The Witcher III Invaded Comic-Con With A Brand-New DemoFiled inside: Games
It’s likely become quite clear by now that we have a fond spot for The Witcher III: Wild Hunt and the boys over at CD Projekt Red.
After all, the first two games have become cornerstones of the Action RPG market, the second game in particular placing the novel-based game on many people’s radar, not only for its compelling story but its no-nonsense approach to combat and strong foundations.
My first order of business upon arriving at the convention center in San Diego last week was to make a beeline for the second floor—The Witcher III had a panel just as the entire place opened.
I was in for a treat, as well. Rather than present more of the same things we’ve seen behind the scenes at trade events like E3, we got to see a whole new section of gameplay letting us see more of the diversity that the game will be offering when it releases.
We got to see a bit more of Novigrad, the largest city that will be featured in the game. The demo actually picked up where the E3 demo left off, with Geralt returning to the city with the gryphon’s head strapped to the side of his horse. Geralt has a task specifically in mind this time around, using the head as a bartering piece for some information.
Upon meeting with his contacts, Geralt is dispatched to a place called No Man’s Land to find an unusual creature named Johnny.
I suppose I should mention that—rather comically—technical issues in the demo caused most of the character’s voices to fall out. It was great to see the team take everything in stride, however, Doug Cockle (the voice of Geralt of Rivia) was on the panel, and began reading the lines as they came, with several of the other members making comical renditions of the lines from other characters.
Geralt travels deep into a swamp on this particular quest, offering a deeper look into some of the environmental diversity we can expect from the game. The swamp is filled with dangerous enemies that use the dirty water to their advantage, dipping out of view and attempting to overcome Geralt’s defenses from a number of angles.
Johnny, we find out, is a Godling—a rare and ancient creature with gray skin and the countenance of a child. He appears to have lost his voice somehow, and as Geralt you can offer your assistance or choose to let Johnny fend for himself. In this particular instance, we offered our assistance, and were tasked with climbing a mountainside to locate a harpys’ nest containing a bottle (which, in turn, contains Johnny’s voice).
We’re treated to more combat this time around—this time with a bit more focus on calm and collected technique. When met with overwhelming numbers, monsters are not as likely to suffer from Footsoldier’s Syndrome (you might know the phenomenon from games like the Arkham Batman games or Assassin’s Creed, even given superior numbers, enemies seem to think it’s best to attack one at a time). You must carefully pick your targets, choose when you decide to strike, and manage your spell use to keep your enemies at manageable range, and surgically remove threats from the equation.
Johnny proves to be a handful. After having his voice returned, his first inclination is to attempt to flee—though he is quickly stopped by Geralt’s demands for information. Johnny begrudgingly leads Geralt to a small settlement occupied by a number of orphaned children and an older woman—one who safeguards The Ladies, a trio of powerful woodland beings depicted in a large painting inside one of the dwellings. The Ladies are Geralt’s goal, they have the information he needs. But this comes at a price.
While it does seem a bit fetch-questy, Geralt is given a ritual dagger and sent to a village nearby to obtain the demanded token for The Ladies—which of course, means he’ll have to do a favor for the elder of the village. The villagers have been afflicted by nightmares, and have often been found to sleepwalk out of their residences and into the swamps, where they are slain by vile creatures. It’s become so dangerous that the townsfolk cannot recover the bodies of their loved ones, and Geralt is tasked with locating the source of the evil.
It’s a full moon. Amidst supernatural voices advising Geralt to turn away, he ventures into the forest, using his Witcher Senses to guide him quickly to his goal. We settle in for a brief meditation session like we saw at E3, in which Geralt is able to prepare for the trials that lay ahead—another quality of the game to set it apart from other games like it. It’s a very Monster Hunter-esque way of handling these scenarios—preparation can be the difference between success and a swift death.
There are werewolves in the woods at times such as these, so Geralt prepares some silver shrapnel bombs in order to halt their regenerative abilities, while also applying some mutagenic potions to enhance overall effectiveness.
After battling past some lycanthropes, Geralt finds a strange being that has been sealed inside a corrupt plant in a tree root—the very creature the villagers had sent him to destroy. The creature beseeches Geralt to release it, it knows all the happenings of the woods, and the orphans are in danger, it says. Only it can save the children, but it must be released.
This is a key example of one of the more appealing aspects of the game to me. Many RPGs of this sort try to include a sort of rudimentary morality system: Mass Effect‘s Paragon and Renegade choices, or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and the light and dark sides of the force. Very often these choices are clear cut, and not particularly difficult to make—only rarely are you challenged with a decision that might not necessarily meld with your character archetype, but is something that seems to suit the character (or yourself) on a more personal level.
Geralt has no such meter, but is often presented with conundrums that can really challenge your decision making faculties. You’ve made an agreement to slay this beast in order to help the village find closure. By doing so, you’ll also receive the payment necessary for The Ladies, in order to obtain the information you’ve been looking for. If the creature is telling the truth, however, you’ll be endangering the lives of the children at The Ladies’ settlement against a threat you may not be able to identify or stop—but that’s only if you trust the freaky talking tree root.
Our presenters decide that this beast isn’t worthy of freedom, and only deserves death. It tries to defend itself by calling woodland beasts, but they fall quickly to Geralt’s prowess, and the creature is dispatched.
The village elder pays The Ladies’ fee with a macabre trophy—his own ear—and Geralt returns with it, laying it on a stone altar. The Ladies manifest themselves, not as the beautiful women from the painting, but as hideous abominations, cruel and malevolent.
The honor their deal, however: and tell Geralt of a woman that had appeared in their swamp only days before. A woman with white hair, and Elder Blood, a central character in the game that appears to be the centerpiece of the world’s current state of unrest.
As the demo fades, I was left with an even stronger desire to play this game than ever. I’ve been following it for many months with a close eye, and it has so far stood up to every test I’ve seen it put through.
We know that there is more work to be done with it before its February release—all the voicing isn’t finished, and the game still needs some polish here and there. The world, huge as it is, suffers from some strange texture pop ins and you can often see trees in the forests phasing in and out of existence, one of the only complaints with what is otherwise a visual triumph of engineering—the first action RPG of the new generation that really deserves the title “Next-gen”.
We were left with only one question after the demo ended. Did anyone else notice that all the children were gone from the settlement when we arrived?