Features & News
Preview/Interview: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
December 17, 2010, Author: Ray Willmott
The Witcher was a cult classic title, met with acclaim from a hardcore fanbase, but unfortunately, overlooked by the majority. As an interviewer, I confess that I still haven’t played the original, which I’m quite ashamed of. Yet, after speaking to some of the development team behind Assassins of Kings, they were very forgiving, told me what I’ve been missing and were still very keen to show me what they’ve been working on for the last year.
I have to tell you, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings looks amazing, the detail, even with such an early build, is fantastic. The look and feel of the Witcher’s World is breathtaking and frankly, RPG fans should be very excited come 2011. Alongside Ready Up, I interviewed one of the developers, more specifically, Level Designer and Project Director Tomasz Gop, to find out more about their latest endeavour.
The demonstration began with the development team showing us an early scene in the game where the Witcher is kidnapped and locked in a cell. The Witcher has been stripped of all his clothes, he has scars wreathed all down his back and his hair is blood sodden, basically he looks like hell. The developers explained to us that there are several ways for us, as players, to escape the cell. You can either use the tactful route or the violent route. The developers also explained that the players will know how to get out of the shackles at this point. In the demonstration, discretion was shown to be the better part of valour as The Witcher asked the guards to come into the cell, prompting them close to him and then he assaulted them when they got in close. The Witcher was then able to loot the guards, taking clothes and their weapons and escape the cell. The game has a new, improved combat system that differs from the original, which was an often-requested feature and seemed to be very reliant on counter strikes and blocking. The developers said, while it was easy to learn, it is also difficult to master and is just as technical and balanced as it was in the original game.
The developers told us that you can apply the same tactics all throughout the game, whereby you can play stealthily or brutally and claim XP as you go through. However, we were told that if you chose to be more stealthy with your actions, the game will award you more experience.
When equipping the looted armour and weaponry, we were briefly shown the new character customisation screen. We were told that everything can be changed; from what the Witcher is wearing and what he is carrying. You will also be able to craft weapons when schematics are found and you’ll be able to upgrade your weapons with a rune. Some of this will be familiar to people who’ve played the original Witcher but to those that haven’t, we were told you’ll still be able to ease into the game.
While it is the Witcher’s main goal to escape the prison, exploration is also greatly rewarded and we were shown an example of this when we were taken into the basement and found a naked woman in another cell being tortured. We were told that because of the player’s actions earlier on in the game by killing a human male, we are actually seeing his mother being tortured in front of us. Had the player not killed the male, then it would be he who is being tortured right now. You can choose to ignore the torture of the woman or you can lend a helping hand and aid her, which will in turn help you and ultimately make it easier for you to escape the prison. This was used as an example to show us just how important choices are in The Witcher 2. The way the story works out is completely dependant on choices and each choice will affect the games overall outcome.
Eventually, we escape the prison, mostly confining The Witcher to the shadows, although occasionally having to engage in battle. This also gave the developers the opportunity to demonstrate the newly improved Cat Potion. In the original Witcher, by taking the potion, you would be able to see in the darkness. In AOK, by taking the Cat Potion you’ll be able to see in the dark, but you’ll also be able to see through walls, which looked very reminiscent of Sam Fisher’s heat seeker vision in the Splinter Cell games. Very cool!
After some further fighting, we escaped the prison and managed to get out of the dingy, dark underground and out into the wide, open-world of the Witcher. The developers took us on a quick tour of the World, showcasing the game’s graphics, revealing a taster of all the locations in the World in glorious detail. Not only was this a breathtaking glimpse at the games marvellous, beautiful engine, it also gave us some perspective as to how big this game will be. The developers were very keen to point out that the whole World of the Witcher will be playable and you’ll be able to visit every area. They also said that the game will not have any loading screens and the game will load in the background while you play. Impressive!
The second half of the demonstration showed us a war-torn battlefield which shows what else the new engine is capable of. Not only is it a graphical marvel to behold, it also allows for epic battles that were not possible before, allowing one hundred characters on the screen at any one time. We were shown a cursed battleground, filled with soldiers, some of them ghosts that the character will not be able to interact with. The Witcher was able to roam around the battlefield freely, meeting demons and creatures he needed to fight. There are also aspects of the battlefield that can be used for cover during battle. The battlefield also showed the imagination of the development team and the author, as abominations of all types, shapes and sizes could be seen. Eventually, The Witcher came into contact with the commander of the forces, Draul. We were advised that we would need to employ a more tactical approach during the battle with the commander and we couldn’t just run in, hack and slash and expect to beat him.
However, just when we thought we’d seen it all, the engine shocked us again, showing its capability for weather effects. An enormous tornado (not dissimilar to the one that went to Kansas and went medieval on Dorothy’s house) appeared on-screen and comes gunning for the Witcher. As it tries to catch you, it will destroy anything that gets in its path, taking parts of the battlefield with it. It’s clear CD Projekt’s new engine isn’t afraid to destroy the beautiful things it creates!
This gave us a brief look at the game, which looks absolutely fantastic and it certainly whet our appetite for the final product due out next year. From here, Tomasz Gop, one of the development team on hand took some questions from both myself and Ready Up! Here’s what was said…
RU: Do you think, with all the engines and possibilities, there is enough content in the game to keep players coming back for multiple playthroughs and to experience all endings without being bored?
“A lot of work has been put into the game to ensure replayability. There are so many different twists and turns in the story that have been added to keep making things interesting. Your experience will change every time you play depending on who you stick with, who you kill and who you allow to live. In all, there will be 16 different endings in The Witcher 2 .16 different states in which the game will end.”
RU: Will this be released on consoles?
“We are doing everything we possibly can to make The Witcher 2 available for consoles. We’re not announcing anything until we have something solid to show.”
RU: What aspects from the first game do you feel have been improved the most?
“We listened to all the feedback from the fans, some things sounded out to us more than others. Some people weren’t happy with the combat. Some said it was too hardcore and that the entry threshold was too high. We’ve certainly listened to that and changed things in The Witcher 2. That said, advanced tactics are still as rich and as prevalent as they were in the first game, but not only are they hard to master, they are also easy to learn. We’ve also added an easier difficulty which eliminates the need for advanced tactics altogether.”
RW: In The Witcher 1, Bioware’s Aurora Engine was used. What is the name of the engine powering Witcher 2 and are you enjoying using it?
“Firstly, I’d like to point out that we didn’t change the games engine because the Aurora engine was bad. When it was used in The Witcher 1, at the time, it was the best on the market. When we came into The Witcher 2, we had new ideas for the game; we wanted to go in a new direction and wanted to make the storytelling more immersive. It was at this point we realised that the Aurora engine would not fulfil all of our intentions for The Witcher 2. At this point, we decided to start from scratch and thus, created the TSOOD engine. The TSOOD engine is a tailor-made RPG engine, somewhat of a rarity on the market today. This was customised and tailor-made to our wants and desires for The Witcher 2, we feel it fully meets our needs.”
RW: Would you consider outsourcing the engine after work on The Witcher 2 is complete?
“Naturally, we need to create one game that is proven to run successfully on this engine. Once we can prove that, I certainly see this as a natural progression.”
RU: Do you feel The Witcher 2 offers a natural jumping on point for people new to Witcher? Do you need to know the first game to get most out of it?
“We’ve designed The Witcher 2 so that you don’t have to have played the first game. This story is an entirely separate entity and represents a new chapter in The Witcher’s World. Most crucial things from the first game are explained when playing game, so you won’t feel like you’re missing out on anything. However, we have rewarded people who played and finished the first game and we’ve made it possible to import your save game over from first game. By doing this, some characters will react differently to you than if you were just playing the game for the first time without any previous experience with The Witcher.”
RW: Could you tell us a bit about the premise of game? How long is it set after original Witcher?
“The game is set almost immediately after the events of The Witcher 1. If you’d played the original Witcher, the outro of the game shows an attempt on the life of the King Foltest by someone who looks like The Witcher. Geralt will once again face these assassins who look like The Witcher in the second game. As expected, within The Witcher 2, there are still places of rebellion and unrest and this sets the scene for the second game, with people showing apprehension toward The Witcher.”
RU: What sets this apart from other RPGs?
“These games are based on books and we were able to draw a great deal of insight from the books when adapting the games as the characters are described so well and the personalities set them apart from other games.”
RW: I noticed that The Witcher had some scarring on his body in the jailbreak scenario. Is this indicative of long-term damage being conveyed graphically into the game? Can all the battles The Witcher faces be shown to take their toll on him as he proceeds through the adventure?
“The scarring is part of the story and occurs when something bad happens to the Witcher while he is tortured. The scars are always there from the start of the game to the end, but will only really be visible at this point in the game as the Witcher isn’t wearing any clothes.”
RU: Will The Witcher get his loving back on? Surely he will, right?
“There is romance in-game and will be cinematic.”
RW: Will there be an easy way just to obtain the endings in-game? For example, In Fallout, you could just reload the final scene of the game and change the outcome that way. Is this the same for The Witcher 2?
“This is an open world game and not as linear as the first. We wanted to tell the story of The Witcher 2 on a grander scale and as such there are so many different decisions and outcomes for those decisions. There will be no easy way to load the game just to get an ending. You will need to influence the state of the World over time and the state of the World will determine how your game will end.”
RU: What was your favourite part of game or favourite aspect?
“I think it would have to be the graphics; I love the visual aspect of game. I think this will be the best looking rpg of 2011. *laughs*
I also love the scale, the huge monsters in the game and the way you will fight them. We’ve really worked hard on this.”
RW: Last question. I know The Witcher is a very technical game and I know you’re talking of converting the game to consoles. How much of a challenge do you feel it will be to convert the game’s controls to a game controller?
“It’s already done. We’ve got the game playing on a controller right now! Some actions will be more difficult to perform than others, some will require several button presses but we can play The Witcher 2 via a controller right now!”
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is scheduled to be released May 17th 2011 on PC.