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The Witcher Preview
developer: CD Projekt RED
PIV 2400, 1GB RAM, 8.5GB HDD, 128MB video card
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Oct 30, 07 (released)
|» All About The Witcher on ActionTrip|
There are several new RPGs awaiting us this year. Apart from Bethesda's recently announced expansion pack for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Flagship's action-RPG Hellgate: London, Bioware has three RPGs in development. You've heard us mention these time and again - Dragon Age (PC), Mass Effect (Xbox 360) and Jade Empire (PC). But wait, that's not all. Yep, in the misty gaming future that lies ahead, we were able to discern yet another rather promising RPG in the making, coming from Poland-based developer CD Projekt.
Dude, your shack needs a major paintjob, seriously.
Let's see you tap dance.
Drawing inspiration from The Witcher, a series of tales created by recognized Polish fantasy author, Andrzej Sapkowski, CD Projekt is working intently on a new PC action-oriented role-playing game, scheduled to arrive some time during the second half of 2007. The game has been in development for a few years now, and is powered by Bioware's well-established Aurora Engine (effectively used in the D&D classic, Neverwinter Nights).
Sapkowski's fantasy world, described in The Witcher, owes quite a lot to J.R.R. Tolkien, but also relies heavily on Polish history and Slavic mythology. And yet, unlike Tolkien's tales, The Witcher rarely makes any distinctions between good and evil. Most characters feel and act without any clear notions of what's right or wrong. So, the universe has a rather realistic edge, but may still lure players with a variety of fictional races and characters. The game takes place in The Northern Realms, a world chiefly inhabited by humans, dwarves and gnomes. As it happens, humans represent the strongest race, but are divided and often disloyal to each other. Other races, such as elves, dwarves and gnomes, are seldom allowed to roam freely through the land. In fact, almost every non-human is the victim of repression and persecution. Elves, for example, do have their own free safe haven, even though some of them are inclined to reside in forests, leading a hopeless and endless war against men. Dwarves, on the other hand, are formally subjected to men and are forced to live in ghettos within the boundaries of human cities. The Northern Realms are a perilous place indeed, so frolicking about through the countryside would obviously be a bad idea since most roads are teeming with wild animals, monsters, bandits, rogues, etc. (Or rather, exactly what you'll be doing. -Ed)
In such a dark and pessimistic world, equally grim prophecies began to take shape. These glum stories fueled envisions of a looming apocalypse that's about to cover all the land in ice and snow. To counter such threats, the Order of the Flaming Rose was formed, which firmly believes that the power of fire will be the world's ultimate salvation. To make things worse, the Northern Realms are also threatened by the black armies of Nilfgaard. However, the real danger comes from numerous monsters that live in this world - werewolves, stregas, ghouls, graveirs, manticores, wyverns, forktails, flykites and even the undead (ghosts and wraiths). Luckily, the existence of so-called witchers gives hope to some. The witchers are members of a brotherhood of warriors, trained to kill monsters and protect people from danger; for a reasonable price, of course. The bad thing is that there's only few of them left. Players will take on the role of an exceptionally skilled witcher, named Geralt.
Geralt returns to Kaer Morhen after many years. Kaer Morhen is, basically, a ruined castle, or stronghold if you will, where witchers hang out and is also the place where our hero was trained to become a professional monster slayer. After surviving a particularly nasty attack from a group of mysterious mercenaries, you are tasked with hunting down remaining threats to ensure the safety and secrecy of the castle.
The developers made it clear that the game doesn't follow Sapkowski's stories, so you don't have to be acquainted with the books in order to enjoy the game and get immersed in the universe. People who appreciate the books though, may encounter many familiar locations and characters.
The meat of the game definitely lies in combat and facing groups of rather determined enemies. From what we've seen, the AI is shaping up quite well, making your foes think carefully before stepping into combat with the main character. For instance, if a ranged opponent, like an archer, sees you approaching, he'll swiftly seek out higher ground and attempt to pierce you with arrows from a distance. But being a witcher, you should be more than adept at handling such situations. It was pointed out that witchers are mutants and therefore a lot more agile than ordinary humans. They are gifted at combat and posses many skills that make them formidable warriors. Geralt can master the mighty useful skill of deflecting enemy arrows with his sword (which sort of pays homage to Star Wars in medieval fashion - in a way, it's similar to deflecting lasers with a lightsaber). It sets off a unique ambiance, very different from what we're used to seeing in today's action-RPGs. Next to his cool sword-swaying deflection skill, Geralt can also emit a magical sphere around him to stop oncoming arrows. Since we broached the subject of magic, you should know that the game features five magical powers, called signs: Aard (telekinetic blast), Igni (flame strike), Quen (the abovementioned protective shield), Yrden (magical trap) and Axii (mind influence). What's more to the point, defying miscellaneous creatures requires you to perform a particular strike and apply specific swordfighting styles depending on the enemy's origin and its basic characteristics. Silver and steel fighting styles represent sub-styles in combat. If, by chance, you come across a werewolf or similar entities, using the silver style will, understandably, induce greater damage than resorting to the typical steel technique. Every once in a while, it's possible to use magically enhanced ruins and upgrade weapons. In order to do so, of course, you're gonna have to pay a visit to the local smithy.
Surrender, or I'll chop you to pieces.
Excuse me, which way to the graveyard. Err... forget it.
The cool thing is that fighting doesn't always have to be the same. Each clash with the enemy may result in a different approach in combat, which is the reason why our hero gets to enhance a variety of fighting styles during his journey. As you progress, you can improve three diverse types of fighting: strong, fast and group. Depending on the player's preferences, it is possible to adjust the character's skills to suit various combat situations. The 'strong' category denotes battling against powerful melee opponents, whereas the 'fast' helps you keep ranged foes at bay by escaping their attacks (dodging arrows and so on). As you'd assume, 'group' skills are used against multiple enemies. Essentially, there will be over 250 special abilities for your character to advance in. Geralt, additionally, has an assortment of standard range of attributes to improve upon, such as strength, stamina, dexterity and intelligence.
As you travel through the realm and fight against monsters, scores of potions will be available and could enhance the character's skills. Most of these though, come with certain side effects. Drinking alcohol, for instance, blurs the character's vision and severely influences his combat abilities. The good thing is that drinking alcohol improves Geralt's social skills, which makes it easier for him to gather information from certain NPCs. Other potions may cause other debilitating side effects such as temporary blindness or significant decrease in a particular attribute.
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