E3 Preview: The Witcher 2 (PC)
Our presentation for The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings started off with a bit of a snipe fest at critics, not over reviews of the game, but how many called CD Projekt crazy for focusing on a platform that was considered dead by a lot of media outlets with their first Witcher outing. They noted that The Witcher has sold over 1.5 million copies, and continues to be an RPG title that stands at the top of the class when compared to other titles in the genre. But they also noted that the first game did have its faults, and that when CD Projekt set out to make a true sequel to The Witcher, they had to take some time to create a title that was worthy of continuing The Witcher brand name, while taking the game to new heights. Read on below for more on our private presenation of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, and how CD Projekt looks to this as one of the big titles for 2011.
We started our presentation with a little backstory as to what the development team was looking to do with a sequel to The Witcher. While they were happy with the response of the first title, they knew that things would have to be different with the sequel. They started right at the top with the Aurora engine. While the game engine had served Bioware and CD Projekt faithfully over the years, it was becoming rather dated, so with that, a new in-house engine was developed for The Witcher 2. And my, my, the engine is gorgeous. It is bringing out new details in all of the characters in the game. Facial animations are boosted up significantly, and the action as a whole feels a lot closer to the characters in the game.
Story is another focus with The Witcher 2. While the first game did have a great story, CD Projekt again kicked things up a few notches, making the story a lot larger in scope. Instead of just dealing with one kingdom, there are several kingdoms that are under fire from assassins. It is almost as if Geralt, our main character is a smaller fish in a much larger pond of events in the world. With this new story, come new dialog features that will spice up the way you react to the world, and how the world responds to those decisions. If you are thinking like Mass Effect dialog choices, you are on the exact track as to what CD Projekt is going for in conversations. You decisions will affect how future relationships will come together, or possibly even fall apart due to your actions in these conversations, and with your actions as well. Also expanding the story is the fact that Geralt’s memory is starting to come back, leading into new story elements that will affect how he will react to people that he knows from his past. And it is not just The Witcher 2 decisions that will affect you, as you can import all of your choices and decisions from the first Witcher title into your Witcher 2 experience, adding more to your game experience. If you have not played the first Witcher title, this is a great reason to go back and do so.
Combat has also been tweaked. One of the things that the development team heard from players of the first Witcher title was that the timing based combat had to go. It was not that it was bad, but a lot of people had issues with gauging the timing for proper combos. This was a point I could relate to, as I was never able to pull off some of the better combos in the game due to inadequete timing with my strikes. However, stances still play a part of combat, and you can perform combos, but they just work a little differently.
With all of this introduction, we finally got to see some of The Witcher 2 in action. As stated before, the visuals in The Witcher 2 are very sexy, wtih character animations looking far better than the first game. Again, I think a lot of this has to do with being closer into the action. We were venturing through a forest, looking for some contacts that might know a bit more about the assassins that are looking to take down the kings from several of the kingdoms in the land. The story for The Witcher 2 picks up two months after the first title. As we worked through the forest, we were attacked by a roving band of mercenaries that announced themselves as an army. During our first encounter, we had several dialog options that might of been able to get us out of the fight, but knowing that would have been no fun, we selected the options that would take us to arms. Our sorceress, Triss, tried to cast a spell, but instead, cast a shield with some weird butterflies. Something was wrong with her, as she started to bleed from the nose and then passed out. Our other companion had to carry Triss out of the forest, while Geralt defended them. The shield gave us protection from arrow strikes, which meant the enemies would have to bring the combat to us.
The combat was fast and well paced. We alternated between strong and fast strike stances, and all of this was done on the fly. We also now have the ability to perform rolls in combat (could not remember if this was in the first title off the top of my head), making for new strategies in combat. While they were pressing buttons for combat, there was a great tactical feel to the combat. You know the targets that you want to hit first, and you can gauge your fights accordingly. Also, there are new quick kills, like strikes to the back that will be instant kills. This adds a sense of stealth and surprise to those that are interested in taking a quieter approach to combat. We rolled behind someone quickly and stabbed them through the back, watching the enemy drop instantly to the ground.
While The Witcher 2 is an RPG, CD Projekt did not want this to limit their audience. So they have added a new, Easy mode that will strip out a lot of the heavy RPG elements, allowing action focused players to enjoy the action and story of The Witcher 2, without having to worry about picking skills and what not. However, this does not kill the experience for those that want a deeper RPG experience, in the harder difficulty levels.
Button clicking make you think I am talking about keyboard clicking, but the developers were playing the game on an Xbox 360 controller, to show how The Witcher 2 can be played either with traditional mouse and keyboard controls, or with an Xbox 360 gamepad. I have to assume that this was done for an eventual console port of the title, but nothing was confirmed to us at this time. However, our demo was played completely off of an Xbox 360 controller.
As we defeated a few waves of enemies in the forest, we noticed they retreated from combat as we approached the city. And as we entered the city, we noticed another new point in the game. There was no loading screen heading into the city. The entire world is seamless in nature when you enter a kingdom. You can walk freely without encountering a load screen. Now during chapter breaks, there are going to still be loading screens, but coming out of a chapter load, you will have a full world that can be explored without having the game stall for a load.
As we entered the city, we stumbled upon a public execution in progress. It appeared that four people were about to be hung due to practicing debauchery. Yes, my friends, The Witcher 2 is keeping its adult themed elements, like sex and more mature themed elements. Geralt entered into discussion with the executioners, attempting to talk him out of killing these people. At this point two things were of noticed. We were in what would be considered a cut scene, but it was all done in engine, yet we had complete control of the camera, allowing players to frame the scene to their own choosing. Also, we were told, it keeps players more engaged with the story elements, instead of them putting the controller down and walking away for a bathroom break during a cut scene. We tried, successfully to rally the crowd against the executioners, bringing out the town madam in the process. She single handedly had the greatest line in the demo, telling us that that, “Soldier boy is upset because his balls are rotting in his pants”. Classic indeed!
Before we saw the sequence completely pan out, we skipped forward a bit to a huge boss fight, to show us the scope of enemies that we will be fighting, as well as how the battles can be handled in multiple ways. This was a huge octopus looking monster with huge tentacles that tried to strike out at us. We could not go head on with the monster, as he would spit poison when we got close. Instead, we used potions to stick tentacles to the ground as we attacked them. I will not spoil the end of the boss battle, but it was very epic, and left us with a sense of accomplishment after the battle.
In closing, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings looks amazing with its graphics, and the story looks to be top notch. The developers closed with the idea that they wanted a story that would hook and engage the player on a deep, emotional level. The Witcher 2 is definitely hitting on all these elements, and looks to be another amazing entry in The Witcher franchise. And lastly folks, I did ask the question, but did not get a confirmation, but while there will not be collectible sex cards per say, they are working on something in regards to that. Yeah, I am that guy that would ask that question. Look for The Witcher 2 in Q1 2011.