For many, The Witcher 2 was the dark horse of this year’s Eurogamer Expo. Based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s Wiedźmin stories (which can now be enjoyed in short story, novel, comic, TV series, and movie form – though for the most part only in the author’s native Polish), the first game received generally favourable reviews and respectable sales at retail. Two years on however, and The Witcher franchise is still struggling to escape cult status outside of Poland. CD Projekt must ensure that the second game doesn’t rely on fans of the original stories for sales – and this is certainly what they are bearing in mind. The story of The Witcher 2 is an original one, that takes place after the events of the books.
Though they hosted a developer session at the Expo, they were also happy to give several more personal presentations to journalists. Sitting a few feet away from a whacking great TV, next to the developers, is certainly a better way to appreciate a game. There was no hands on; rather, Marek Ziemak played through a few areas of the game while Tomasz Gop (Senior Producer) gave a running commentary.
When the demo starts, the story thus far has led to your character being captured. He is hanging from chains in a medieval prison cell, with graphic lash marks on his back. As soon as the characters start talking, I am saddened to see Hollywood cliché come into play; the hero speaks with an American accent, while the guards speak with British accents. I also have to say that, in the demo at least, the script is consistently stilted. All the more impressive, however, that I quickly learn not to write the game off.
Ziemak lures a guard into the cell by taunting him, and makes good his escape with some brutal close quarters combat. It’s a completely new combat system that, while not finished, already seems to work very well. He then makes his way to another cell where he needs to make a rescue, and Gop is keen to point out that there is more than one way of doing this; he could stealthily sneak past the guards, or cave heads in at every opportunity. The medieval setting, and emphasis that the demo shows on player choice and conversation, suggests a mix of Thief and Oblivion.
Now, there’s something
About the woman
in the cell that you make your way to
Boobs boobs boobs
that immediately grabs your attention. Well, two things
Boobs boobs boobs boobs boobs boobs boobs boobs
She too is chained up – and topless. A torturer is about to do something unpleasant to her with a red hot poker, and so Ziemak jumps in to the rescue. In all fairness, Gop seems to regret including this sequence in the presentation, and sheepishly assures us that the final game won’t feature an endless parade of bare breasts. Sorry lads.
With the woman rescued and ladybags put away, a new chap appears on the scene – complete with armed entourage. We’re unsure whether or not he can be trusted, but he offers to aid our escape. In the demo Ziemak accepts, and encounters less resistance than he otherwise would have on the way out. Again, things could have worked out differently if he’d made different choices.
The final scene they showcase takes place on a battlefield, and is the first time we see the supernatural elements come into play. It’s very busy – fires, warriors fighting – with lots of detail but, like the rest of the demo, runs smoothly. Most of the soldiers on the battlefield are actually ghosts, which means that they disappear when you get close. This is transparently a way of making the scene look busier than it actually is, but it’s a design decision that works out well; it’s a memorable, stylish effect.
The demo ends with us attracting the attention of a gigantic demon… thing that looks like an evil eighties gas boiler. After his archers unsuccessfully try to skewer Ziemak with flaming arrows, he comes charging after our hero himself… and there the demo ends. The final game will feature no loading between areas (which was already evidenced in the demo) and, as proof that player choice ultimately makes a difference, sixteen different endings.
Talking about the game afterwards, Gop says that they’d like to make a console version (The Witcher 2 is currently down as a PC only release) but “We’re not ready to announce anything yet”. And as for the cancelled console project Rise of the White Wolf?
“It’s in our hearts. I’d love to do it one day.”
“It’s not about good and evil.” says Gop, expanding on the idea of player choice. “The game doesn’t decide if you’re a good or bad person. It’s not that kind of game. It’s not about karma. It’s about each choice; we want the player to think about each particular situation, rather than the whole game. Sometimes helping people might end up with them becoming bad people, so that wasn’t good to help them. The morality system is why The Witcher is a mature game.”