E3 2010 Preview: The Witcher 2: Assassins of KingsBy Stephen Johnson - Posted Jun 21, 2010
What We Know:
The Witcher came out of nowhere in 2007 to delight the RPG crowd with its deep story, mature content and uncompromising gameplay. The sequel promises more of the same, with some of the glaring errors of the first game corrected.
What We're Seeing Now:
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is for real role-playing game fans. While the the rest of the video game world slides into hybridization, adding easy-to-swallow RPG elements to action games and shooters, The Witcher 2 proudly flaunts its hardcore RPG nature. It's got that classic, Tolkien-esque high fantasy setting, an impossibly epic, dark story and fully realized characters. It's squarely aimed at adult RPG fans -- there's nothing casual about this game.
Judging from the E3 demo, the second Witcher game improves upon the original game in a number of ways. It's is powered by a new game engine, allowing for both improved visuals and embettered game mechanics. This is a beautiful game -- the demo from E3 featured an inviting woodland setting that pops from the screen with vivid, lush colors, as well as a town scene with fully detailed environments and characters. Both setting were exceptionally well-done from a graphics perspective.
Along with the improved visuals, Witcher 2 also features a re-vamped combat system. The timing-based, click-to-hit mechanic of the first game has been jettisoned (thank Zeus) in favor of a more fluid system that combines RPG tactics with enough action elements to keep things interesting. You combine swift hits with heavy poundings for real-feeling fights. Throw in some magic spells, and you have a great combat system that gives a party of adventures the chance to destroy enemies with spell or sword in a completely smooth manner.
Combat is only part of an RPG, though. Atari's E3 2010 demo also featured a scene set in a town. A friend was about to be hung from a gallows for "debauchery," and it's up to the RPG party to save the day. Like any good RPG, the encounter can be resolved in a number of ways. Deep conversational choices give you the option of getting all badass and confronting the hangman or going for a more subtle approach and appealing to kindness or the law in saving your condemned pal. Convince the locals hanging around the gibbet to be on your side, and you might have an easier time springing your pal from his sentence. As you may have guessed, your actions follow you around the game, and can result in different endings as well as changing the reaction of NPCs as you play.
The voice acting is excellent, as are the lifelike reactions from the gathered crowd, and, in keeping with the grown-up nature of the Witcher, this isn't your standard good vs. evil construction for actions; there are no easy choices between petting a kitten or smashing its head in. Instead, the game aims to present you with truly difficult decisions -- expect a lot of gray areas, with distinctive outcomes based on the choices you make.
It's not just the role-playing elements that provide varied outcomes. The E3 demo featured a boss battle with a monstrous, tentacled abomination, and the outcome of the battle depends on how you fight it. You can chop off the things tentacles one-by-one, or come up with a more clever way of taking it out by pushing a stone structure down on the thing's misshapen head.
If the full game of the Witcher lives up to the very impressive demo shown At E3 2010, RPG fans will declare a national holiday for this game's release. Sadly, there's no announced date for this game to drop.
One more thing: The Witcher 2 is only announced for PC at this time, although the press material says the game "will surely be out on consoles at some point." More details are expected in the next few months, so stay tuned.