Preview: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (360)

March 11, 2012

The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings on the Xbox 360 has some very interesting roots. It began life as a series of short stories and fantasy novels by author Andrzej Sapkowski, writing out of Poland where the series is known as Wiedzmin. With movies and graphic novels behind it, The Witcher finally made its way to video game form in 2007, where it was a critical and commercial success. After a run on the PC, The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings finally makes its debut on consoles in the form of the Xbox360 Enhanced Edition. Rocket Chainsaw was recently fortunate enough to visit Namco Bandai’s Australian offices, where we were able to chat to some of the development team, play the game itself and find out some great news for both those who are picking up the game for the first time on the 360 and those who are veterans of the series on PC.

For those who are completely uninitiated when it comes to the series and story, The Witcher  is an RPG which takes place in a fantasy world. The ‘witchers’ of the title are beings who have been endowed with magical powers via less than natural means in order to fight off monsters across the land. The Witcher 2 continues following the story of  Geralt of Riviera, a witcher who has taken it upon himself to protect King Foltest, after an attempt is made on the king’s life by what appears to be another witcher. Against this backdrop, Geralt and Foltest’s forces prepare for a final assault on La Velette Castle, a stronghold of rebel forces who are against the king’s peaceful rule.

The Xbox 360 version of The Witcher 2 has a lot of new content on several levels. The first noticeable difference that we saw was a new camera and targeting system. Instead of being an entirely manual system, the camera will now focus on you and evade obstacles in your way. However, you still have the option to direct the camera yourself if you so with with the use of the right stick. Likewise, the targeting system has undergone a very healthy revamp that does wonders for the 360 system. Players are able to pan through their different targets with much greater ease, allowing for more strategy and variety in the way you attack enemy forces. Like the camera system, it’s something that more casual players will have a greater appreciation for, but it’s not terribly intrusive and won’t fundamentally alter the game for the experienced player. Finally, the magic and item selection system has been changed, making use of the 360’s shoulder buttons and control pads.

A more expansive addition to Assassins of Kings is the new playable content. It was revealed to us that there are four hours of additional gameplay content in the form of new missions, taking place in forests, underground and caves. In one quest, the focus is on Brigida Papebrock, a lady-in-waiting of Foltest’s court, who has been tasked with keeping tabs on two of Foltest’s children on behalf of Vernon Roche. Papebrock is in a very unique position – she not only keeps an eye on the king’s children but has also managed to seduce Baron Kimbolt and Count Maravel, two of the most powerful nobles in the land who each desire the throne. In her dalliances with the two, she discovers crucial information about Boussy’s disappearance, the final heir of Foltense. Understandably, this puts her in a spot of bother.

You begin the mission by being tasked with tracking Brigida down and escorting her through a forest so that she may pass on what she knows to reliable ears within safe surrounds. Escort missions are usually horrible – the person you’re supposed to protect is usually woefully unequipped, moronic enough to charge right into enemy ambushes and generally die pretty quickly. That’s definitely not the case here. Brigida is not only smart enough to evade throwing herself into trouble, but she can definitely hold her own in a fight. Brigida only seemed to go into action right when enemies were upon us, but when she did, her A.I seemed programmed as such that she developed both skill to protect herself and was savvy enough to team up on individual foes that we were dealing with. Even though we only played a small portion of the mission, it leaves us with a lot of hope for the rest of the new playable content.

Namco Bandai also have some very succulent sounding plans for the release of The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings. The ‘standard’ enhanced edition of the game is far and above better value than a lot of ‘special’ editions of games. With a RRP of $79.95, the Enhanced Edition comes with the game, its soundtrack, a world map, quest handbook and instruction manual. For $99.95, the Dark Edition comes with all of the above, plus a witcher medallion, making-of DVD, stickers, a 200 page artbook and a special box encasing all of the goodies. Those who preorder either edition will also receive retailer-dependent extras, such as free Xbox avatars and keychains. Finally, if you’ve already purchased the PC version, you’ll be very pleased to know that all of the DLC and other new content will be made available for free.

If you’re at all interested in the action-RPG genre, then The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings looks set to be a great addition to your collection. First-timers on the 360 can look forward to a rich, well-rounded adventure with plenty of content available in some excellent special additions, and those with the PC version already will appreciate the grace of being able to access all of the brand new in-game content absolutely free.