In 2007, publisher and developer CD Projekt released The Witcher, a PC role-playing game based off of Andrezj Sapkowski's book series. Players took control of Geralt, one of the few remaining witchers – a group of powerful and enhanced monster hunters for fire – and explored a medieval fantasy world laced with prejudices, horrors and conspiracies. It was acclaimed for its difficult choices, rippling consequences, and lack of black and white morality, and soon sold over a million and a half copies. With the sequel soon to be released, I've compiled a list of what I consider to be the top ten reasons why you should be excited.
#10 The Best Looking RPG of 2011
While the original game was built on BioWare's aging Aurora engine, CD Projekt opted to create a brand new one, titled REDengine, for its sequel. The results are stunning. Textures are crisp and richly detailed, and animations fluid. Specular lighting casts beautiful rays of gold across the landscape. In addition to the advanced technical features, the world of The Witcher 2 is large and expansive, and the combination creates something truly wondrous to look at. When a developer isn't held back by console hardware limitations, this is the result, and it may very well be the most visually impressive role-playing game of the year.
#9 Hard Decisions, Real Consequences.
Players can once again expect a role-playing game with meaningful, difficult choices. Small, seemingly unimportant quests in the beginning could come back later with far-reaching effects, and the world and your decisions are colored with shades of grey. Clashing forces exist not as good nor evil, but as different ideals. You may find yourself pausing to think with careful consideration how your Geralt will respond to those around him. In fact, a political map will evolve as you play, your actions impacting the fate of nations.
#8 A Mature Setting and Storyline
The Witcher 2 is certainly not traditional fantasy. There is racism; relationships between dwarves, elves and humans are tenuous at best. There is torture. There is kidnapping and murder. Kingdoms rain fire upon each other, and there are monsters that stalk through the sewers and streets, hills and crypts. As one of the few remaining witchers, your skills are sought by many, and you may find yourself fighting more than that which goes bump in the night.
#7 Companions Are People Too?
In many other games, companions exist as malleable entities, there to be shaped and serve at your will. But the developers at CD Projekt are attempting to give their characters a greater force of personality and weight to the storyline. They may fight amongst each other, interject dialogs and change the course of events, or allow you to resolve quests in different ways through their aid.
#6 A Storm of Swords
Everyone loves collecting loot, and thankfully, there's plenty to hoard here. You can find, craft, or buy more than 70 different steel and silver swords, as well as armors, alchemical potions and traps. And if you don't wish to leave your growing stash of gear, plants and skinned hides behind, worry not. There is no weight limit in the game. You'll simply move slower and be unable to dodge.
#5 Deep Customization
Aside from choosing what to say and do, Geralt can be customized through a number of different branching and tiered talent trees. The top-most tree, training, allows you to invest in talents such as dagger throwing, arrow deflecting, increased health, parrying and more. Once you've moved down this tree, you unlock the much larger swordsmanship, magic, and alchemy development paths. You can't become a master of all, however, so you'll have to invest your points wisely. Mutagens can also be applied to enhance your talents or attributes.
#4 Sign Language
Signs, magical spells cast by witchers through hand gestures, have also been expanded. Not only are there new signs to invest in, but some have influences outside of combat in interesting ways. For instance, the Axii sign can manipulate characters during conversations.
#3 Visceral, Tactical Combat
One of the biggest improvements over the first game has to be the all new combat mechanics. Instead of feeling repetitious, you'll now face foes that are resistant to certain types of attack and damage. A group of soldiers may have men with heavy shields in their midst, capable of easily blocking your attacks. You may run into a group of monsters that dangerously explode upon death but have a weakness for ice spells and traps. You'll have to make use of quick dodges, traps or bombs, alchemical oils or potions to enhance your blades or abilities, and combos to survive those tricky encounters.
#2 No Regrets
If you've played the first game, kept your save and are happy with the decisions you've made, you can import it into The Witcher 2. It won't dramatically alter the game, so new players will have nothing to fear by starting with the second chapter, but certain items will carry over and various choices will be reflected.
Similar to the contents of the Enhanced Edition of the original Witcher, CD Projekt is rewarding players who buy the sequel with more than just a promising game. Every physical copy of the standard edition will include an impressive case, making-of DVD, soundtrack CD, map, full strategy guide, game manual, pamphlet and coin, and two papercraft dolls. Digital copies include nearly everything from the physical edition in downloadable and printable form. If you want more, a collector's edition includes everything above as well as a 200 page artbook, a set of dice and playing cards, three stickers, a second coin based off the in-game currency, several more papercraft dolls, and finally a sculpture of Geralt's head.