knowing a handful of various spells, some offensive others defensive, and judicious use of magic can often mean the difference between victory and defeat in a tough skirmish.
A handy radial menu allows quick selection of spells and extra weapons and even slows down time when used in combat, giving players precious seconds to decide their next move. For Geralt, the best defense is often a good offense; staying mobile and keeping your foes from surrounding you will keep you alive far more often than just trying to turtle up and block their attacks (though a well timed block can save your skin as well).
A Feast For The Eyes And The Ears
When I wasn’t hacking away at monsters or putting bandits to the sword, one element of Assassins of Kings that really managed to blow me away was its aesthetic appeal. Over the course of Geralt’s adventure, players will meet a multitude of colorful characters, some nice, some not-so-nice, and some downright strange. Vibrant locals ranging from war-ravaged battlefields, dark caverns and dungeons, and lush forests are made all the more real thanks to well placed background audio such as distant cannon fire or birds and crickets softly chirping and humming.
The game’s musical score, while not as expansive as its environments, still helps to convey the tone at hand whether that tone be mirthful, humorous, tense, or melancholy. In-game cinematics and stylized animated sequences help move the story along and offer glimpses into Geralt’s past while also hinting at the bigger picture he’s been caught up in. Thrilling boss fights, well-placed set-pieces, and a very handy checkpoint system help to keep the story feeling fresh and action-packed long after the opening credits.
A Tale Worth Telling
For hardcore RPG and hack-and-slash fans, I cannot recommend this game enough. Its focus on graphic seedier elements may not be for everyone but within its rough edges lies a well-crafted story made all the better thanks to fluid yet fierce combat, a large and colorful cast, and gameplay that always manages to keep the player guessing (in a good way). If this is the sort of legacy Geralt of Rivia will leave behind, one couldn’t ask for a better sendoff than The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.
A well-crafted and mature adventure featuring tight combat and an engaging narrative.
The mature elements mean it isn't a kid-friendly game and the difficulty can be especially unforgiving on the harder settings.