The Best Console RPG of 2012 Won’t Be Mass Effect 3

Only time will tell, but if I had to guess, I’d venture that The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings will turn out to be 2011’s most overlooked game.  It wasn’t on many people’s Game of the Year lists despite overall rave reviews.  Two obvious reasons for this of course are that it was that it released on the PC and required some pretty expensive hardware to run correctly.

Fortunately, CD Projekt RED had always planned to bring it to the console, and after some delay, the masterful RPG will finally make it to the Xbox 360 on April 17, 2012.  And not only will console gamers get a chance to play one of 2011’s best games, but the Xbox 360 port will be an enhanced version with, “3+ hours of new content, and new gameplay and story elements.”

In addition, console players picking it up for the first time in April won’t have to wait, like PC gamers did, for any of The Witcher 2’s glitches or balancing issues to be addressed through a patch.  If all goes well, the console version might not be as pretty, but it’ll run just as smoothly as its PC counterpart.  And with over 4.5 million copies pirated, I’m glad I’ll have a chance to support the developer when I pick up a new copy in a couple months. 

Because all signs point to this being a tragically overlooked and serially underappreciated game.  As Shacknews noted when declaring it the best game of 2011The Wticher 2: Assasins of Kingshas combat that’s “satisfying to the point of perfection” and remains “one of the few games that genuinely offers players a choice.” Indeed, the game goes even further because, as the editors atShacknews wrote, “it offers an interesting reflection of real-world problems. It’s a political drama where those in command are governed by fear and uncertainty. It shines light on racism and sexism in ways that shows developer CD Projekt RED is unafraid to push narrative boundaries beyond most games in its class.” 

And this is where I’m hoping that The Witcher 2 gives me the experience that the Mass Effect franchise has so far failed to achieve.  I’m less interested in playing puppet master to some identity-less onscreen avatar, and more concerned with playing through a well-conceived narrative that allows player choice and plot outcomes to interact in a truly meaningful way.  Something that the first Mass Effect nearly managed, and which Mass Effect 2 didn’t even come close to doing, but that The Witcher 2 might actually accomplish.

 

BioWare has shown that they can deliver a compelling character experience, and an epic story, but not necessarily both at once.  Indeed, part of Mass Effect 2’s shortcoming arises from its attempts to do both at once, and succeeding at neither as a result.

Plus, The Witcher 2 has deep RPG elements, with item crafting, equipment, and skill trees that go far beyond anything BioWare has recently offered.  And while games like Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (which just came out today) and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim both offer complex level building, status enhancement, and inventory systems, I don’t think either one will end up providing everything in a single RPG package the way Witcher does.

But that remains to be seen.  For now I’ll be eagerly awaiting the Xbox 360 port.