I was looking forward to getting a glimpse at the new Witcher title, as I had enjoyed the previous one, but also heard much of the criticism directed to it. I was interested to see how they could change the formula to keep it interesting, and I came away thinking that this Witcher 2 might be heads above its predecessor.
The developer, CD Projekt RED, started by developing an entirely new engine for the game, scrapping the Aurora engine (of Bioware titles) that was used for the previous title. The result is immediate: the game looks better in nearly every way, though there were still some issues with lip syncing in this alpha version. With this change of engine also comes the ability to do things like interact with the environment by jumping on, around, or down from objects, though the developer said that there would be many more subtle differences to how you play.
The live demo I watched had Geralt, the titular Witcher, running with two companions, one from the previous game, towards a small town known as Flotsam. Along the way, he got into battles, showcasing the new combat system, which again scraps what the previous game used. The demo player told me of how they wanted a more streamlined combat system, making it possible to string together combos that used both quick and strong attacks. This means not having to pause your attacks to switch your stance. Magic also still makes an appearance, though the only spell that was showcased was a stun trap that was set off when enemies ran into it, exploding and stunning all hostiles around it.
After the combat (what later included a boss, which was at least twenty times as large as Geralt was), we were treated to a dialogue moment where Geralt had to convince a set of guards as well as a crowd to let a few people charged with various crimes free. The demoer managed to get the crowd on our side, setting our friend Dandelion free (who fans of the book series might recognize), all while only giving the guards a few bruises.
What does return is the element of choice, allowing you to shape the story as you go. The developer told us that there would be three endings to the story, but a good more number of choices than that to make as you play. In addition, when you reach events that have been shaped by the choices you've made in the past, Geralt will reminisce about what had made things end up this way.
Other things have been improved, though not really finalized so we weren't able to get a look at them: character customization is still a large priority in the game, allowing you to build a Geralt the way you want to. Other game elements such have alchemy have also made a return, but have been streamlined without being simplified. And for those interested in the more...mature aspects of the game, the developer assured me that there is still a strong mature thread running through the title, though more than just the nudity is present, such as contemporary issues of racism and slavery.
All in all, with a completely new engine, it's hard to even compare it to the previous game at this point. That said, it looks like quite the promising title, and when it is released early next year, we'll be able to see for sure.