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The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Preview

The Witcher was one of my favorite titles when it was released several years ago. By pairing an excellent, deep and multilayered plot on top of a vibrant and believable environment and solid RPG mechanics, The Witcher proved to be a sleeper hit and received critical success around the world. While some crashing issues and an unpopular fighting system (it gets better!) dampened the thrill, the overall quality of the game shone through. Coming off this pedigree is the sequel, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, developed by the creators of the original, CD Projekt RED, based on the Witcher novels by Andrzej Sapkowski.

The Witcher is known for dark fantasy, with racial disharmony in full effect between humans and non-humans. Monsters are common, and people sometimes recruit Witchers, dedicated monster-hunters, to eliminate them. Unfortunately, The Witcher limited the player to a series of static environments strictly attached to the main story, so there was little chance for exploration outside the proscribed limits (which wasn’t really a problem anyway). However, TW2 has a much more open world, and contains options to pursue multiple endings through several possible plot lines. The game begins immediately after the ending of the first game, illustrated in the final cutscene of that game, in which an assassin attempts to kill King Foltest. Apparently there is a cabal of witcher-like warriors that targets kings exclusively and is led or has something to do with a new character known as the Kingslayer who, in a trailer, displays the head of another king that has been recently dispatched. In addition, Foltest is moving to crush a rebel baroness while Geralt (the protagonist and the eponymous Witcher in the books and games) is still learning and developing his identity. Old favorites like sorceress Triss Merigold, dwarf Zoltan and bard Dandelion return to assist Geralt, as well as a new face, Vernon Roche, a member of the Temerian army who is tasked to help as well.

The original title often had people complaining about the clunkyness of the controls. Well, it appears the CD Projekt has been listening, as many features and problems from The Witcher have been addressed, and in most circumstances fixed or reworked. First, conversations will include a type of minigame, in which Geralt has a chance to answer with different responses than the default if they choose to within a certain amount of time. In this way, players can choose the general flow of the conversation and be forced to pay attention to the answers they’re giving; the choices offered are not perfectly matched with the spoken dialogue, but are rather summaries of how Geralt can react. The oft-maligned combat system has been redesigned, removing the timing minigame from attacks while also making fighting more “open-ended” for possible options or results. While Geralt can still get some action on the side, the sex cards from the original (granted for fulfilling sexual conquests in-game) have been removed to much chagrin. Players may import saved games for as of yet undisclosed benefits. NPC companions have a greater role and the player’s interactions with them as they proceed influences quests and endings. The environment has become more tractable to Geralt’s advances, allowing him to climb over walls and other obstacles (noticeable with the excessive use of clip brushes in the first game).  Also, did I mention the graphics are fabulous in comparison to the first game?

The Witcher 2 follows on the heels of a very critically popular title that was steeped in mythology and mysticism; in such a world where strangeness and unforeseen effects clouded right and wrong, The Witcher often forced the player to use critical thinking to make moral judgments that changed the course of the game for better or worse. However, these choices were never clear cut, and often were a choice between the lesser of two evils; these decisions were also not felt until much later in the game, circumventing the more conventional save/reload tactic of exploring multiple endings. It was often hard to know what exactly may happen as the result of a choice, and it was a thrill to see that early gameplay choices actually and considerably changed the game’s world. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings was announced on the 24th of March 2010, and has been slated for release on the PC, PS3 and the Xbox 360 in early 2011. Check it out and try the first one if you haven’t.

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