Last week during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, I sat down with three gentlemen from CD Projekt Red to discuss their upcoming RPG The Witcher 3. We know it's an open-world game for PC and next-gen consoles, and that it will bring the story of the Witcher Geralt of Rivia to a close. We're guessing it'll be a lustful, sexy time. I've had my share of complaints about the second game and things I'd like to see in the new one. But what do the guys making the game have to say?
First, from the fact sheet that CD Projekt Red gave me:
- This is Geralt's final adventure.
- It'll be easy for new players to enter the game, and won't require knowledge of the past games to enjoy.
- I'll have more than 100 hours of gameplay.
- The sidequests and main story can be resolved in any order.
- The game is entirely open-world, and is 35 times bigger than The Witcher 2.
- It's a branching story and the world is "completely open."
- Quicktime events will be gone entirely. Sweet.
I spoke with lead gameplay designer Maciej Szczesnik, head of marketing Michal Platkow-Gilewski, and CD Projekt Red Managing Director Adam Badowski to see what else I could learn. Here goes:
- There will indeed be 36 different "world states" that your decisions will cause to go into effect, and there will be three different playable 'epilogues.' I asked what the difference was between an ending and an epilogue, and it sounds like when CDPR says epilogue, they really mean ending.
- Dandelion will return in The Witcher 3, and he'll take on a similar duty to his role in The Witcher 2 narrating recaps of the story as you go. However, the format will be a bit different. There will still be a journal, but there'll also be a sort of "previously on The Witcher 3" animated story that plays at various points, or when you're coming back into the game after stopping. They're calling this feature "Storybook."
- Unsurprisingly, the learning curve will be much smoother in the new game. Players won't be thrown into the deep end.
- Geralt will react differently in combat—his stance will be more relaxed when he's fighting one enemy, because he knows he'll win. But he'll be more tense and more careful when he's fighting a group. Looking at your stance, you'll be able to tell whether your opponent is a threat or not. Pretty neat.
- While Szczesnik wasn't willing to put a hard number on the number of women Geralt can sleep with, they did say that romance in the game will be a more integral part of the story, and that the decisions you make with women will affect all sorts of things in the game. Much of the game revolves around Geralt finally finding his love, Yennifer—though Triss Merigold is still in the picture. Sounds like things will get interesting.
- They've built an animation system that has far more unique combat animations, which are somewhat randomly selected and chained together depending on where Geralt is swinging and what direction he's moving.
- Every button press gets you a single move in combat, meaning that you'll be able to break up your attacks much more easily than in The Witcher 2.
- The dodge is no longer a roll—now, Geralt will pirouette to dodge enemies. No more roley-poley combat.
- Parrying will now be active, and you can hold down a parry button and move, sort of like in Assassin's Creed.
- I couldn't get anything out of CD Projekt about the two smaller games and mobile game they're planning. They said those games are a part of their three-year plan, and wouldn't offer any details. Oh well.
- Signs will still be selected from a radial menu, but will also have shortcuts, and the shoulder buttons will let you toggle between them.
- There will be 10 Witcher's Signs instead of five, as there will be a second casting mode for each sign, which you can buy by leveling up.
- You'll also have combat "skills" that you can use, up to 4 active in combat.
- There won't be any arm-wrestling in the new game. Aw! But also… okay, that's fine actually.
- In addition to cutting QTEs, hand-to-hand combat will work completely differently. It'll be part of the main combat system, and will have moves that work and flow similarly to swordfighting.
- Alchemy will be "more supportive." Szczesnik said that as in past games players will be able to complete the game focusing on alchemy, and mentioned that while it wasn't as common to focus on alchemy in The Witcher 2, often it was the most hardcore players who chose to max those abilities out.
- You'll now be able to drink potions in combat, including healing potions. That's a big change, but The Witcher 3 will still have toxicity, and will retain the way that Geralt can become poisoned from drinking too many potions. There will still be potions you'll want to drink before combat.
- Several of the screenshots show Geralt in a boat—you'll definitely be able to control the boat, though you won't get to fight the whales. They'll be more of a hazard you'll have to avoid. Aw. I was hoping for next-gen whaling gameplay.
- You'll technically be able to fight from horseback, or at least, CDP is planning to let you do that, but it won't be a focus in the game. They were sure to point out that Geralt is a sword-master who is best at fighting on ground; he's not a cavalry knight. You won't be going after monsters on a horse, as that's not how Witchers work.
- Badowski described the process of of bringing the game to PS4 as quite comfortable, as CDP is a PC-oriented company and the PS4 is essentially a PC. "It's another platform, but PC-like. Which is cool."
- Another thing I noticed in was that the sun was constantly blotted out by dark clouds. However, Szczesnik says that the game won't always look like that—there'll be a full range of day and night, and weather settings. The dark clouds in the screenshots were because they're all part of the same quest, and that stormy weather fits with the vibe they wanted the first screens to capture.
- Doors will finally work properly in The Witcher 3, Szczesnik promised me. Hooray!
- I asked if CD Projekt Red would ever consider doing always-online DRM. Badowski's response: "No." "We are trying to get rid of DRM," said Szczesnik. "If someone wants to pirate a game, eventually he will." "Which is bad, of course," Badowski interjected. "But you can't do anything about it, so. We want to give the best user experience possible. When we removed DRM, people on those torrents were actually asking people not to download our game, because we [weren't using DRM]." While they were clear that they don't want people to pirate their games, both Szczesnik and Badowski said that invasive DRM isn't the answer.
- They said that CDP support The Witcher 3 in a similar way to The Witcher 2, with lots of post-release updates. Not all of the updates will necessarily be free—if, for example, they release a giant add-on, it'd cost money. But their support plan will be about the same.
And that's that. Some promising answers about game that I find myself very much looking forward to actually playing. I'll have a chance to do just that at E3 in June, and hopefully I'll be able to say for sure whether all these changes actually make The Witcher 3 a more fluid, user-friendly game than its predecessor. In the meantime, think I'll go back and finish that second playthrough of The Witcher 2 I've had on hold.
Geralt on a horse.
Will he use his sword from there?
Only time will tell.