The original The Witcher picked up a fair few fans when it hit back in 2007. Created by Polish development team CD Projekt RED, the fantasy-themed PC RPG was lauded for its morally murky choices, branching storyline and nicely executed cut-scenes. The Witcher 2: Assasins of Kings then, looks to build on the first game's raw promise.
The GamesCom demo we were shown began by highlighting the extent of the diverging paths available to Geralt through a fairly standard dungeon escape mission. In case you missed the first game, Geralt is one of a few remaining "witchers," trained and modified from a young age to hunt and kill monsters. Covered in scars, he's basically the badass of badasses.
The first playthrough of the dungeon sequence centered on stealth, with Geralt sneaking through corridors under cover of darkness, extinguishing torches as he went. Other than some quiet, neck-snapping combat, there was little in the way of fighting. The second playthrough, however, was a balls-out bloodfest, with Geralt slashing away at everything in sight with his sword. Gruesome stuff.
So, rather than branching according to mere dialogue choices, the narrative takes into account the way in which you play through the game. In the case of the dungeon escape mission, the two differing methods meant that players encountered and formed relationships with different characters along the way. The allegiances and enmities fostered here promise to have a profound effect on the way the entire game pans out.
The developers say there were 666 different ways of escaping the dungeon and that there will be 40 such open-ended quests in the game. Though many of these variations will be purely cosmetic, it does suggest that The Wither 2's may just offer unprecedented non-linearity.
The other section of the game we were shown was a more straight forward action sequence, a large scale set-piece with a battle between ghosts and demons raging around our hero. Towards the end a giant, armoured, fire axe wielding beast burst into the scene, the air alive with arrows, tornados and fireballs, it was mightily impressive.
While the original game was built on a heavily-modified version of BioWare's Aurora engine, The Witcher 2 uses CD Projekt Red's own engine. It handled the busy action with aplomb, a noticeable improvement over its predecessor.
The demo didn't show how Geralt went about defeating the monster, as it faded to black on a cliffhanger, but the indication is that The Witcher 2 may well deal with the quiet, intimate dungeon-crawling just as well as massive set-pieces. If the sequel can overcome the original's slight pacing issues, then this could be the recipe for a great game.
Opening up for a few quick questions at the end of session, the first thing on our minds was whether this would finally be the time to bring The Withcer to consoles. The previous game had been touted as such, but financial problems cut the porting process short. Unfortunately, it seems no decisions have been made yet.
It's a shame, as The Witcher 2 looks so impressive it should be enjoyed by as wide an audience as possible. Based on our brief glimpse, PC owners should consider themselves very, very lucky.