by Preston Dozsa
previewed on PC
Watching the 45-minute demonstration by senior designer Peter Gelencser of the massively popular - and - acclaimed Witcher series was one of my highlights at this year's Gamescom. I came into the presentation thinking that I would be able to see something that was on par with the thoroughly excellent Witcher 2. Instead, I saw one of the most ambitious sequels to a video game ever.
The demonstration started off with Geralt riding a horse into Novigrad, the largest city in the game, with the head of a griffon he had recently slain attached to the side. The city itself is massive, with dozens of its citizens going about their daily lives working, drinking or otherwise enjoying their day. It also happens to be very beautiful, with a large amount of detail put into every object and character. When we had a chance to look at the map of the game, the city itself was only a tiny fraction of the playable world, which is several times the size of the playable world in the previous game.
But Geralt was not interested in exploring the city, instead delivering the griffon head to a man named Dijkstra in exchange for the whereabouts of an ashen haired woman who is the impetus for Geralt’s journey through the Northern Kingdoms. Apparently the girl was last spotted in the war torn No Man’s Land to the south, which we fast travelled to in order to continue our search.
Upon arrival in the dank swamps and brown forest of the area, we had our first glimpse at the changes and improvements made to the combat system in the game. The traditional steel and silver swords return and are available for use against humans and monsters respectively, as are the five magical spells that can be used in combat. New to the series is the addition of environmental traps which can be used under the right conditions. For instance, in the swamps there are pockets of gas which when ignited will cause a sizeable conflagration to the surrounding area, damaging any unlucky beasts trapped within it.
A brand new crossbow has been added to Geralt’s inventory for use in ranged encounters. It’s a small one-handed model, great for taking out harpies and other enemies that can fly. There is even a zoom option that slows down time while you’re aiming in order to help pull off the best shot possible. It might not seem like much, but it greatly increases the number of options that you can use to handle a situation.
While I’m on the subject of combat, it’s worth noting that through all the encounters that took place over the course of the demo, the animations for all of the characters and creatures was top notch. Even though The Witcher 3 is six months out from release, everything looks and moves naturally and easily. The variety to the animations is staggering, particularly the ones concerning Geralt himself, who has such a variety in his dodge animations alone that it made the combat look fluid and natural, as compared to earlier games where he used the same rolling animation every time he wanted to dodge backwards for example.