E3 06: The Witcher Updated Impressions

We get an updated look at CD Projekt's dark fantasy role-playing game at E3 2006.


LOS ANGELES--CD Projekt's fantasy role-playing game The Witcher was on hand at E3 2006, and we took the opportunity to get an updated look. The game will be based on the popular Polish fantasy novels of the same name by author Andrzej Sapkowski. The original fiction tells the tale of Geralt, a being who was once human but suffered a powerful mutation in his youth to gain superhuman strength and tentative sorcery powers to become a "witcher," one who hunts hideous monsters that besiege the game's postapocalyptic fantasy world. Lead designer Michal Madej suggested that the game's world, which is inhabited by stock fantasy creatures such as elves and dwarves, won't conform to the kind of colorful, lighthearted stories common to fantasy fiction. Instead, since the game takes place in the wake of a bloody war after which the land became divided by unscrupulous robber barons and paranoid peasantry seeking someone to blame, The Witcher will instead focus on themes of intolerance and racial prejudice, as well as moral ambiguity. Please be advised that this story may contain minor spoilers.

We watched several different demonstrations of the game in action. The first demonstration showed off the game's combat system, which can apparently be handled with nothing but your mouse in one hand. However, despite the control scheme's ease of use, the combat system seems to have surprising depth. You'll apparently be able to left-click your mouse to swing your weapon and right-click to perform evasive maneuvers, but your timing and spacing will determine exactly what Geralt does. For instance, right-clicking on a nearby space may cause Geralt to simply sidestep, while rapidly right-clicking on a spot further away may cause him to hop or tumble backward. On the attack, since Geralt is an expert swordsman, he can attack with a series of vicious combination swings and thrusts by clicking the left mouse button in sequence with onscreen cues, and he can also choose from numerous different fighting styles, such as "strong," "fast," and "group," which are effective in different situations.

We then watched a demonstration of one of the game's moral decisions in action. In this scene, we had captured a traitorous human and escorted him to the stronghold of the other Witchers and were faced with the option of releasing him in exchange for crucial information or killing him. As Madej explained, killing the treacherous prisoner would prevent him from rejoining his comrades, who would later ambush and slay one of Geralt's best friends, while letting the man go would eventually lead to a series of events that would end with the death of his lady love. Madej opted for the third option--to wait for the council of Witchers to return and pass judgment. The heartless monster hunters proposed such creative solutions as immediately butchering the man, torturing the man for information, or using a truth serum which would also cause permanent brain damage. As Madej explained, the world of The Witcher will not be a pleasant one, nor will it be one where decisions can be made without consequence. The lead designer warned that unlike other role-playing games from years past, there won't be any decisions that result in an optimal, morally simple solution. Every key decision will likely yield some kind of reward, but also require some kind of sacrifice, and the consequences won't always be revealed immediately.

We ended our demonstration of the game with an updated look at the graphics engine, which is powered by a heavily modified version of BioWare's Aurora engine, the same that powered the original Neverwinter Nights. The game seems to do a great job of rendering the game's detailed outdoor environments, good-looking water effects, and more than 200 different combat animations. All things considered, The Witcher is an intriguing role-playing game that should hopefully combine the trappings of modern gameplay with the classic role-playing sensibilities of well-developed characters and complex storylines. The game is scheduled for release next year.

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