CD Projekt's first game, 2007's The Witcher, was a feast for content-starved RPG gamers on the PC. A bit rough around the edges, the game still managed to charm the audience with its deep RPG mechanics and rich storyline. The Witcher 2 improved on the original in every way, particularly in the polish [har har...Polish polish! - Ed], although it's still somewhat short of the big-budget production values of today's AAA titles.
It was with much interest and some trepidation, then, that we went into a 45-minute presentation of the Xbox 360 version of the game, on display for the very first time since it was unveiled just before E3.
To ensure we got the full experience of the variable narrative (there are 16 different endings, depending on choices you make) and to showcase the different ways in which you can approach the gameplay, we were shown two different (live) play-throughs of the same level. The section of the game, which we won't detail too much for fear of spoiling the experience, requires that Geralt (the titular Witcher) escapes from a dungeon.
One of the key aspects of the title, as mentioned, is the variable narrative. Like any decent RPG, you have choices to make - choices that the developer has specifically crafted to be morally ambiguous, in order that you have to think about what you're doing. This was clearly demonstrated in the playthroughs by ensuring that a key character was alive in one version, and dead in the other - at which point their place in the story is taken by their mother (more on her - shudder - in a bit). It's not just a straight replacement, either; each character is integral to the way the level plays out, but in each case the narrative and mechanics were completely different.
Another strong feature for the title is variability in the way you play the game. You can approach situations from an all-out, high-brutality point of view (typically the obvious way to play), or you can think about the situation and use your abilities and timing to sneak around enemies - something the game sets out to encourage, by actively rewarding with more XP when players go down this path. In the demo, Geralt snuck around using something similar to "force push" (Star Wars) to extinguish torches, which made him less visible to the guards, while also taking advantage of cover to conceal himself during guard patrols.
If you do decide to kill a certain NPC, his mother will be in his place when you get up to this part in the game, be warned - when you find her, she's chained up and not wearing a top. This isn't normally something we'd get upset about but...her son's not young, so, you do the math.
Otherwise, the game is looking good, although the series' familiar lack of polish (as we've come to expect from the large, established, heavily financed American developers - in most cases...) was certainly present. The game is still pre-alpha, though, and CD Projekt (pronounced "CD Pro-yect") stressed that they're focused on making it a polished experience, in line with expectations on the platform. They're also not simply porting the game, and are making changes where necessary to ensure it suits the console format (including adding some light quick-time event (QTE) sequences).
Console gamers looking for a hardcore RPG that's a little bit different - this is certainly one to watch. CD Projekt promise this is going to be one of the deepest, richest RPG experiences ever - and easily so for the Xbox 360 platform. This is a bold claim indeed and one we're eager to put to the test, so keep an eye on the site for more news and information as and when we can get our hands on it.
The Good: They're not just porting the game.
The Bad: This is CD Projekt's first console game.
The Ugly: Old ladies topless. Cannot be unseen.