It’s been a very long time since a game has genuinely gobsmacked me with its obvious technological marvellousness, but The Witcher 2 has gone and done a sterling job of it so far. I beat the first game this morning and enjoyed it so much I wanted to go straight on to the sequel, which I’d had the foresight to download in advance from Good Old Games.
I wasn’t quite ready for the leap in graphical fidelity between the two. I thought the first game looked pretty good — it used to bring my old computer to its knees, after all, and it was one of the first games I installed on my new computer to enjoy in its “full glory” — but wow. The Witcher 2 makes its predecessor look decidedly primitive in many respects.
Gone are the stilted, uncomfortable character animations when people are standing around talking to each other. Gone are people’s inability to remain seated while talking to you. Gone are the sex cards (replaced with good, old fashioned full frontal nudity — are you paying attention, BioWare?) and gone is the fun but arguably overcomplicated combat system. (Also gone are some of the original voice cast, which is a little disappointing, but perhaps understandable given the amount of time between the two games.)
In is a decidely cinematic presentation (including an entertaining ability to wiggle the camera around veeery slightly using the mouse in conversation scenes, giving it a “hand-held camera” look). In are more than five different character models. In is background scenery featuring realistic foliage best described as “lush”. In is a motion blur effect that makes rotating the camera look infinitely more realistic than in 99% of other games out there. And in is a Demon’s Souls-style combat system that at first appears to be hack and slash, but isn’t afraid to punish you mercilessly for thinking so until you learn that it’s actually based on timing, patience, blocking and carefully watching your opponents to look for an opportunity. A combat system which has divided people somewhat, with many impatient types upset that it’s “too hard”. Hard it may be, but there’s nothing wrong with a challenge.
One of the things that has impressed me most so far, though, is the potential for the branching of the plot, with different resolutions to problems and different major and minor choices. Already in discussion with a friend, I’ve seen that at least four or five parts of just the prologue branch off into alternative paths — some of which meet in common places, others of which diverge. And, like the original The Witcher, there’s no obviously “right” choice in many situations. This is a Good Thing, as it makes you think about what you’re doing, and also forces you to live with consequences which don’t necessarily make themselves obvious until much, much later.
In short, The Witcher 2 is looking like being an absolutely amazing game. A lot of people have been quietly anticipating it for a long time — this is a game from a company that doesn’t saturate the market with announcements of TV ads for their games, after all — and it’s gratifying to see firstly that they’ve made an excellent game, and secondly that a lot of people seem to be thinking very highly of it. It deserves it, and CD Projekt Red deserves a huge amount of success for creating such an excellent RPG franchise.