The Basics: Part of a larger resurgence of both PC gaming and PC role-playing, The Witcher looks to stand among the big name titles due this year. The name tends to puzzle at first, but it makes sense in a "Mario Mario" kind of way. CDProjekt, may not be on your watch list, but they're a well-known developer in Europe for their excellent localizations of BioWare’s role-playing games. It makes sense that after years of translating the amazing works of the Canadian RPG doctor's work, they'd want to tackle an original RPG title.
And what a project they're building. Famed Polish fantasy author Andrzej Sapkowski has lent his worlds and characters for the original story, an award winning Polish director is lending his talents on cut scene production, and the canucks have licensed out the Neverwinter Nights Aurora engine. All this talent is producing some big words like "non-linear," "multiple endings," "character customization," and even "adult."
What we think: The invite-only demonstration of The Witcher at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo began with several cinematic videos showcasing the world, the back-story, and the races that make up the game. Our initial impressions weren't rosy. Words like "overwrought" and "heavy-handed" filled our notepads, and while part of the charm of role-playing games is that the player is allowed to dig as deep as they want, execution can essentially make or break the developer’s efforts. The story and world, for example, are influenced and based around a famed Polish fantasy author Andrzej Sapkowski… this sounds great on paper, but sadly doesn't mean much to those of us who've never read his works. Yet, despite our negative feelings about the cinematic videos, we're encouraged by the knowledge that the world and story have at least been influenced by something original. The last thing gamers needed was another "save the world because you forgot who you were anyway" storyline.
What we did see was remarkably darker in tone and language than your usual Tolkien-esque dwarves and elves fantasy adventure. We weren't able to follow the history of the game universe, but to say that players will be starting out on their adventure in the darkest days of the known world is an understatement. We were also surprised by the inclusion of themes like hate, racism, and genocide.
Once we actually got our eyes on the game itself, our impressions improved dramatically. The main hero, a "professional monster slayer" called Geralt, was a refreshing breath of fresh air for those tired of Square Enix's gender-confused leads. Like Hellgate it appears the developers at CDProjekt are tinkering with the idea that magic use can have a visually negative effect on a hero. Geralt appears to be disliked even by those he saves because of the darkness he's consumed in order to carry out his work.
Oh, and how he works! The combat system looked a little awkward, but we liked the way magic, abilities, and swordplay all come together. It reminded us a bit of Oblivion with the viewpoint and control scheme of a slower-paced tactical Diablo. Sword combat in the game revolves around stances and styles (six in all) that are influenced by real-world medieval sword techniques.