At a glance...

Previewer Platform Publisher Developer Players Release Date
Richard Pilot PC/Mac Bandai Namco Games CD Projekt RED 24th February 2015

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt preview

Every time I go to a CD Projekt RED presentation, I always walk away impressed and with a smile on my face. This was no less true this year when I got to go to a darkened room in the business area of Gamescom to see The Witcher 3. This was their last presentation of the day and spirits were still high.

In the previous gameplay footage at E3, Geralt, the hero of the series, had just slayed a griffin. This demo took place immediately after that event as he heads into the city of Novigrad, to hand in the beast's head to his city contact, Sigismund, who is described as a spymaster and powerful mobster. The city is bustling with life as children roam the streets playing games and citizens (humans, dwarfs and other creatures) go about their lives. There are thousands of people here and they have different activities depending on whether it is day or night. There are many quests in the city, and they are all affected by each other, so some may be unlocked when you perform certain actions, others may disappear. Approaching the brothel a prostitute asks Geralt if he'd "like a good time" - "in the full game", our presenter jokes.

Looks like a nice afternoon for a gentle ride

Looks like a nice afternoon for a gentle ride

At the meet up with Sigismund, we find out that Geralt has been searching for an ashen-haired women and that a creature in Vella may know where she is. Setting off outside the city you get to the fast travel system, which is based on locations you have already visited, and you can use nearby signposts to trigger it. This was the perfect opportunity to get a sense of the scale of the world, and then skip over to Vella, a trip that would take about 20 minutes by horse. Later on I was pointed at a large tree across the valley and told that the city of Novigrad was fourteen times the distance away, and this was just one of three locations in the game. The world appeared to be huge!

Vella itself turned out to be a swampy area in the southern part of the region, known as a no man's land by those in the city. Here we come across, Johnny, a godling or childlike creature who has lost his voice, but convinces Geralt to follow him to a harpy nest. The nest is not unguarded, however, as three creatures descend upon him. The combat of The Witcher 3 is very similar to previous games, with a mixture of swordplay, crossbows and magic. It seemed very fluid as the presenter switched between them on the fly, using air blasts or fire breath to knock the creatures down so he could swoop in and deliver a killing blow with a silver sword. It also felt pretty epic, as the game's score faded in as the combat started and the sword clashed against the monsters.

Things heated up a little later, though

Things heated up a little later, though

Harpies defeated, Johnny was finally able to speak, although I'm not sure whether that was a good thing, as the godling rattled on about the joys of flatulence against a sunrise. Geralt was able to persuade the creature to return the favour for his voice, and thus he was led to a nearby hut in the woods where Gran, an old woman, resided. She was reluctant to speak to the ladies to see if they knew anything and with good reason too, as the ladies turned out to be spirits of the wood who had to be summoned by Gran. They were willing to help out, but Geralt had to do them a favour, by visiting the nearby village of Downwarren and speaking with their representative. This is one of the central themes of the game as many characters will have information that Geralt needs, but will be unwilling to give that away for free; a favour for a favour will be at the heart of many bargains the player will submit to.

Arriving at the village we discover that many of the local residents, mainly children, were walking off into the night never to return, and that there may be a monster roaming the woods nearby. Knowledge in hand, we set off on a hunt. Being a Witcher, Geralt possess many powers that he can use to his advantage when hunting down the large mythical beasts that inhabit the game. In addition to the abilities he uses in combat, he also has enhanced senses which the developer activated. It enabled Geralt to not only spot the nearby sounds of a deer, but the sinister voice of whatever lurked in the woodland. "Begone" the voice told him. Undeterred, we pressed on and find a corpse, following its blood trail further into the forest. There we encounter a werewolf and the rest of his pack which we quickly engage and defeat in combat. Unfortunately the voice remains, and so we to continue exploring the woods, ultimately finding our way to a nearby cave where a messy, bulbous creature awaits, trapped in the roots of a tree. It claims to not be the source of the missing children and knows where they are being taken. We now have a choice to make about whether to trust this spirit. In this case the developer decides that it doesn't look trustworthy, and so we destroy the being although not without a fight. We return to the ladies with a rather bloody payment from the village, and as they emerge from the tree we discover that their monstrous appearance differs greatly from the beautiful tapestry we saw earlier They take the payment of a human ear taken from the village elder, which is enough to appease them. They give us the information we seek, and as we see a flashback of the person we are looking for the demo ends.

The world of The Witcher is as varied as it is large, and what I saw was just a taste of the many monsters the player will face, whose allegiances you will have to discover yourself. The game itself looked great, and I can't wait to play when it arrives on PS4, Xbox One and PC next February.

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