The Witcher: Enhanced Edition is a great role-playing game. Developer CD Projekt has corrected almost all of the problems that made the original something of a flawed gem. Butchered English dialogue has been rewritten and expanded upon, removing the nonsensical lines that made the plot something of a guessing game last year. Engine performance has been dramatically improved across the board, so the game runs smoother on moderate systems, and you no longer have time to read a magazine while waiting for levels to load. Character models have been dramatically enhanced, removing a fair number of the unrealistic features that made the original game come off as somewhat cartoonish in spots. A pair of new stand-alone adventures has been added to bulk up gameplay outside of the main storyline. Just about everything seems more solid and stable, from the smooth-as-glass combat mechanics to the speedier interface. And, best of all, these gameplay enhancements are freely available to download for those who purchased the original game last year.
Battles are now smoother and more dramatic, due to slicker combat animations and vivid colors that spark up spell effects.
Core gameplay is more polished than revamped, so in some cases, you have to look pretty closely to tell the difference between old and new. You still play the lank-haired Geralt of Rivia, a monster-killing mercenary known as a witcher who travels a medieval fantasy kingdom in search of jobs. Basically, you're a battlemage who can freely switch between using a pair of great big swords to slay fantasy-game beasties and firing off spells with elemental magic signs. Basic melee attacks are handled through the left mouse button, with you timing your clicks to string sword strokes together into big-damage combos. If you run four such attacks together, Geralt becomes a whirling dervish capable of slicing his foes to ribbons. Each sword can also be wielded in strong, quick, and group styles, allowing you to tailor attacks depending on what sort of opponents you happen to be facing. Spells are cast by mapping elemental signs to the right mouse button. Much of this magic is generic to fantasy RPG gaming. For instance, you'll launch fireballs, you'll throw up a protective shield, and you can charm enemies into doing your bidding. None of the spells are all that involved or time-intensive, so you can readily hack and slash with one button and launch fireballs with the other.
Character development is equally clear-cut and carried over unchanged from the original Witcher. Skills are purchased and buffed with bronze, silver, or gold talent coins earned every time you level up. These abilities allow you to increase Geralt's basic chance to hit, damage done, along with adding special effects, such as stunning opponents or causing them crippling pain. Nobody's reinvented the wheel here, although there is a broad range of abilities to choose from that let you specialize in various areas. You can roll all of your coins into spells and turn into kind of a wannabe sorcerer. You can go for strong sword skills and become a melee brawler. Or you can do the jack-of-all-trades thing and spread your abilities across the spectrum of choices. Geralt remains a sword-twirling fighter first and foremost no matter what you do, although you can at least tweak his talents to favor preferred combat methods.
Where this enhanced Witcher takes a welcome turn is with its story and presentation. Although the plot of the first game was a remarkably mature tale that ditched traditional black-and-white RPG morality for a gray universe, the story was sloppily adapted from its original Polish. In it, you took the lesser-of-two-evils approach and found a common cause with rapists and murderers. A bizarre decision to cut back the English dialogue preserved only chopped-up portions of the full script, leaving plot points hard to understand and cut-off conversations in midstream. All those issues have been corrected here. Thousands of lines of English dialogue have been rerecorded, fully fleshing out the storyline and removing the awkwardness of the original game. The English translation has been gone over with a fine-toothed comb to get rid of some jarring word choices from last year. The game is still a lot more modern sounding than some would probably like, throwing around F-bombs and curse words in ways that just don't seem to fit with swords and sorcery. But at least the script has been smoothed out and given a unified voice. Any way you look at it, this is a huge improvement over the first Witcher, which veered wildly between formal D&D-speak and New Jack City.
This enhanced Witcher may feature more visual detail and pack more punch in its color palette, but Geralt's world is just as grim and gloomy as ever.