Preview | The Witcher 2
Format: PC | Genre: Racing | Publisher: Namco Bandai | Developer: CD Projekt | ETA: 2011
Andreas Varotsis delves into the potentially murky world of THE WITCHER 2.
WHEN YOU start an interview, it’s generally rather helpful to start with some sort of direction – a list of questions, a helpful theme, or some other cunning memento to kick-start your inquisition. It’s rather telling then, that all it said on the top of my notebook was “SEX – TALK”.
That’s not because I’m sort of sex starved, developer molesting fiend, but because when I think back to the first Witcher, what struck me like a sack of wet cement was the abhorrently bad voice acting, and its gotta-catch-them-all attitude to sex. I could see the tremendous game beneath it all – the solid combat mechanics, gorgeous design, and spiralling plot – but I just couldn’t bring myself to take the entire thing seriously. Every time I came close to immersing myself in the titanic epic, I was rudely drop-kicked back to my basement dwelling reality by some testosterone-filled protagonist spouting inane swearing without any hint of emotion. Even the free “enhanced edition” patch – which re-recorded much of the game’s dialogue – couldn’t stop me feeling like I was strolling through a land of thirteen year old boys and senseless automatons.
Thankfully, if there was one thing the developers wanted to emphasise more than anything else when I started to assail with accusations of chauvinistic immaturity, was that the Witcher 2 was, on every possible opus, a far more mature outing than its predecessor. You’ll no longer be collecting women like so many stamps. Instead, the Witcher 2 is focusing on what the original opus did best: choice, consequence, and the impact of your character on the world – because if there’s one thing the Witcher did stupendously well, it was forcing you to make incredibly tough decisions, before recoiling in horror when you realised just how much you’d just screwed the world over.
Moral choice is something that RPG developers seem to toss around with disdainful abandon, but as any gamer will tell you in age-old frustration, the choices are often as transparent as they’re ridiculous: kill the kitten, steal the kitten, or return it to the depressed and strangely inarticulate owner. Can you feel the weight of morality on your shoulders yet? Not so in the Witcher: the choices were about as murky as the river Ankh, and their repercussions often wandered into completely unforeseen directions.
Those choices will be peppered all through the sequel, and they’ll affect not only the world, but how you travel through it. The newly released trailer demonstrates this perfectly – each story told shows a different way to complete a quest, and each option will have different repercussions for you, and the people around you. Each choice will be important, consequential, but most importantly, difficult – you’ll need to take a leap of faith, trusting whatever moral compass you decide to follow to not screw over you, and whoever else you drag along with you. That’s a philosophy CD-Projekt hopes to be able to maintain throughout all of the choices you’ll make in the Witcher 2, thus keeping a serious, adult perspective to all the blood, sex, and madness that permeates the world you’ll be moulding.
Thanks to CD-Projekt’s new engine, built from the ground up, it’s also an extraordinarily pretty world – whilst the original was built on a variant of Bioware’s Aurora engine, CD Projekt have gone home-grown for the Witcher 2 from the very start – and it shows. Even the trailer we were shown had a far more oppressive feel than its predecessor, flickering torches illuminating an impressive looking dungeon. CD-Projekt have wiped the slate clean, starting afresh and building a far darker, harsher world. Combat is receiving the same treatment: gone is the rhythm-based clicking and combat styles that ruled whether you’d live or die – instead, we’re seeing a far more action packed combat system enter the fray, with Geralt now being able to interweave a variety of strikes and magical abilities into combo strings like some sort of nutty wizard-ninja-albino hybrid.
If you’re worried about CD-Projekt sacrificing depth for the sake of accessibility, then fear not, oh hardcore-RPGer: the Witcher 2 still hails proudly from the land of statistics, potions, and micro-management. Alchemy, the mind-boggling system for mixing dubious, statistic-enhancing cocktails that was so crucial to success in the first Witcher, hasn’t gone anywhere, and the higher difficulty levels will still challenge all but the most dedicated RPG fans, even if they’re used to such continental fare as Risen and Stronghold.
The Witcher 2 may be more accessible, but it’s also more expansive, deeper, and far more polished than its predecessor – it remains firmly a “hardcore RPG”, and for those brave enough to attempt the the more advanced difficulty levels, the challenge will still be enough to firmly terrify those of us who have no analytical capability to do the same – the sequel remains a complex, sophisticated animal, and I’ve little doubt that most of us plebs won’t scratch the surface of the depth it’ll offer.
However, it’s also looking to be a far better game as a whole – it’s slicker, prettier, and more accessible, even to those of us who weren’t raised on RPGs so hardcore you didn’t approach them without a hefty intellectual pick-axe to dig away at the layers of maddening mechanics – and that means it may just succeed in bringing the hardcore RPG to the unwashed masses as well.