Spotlight: The Witcher and Witcher 2

The Witcher followed the story of Geralt of Rivia, mutant monster-slayer and hero of Andrzej Sapkowski's now-translated books. As a Polish novelist Sapkowski created his own take on the fantasy genre, packed it with sex and violence and managed to corner a market that had been inundated by Tolkien-clones since day one. The first game was released on a modified (heavily) version of Bioware's Aurora Engine and gained a huge following from Sapkowski's fans and RPG fans.

It was not without its problems of course, but the whole game was fun from start to finish. Later on Atari and CD Projekt RED released an Enhanced version that added tons of features, new dialogue, re-recorded lines, re-mastered inventory system and even more. This resulted in a better game all round and even more value for money, since the EE was released free to anyone who already owned the Witcher. Along with this came 2 new bonus adventures created with the game's own tools.

The Witcher is still going strong and now Witcher 2: The Assassin of Kings is nearly upon us, released on the 17th of May. This game is built on the developer's own engine and has a far broader action-adventure feel than the previous game. It's not been dumbed-down though, far from it. The Witcher 2 has numerous elements to the game that make it worthy of the Mature Rating that it's going to get across the board.

Combat looks far more visceral in Witcher 2 already, with a lot of unlockable moves available for the battle-worn Geralt this time around. There is a brand new skill system and combat stances, tactics, alchemy and bombs play a more vital role this time around. Geralt has access to his Signs once more and each one has been tuned for the game this time around, they can be used far more effectively in combat and for example can be combined with Geralt's sword, bombs and other tricks.

Imagine that you want to lay down a gas cloud with one tactic, and then you wait for a little while and use the Igni Sign to ignite that cloud. You get a wonderful explosive surprise against your foes and Geralt can follow up with punishing sword moves to get the job done. Combat has been tuned to replace the one-click combo system of the first game and now involves numerous dodges, flourishes and weightier combat moves. Combining them with the sign known as Aard it is possible to make Geralt into a jedi-like combatant capable of shoving his enemies over or even off high ledges with his one hand, whilst his blade deals with threats around him.

There are finishing moves to unlock down the skill tree, there are group finishers and there is even a sixth sign to find if you take Geralt down that path. There are numerous paths to follow, those of the swordsman, the magic user (concentrating on the Signs themselves) and the alchemist, since Witchers use potions to augment themselves in combat. Each potion has a toxicity rating and Witchers are the only characters that can consume them without too much ill effect. Of course, consume too many high toxicity potions and you could seriously hamper Geralt in combat. It is also important to know that the environment will affect Geralt's combat magic too, so if it rains you'll find that electrical based signs will seriously increase in power and so will those effects against the Witcher.

Witcher 2 also has the same non-linear style story with even more far-reaching consequences than the Witcher this time around. In the first game it was a few choices that didn't appear to have an effect right away, later on you found out what happened to those choices and sometimes it was a totally unexpected event. If you gave the bows to the elves, they would use them on someone later and you'd see that aftermath. In the case of Witcher 2's various quests and adventures, there is going to be a lot of scope to use different tactics to solve the various problems - such as using stealth (a first for Witcher 2's gameplay) to sneak out of a dungeon rather than brute force.

Witcher 2 promises even darker turns and more choice in its adventure, with massive realms to explore and a living world. The living world is populated by colourful characters that have their own jobs, tasks, lives and live them regardless of the player's actions. There seems to be a sense of community about the world that's presented this time around, people move from location to location, do their daily tasks, gather to talk to each other and take shelter from the storms and rain that often plague the various villages with inclement weather.

If you draw Geralt's sword in a town or city, expect the guards to react and so will the people. It's this level of AI that sets it apart from other games like this and creates an edge of believable reality about the world presented before the player, it's full of character and those characters give a damn about what's going on around them. They don't just stand around waiting to be interacted with as quest givers.

The game also earns its Mature Rating with a frank depiction of sex, this isn't a little giggle-fest cut-scene and nor is it pornography. If you have a problem with sex then really, this game isn't for you. In fact it's not for kids so I hope the moral majority takes a back seat in regards to this one, because if they thought Mass Effect 1 and 2 with its schoolyard groping was sex... they haven't seen anything yet. Gone are the sex cards and the juvenile approach to sex, Witcher 2 doesn't shy away from the act at all.

Sapkowski didn't shy away from it in the books, so the developers have obviously decided that they're not going to be scared about maturity. I say 'good' on them for that. That's another rant for another time.

From what we've seen of the Witcher 2 it's going to be a good looking game as well, with a lot more detail and quality to the characters. There seem to be a few animation issues from some of the footage we've seen, but that is usually because its early version footage and the developers don't want to let the cat out of the bag concerning their final version. What is really cool is that the developers motion-captured their stuntmen using real shields, and real armour, so that knight you're going to fight in the game, he feels like he's wearing plate mail in combat and reacts like it.

Look for our full review after the Witcher 2's release and we'll give you the complete skinny on the game, we also promise no spoilers at all.

As a last and final note, here are the PC specs for the game:

Minimum System Requirements:
OS: Windows XP SP2 / Windows Vista SP2 / Windows 7 (32/64-bit)
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.2 Ghz or AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+
Memory: 1 GB Windows XP / 2 GB Windows Vista and Windows 7
Video Card: 512 MB RAM, supporting Pixel Shader 3.0 (Nvidia GeForce 8800 or ATI Radeon HD3850)

Recommended System Requirements:
OS: Windows XP SP2 / Windows Vista SP2 / Windows 7 (32/64-bit)
Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad or AMD Phenom X4
Memory: 3 GB Windows XP / 4 GB Windows Vista and Windows 7
Video Card: 1 GB RAM, supporting Pixel Shader 3.0 (Nvidia GeForce GTX260 or ATI Radeon HD4850)

Sound Card: compatible with DirectX 9.0c
HDD: 16 GB of disc space
Disc Drive: DVD x8, compatible with DVD9
Instalation requires administrator access.
Game supports Xbox 360 controller for Windows.