The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings GDC 2011 PreviewBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Mar 07, 2011
There is certainly no shortage of fantasy RPGs on the horizon, but The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings has a distinct advantage by releasing this May, well after Dragon Age II and six months before Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim. Having a jump on the competition alwyas helps, and it helps even more when you have a sequel that looks to build substantially on the solid foundation established by the first game.
For GDC 2011, I was able to check out a small portion of a side-quest that kicked off in the dwarven villlage of Vergen. One of the first things that struck me when the demo started up was the presentation. The Witcher 2 was built from the ground up using a brand new proprietary engine designed specifically for RPGs, as opposed to the original game, which was built using BioWare's Aurora engine.
The vegetation is lush and vibrant, the draw distances provide stunning vistas of towering mountains on the horizon, and beams of light dance through an afternoon fog that hangs just above the trees. The developers put a lot of work into fleshing out the game world and making it really feel like it's been lived in. They also worked to ensure that the game will feature a fraction of the load screens found in the first game. We moved from a town to a forest to a cave back to town into a tavern and back to the woods without a single load screen, so it seems like they are on track.
As for our quest, we learn that a number of villagers, specifically young men, have been mysteriously disappearing, and it's our task to find out why. We set out, and just outside the town, we have our first enemy encounter. Combat has received some major improvements that now make it much easier and smoother to jump between swordplay and magic. So for instance, before we go charging into the crowd, we toss a stun bomb that immobilizes several of the enemies. In this state, these unfortunate bastards are prime targets for one of the game's new finishing moves. In this case, it means two swords through the chest and then two swords slicing away his throat. Another dude gets lifted off the ground and promptly sliced through the midsection.
When you bring up your attack wheel, the on-screen action slows down, buying you precious seconds to decide how to proceed. Buff up your defenses with an electrical field that shocks enemies that hit you, or toss a fireball to torch anyone in the area. Or just tear through bodies with your broadsword. It's up to you. This sense of variety and experimentation is something the developers have worked particularly hard to get right. And this extends to the quests and overall story as well.
The game has 16 endings, and it's possible to bypass/miss entire sections of the game, encouraging players to go back multiple times to explore the world and its riches. Even on the demo quest, there were several ways we could have proceeded. After finding a fairly fresh dead body in a nearby cave, we have the option of examining the body and the items around it. We notice large gashes in his chest and on his back and a book of love poems lying next to him, suggesting that perhaps a succubus might be involved. We see that the book was written by one our friends, Dandelion, and we head back to town to see if he has any answers.
At the local pub, we have a chance to engage in a number of mini-games, from arm wrestling to a fantasy inspired version of Yahztee. These activities are obviously optional, but they are the perfect way to kill some time and win some precious coin.
We convince Dandelion to accompany us to a prime location for a little succubus summoning. To do this, we actually take control of Dandelion and play a mini-game of sorts in which we help him write a song by choosing the correct phrases as they appear on screen. We known the words because we read the poem in the collection we found earlier. After a few verses, the succubus who had been whispering to us from the woods as we were singing, opens a secret hatch door on the ground nearby. Not only has this entire quest up this point been totally optional, we still have choices to make. We could have run back to Geralt and informed him of the hidden passage, and go from there, or, as we did, we decided to pay the succubus a little visit. You know, so she wouldn't think us rude.
When Dandelion enters the passage, we regain control of Geralt and proceed down the hatch door as well. Inside, we find Dandelion on a bed giggling hysterically and clearly "satisfied," and a topless, goat-legged succubus at the foot of the bed. She tells us that Dandelion will snap out his joyful stupor shortly, but, more importantly, that she didn't murder the young man. And that’s where the demo ended, about halfway through the full side-quest.
Intrigued? Well, you’ll be able to find out the true identity of the murderer when The Witcher 2: Assassin’s of Kings releases on PC May 17.