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The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Platform: PC
Publisher: Atari
Developer: CD Projekt RED
Genre: Action RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Release: US Q1 2011



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Villians, Heroes... or somewhere in between?
 
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Someone is about to get taken down.
 
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This is not a main character, I promise.
 
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The elves are back.
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John McCarroll
Hands-On Preview
06/27/10
John McCarroll

It was incredibly good to hear from Tomasz Gop, Producer at CD Projekt RED, that The Witcher has sold more than 1.5 million copies worldwide. He said that it proved that the RPG on the PC was alive and kicking in a market now dominated with MMORPGs. The original title provided gamers with a mature story, where mature didn't mean, "there's swearing and gore in this game." It provided a fun - if flawed - combat system, and it provided a game where choices were just as they appeared to be. There was no light side or dark side, renegade or paragon, there was simply the way the player chose to do things. So with that, CD Projekt RED has returned, and with what? A brand new engine for their game, new combat, more dialogue, and it's all simply better.

Fans of The Witcher will be happy to know that the story follows directly after the first game and continues straight apace. While we weren't able to see any in-depth plot devices, it was clear that the second game will have the same fantastic 'grey' dialogue that the first game had. For those who are fans of BioWare titles, you may know that the choices in those games seem to be very black and white; it's either give the orphan some food or murder him. Geralt is a "hero" in the vaguest sense of the term, and players are given choice in that fashion - there are no "paragon" or "renegade" choices, there are simply a multitude of choices that have different consequences. That is the major thing that made The Witcher stand out from other games, and The Witcher 2 carries that torch well. No longer using BioWare's Aurora engine (the engine from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic), but their own new in-house engine, CD Projekt RED is able to add and remove characters to conversations on the fly, making dialogue much more realistic and dynamic. No longer are you constrained to just talking to one person in any given dialogue. With this, CD Projekt RED can add events into dialogue, allowing characters to take action that wouldn't be otherwise available in a one-on-one dialogue.

That's not all that's been improved with the shift to a new engine, as combat was completely reworked. While this is a PC game (at least initially, our fact sheet states that there will be console versions at some undetermined point in the future), some players will be happy to note that they can use a gamepad or a mouse/keyboard setup - our demo at E3 was actually done with an Xbox 360 controller. With this, combat is no longer rhythmic; tapping the mouse button at the right time like Phantasy Star Online isn't necessary, and players also don't need to worry about switching from style to style. With different button presses, players will use different types of attacks on the fly and create dynamic combos. It's a significant improvement over the first title's combat, which was good to begin with.

Also improved are the game's graphics: Geralt and company have very high-quality models that are copuled with fantastic animations. I was blown away by just how much the game has improved. The original title looked great for running on an engine that was used for an original Xbox title, and it ran smoothly. The second title looks absolutely gorgeous and there were no frame rate dips that I could see. Of course, I don't know the kind of hardware our demo unit was running on, but the original title ran well enough on mid-range systems, so I don't expect this title to be any different. Also quality is the voice acting - there was some English VA for our E3 demo and it was simply great. If the rest of the game follows suit, gamers will have a top-notch game to look forward to.

The Witcher 2 isn't a groundbreaking title, nor is it a huge shift in direction for the series. It's a game that is simply improved in every way from its predecessor, and that's what gamers are looking for in a direct sequel. If the rest of the game is as top-notch as the demo we saw, and CD Projekt RED's history should give us no doubt that it will be, Assassins of Kings will sell even more copies than the original title. Watch for The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings in 2011.



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