CD Projekt Red is so pumped about the update it's preparing for acclaimed role-playing game The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings that it gives this PC "version 2.0" top billing in its Gamescom presentation, ahead even of the upcoming Xbox 360 version, due early next year. The bumper updated PC version, free to those who've already bought the game, is available from September 29. It contains a new tutorial system, an arcade-style arena mode, and the "dark" difficulty mode and items, plus the DLC packs and a host of technical fixes (the 100 made to date and 20 new ones).
The "extensive" tutorial system has been added to even out the game's alarmingly steep early difficulty curve, while dark mode addresses those players who like their games tough but just couldn't complete Witcher 2's insane difficulty mode. Insane, the hardest of the original four modes, wasn't just punishing but also didn't let you save. Dark mode is "as hard if not harder than insane," says executive producer John Mamais. But, crucially, it allows saving and introduces new "dark" items: swords and clothes with the highest stats in the game.
Where the new tutorial system will be a better welcome for Witcher 2 first-timers, dark mode is there to encourage replays; the trailer shown at Gamescom promises a prize to the first player to complete it. And if competition is what you're after, prepare yourself also for CD Projekt Red's arena mode, in which you take on wave upon wave of enemies from the game (and one or two new monsters, says Mamais) to collect experience points, money, and gear.
When we see the mode in action, Geralt is taking on the mob in a ruined fortress courtyard, overlooking a forested mountainside. Between waves, he drops by an armoury to purchase and change gear. The intention of arena mode is twofold, says Mamais: "to train your character and try out different character builds, and to become a leader on the leaderboards." Because you play until you die, as is custom in Horde-style modes, and then enjoy your new high spot on the arena leaderboards and optionally post your score on Facebook or the game's user forums.
When CD Projekt Red's presentation moves on to the don't-call-it-a-port 360 version, we're told the eventual 360 "adaptation" will include all the content found in the updated PC version. We're shown a 360 demo of Geralt getting his witcher on in a forest level, crowded with detailed textures and models. Though it is a carefully managed demo, it looks good, and we're maintaining cautiously high hopes for the 360 visuals.
As Mamais notes, there are plenty of gamers who can't afford the high-end PCs that would show off The Witcher 2 at its best; naturally, CD Projekt Red says it's out to give them as close to that PC performance as possible. "[With] ports normally, you scale everything down to get it running on the consoles, we're not taking that route," he says. "We're going away to optimise the art, so it still looks as good… so it can perform well on the console. There's a big optimisation phase going on at the studio now, to get everything to this scalable level so it can perform on the 360."
Away from the visuals, there are controls, camera issues, and combat mechanics to think about; Mamais tells us the user interface and targeting system are being reworked. The difficulty levels will also be "tweaked a bit," though it will still be a "really tough" RPG: "We're not going to make it easier necessarily, but maybe [give it] a smoother learning curve."
The point, according to CD Projekt Red, is to produce a game that feels technically and mechanically at home on the Xbox 360, while still being a "unique" offering for that platform, says Mamais: "I don't think there are too many mature, complex, story-driven RPGs on the console, so we think we're adding that to the market, and we're hoping there's a place for us there."