I've seen a lot of games in the last four days. A lot
. I've sat through a lot of presentations, jotted down a novels worth of notes and stifled a lot of yawns. In the coming days and weeks I'll be mentally sorting the wheat from the chaff, but right now there's one which, I feel, deserves a little pat on the back.
The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings
looks amazing. Graphically, artistically, mechanically; it's impressive on all fronts, standing alone as easily the best game I've seen in the last week – and, as I say, I've seen a lot of them recently.
It's the sheer quantity of titles I've surveyed that gives The Witcher 2
the edge though, I think. There's only so many times you can sit on a backless bench, the air filled with Eau de Journo and watch a tired, probably hungover developer go through the same hyperbolic speech he's given a hundred times in the last three days before the games start to run together.
It doesn't help that there's usually a PR manager sat in the background somewhere, making sure that none of the really interesting details slip out. Is Title X going to support Feature Y? We couldn't possibly comment on that at this time.
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With that in mind you'd expect The Witcher 2
, my last meeting of the entire show, to be the most weary of them all. In actual fact though, it was the opposite. The four members of the development team, including lead writers, artists and designers, crowded out the marketeers and presented the game with real passion. They joked, laughed, answered questions candidly and honestly and knew the product they were showing at an intimate level. That last bit is perhaps the most important, at least to those of us who've endured completely uneducated demos before.
The game itself is a sight to behold too, with the team clearly having taken fan feedback on board at the earliest stages of development. Witcher 2
is more detailed and frentic than it was before, with slick combat and a more polished interface that removes the poorly explained aspects of the original. The game has arguably slipped a bit closer to being a hack and slash judging from the way some features have been streamlined, but there's still oodles of stats to obsess over.
Nearly all the changes are for the better too, such as Geralt's medallion, which now simply scans for contextual hazards when activated rather than forcing you to flick through Magic or Monster scanning modes. The interface has been polished too, while the world is more interactive and detailed – letting Geralt use his magics to light or extinguish torches, opting for stealthy or violent approaches as deemed fit.
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The team has spent a lot of time broadening the scope of the story as well, creating more paths for players to explore. One of the highlights of the presentation for me was getting a look at the flow-diagrams used for plotting the story – a zig-zag of plotlines and narratives spanning into multiple distinct branches. The Witcher 2
has sixteen unique endings to the original's three.
None of this means that the game itself will definitely turn out brilliantly though. I've learned to stay away from making such productions since last year, where I saw a brilliantly built demo of Sega's Alpha Protocol
that got me really excited...and, well, we all know how that game turned out. That's why I've not called this blog post 'the best game
at GamesCom 2010'; I can't tell yet whether it was the best game or just the best presentation. I won't know for sure until I get a chance to go hands-on, I think.
Then again, while I'm not yet utterly certain that The Witcher 2
could turn out to be an instant classic, I will admit that I'm quietly hopeful.