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The Oddities of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings on the Xbox 360

I love The Witcher. I think it’s a marvelously grim world full of low fantasy awesomeness. It also happens to be a hell of a game.

But it has its share of faults and quirks and if you are coming into the game without having first played the PC version, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. I’ve been playing the Xbox 360 “Enhanced Edition” for the better part of a week and I’m still in Chapter 1 — it’s a long game and I’m not ready to write a full on review but I can certainly discuss the ins and outs and the oddities.

Today’s post is about the quirks found inside Geralt’s Quest to find a king killer. Not all of these are technically “bad” (although some are) but even veteran role-playing fans will need to learn the ropes when jumping into the world of The Witcher.

*First the important bits: The game looks fine on the Xbox 360. This whole notion of how it looks just as good on the console as it does on the PC — that’s silly. In fact I’d say the game looks a lot like The Witcher 2 on the medium setting on a modest PC. It looks slick, sure, but the Witcher 2 on a beefy PC is a stunning game. This isn’t that. It looks good and let’s leave it at that.

*The gamepad control is excellent. After a brief tutorial I was up and ready to go. The game was really made for a gamepad so the move here is a smooth one. A and X attacks (fast and heavy), B does the roll dodge, Y uses a Sign (a spell) LB activates a wheel to select your spell or to choose a trap, bomb or dagger. RB throws said trap, bomb or dagger. RT parries. Done.

*The camera is very sensitive. You use the R-Stick to move/spin it and that took some getting used to due to its sensitivity. Still, all in all the translation to the 360 appears to have been a success.

*INSTALL YOUR GAME. Seriously. Otherwise load times are terribly long. Even then there are a lot of load screens when moving from locale to locale.

*The Witcher 2 removes one of the staples of classic videogame role-playing — the sucking down of potions during combat to keep your avatar alive. The Witcher 2 is a hard game because combat is brutal. Swordplay in an RPG SHOULD be dangerous. It shouldn’t be simply a matter of wading into a mass of enemies and coming out unscathed. Particularly early on, even a group of bandits can kill you if you aren’t careful. I consider this a huge boon to the game as a whole but one that you may need to get used to at first. In order to drink a “healing” potion you need to meditate and you aren’t going to do that while a group of Nekkars are leaping at you. Potions are also toxic and you can only drink so many before getting a Witcher tummy ache.

*Geralt might be a famous monster hunting Witcher but he also plays the role of prized herbalist and barrel scrounger. This game does a very poor job of item finding because it makes you play scavenger. Everywhere you turn the “search” icon appears or the “Pick Herbs” text appears allowing you to rummage around like a common street urchin. Even inside someone’s home — with them standing right there — Geralt can browse open chests and table drawers and take 10 gold here and 12 gold there. Geralt picks up alchemical and crafting ingredients this way so it’s almost required that you do this and it gets old and feels totally out of place with the rest of this very real, vivid world. I’d honestly rather have a button that automates me going out in the forest looking for alchemy herbs and then I randomly find stuff. Hey at least there isn’t a “picking herb” animation. It IS fast, which helps.

*There isn’t an animation after you meditate and drink a potion though. Not a big deal but I miss seeing Geralt slam down those glass vials.

*The conversations can get circular. This is classic dialogue tree weirdness and anyone familiar with Black Isle/Bioware games will feel at home with this quirk. You can “restart” conversations and will even get into the exact same discussion with an NPC that you literally had two seconds ago. Some of the conversations with NPCs (and there is a LOT of talking in this game) doesn’t flow as well as it should.

*Quicktime events. More than I’d like. Fist fighting contests and even some actual gameplay elements require pressing the keyed button sequence. I have been playing Resident Evil IV a lot of late and The Witcher 2 has more QT events than that game. That’s too many.

*Repeated canned dialogue — there’s a lot of that too. If you are familiar with The Witcher 2 you likely recall the “Plough em all” song sung by the drunk guard in Flotsam. This song is laugh out loud funny the first time you hear it. The 20th time? Eh… The banter offered up by the NPCs isn’t varied enough and it sorta pulls you out of the world when people keep saying the exact same thing over..and over..and over.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about what makes this game so special. And this is a special game.