As a cast study of where RPGs are headed as a genre, the last few months have been interesting. We've had Final Fantasy XIII-2, a statement of intent to get back to shorter development cycles and non-linear gameplay from Japan's biggest RPG powerhouse, whilst Bioware put out Mass Effect 3, a continued refinement of their illusion of choice RPG gameplay mashed together with elements from third person shooters.
Look back just a bit further and you have Skyrim and Dark Souls, too, but I think the most interesting of these titles from the perspective of an RPG fan curious about the future is this week's release of The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition for Xbox 360 and PC.
If you want to know more about the original Witcher 2 my recommendation is you hit up Zack's review of the original PC version, for this is the same game with tweaks - but these tweaks are vital to if this title, arguably more hardcore than all of the above listed (except possibly Dark Souls) will find success on the 360.
The original PC version released in May last year betrayed CD Projekt's console ambitions, doing away with over-complicated systems such as stances and widening the window on things like counters in combat to make the game more fun and simpler to play. These changes also made it easier to map to a controller, though, and The Witcher 2 works great on a 360 pad.
While there's obviously no hotkeys, a new circular wheel not dissimilar to what Bioware's been doing lately slows down (but doesn't pause) time to allow you to choose what attack you want to be using. This system just works, though sometimes I found panic setting in thanks to the fact pressing the button doesn't pause combat entirely.
Having to simplify for the controller means that small problems from the PC version have been fixed almost by accident. This includes a pet hate of mine - how vital objects you'd need to intact would sometimes blend into the background leading to you clicking like an idiot. That and a plethora of other tiny annoyances are gone while using a controller.
CD Projekt clearly knew the design of their game leads to menu time being more frequent than in a game like Skyrim or Dragon Age, and have compensated well for that fact.
The game runs at what I'd describe as something just a little above the 'medium' setting on PC and while graphically this obviously isn't going to compare to how stunning The Witcher 2 looks on a pimped-out PC rig but it still manages to be one of the better looking games on the now fast-aging Xbox 360 hardware.
Small amounts of pop-in and some minor frame rate issues are the only offender here, but these are quickly forgotten when you see a particularly beautiful vista. There's one disc swap at a point during the story, the limitations of DVD handled tastefully here.
One thing console gamers may find shocking is the way choice works in The Witcher. Here small choices can lock out entire, large quest lines later in the game. Where Bioware works with the illusion of choice which means everyone will see the same missions in different ways, the story of The Witcher twists and locks out large segments of the game based on choices you make, encouraging replays.
PC players have the 'Enhanced' moniker justified by the addition of roughly four hours of new gameplay and a ton of new cutscenes and cinematics. The vast majority of this content is buried in two particularly large and impressive late-game quests, but there are tiny additions throughout the game.
It comes as no surprise to write here that The Witcher 2 is still a great game. With bugs fixed, additional content and a very competent port, it remains as good as it was on its original release last year - better, even.
Some problems with the original release remain, but this is really a great example of how ports from PC to console should be done and a great argument to some developers to consider developing for PC first again.
The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition is definitely worth the time and money of 360 RPG fans - it'll just be interesting to see how they feel about its decidedly still PC-style design and structure compared to other genre leaders that have moved to be entirely console-focused.