The Witcher 2 (console) – E3 Preview

One hero you won't want to mess with...

With CD Projekt Red’s E3 ‘mystery’ presentation not on our schedule until the last day, it was unsurprising that details were released before we’d got the chance to find out for ourselves what it was, but to be honest, I didn’t mind. To discover that we would be seeing Witcher 2 for consoles immediately grabbed my attention, largely thanks to the PC release being close to the top of my ‘ must buy list’ when I could fit it in.  The first game had boasted a dark, in-depth storyline, brutal combat, and mature themes of violence and, for once, sex.  The sequel, released for PC on 17th May, far outstripped the success of its predecessor, selling just over 400k copies on its first week alone.  It is little surprise then that CD Projekt RED are bringing their dark RPG to the console, hoping to emulate its PC success and bringing their admirable customer care attitude with them.

Set a few months after the last game left off, the Witcher 2 once again focuses on Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher, trained from childhood to hunt demons and monsters, and who possesses a number of heightened abilities, such as speed, strength, and regeneration.  When the game opens, Geralt – far from a typical hero, with his scarred, rugged look – is languishing in prison, jailed for regicide, and as the player you are tasked with making your escape and exacting revenge; hopefully finding a few answers along the way.  Of course, there is a great deal more to the story – the plot of the first was labyrinthine, which was unsurprising since it is based on a series of popular fantasy novels by Polish author, Andrzej Sapkowski – but to go into any further detail would be to risk spoilers.

After a quick introduction, we were shown a trailer for the PC version to give us an idea of the game’s scope, but the first thing which impressed me was that it was all in-game footage.  It was dynamic, brutal, and unrelentingly gritty, but utterly absorbing, with fast swordplay and an oddly enigmatic protagonist.  The developers  from CD Projekt RED were keen to stress that the console version would be far from a straight port; it is more of an adaptation and thus “closer to a native console release”.  The Xbox360 version will also be shipping with all ten of the current PC upgrades and content expansions, cost free, in what was a smart move.

The presentation progressed to a live gameplay demo of the prison section and at once, I was struck by the impressive level of detail on display with Witcher 2’s eye-catching visuals.  The proprietary RED engine was clearly working hard, showing the usual dungeon furniture in fine form, such as the dank stonework lit by odd green luminescence and flickering torches, while the vicious whip marks on Geralt’s bare, but lithe, torso were enough to make me wince.  Making his escape, my eyes were still drawn to the scenery around Geralt: the hanging chains, iron maidens, and cages adorning the hellish prison above worn flagstones and occasionally pitted floors.  As he made his way through the maze of corridors, I noticed some screen tearing, but reminded myself it wasn’t a finished build, so could probably be forgiven.  Whether this will be an issue present in the finished release is unknown, obviously, but if you’re the sort who is bothered by such things, you may well be better off opting for the graphically superior PC version (but think about the missed achievements).

Geralt stealthed his way through the dungeon, taking out guards as he went and eventually came upon a torture chamber where we got a first glimpse at the game’s mature credentials.  A noblewoman was chained to the wall, stripped to the waist and on the verge of having her bare boobs tortured with a hot poker.  Game or not, that has to smart.  We paused at this point to switch to another member of the development team who would be traversing the same dungeon in a less discreet manner i.e. hacking his way through the guard population.

It was during this demonstration that we would see first hand the effects of the players’ choices and decisions; the prison section would play out differently based on whether or not the player had killed a character previously or not and ‘how’ they chose to play the game.  The Witcher 2 has a complex, non-linear storyline which is directed and altered by the choices the player makes.  Not only is the content mature, but in a game that has been dubbed  a “hardcore, pure-blooded, and full bodied RPG”, a mature approach has also been taken with the storyline.  The choices Geralt will face and the paths upon which he opts to embark are rarely black and white but, rather, many shades of grey – like any good story – and many of them will be morally ambiguous.  With 16 possible endings, the story – spread out over three large acts – promises to be a treat for hardcore RPG gamers who may looking for something a little darker than usual before the upcoming Kingdoms of Amalur, Fable: The Journey, or Skyrim.

Of course, the other key elements of a good RPG haven’t been neglected either and the combat was suitably brutal and fast paced.  Geralt wields two swords, and can unleash a variety of attacks and defensive moves, including ranged attacks, and even has the ability to set traps – which we saw demonstrated to good effect.  In addition to this he possesses magical abilities and can make use of alchemy skills to whip up a few handy potions for such things as improved night vision and damage resistance.  His core skills can be boosted on levelling up, whereby a talent point will be awarded and can be assigned to one of the talent trees: Training, Swordsmanship, Alchemy, and Magic.  XP is gained from quest completion and story progression and additional side-quests can be found on various notice boards or from NPCs in the traditional style, often comprising the ‘monster hunting’ variety which utilise Geralt’s Witcher talents.

With weapon crafting and alchemy also on the bill, it more than checks the RPG most wanted list and ensures something for (hopefully) every player.  While console graphics will never best a top class PC, the console version of the Witcher 2 appears to do itself justice, with not only detailed textures, but satisfying lighting effects such as magical attacks and triggered traps illuminating their surroundings, while scraps and sword fights result in dust kicked up and rodents sent scurrying for cover.  The final cinematic that we are shown was riveting, with armies clashing beneath devastated towers and lofty strongholds, while missiles arced overhead, swords clashed, and blood spilled.

The Witcher 2’s dark, gritty feel and brutal action pull few punches and these things, along with the mature nature of the game, all appealed to me greatly.  And I’m not alone, it would appear; Witcher 2 has a massive fan-base, which is well looked after by the developers who are unflinching in their determination to keep all additional upgrades and content DRM and cost free – a philosophy that they plan to carry over to the console… though how this will sit with Microsoft remains to be seen.

I couldn’t fail to be impressed from what I saw and with the game looking set for a Q3/4 release, it may well be the gritty, visceral RPG that many console gamers have been looking for.  For those of you who like your heroes to have youthful complexions, ridiculous hair, and nauseatingly good natures, step away.  If you like rugged, scarred protagonists, fighting for survival in grimy, intensive storylines and environments, then Witcher 2 could be the game to satisfy you.

Last five articles by Lorna



  1. Mr McGash says:

    I have more than enough Rpg’s atm to get through, before even thinking about another lol
    But i know i’ll end up getting it :/ It would be nice to see someone giving the finger to Microsoft in that their dlc is free.. but shall remain to be seen

  2. Furie says:

    Had my eye on this since the mess up with the first game (mouse controls on a console) port. Hopefully it’ll fulfill the promise Dragon Age made but failed to reach.

  3. Mark Mark_S says:

    Got this on the PC. Game is deeeep or is it just long. The game is long and deep? Well this comment is sounding dirty.

    Regardless, awesome game, glad to see it coming over to the 360 where I think the combat system might actually work a little better hopefully.

  4. Samuel Samuel says:

    I was rather underwhelmed by the original, and subsequently ignored the sequel entirely when it came out on PC, but looking at it I may have made a colossal cock up in doing so. This just looks like it pushes so many of my buttons, they’ve clearly taken on the criticism the first game received and gone all out to resolve those issues as well as generally made a better game overall.

    Like Scabby I’m up to my ears in RPGs at the moment, with Fable III, Divinity II and Two Worlds II all on my “must get through” list, and Skyrim is just around the corner too, but this is definitely going to find its way into my collection at some point.

  5. Ben Ben says:

    If this was made by Bethesda or Bioware people would be filling their pants with love goo right about now, sadly I suspect the rather unknown dev (too many console specific players at least) will have hurt it. Quality game.

  6. Stu Stu says:

    Loved the first game on the PC, after being disappointed that never made the port to console I am happy to see this is happening for the sequel. Definite purchase for me.

  7. Edward Edward says:

    Sounds interesting, but I’m not entirely sure if it’s my type of game. From what I heard of the PC version it was very unforgiving in terms of difficulty and I doubt I’d be able to enjoy it if it was.
    However, great write-up as always, Lorna :D

  8. Kat says:

    I didn’t realise this was coming to consoles and recall the slight buzz around the PC release. I’m not a huge RPG fan but may be tempted by the darkness of this :)

  9. Richie rich says:

    This looks kind of dark. Might check it out, based on the achvs arf arf!

  10. SimonJK says:

    I was very disappointed when the first one never got to the consoles, I hadn’t heard of it but I trursted friend told me it was a must… but it didn’t happen. Unlike Samuel and McGash (Hey great name for a graverobber, lol), I’m starved for my RPG fix – completed Divinity 2 and 2.5, Fable 3 and 2W2 and heard Hunted was over glitched and I wasn’t feeling the fun behind Dungeon Seige loot and customisation wise. I am very excited about any WRPG coming to 360 whilst eagerly awaiting F3;NV and 2w2 DLCs, but please don’t tell me November along with all the rest! I really need something to keep me going whilst waitingfor Skyrim and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning comes out, still isn’t Crimson Alliance due out soon?

  11. LarryL says:

    I LOVED The Witcher 1 on PC. Fantastic game. It was the last PC game I bothered playing actually. But I always thought that The Witcher’s combat system would work even better on consoles if done right. We’ll see. It’s a shame CDP wasn’t showing off actual gameplay for consoles. Not only am I interested in how they are going to do the gameplay, but also what kind of visuals they can get out of consoles being a smaller, more indy developer. But to be honest, since no console footage has been shown at all yet, I REALLY doubt this game will be out t his year. I’m thinking spring 2012 at the earliest, perhaps even Fall.

    Either way, I’ll be happy to play The Witcher 2 on my PS3. If it does make this fall, great, since there’s really only 2 more games I’m getting this year (Skyrim and RAGE, possibly Uncharted 3). But if it does get pushed into next year, that’s great too since I’ll be able to dedicate more time to Skyrim and RAGE which both seem like games you can easily sink a year into.

  12. [...] release. If you’re not familiar with the game then the best place to start would be Lorna’s preview from E3 – spoiler alert, she liked it. Fans of the PC version that are currently happily adventuring [...]

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