Xbox 360 owners have seen a plethora of AAA role-playing games arrive on their console already this year, from the vivid fantasy worlds of "Kingdoms of Amalur" and "Final Fantasy XIII-2" to the gritty space drama "Mass Effect 3."
The latest addition to this list of must-have RPGs, "The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition," combines elements of each to create an experience unlike anything I've played before. Featuring a deep, non-linear story filled with mature themes and brutal combat that rewards a tactical approach, "The Witcher 2" is a truly epic adventure.
PC gamers have been singing the praises of "The Witcher" franchise for years, but this marks the series' debut on home consoles and the transition is surprisingly smooth. Polish developer CD Projekt RED did a fantastic job of translating the keyboard-and-mouse control scheme to fit the Xbox 360's controller. Every button is utilized in some fashion, and while heated battles will certainly test your dexterity, I never once became flustered while juggling two swords, laying traps and casting spells.
It's a good thing, too, because you're often facing hordes of monsters that like nothing more than to surround and overwhelm you with their sheer numbers. Relying on the hack-and-slash approach that works so well in most fantasy RPGs will earn you a quick death here. You'll need to utilize all of the spells and items in your arsenal just to survive; blocking, parrying and dodging is every bit as important as your skill with a blade.
But combat is only half of what makes "The Witcher 2" such a spectacular experience -- the other being its politically driven narrative that puts a premium on player choice.
Players take on the role of Geralt of Rivia, a member of a unique order of monster hunters known as witchers. After a king is killed while under his watch, Geralt becomes the prime suspect and must find the real killer in order to clear his name and avoid the hangman's gallows. What follows is a twisting tale of political intrigue that bends to the choices made by the player. Every decision you make, whether large or small, plays a key role in shaping Geralt's world and builds toward one of 16 possible endings.
When he's not pursuing the king slayer during the main quest, Geralt is free to take up any of the dozens of side missions that become available by talking to NPCs. Even during these situations, the decisions you make aren't simply black and white. The world of "The Witcher 2" is defined by various shades of grey, and the choices you make and the consequences that result from them may not be immediately apparent, but that doesn't mean there aren't repercussions for your actions.
While the gameplay and story made a seamless transition from PC to Xbox 360, the visuals weren't so lucky. Graphical glitches and the occasional framerate drop were certainly noticeable, but don't spoil an otherwise exceptional experience. Load times are minimal and the new cutscenes created for the Enhanced Edition are impressive, as is the voice-over work.