CD Projekt RED have been slowly teasing gameplay from The Witcher 3 since June, and after the last demo was showcased during Gamescom in Cologne, Germany last week, the developers have decided it's time to put almost the entire quest together in a complete 35-minute beast of a demo.
CD Projekt RED have been slowly teasing gameplay from The Witcher 3 since June, and after the last demo was showcased during Gamescom in Cologne, Germany last week, the developers have decided it’s time to put almost the entire quest together in a complete 35-minute beast of a demo.
The first time we were able to get a real look at CD Projekt’s brutal fantasy fairytale RPG The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt was during Microsoft’s E3 press conference back in June. The sequence shows Geralt, the eponymous Witcher of Rivia, tracking and eventually slaying a griffin. In the many weeks that have passed since then, the moments immediately following the griffin hunt have been doled out in tantalizing short teases.
First, fans were treated to a small introduction to the bustling city of Novigrad and the ensuing jump to the swamps of No Man’s Land where Geralt meets an interesting creature named Johnny. Then, the subsequent section of the game in which the player retrieves Johnny’s stolen voice from a harpy’s nest. The next snippet jumps ahead to a short sequence in which Geralt presents a ceremonial dagger to a village leader in exchange for a quest, and then finally, Gamescom wrapped up the affair last week by debuting Geralt’s meeting with the Three Crones, a trio of mysterious women who communicate through a beautiful tapestry, and offer the aforementioned dagger along with a favor.
To culminate this jigsaw puzzle of video footage that has been trotted out over the course of the summer months, CD Projekt RED recently released the entire 35 minutes of gameplay, starting from just after Geralt kills the griffin and following all of the events shown previously. The new demo even extends a few minutes more to reveal the resolution to the quest. It’s quite the diverse showcase of story, combat and setting, and it will leave your jaw on the floor.
Nothing ends an adventure like three grotesque witches. The reveal of the three crones, who are depicted in much more flattering detail in their tapestry, is a perfect example of The Witcher‘s fantastic reputation for classic fairytale elements. The game is often described as an adult fairytale for this reason. Poetic storytelling aside, this is just an exciting taste of gameplay, for a game that promises 100+ hours of story.
Naturally, in 35 minutes there’s a lot of opportunity to observe the mechanics and intricate details of The Witcher 3, and we’ve picked out a few important points to note in preparation for the game’s release:
- Novigrad. The enormous town which is said to resemble medieval Amsterdam has a dizzying amount of complexity, according to the developers. First, just as an indicator of the place’s size, at the 50 second mark the HUD indicates the player is entering a subsection of Novigrad called ‘Farcorners’. This seems to imply that Novigrad is so large it has its own sub-locales to orient the player. Indeed, Novigrad covers a surface area of 44 square miles (the entire map of Skyrim, by comparison, is 14.8 square miles). The narrator mentions thousands of residents who supposedly each have their own daily schedules to follow. And many of these NPCs have a series of actions that can prompt interaction, leading to new conversations, purchasable items and potentially even quests. To compound even further upon this, taking certain quests and actions will block others from opening up. Your actions will have an impact even on a more minor scale.
- Dynamic dialog. Geralt’s conversation with Dijkstra in a Novigradan tavern is just one example of The Witcher 3‘s beautifully animated diolog sequences. Each conversation that takes place in the 35 minute demo is unique. Characters will stand, pace or cross their arms. They’ll emote both while speaking and in reaction to others’ words. Not a single action is repeated. It’s a far cry from the static interactions of previous Witcher games and the lion’s share of other open-world RPGs.
- Combat. While the previous two Witcher games had a lot of depth in their combat systems, they both felt stilted in their own ways. Here fighting is extremely fluid, and while it looks like timing your strikes might be less of a priority (it’s hard to tell with the difficulty at a presumably low setting for demonstration purposes) there is still a wealth of strategy to explore. Geralt still has disposable items like bombs in his inventory in addition to his steel and silver swords (for humans and monsters respectively). However he now has a small crossbow to add to his arsenal as well as two ways to use each magical sign. In practice, combat is still fast and flashy. Geralt spins and dekes around his enemies in graceful fashion, as any self-respecting witcher should, and there are gory dismemberment effects to boot. It also looks like Geralt still subscribes to ‘fast’ and ‘strong’ styles. Certain enemies require specific tactics, and it looks like there may be a couple of ways to handle each: Geralt uses his igni sign to torch a wooden shield, and the buckler appears to sizzle and melt from the fire. This may be just a neat visual effect, or it may actually destroy wooden defenses. In short – there are still many ways to kill in The Witcher 3.
- Monster hunting. At the end of the day, Geralt is a witcher, and as such, he has monsters to kill. Almost all of the gameplay sequences above involve Geralt’s witcher senses, which focus on audio and visual cues to lead the player. At its most simplistic, this is basically a trail of red footprints/objects that lead to a creature of interest. The player appears to have the ability to track any monster they like at will, swapping between them at the press of a button, or through the menu, which offers a breakdown of the chosen beast. The menu also handily offers a number of potions which may prove useful in surviving/killing the creature. It’s not confirmed yet if or how monsters will become ‘trackable’ but if the previous games are any indication, you’ll have to research of kill a few before you learn enough to be able to hunt them effectively. In previous interviews CD Projekt RED have divulged that certain monsters will appear more frequently in specific environments and/or times of day, and on top of that they can be more powerful depending on the same.
- Traversal. Getting around the new, much larger world is going to be much easier with the addition of jumping and climbing. The terrain is varied and often appears blocked, but the developers assure us that every landmark is reachable and there are no invisible walls. Basically, if you can see it, you can reach it, and being able to scramble up ledges and leap over gaps will make it a much less clumsy ordeal. The brand new section of gameplay revealed in this 35 minute demo also unveiled the first footage of swimming. For the very first time Geralt can effortlessly leap into bodies of water and dive below the surface. This will no doubt lead to many secret caverns and offer plenty of opportunity to be attacked by more creatures.
- The dagger. While the majority of the quest’s events appear pretty linear, the inclusion of the ceremonial dagger, which the ealdorman uses to sever his ear, could hint at the return of an interesting dialog mechanic introduced in The Witcher. In the first game in the series, Geralt could only open certain dialog options by showing affiliation to a certain group of people. In that game he did so by receiving a symbolic ring from the appropriate group and wearing it when speaking to the right person. This would allow the player to progress in quests or negotiate lower prices for shops (or other more erotic fare). If the mechanic returns, it will be adding just one more gameplay system to an already multi-faceted game.
If you are one of the incredibly sexy people who listens to the GEEK podcast, you may already know that The Witcher 3 is my most anticipated upcoming video game of the foreseeable future, and that I’ve aggravated the entire GEEK editing staff by talking their ears off (coincidental pun!) about The Wild Hunt for months. Next year is gearing up to be a banner year for the games industry but even with incredible games like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Batman: Arkham Knight and Bloodborne coming soon, The Witcher 3 is promising to stand tall.
The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt launches February 24, 2015 for PC, Xbox One and PS4.
Images: CD Projekt RED