As a fan of the first Witcher game I entered the small Atari office with some trepidation. Pre-show talk of controller support and streamlining some elements reeks of oversimplification and a loss of nuance in favor of splashy presentation. Seeing the developer cradling a 360 pad (plugged into a PC) as he prepared to walk me through his 15 minute presentation wasn’t helping. Once the game loaded I was even more worried by something that we’d normally celebrate – it looks gorgeous. The old Aurora engine has been jettisoned, replaced by a game engine created from scratch. Watching it in motion, it’s clear CD Projekt is putting the extra graphical muscle to good use. But are they sacrificing nuance and depth for the sake of better visuals?
The demo opens with a tense dialog scene. Immediately they show a new dialog system similar to Mass Effect or Alpha Protocol. In this case there were three abbreviated choices to choose from and a timer forcing you to make a snap judgment. Other times you’ll have the luxury of pacing around the room for five minutes while you consider your reply. Player choice in the story was a big part of the first Witcher and they seem to be maintaining that structure in the sequel.
Once the conversation is over we get to see the new combat engine in action. In the first game you had three stances to choose from that were each strong against certain types of enemies. By timing mouse clicks with your strikes, you could string attacks together and make them more effective. The Witcher 2 does away with the stance system in favor of a more console-like combo system. There’s a heavy attack, light attack, magic attack, block and a dodge button.
Cadence and timing still matter when stringing attacks together; you just won’t be manually shifting from a fast attack mode to a heavy attack. Instead, you’ll just hit the heavy or light attack button (or key) depending on who you’re in front of. It’s not quite as automatic as something like Batman: Arkham Asylum -- but you can definitely flow your strikes from one enemy to the next in a pitched battle.
As the demo wore on my concerns were mostly allayed. It’s a vertical slice, meaning you never know how the final game will turn out, but there is a lot of detail and love being poured into the parts of the game I saw. All of the things I enjoyed about The Witcher are still strongly represented and some of the more tedious aspects (like the combat) appear to be either improved or streamlined in the right direction.
Senior Producer Tomasz Gop was cagey about the overall skill system but he did confirm that Geralt would have a basic ability in all magics and skills. The RPG aspect would be deciding which ones you improved more over time. Is it less deep and nuanced than the first game? Sure seems like it, but if they can maintain the integrity of the story and dialog choices from the original while making the rest a bit more lively and fun then I’d say we’re in good shape.
Some other quick notes I’d jotted down:
- Saves can be imported from your original game so choices you made are reflected in the sequel.
- Absolutely no loads in each chapter of the game aside from the initial one when you first start.
- Things like the animations in combat and lip syncing are still rough in spots, but there’s still plenty of time left to polish that up.
- Currently, there’s only a PC version planned. It’s clear they’re positioning it for a console release, but that appears to be depending on funding.
Check out this walkthrough video from Gamespot. It doesn’t quite cover everything, but it’s a good taste of what I saw.