We’ve written about The Witcher a couple of times before, and in each successive occasion our opinion has improved. However, after a couple E3s of claims, this is the first time that CDProjekt has given a more substantial demonstration of their plans.
As always, the game’s definitive feature is the idea of consequences. Every action the player takes, or doesn’t take, has a consequence. Most often, there is no good choice or wrong choice, just shades of gray. How you treat a prisoner will have immediate and long-term effects. You can kill him swiftly and mercifully, but not find out that a friend is in trouble and needs rescue. If you choose to be “persuasive”, there are varying degrees of sadism – torture, or a potion that will make him talk but drive him insane. Or, finally, you can do the naïve and honorable thing by letting him go, and he’ll help you of his own accord.
However you may find that letting him go will mean that the location of your secret base becomes known to your enemies, who will attack it and keep your friends from joining you in the future. How you torture him can reveal different information about friends who may be in trouble, and then you’ll find out that you could have saved one but not another. Since the results of your decisions may take many hours into the game to be fully realized, this isn’t a matter of saving and loading until you reach your optimal gaming experience.
Another unique feature of The Witcher is that it has a fully mouse-driven control scheme. In the game there is no need for keyboard controls, even during combat. Attacks are driven entirely by clicking, but there is method to it rather than mere Diablo-style madness. Proper timing of clicks, as indicated by the cursor, will set off combos on your foe. You also have the choice of styles – fast, strong, or group – and should choose appropriately based on your situation in combat. The mouse even permits defensive tricks like diving away to dodge with a mere double-click. Being an RPG, the key is character progression in stats as well as story, and Geralt, the central character in the Witcher books as well as the game, can improve his skills for longer combos, power attacks and even deflecting arrows with his sword. Combat is quite fluid, thanks to roughly two hundred different combat animations, though we’re not certain if these are exclusive to Geralt, human characters in general, or all beings in the game.
Despite the fact that the game’s major advances seem to be in the gameplay department, the developers seem just as proud of the improvements to the game engine. Based on BioWare’s Aurora Engine that powered Neverwinter Nights, the renderer powering The Witcher’s graphics has been completely rewritten. Gone is the tile-based terrain in favor of traditional hand-designed settings that feature multiple lightmaps that adjust as dawn changes into noon, dusk and finally night. Pixel shaders, bump maps, specular light and more technobabble than we care to repeat are also featured. More interesting in itself is the water, which not only ripples (even from rain!), but has current.
Speaking of which, weather conditions change from day to day and even hour to hour. Characters also have schedules and will be found doing tasks appropriate to the time of day and weather settings. Don’t expect much traffic in the streets if the skies are pouring water, or if it’s late at night. On the other hand, certain monsters may only be found in specific conditions – like foggy days or night time.
The Witcher has progressed well from the last time we saw it at E3, and we can’t wait to test out the game, to see if all the features – especially the delayed and inevitable consequences – live up to the hype. There is no final release date, though CDProjekt assures us that development is far enough along that the major issue at hand is scheduling with a publisher, rather than worrying about development delays.