The Witcher Updated Q&A - Swords, Sorcery, and Foul Beasts

Chief designer Michal Madej explains how you'll hack-and-slash your way to victory in this unusual fantasy role-playing game.

Your typical fantasy role-playing game offers colorful adventures in grassy meadows that involve pointy-eared elves. CD Projekt's The Witcher will instead offer a much darker, more complex experience based on the popular novels of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. In the game, you'll play as Geralt, a "witcher"--a being infused with superhuman powers who hunts monsters in a postapocalyptic and morally ambiguous fantasy world. In addition to exploring a game with an intriguing story, you'll wield a sword and hack-and-slash at hordes of monsters. Chief designer Michal Madej sat down with us to discuss how you'll fight battles and develop your character throughout the game.

GameSpot: We're familiar with the story behind the game's unusual protagonist, Geralt, but tell us about how he develops as a character in the game. How can you develop his skills in battle, for instance? What kind of weapons can he use, and how does he eventually become a more powerful warrior?

Michal Madej: As you mentioned, we have a rather unusual protagonist--Geralt the witcher, a professional monster slayer. Because he is essentially a new character class unlike anything you've seen in typical RPGs, we had to create an innovative character-development system, which takes advantage of this "unusualness." On one hand, it's a traditional level-based system, where you kill monsters and--much more importantly--complete quests to earn experience points and gain levels. [But this is] where the similarity to typical RPGs ends. We don't use any numerical traits, as we consider them simply a dull way to describe your hero. What does it mean to have 12 dexterity points, and how much better is 13? We decided to replace numbers with ability trees, where each of the abilities has significant influence on gameplay and its usefulness is instantly understood. Altogether, we have about 250 abilities, grouped in 15 "trait trees": four attributes, five magical signs, and six combat styles.

Someone call for a monster hunter?

Each tree has five levels of primary abilities (the "trunk") and additional upgrades on each level (the "branches"). The main idea was to move from quantity to quality--every time players buy an ability, they get a visible difference in gameplay. In most RPGs, raising an attribute gives some small percentage bonus, which is really hard to notice--like 2 percent more chance to hit. In The Witcher, as players level up, it's impossible to overlook the fact that you have another attack animation, that you start deflecting arrows, or that you master a new spell. But players can not only buy combat abilities, but they can learn also how to gather herbs, skin monsters, brew potions, and many other things.

In all fighting skills, for example, every main level you add to the trunk is another attack (with its own animation and parameters) in a combo, with master-level abilities being final blows, usually fatal for opponents. Moreover, upgrade skills (the branches) modify how those attacks work--players can purchase an additional chance to stun, knock back, or cause bleeding. Apart from special abilities, players can also develop Geralt by finding or upgrading equipment--mostly swords, as witchers are swordmasters, but also other weapons.

GS: Tell us about the way magic works in the game. How will Geralt be able to use magic?

MM: Magic is extremely potent, but also very scarce in the world of The Witcher. Those rare people who can fully master magical energy are powerful beyond imagination and are real rulers, the powers behind the throne. Unfortunately, witchers are not those lucky ones, and they can only use simple spells, called "signs," which are more like wild bursts of elemental energy, rather than a controlled use of them. Still, intelligent combination of signs and the sword can give you a great advantage in combat. Geralt can learn and use five magical powers in two different ways. He can either "fast-cast" spells in close combat, or he can take some time to concentrate and cast a more powerful version of them.

For example, the "igni" sign can be either a swift short-distance flame strike, or a long-distance fireball which takes more time to cast. The five signs are more like spell templates players can customize, rather than being defined spells. The most famous is the "aard" sign, the trademark of witchers--a telekinetic blast that repels enemies and can even knock them down or even disarm them if upgraded properly. The igni sign, a fire spell that can be used both in close combat or as a long-range attack, can cause fear and ignite enemies. The third sign is "quen"--a shield that protects the hero from harm, but will break with any offensive action taken. The "axii" sign is not so spectacular, but can be the most powerful of them all--it's a telepathic power used to scare or even mentally control opponents. The last sign is "yrden"--a magical ward set on the ground as a trap that players can lure monsters into.

GS: What kind of tactics will you need to use in the game in order to be successful in battle? How much freedom will you have to customize your character's skills, and how open-ended is the skill system--how viable will it be, for instance, to have a character who relies heavily on magic, or instead relies heavily on certain weapons?

MM: Tactics in The Witcher require perception, common sense, and a calm mind, so you can properly analyze situations and make the right decisions in real-time action combat. It doesn't require any hardcore game-mechanic knowledge, as everything in the game is based on real and obvious rules. You see a huge opponent coming your way, you know you will have to hit hard, as the enemy is tough--it has armor or lots of health. If you can gain an advantage in combat by stunning or knocking down an opponent, for example, you can use it to kill him immediately with a coup de grace blow. Other situations include fights with a large number of opponents, when you have to use group tactics--trying to hit more than one at a time, but also protecting yourself from strikes from behind, as enemies tend to surround you.

You can also take advantage of the superhuman abilities of the witcher. When fighting against ranged enemies, Geralt can patiently wait for a shot, deflect arrows in flight, and use the time between shots to approach the opponent. But in some cases, when overwhelmed by more-powerful enemies, players will have to escape combat--witchers are renowned for their cold logic, not recklessness--by using active defense moves, jumps, or evades.

Because witchers are very flexible fighters, they can use different fighting techniques and backup spells. So, success in combat depends on how you can adapt to a new situation and make the right choice of weapons, styles, spells, and potions. Tactics will strongly depend on which kind of sword you use--steel swords against standard opponents or silver ones against magical creatures. The second choice to make is which fighting technique to use: the strong style against tough enemies, the fast style versus agile ones, and the group style while surrounded by weaker opponents. Lastly, you will have to use correct spells and potions to counter special abilities of opponents or exploit their weaknesses, like using the yrden sign to set a trap, lure monsters into it, and then kill the weakened enemies.

Although witchers can specialize in magic, you are still primarily a warrior that uses magic to gain an advantage in melee combat. We can compare witchers to medieval Jedi Knights--even though they use the powerful Force, they are still melee fighters that rely on lightsabers, rather than ranged blasters.

Some conflicts can be solved only with a sword.

GS: What can you tell us about the companions that will join Geralt on his journeys? What level of control will you exert over them? Will they advance in experience and power the way he does?

MM: In The Witcher, you play the role of Geralt, and can only control his actions. During your adventures you will meet other characters, make them your friends and enemies. They will also have their own goals, motivations, and stories--characters you will meet at the beginning might change completely in the course of the game, not only in terms of abilities, but also in their personality and appearance. But all those changes are based on the storyline, rather than on the typical experience grinding. They will also join you on your quest--and in battle--from time to time--as sometimes they will have similar goals and you can cooperate to achieve them, while some will accompany you just because of friendship or even love. In this game, you must stop thinking about other characters as helpful pets with stats, but you have to treat them as living, thinking, and feeling individuals.

Monster Hunting

GS: We understand that The Witcher takes place in a dark fantasy world. What types of beings and creatures will Geralt encounter in his travels? What kind of enemies will he fight in battle?

MM: From one point of view, it's definitely a kind of fantasy realm we are all familiar with. There's magic, elves, dwarves, monsters, and other typical fantasy elements. However, as you play the game or read the books it's based upon, you will notice some significant differences. First of all, there is no distinct good-vs.-evil struggle. Actually, I think that The Witcher features a very convenient setting, as it's much more similar to our real world--full of morally ambiguous lesser evils.

Sorcery is hard to come by, but you'll have some control of magic.

All we know about The Witcher's world history is that once upon a time there was a magical cataclysm, called the "conjunctions of the spheres"--an enormous crash of different parallel realities. As a result, magic and hordes of monsters from other universes appeared in the world. It's likely that humans were also not native to this world, but came from our reality. This logically explains why there are a lot of creatures who posses strange and dangerous powers. In their worlds they were natural parts of ecosystems; here, they are just deadly abominations, like vampires, ghouls, and zeugls. Additionally, after magic came to this world it started to warp native life and created more kinds of supernatural menaces--enormous mutated beasts, undead monsters, magically and artificially created beings.

So, Geralt will face giant insects like the frightener or koshchey, the undead drowners, and the wild hunt wraiths, the ravaging ghosts, and the fiery efreets. From time to time, he will have to fight against very powerful monsters--"bosses," as they're called in most games--which require special tactics to kill, as swords and magic won't be enough. That's why witchers were created a hundred years ago: to be able to fight with all kinds of monsters that appeared after the cataclysm. But still, the most dangerous enemies are humans, elves, and dwarves fighting each other in an endless war.

GS: We understand that The Witcher will feature a complex and decidedly adult story. In keeping with the theme, will all the game's battles be mandatory? How often will you be able to talk your way out of fighting battles by choosing to perform certain quests or talking to different characters a certain way?

MM: There will definitely be a lot of situations when you can make a choice about whether you want to talk or fight, but it's really difficult to say how often, as we've never counted it. To be honest, the concept of "avoiding battles" is quite common nowadays, and it's where most RPGs stopped and never went further--to make player choices actually have a significant meaning.

As you mentioned, it's an adult and a complex story full of choices which are probably more important than they've been in any other RPG. But have you ever actually stopped to think about those choices in RPGs? When we started to design the game, we realized how difficult is to make a game in which players' decisions are really important. We can, of course, create just an illusion, like "to kill or not to kill," which in most cases doesn't have any influence on the rest of the story. But we wanted to make something different--create a mature game with morally ambiguous decisions, which change the gameworld and eventually result in completely different stories. That's why we implemented long-term results of players' decisions, which are hard to avoid with typical save/load cheating and affect the story in a "butterfly effect" sort of way. A small decision at the beginning can turn out to be a major decision that influenced the very end of the game. Of course, not all battles can be avoided--it might be hard to fast-talk a bloodthirsty mutant abomination to let you pass without fighting.

GS: Give us an update on the game's development. Is it nearly complete now? What aspects of the game is the team working on?

MM: The game is practically complete. As I'm writing these words, we are two hours from finishing a master candidate. Now our team is just fixing some minor bugs, as everything else is done and working. The game will be published on October 26 in Europe (and on October 30 elsewhere), so it's about time to have it done.

The only thing more threatening than mutant monsters will be the other characters Geralt meets.

GS: Now that the game is close to being complete, how much thought is being given to continue the story of The Witcher, perhaps through an expansion pack or sequel? What can you tell us about any future plans?

MM: First, I need to urge fans not to worry about The Witcher being just "episode one" with an open ending and unfinished plots. The game is a stand-alone product, with an exciting beginning, a captivating story, and surprising endings. Still, we added some "just-in-case" elements that can be a base for a potential sequel.

We definitely have future plans, but we will make the final decision after finishing The Witcher. A lot of it will depend on how well the game does--a successful product might open up the door to sequels and maybe even console versions. As we are now focused on finishing the game and achieving the best possible quality, though, starting another project right now might be simply distracting. We'll finish The Witcher, have a short vacation, and then we will start thinking about other titles.

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48 comments
graavigala
graavigala

this game looks great.. but the only thing that bothers me is that in all the videos, the gameplay ones, all character are stiff like ironbars. i mean they do move little bit but still too stiff

Poisoned_Waffle
Poisoned_Waffle

"In this game, you must stop thinking about other characters as helpful pets with stats, but you have to treat them as living, thinking, and feeling individuals. " Heh. Looks great, and the fact he mentions that good sales will lead to console ports pleases me.

Putzwapputzen
Putzwapputzen

This game looks awesome!!!!, i cant wait to play it.

sbiggy
sbiggy

I will definitely buy this one in spite of the fact that it is for PC not for PS3. Playing games on consoles is a totally different experience comparing to PC.

GIJames248
GIJames248

Shoot, I have a feeling their "mature" story doesn't just mean it's thought provoking. Bummer because this seems like a great RPG.

gacmyver
gacmyver

yesh! this game sounds better and better every day!! huzzah!

tohle01
tohle01

The first book, The Last Wish, was just translated into English recently and released in the UK. You can probably import it from somewhere like amazon.co.uk -- it's coming to North America next year.

legrad
legrad

im from poland and read all Sapkowski's books For me thay r number 1 even better than tolkien :].it was translated to many lenguge so im sure that u can find eng version (sory for all mistake)

Kieron
Kieron

Hi, does anyone know if the novel that the game is based on has an english translation, and is it any good? Thanks!

legrad
legrad

Miejmy nadzieje ze bedzie rownie dobra jak ksiazki :] Sorry for lenguage but its first polish game sa my post is in polish :) Juz z gory gratuluje cd project

Platearmor_6
Platearmor_6

Is RTS's geting more action orientated a bad thing? Original C&C's and Total Annihilation were a bit before my time so I can't comment on them. But I see Company of Heroes and even WiC as more of an RTS than Command and Conquer Generals. There fast paced action also makes you have to think on your feet much faster than C&C Generals. In my eyes its a good thing, but as I said the old greats were a bit before my time so I really can't compare that well.

Maximiliator
Maximiliator

I hope the Witcher will rule, like Oblivion. In fact, i hope it will be even BETTER than Oblivion. Cause if its not, it would be rather a step back than forward, ¿ wouldnt it ?

Sunrie
Sunrie

Really interesting. The game is kind of looking like a Diablo game in full 3d

CzloviekVoodka
CzloviekVoodka

@constantinos7: system req are (for MEDIUM details): 1. Pentium 4 or AMD 2,8 GHz 2. 1 GB RAM 3. nVidia GeForce 6600 128MB RAM or similar ATI with 128MB (info from "CD Projekt RED"). I hope that this game will be at least as good as CD Projekt says 8-)

K_M82
K_M82

Humorguy_basic I do agree that PC game this days focus on action rather than actual strategy and role playing. But I don’t consider that a bad thing. You can still find deep strategy and role playing in some game but the numbers are dwindling. I think it’s like Hollywood. You know where the Oscar winner movie with best actor/actress, script, is never a box office. The box offices are always the ‘pop’ movies. In the early days of PC gaming all gamer are hard core. This day’s most gamers are casual gamers. Why should developer made a deep strategy and role playing for only a small number (compare to casual gamer) of hard core gamer? Of course the perfect solution is to make a game that is deep and at the same time can appeal to casual gamer. Not many game can accomplished this (again like the Oscar movies). I don’t think PC gaming are on decline. NPD data shows that PC game software is on the rise since 2005 (you can check this from news archive in gamespot). Too bad gamespot stop posting PC game sale from NPD in 2007. I would very much like to know the numbers of PC game software sale.

awsomaha
awsomaha

i'll have to wait and see what this game is like before I really comment on it. Sounds like a good premence, but Fable had one too and it didn't quite live up to expectations. It was fun, but I believe people over hyped it. So i will wait and see when it comes out and hopefully it has a demo so I can try before I make my decision.

teirdome
teirdome

I have to admit that I'm slightly skeptical after seeing that video. I'm just not a huge fan of the animation style (mid run immediately after click) and the interface looks really clunky and awkward. Hopefully they take some time to add polish to those elements.

Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

K_M82. Fair comments, but Ground Control was seen as different from the crowd and maybe started the whole thing about doing anything other than the fighting as 'boring' and other negatives as is said in the video review of World in Conflict (thanks for the correction!), this is leading to nothing but the action really, and it would seem Witcher, like so many PC games now, will focus more on the action and less on the roleplaying, just like WiC focuses more on the action than the strategy. With RPG's going more action orientated and RTS's going more action orientated, it would seem bar the odd title, action gaming will be the only gaming in town for those who play games on the PC (a fewer number every year unfortunately!)

Vasot
Vasot

Seems like a very promising game all around I will have it in my buy list

cybi9988
cybi9988

Best RPG of 2007 hands down.

K_M82
K_M82

Humorguy_basic, games are changing. But as a gamer you should be able to see it years before. World in Conflict (not world in action) is an evolution of some basic formula found in Ground Control (by the same developer released in 1998 I think, I love this formula btw, I finished GC1&2 and I will finished WiC). Is GC an RTS? See the concept of ‘harvesting resource’ in Company of Heroes? It’s different than ordinary RTS. It’s also an evolution of concept found in Warhammer 40K. The Witcher may be hack and slash, but it’s not the first one. All past Elder Scrolls are hack and slash. Do you define Elder Scrolls as an RPG? If you don’t like World in Conflict and the Witcher being called RPG than find your own definition of these games. I on the other hand will enjoy them no mater what they are called. I hope this game had as much freedom as Oblivion, but with better story. I love the gameplay in Oblivion, but after 20 hours of playing I lost interest in the story (which is nearly nonexistent in my opinion, for me a good story means a good character development, betrayal, romance, mystery, loyalty, bad guys with strong character, and other things. The protagonist in Oblivion didn't even have any motivation to do good things or bad things) and stopped playing altogether. A good story is what makes me want to play more, except if the game has good multiplayer component.

GoFeR24
GoFeR24

I'm really proud that i'm polish :). Can't wait for that game! Polish collector's edition is great! I've order it ;D. Sorry for my bad english! :)

myprecious27
myprecious27

I've been waiting for this game for so long...:) Only thirty days now:) huh

tomivav
tomivav

way to go CD projekt. finally some normaln mature rpg. nice interview too. the game's gonna be great.

froidnite
froidnite

@humorguy_basic Did you even read the full preview, or did you just read the heading and came to your usual conclusion that PC gaming is going downhill?

Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

So you hack and slash your way to victory, but Gamespot is calling it an RPG? Boy! is PC gaming changing quickly! Only the other day they said World In Action was a strategy game! What next? An FPS version of Planescape Torment with all the conversations and puzzle taken out leaving just the fighting? Even there, Gamespot would still callit an 'RPG' I presume!

BNB2000
BNB2000

I hate elves and I hope they all stay out of my games forever.

dykunas
dykunas

If most of the things they say about the game are true, then this is going to be a masterpiece

Goliathvv
Goliathvv

"but you have to treat them as living, thinking, and feeling individuals." Actually, they're not living, thinking and feeling individuals, they're just characters in a game programmed to do "that" if "this" occurs... But, other from that detail, this game really is a great promise! Choices that change the world... Adult storyline... Innovative character development... Can't wait anymore! Finally! Something new!

lordlors
lordlors

Yes! I can' t wait for this game. RPGs with adult and complex stories and not free roaming like Oblivion. The choices will really matter in this game unlike NWN 2.

psyph3r-cn
psyph3r-cn

I loved Oblivion, Looks like another classic in the making. Very interesting game, great music, good gameplay and lotta choices to make.

1valiantknight
1valiantknight

The devs on this game seem to have good heads on their shoulders, I have high hopes for The Witcher. Finally a mature rpg where choices really matter and make big differences.

cevic
cevic

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Chickensoup911
Chickensoup911

I want this game so much, I just started to like RPG's and I'm definately getting this when it comes out.

Maximiliator
Maximiliator

uh, i cant wait for this game, i´d like it to be llike Oblivion, with just a better fighting system ! And they MUSTN´T cut it. That games no fun without the "heart stabbing and head chopping" finishers !!! --- Max

KayHangman
KayHangman

I'm hoping the game surprises, too. I'm not fond of twitch combat in my RPGs where quick switching between techniques is necessary for battles, but depending on the gameplay style, it may very well work for me.

ppau08223
ppau08223

i hope this game turns out to be a pleasent surprise. this is going to be my rpg for the year and i hope it doesn't disappoint.

Gwarpup
Gwarpup

Hmm.. doesnt look anywhere near as good as Two Worlds but personally I just prefer Action RPGs to point-n-click. I like to be able to dodge attacks, jump over obsticles, run around targets swinging in and out of harms way. I also like to be able to run indoors or out without load screens and see out windows from indoors immersing you more in the world rather than loading up seperate locations contained within themselves. But still I may give this a try, if they make it challenging. Most of these RPGs today are just too easy to get too powerful and sweep through everything without any care of being beaten. Two Worlds is really bad at this. With only about 50% of the game done, I can kill anything that I've found without hardly being hurt, even without my armor. My bow kills anything usually in one hit before they even get close.

osleyee
osleyee

i can not wait for this game to come out i am going to pre-order its looks amazing wow the whole rpg gre is going to change by the witcher and hellgate london the witcher because of the story line and hellgate london because of the new enetive gameplay both games i am going to pre - order can not wait omggggggggggggggggggggggggggg i am so dam exited.

Lonelynight
Lonelynight

Please no console version :cry: I don't want another PC dev to become a console dev