The lights are on
You’re a sterile mutant who specializes in monster-slaying and lady-laying in a dark, brutal world. The potions you need to prevail in combat have the unfortunate side effect of turning your blood toxic. Most people hate you just a shade less than they need and fear you. You’re the witchiest of witchers: Geralt of Rivia.The Witcher 2 is an unabashedly hardcore role-playing game from a group of Polish developers who barely care about getting an M rating so they can make it onto U.S. store shelves, much less the T rating that most RPGs shoot for. Developer CD Projekt showed off part of the game’s first chapter at this year’s E3, and it’s looking fantastic.The all-new rendering engine built specifically for The Witcher 2 shows off the demo’s lush forests and badass heroes in gorgeous detail. Stepping off of a boat from parts unknown, Geralt and his two companions are quickly accosted by an elven revolutionary with beef with the dude at Geralt’s side. After a short exchange where it becomes clear that this antagonist is only interested in killing Geralt’s friend for past war crimes which appear to fall just short of genocide, the fight is on.Geralt’s lady sorceress friend, Triss, brings up a forcefield to prevent all three of them from being instantly slain in the ensuing archer ambush. Like all magic in this world, this exacts a heavy price – Triss’ nose spews blood as she collapses to the ground, conscious but weak. Geralt’s assassination target buddy picks her up as the group makes its way through the murderous woods toward a safe town.Using sword and spell, Geralt defends his friends from a steady stream of elves entering the bubble that Triss is still projecting as the group advances. This showcase of The Witcher 2’s combat is a welcome sight; an unusual timing-based combat system was the original game’s biggest flaw. This flowing system is a variation on familiar third-person brawling mechanics, allowing Geralt to mix various strikes and spells together seamlessl and switch targets mid-assault. The demo wasn’t hands-on, unfortunately, but Geralt’s moves looked great.The trio eventually makes it to town, and the elves break off their attack in the face of heavily armed guardsmen at the perimeter. Inside the rough palisade, excitement has the citizens crowding the town square. A hanging is in progress – not an unusual occurrence in this brutal land. A fancily dressed fop on the gallows calls out to Geralt for help, and so the witcher insists to the guard overseeing things that his friend the gentlemen could not possibly be a traitor. “The bard hangs for debauchery,” declares the guard – an all-too-likely crime.At this point, the new conversation system makes its presence felt. Some of Geralt’s responses have a time limit as he argues with the guard, putting pressure on the player when Geralt is in tense situations. Action continues around the scene as the conversation continues, with another criminal making his final descent from the gallows and townsfolk interjecting during the dialogue. Ultimately, Geralt has a choice: enforce his will by force (as he can surely do; these podunk town guards are no match for a legendary monster slayer) or try to pressure the guard by getting the mob on his side. Choosing the latter, Geralt appeals to the citizens’ sense of fairness and morality, riling them up with the revelation that any one of them could be convicted of debauchery should the guards get it into their heads to pick on them. The developers explain that choosing this course, while more difficult, will lead to opportunities later in the game as people remember Geralt’s good deeds.This section of our demo concludes with Geralt and his companions leading a fistfight to free the bard from hanging. The developers then teleport to the conclusion of Act I: the boss fight against a monstrous “tentadrake.”This tentacled beast attacks Geralt with its enormous appendages, spewing poison gas at him should he approach its vulnerable core too closely. By setting a magical trap and then dodging out of the way of its tentacle slaps, Geralt is able to stun and sever them. After lopping off three of its many tentacles, Geralt jumps on top of a tentacle that comes at him from the side – a new method of attack as the encounter enters this second phase. Clinging to the tentacle and stabbing it to slightly steer it, he gets the monster to smash an overhanging bridge down onto itself. Finally pinned to the ground, the tentadrake is vulnerable to Geralt running up a chunk of masonry and delivering a coup de grace.The E3 2010 Witcher 2 demo ends here, but not before making me want it more than I already did. Its spring 2011 release can’t come soon enough.