It's rare for an RPG to heavily push the capabilities of a gaming PC, but The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings does, and the end result is one of the most beautiful and ornately detailed settings we've ever seen. Not content merely to have detailed HD textures on character models, or to recycle environmental textures across areas, The Witcher 2 displays gorgeous locales and almost lifelike character models consistently from beginning to end. Visuals often look designed, drawn, and animated from scratch for every surface and person in the game. An impressive amount of research and planning, as outlined in the art book, shows just how much love and care the development studio put into painting the believable pseudo-medieval setting piece by piece so it looks at once like both a fantasy world and a place that could exist on Earth.
Most importantly, The Witcher 2 looks gritty and realistic without resorting to a visually bland or monochrome look like other current generation games. Monsters are appropriately slimy, hairy, hideous, and/or hardened, and the people living in a setting relatively devoid of clean water look the part; if a game ever managed to look nauseating or stinky without necessarily being repulsive or exaggerated, this is it. The Witcher 2 also showcases a variety of environments without falling back on lava caves and ice fields. Whether Geralt's travels take him to a forest, swamp, castle, ruin, muddy camp, mining town, or otherwordly possessed demonic battlefield, every place looks new, believable, and individually designed. We're looking forward to seeing how the graphics appear on consoles later this year, and we're hoping our brethren without gaming PCs are as impressed as we were.
Though set in a cold, harsh climate, Skyrim offers some of the most beautiful vistas in a game to date. During a random trip to a cave or town, it would not be rare for us to stop and simply look around at the landscapes, rivers, waterfalls, and mountains in the distance. The level of detail is hard to ignore. Though featuring a completely different art style, Bastion also offers a plethora of lovely locales. The bright, varied areas the Kid wanders through are a true highlight of the game.
by Glenn Wilson and Michael Cunningham