That isn't to say it's been streamlined to a fault. The Witcher 2 is a gorgeous, thoughtful and brassy adventure with a surprising number of sharp edges. The original game had a deadly gauntlet for a tutorial, a misstep which got it lambasted while a dragon roasted players again and again. It was frustrating, yes, but it worked as a charming wake-up call of sorts, and as a crucial component of the game's mature personality. To succeed, you must think and do as Geralt of Rivia does, and that's precisely what you want in a role-playing game.
The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition is one of the most extravagantly detailed games on the platform, and skillfully preserves much of the vibrant foliage and intricate costumes that stole the show on PC. The moody, real-time lighting is less saturated in bloom now, but still impresses – even in mundane scenarios. Indeed, the first part of the game seems staged around actors peering through doors or curtains, letting the light creep in from outside. Any obvious graphical compromises feel reasonable, and if you're coming off Dragon Age 2 you'll probably weep in elation for 15 minutes straight.
The impressive translation also benefits from nearly a year's worth of additional work done since the PC version launched. The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition includes all prior DLC, an arena combat mode, additional quests, a stunning CG introduction, bug fixes and several smart adjustments to the combat system. A tacked-on tutorial is an inelegant bit of Witcher education, but at least it provides some extra padding against the game's prickly opening. It seems a few terse lessons just aren't enough to master the strict, grounded combat, or undo what you've learned from flashier action RPGs.
CD Projekt RED has also loaded the standard retail version of the game with a couple of goodies. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition comes with a soundtrack disc, a guide book (nearly a printed apology for those foiled and broiled by the game's opening) and a fold-out map.
How's it hold up? The Witcher 2 has barely had a chance to age, so much of our original review still applies. Go read it!
In shifting to Xbox 360, The Witcher 2 finds itself amongst a different set of standards and peers – the china shop to its bull. It's not the kind of game that provides constant reassurances that you're playing it "right." If you meet it halfway, extend all ten fingers into Geralt's gloves and deliberately dabble in all of his potions, spells and traps, you'll fall in love and find it easy to forgive the faults.
The stiff facial animation often fails to support an interesting, duplicitous cast, even while the localization nails the crass, funny and grim universe created by Andrzej Sapkowski's Witcher novels. It doesn't take very long for your inventory to get clogged, or any one of the game's ill-advised bosses (must we still suffer these?) to inspire irritation. Saving only requires a quick trip into the menu, though it's not quite the "quicksave" functionality you'd find on a keyboard.
Despite the rough spots in Geralt's unglamorous, grimace-inducing career, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is an essential RPG that belongs on the Xbox 360. The novelistic plot doesn't fall back on magic as an all-purpose plot hole sealant, instead drifting in and out of political turmoil, racial tension and caste strife. Think Game of Thrones, not Lord of the Rings. The moral choices may also catch you by surprise, especially if you think of optional content in an expansive RPG as a sign of wonderful, impractical game design.
If there's anything particularly challenging about The Witcher 2, it's in how it wants you to abandon a lot of RPG tactics you've fallen into over the years. The game won't say it to your face, but hoarding ingredients, potions and traps for the end game just isn't practical. Collecting and expending ingredients, improving your armor, preparing for unforeseen battles and utilizing traps to scatter your enemies is essential, every step of the way. The Xbox 360 version makes the journey more accessible, but its greatest quality is that it doesn't remove the need for caution.
This Deja Review is based on a retail copy of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition, provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.