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Witcher 2 Xbox 360 review: Darker than Skyrim, sexier than Mass Effect - better than both?

The black sheep of RPGs fights onto console

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That depth continues through to the gameplay itself, with three significantly disparate paths to plough XP into. Is your Geralt a herbalist, wielder of the magic-alike Signs, or swordsman supreme? Signs like Aard (Force Throw) and Axii (Jedi mind trick) lend the combat a quasi-Force Unleashed feel, while the kinetic swordplay recalls a simplified Arkham Asylum. Both elements are satisfying and sound, if not quite class-leading. There's also a stack of weaponry and armour to purchase/pinch/forge, meaning Geralt's garb feels constantly fresh and - more importantly - badass.

And badass you'll need to be at times; despite a tweaked tutorial and massaged difficulty spikes this can be frustratingly tough. A button-spamming hack 'n slash it is not, and your initial encounters with the likes of Letho and the Kayran will end bloodily and abruptly unless you quickly learn to block and roll- dodge with the best of them. The key lies in preparedness, so ensure you guzzle potions, craft incendiaries, apply any vicious, viscous blade coatings, and don't swear too much when you're occasionally hamstrung by fiddly multi-enemy encounters.

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Depending on your choices then, Act 2 plays out in two drastically different ways. We're talking near-totally disparate locations and characters, here - before everything comes together with a (rather abrupt) resolution at Loc Muinne. That said, it's also a rather brave ending in one way - and speaks volumes for the devs' approach to storytelling. The Witcher may look epic, but much of its lore concentrates on suggesting that these 'heroes' and 'villains' are little more than motes of dust in the grand galactic scheme of things. That's really rather progressive when you stop to consider every other title out there is continually trying to out-epic one another...

Unlike the heavily-modded version of BioWare's Aurora engine that did for the original title, the RED engine is a bespoke colossus that oozes potential for franchising out. Some naysayers have expressed dismay that the 360 conversion only drives visuals equivalent to a PC's medium spec, yet that still results in one of the most stunning titles on the machine. Flotsam's town square genuinely feels alive, the kind of virtual world we could only fantasise about when tinkering with RPGs like Bard's Tale and Ultima way back when.

It's a combination of art design and sheer engine potency - but whether you're exploring riverside ports, looming forests or army encampments you're continually aware that gaming universes have rarely felt this real. Ally this to haunting Celtic melodies and some bang-on regional British acting chops and you realise CD Projekt's craftsmanship effortlessly compensates for their relatively meagre resources.

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Even better, this is far from a straight port. Dubbed the 'Enhanced Edition', 360 owners get a subtle drip of fresh content in the shape of side quests, fresh faces and beefed up cutscenes. The only real surprise is that it's taken this long to come to 360. Ultimately, The Witcher 2 is an outstanding title that offers a uniquely tough take on role playing - standing proudly alongside its more revered peers, and quite possibly gobbing a greenish wad of phlegm in their faces for good measure.

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The verdict

Gritty, sexy, vicious, sumptuous bastard of a role-player that in-between Mass Effect and The Elder Scrolls heralds an exciting third pathway for the genre

  • Geralt and pals are an earthy joy
  • Beefy combat with goresome finishers
  • Some great virtual shagging
  • Checkpoints are a bit fiddly, with long-ish load times.
  • Ending's been padded out, but it's still abrupt.
9.2
Format
Xbox 360
Developer
Unknown
Publisher
Unknown
Genre
RPG, Action, Adventure

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