The Witcher Updated Impressions

We meet with CD Projekt at the 2006 Games Convention and check out the latest version of its upcoming role-playing game.

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LEIPZIG, Germany--During the recent 2006 Games Convention in Leipzig we had an opportunity to spend some time with CD Projekt, which we last met with at the Electronic Entertainment Expo earlier this year. CD Projekt has been working on its Andrzej Sapkowski-inspired role-playing game The Witcher for some time now, and although the presentation that we were given on this occasion bore more than a passing resemblance to the one at E3, progress has clearly been made in the months between the two events.

The environments you'll get to explore really are quite beautiful.
The environments you'll get to explore really are quite beautiful.

For part one of our presentation we were ushered into a small makeshift theater, where we were reacquainted with Geralt, the game's main character, via a beautifully prerendered movie. We then watched a cinematic cutscene powered by the game engine, which will appear at the start of the game and which went some way to showing off just what CD Projekt's modified version of BioWare's Aurora engine is capable of. At first glance, The Witcher's environments reminded us of those in Fable, but they're a lot more detailed here, and it appears that you'll have much more freedom to explore them in this game than in Molyneux's 2004 offering.

The first area of The Witcher that we were invited to take a look at during our meeting was its combat, which will be played out in real time and appears to be quite fast-paced. Since Geralt is a swordmaster, many of his moves--which span some 200-plus animations--are based on medieval combat techniques. Geralt is skilled in six different swordfighting styles, which include steel and silver variants of the strong, fast, and group techniques. Each of these styles will be effective in a different situation and against a different kind of enemy, so while the group steel style is best used against gangs of weak human thugs and the like, for example, the strong silver style will be useful when you're confronted by large monsters, such as werewolves.

In addition to his skills as a swordsman, Geralt will gain access to magical abilities as you progress through the game. Details on these are scarce at present, but during our presentation we got to see fireball projectiles and a spherical shield, the latter of which was shown only after we'd watched Geralt deflecting incoming arrows with his sword. We were also told about a magical trap ability that will let Geralt lay a trap that stuns enemies who walk into it, a telekinetic blast, and a mind-influencing power, but we didn't get to see any of these in action.

Next up was a tech demo of sorts, in which we got to watch Geralt walking around a picturesque environment while a member of the development team sped up the day and night cycle and triggered weather effects on command. The transition from day to night--complete with clouds moving across the sky and a beautiful sunset--was quite impressive, as was the sunshine giving way to gray skies, drizzle, torrential rain, and ultimately a thunderstorm. We were told that many of the monsters in the game will come out only at certain times of day or when the weather conditions suit them, which promises to make traveling through the same areas a different experience each time you do it.

When admiring a sunset, remember that some monsters like to come out after dark.
When admiring a sunset, remember that some monsters like to come out after dark.

Our demonstration of The Witcher came to a close with a sneak peek at two of the potions/elixirs that you can brew using your alchemy skill and then use to temporarily augment your abilities in the game. Interestingly, all of the potions are poisonous, so when their effects wear off you'll have to deal with some nasty side effects for a while, such as losing consciousness, temporary blindness, or a noticeable reduction in one of your attributes. The first mixture that we saw was a night-vision potion, which turned the entire screen black and white but highlighted living things in color--more like thermal vision. The second was alcohol, which blurred the screen and did a disturbingly good job of making us feel like we had double vision for a time. Alcohol will adversely affect your abilities in combat, but after drinking it you'll find that your improved social skills let you get more information from characters that you're talking to in a bar, for example.

No publisher has been confirmed for The Witcher at this time, but CD Projekt hopes to announce one in the near future. We look forward to bringing you more information on the game as soon as it becomes available.

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