CD Projekt Red opened their SDCC 2014 Panel with the announcement of a roughly 30-minute live demonstration of brand new gameplay.
Spoiler Alert: This summary of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Panel will have spoilers for a few quests and gameplay elements. I’ve intentionally avoided some key plot narratives but still read ahead at your own risk.
The demonstration began with Geralt of Rivia entering the game’s main city and adventuring hub, Novigrad. Right from the start, it’s clear the title has an incredible amount of effort put into it. Novigrad is populated with a host of NPC’s, all of which looked and felt distinct from each other in their day-to-day tasks, voice acting and reactions to their surroundings, such as Geralt almost knocking a few of them over with his horse.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s Senior Gameplay Designer, Damien Monnier, spent a few moments explaining that Novigrad will be a place visited often by Geralt, whether to resupply, grab extra quests or further the storyline. CD Projekt Red knew that this was going to be the case when designing it and wanted the player to find it interesting every time they traveled there and in such has taken a lot of time to make the City look visually impressive. Aside from visuals, they have taken the time to make sure Novigrad feels lived in, with a vast amount of characters carrying out various tasks at all times and also having different settings within the city, so everything doesn’t end up being a grey and brown blur that could feel like many other Cities and questing hubs in the genre of Adventure RPG’s that we’ve seen before.
Geralt’s trek through the city came to a halt when he arrived at his quest destination, a brothel. Damien Monnier was sure to remind folks before the demonstration that the game was rated M for Mature and it would feature all the things that made up that rating. Mostly violence though, which was his favourite. It’s also important to note that at this point in the demonstration that the voice acting in the game had suffered a glitch and Geralt himself was rendered mute in every conversation for the rest of the presentation. Fear not though, CD Projekt Red brought along Doug Cockle to the The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Panel, the voice actor who is responsible for Geralt and what could have been quite a big mishap for the Panel actually turned into live theatre as Doug chimed in to read every subtitle that Geralt had throughout the 30+ minutes of demo. He also offered to improv some voice acting for a few other characters who’s audio was missing, including an old woman and a self-proclaimed annoying child. We forgave him for it afterwards.
After a conversation in the brothel with presumably the owner, Geralt was tasked with heading to the swamp and finding a missing child. After a short jog to the outskirts of Novigrad, we were shown how quick travel works in the game. Players will be able to unlock certain travel points in the world and when Geralt reaches one of them, he can travel between them. Basically like fantasy bus stops. While our hero was quick travelling to the swamp on the short loading screen, Damien told us that they had timed the travel on horseback previously and the same trip would have taken roughly 20 minutes at a straight run. Before finding the lost child in the swamp, we were treated to some battles with ghoulish creatures that attempted to ambush Geralt of Rivia.
Combat in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will be extremely familiar to those who played either of the two previous titles in the series. Geralt is still a master of “Signs,” which are a Witcher’s version of using magic. We were only treated to a Two-Handed Sword presentation of Geralt’s slaying abilities but the animations were fluid, visually satisfying and as Damien said before, there was no shortage of gore when the bodies had finished hitting the ground. The Signs that Geralt wielded were showcased the most with each combat scenario we saw and these consisted of a “fire spraying” ability, a “mind control” ability which seemed to stun the undead, a “telekinesis” ability that would knock opponents to the ground and a few other tricks. Rounding out the few other combat mechanics we were shown was the ability to dodge roll and also wield alchemical potions and concoctions against your enemies, a staple that Geralt has had since the beginning of the series.
After Geralt had found the lost child, it was discovered that the young one was missing his voice (on purpose this time!) and we would have to brave a cliff side to reach a Harpy nest and find the Vial that contained it. Damien Monnier made his way promptly to the cliff side and then showed off a new feature in the series – the ability for Geralt to climb rocks, much like Nathan Drake or Lara Croft as an example, minus the parkour element and in a more realistic nature. At the top of this cliff side, he was waylaid by Harpies and quickly dispatched them with his use of Signs, Potions and overall sword-in-the-face skills. Geralt retrieved the vial from the nest that was needed for the child and then stopped to show off something else that had only been talked about briefly and shown in small glimpses before.
Akin to the Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, everything you see, you can travel too in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Where the real difference is in this title though, is that it has a few years on Skyrim and it really, really shows. Folks, this game is gorgeous. You could hear jaws dropping when Damien Monnier stood Geralt on the cliffside and panned the horizon. The other improvement over other titles in the genre is the sheer size of the game. When we were first introduced to the fast travel option, Damien panned the map for us and showed us what was easily the biggest world I’ve ever seen in a title like this. We were assured that this world was “lived in” and wouldn’t contain pockets of absolutely nothing just to fill out the land. We were also told the title would contain a unique ecosystem that featured Humans, Monsters and Animals all having effects on each other throughout the land in their own faction-like ways.
After the annoying child got his voice back and Damien remarked that you would probably regret doing the quest because of it, Geralt had to go meet an old lady who lived in the Swamp. A brief conversation later, we left the woman’s hut, noticed some war orphans playing in the swamp and we were off to a creepy cavern to find the source of some other missing orphans. It’s important to note again here that I am intentionally glossing over some of the quest information in order to leave this particular quest line fresh to anyone who plays it. I can assure you, these quests are fully voiced (or will be when the game releases) with plenty of dialogue, animations and overall quality. One of the things that I was most impressed with in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was that all of these conversations served a purpose to the quest line and as I’ll talk about a little later, had a greater purpose.
Within the cavern that we were now tasked with exploring, we were yet again shown a new feature in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Geralt can now swim in the game, including diving underwater and does so by way of the familiar stamina bar. Damien Monnier noted that you could swim in many areas of the game and yes, you could drown if that bar depleted. There was no mention of underwater combat and by the looks of it, it didn’t seem like that would be something they would be including.
At the conclusion of this cavern, Geralt confronted a demon-like being that was clearly responsible for the missing orphan children. It’s at this point in the demonstration that Damien decided to talk about quest and response choices and their effect on the game. Much like Bioware’s Dragon Age and Mass Effect series, players can choose Geralt’s response in the game in many situations. CD Projekt Red is trying to push this concept a bit further and have the outcome of such decisions have greater effects in the world than other titles in this genre have done. The demon tried to tell us that destroying him would hurt the remaining children in some way we were unsure of at the time but our demonstrator decided not to trust the demon and instead attacked it. After a short battle, Geralt destroyed it and left the cavern. Upon returning to the Woman’s hut, we were confronted by some more demonic creatures that spoke to Geralt and it became evident quickly that the children that were playing outside before had been possessed by these creatures and our choice of destroying the main demon previously would have an outcome on them.
The demonstration concluded shortly after these events and we were treated to a trailer showing off some important plot elements in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Most of the plot points where intentionally vague but we do know that Geralt is being hand-picked by the King to hunt down Ciri, who has finally reappeared after the events of the previous games. She presents a great, if currently unclear, threat to the land and everywhere she goes, the “Wild Hunt” follows her. The Wild Hunt is a devastating army of creatures that are ravaging the world and threatens to end all of human civilization. Geralt’s quest is clearly a personal one in this game and he will have to deal with the Wild Hunt while tracking down his own quarry.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt looks fantastic. The only hiccups in the demonstration we saw was some missing voice acting, which actually surprised CD Projekt Red, meaning the voice acting is ready to go, they just had some technical difficulties. The game really looks like the epitome of what this studio has been aiming to create since the first Witcher title. It’s hard to describe the amount of passion we experienced in this presentation but CD Projekt Red is ready to innovate this genre of gaming. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is extremely personal to them and it showed heavily in not only their presentation but everything we saw on-screen.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is due out the 24th of February, 2015 for Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC.