The rise and rise of CDP has been a remarkable thing to watch. What we’re seeing is a studio spooling up to full power. The enormous ambition of The Witcher failed to really hit its mark, but the intention was clear. The even greater ambition of The Witcher 2 revealed CDP to be an RPG creator that was hitting its stride, as well as achieving its ambitions, and now the third game, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, threatens to outshine an entire industry with its technical and artistic prowess. Full power, I suspect, has been reached.
There’s every reason for scepticism at this early, hype-manufacturing stage, but what we saw at Gamescom this year suggests that The Witcher 3 could be the most important mainstream game of 2014. If nothing else the rather blunt claim of “a world thirty-five times the size of The Witcher 2” should get our attention.
What was shown to press audience at Gamescom was a 45-minute sequence played and narrated by the developers. It was as staged as all such demos are, but there was no doubt that this was the actual game (mistakes in combat revealed that, and we’ll come back to that), running as intended. Well, mostly. There was cause for CDP to joke that the horse AI was currently just donkey AI right now…
But these little glitches aside, it was breathtaking.
That’s not to say that the general visual fidelity was greatly improved over The Witcher 2 – it’s a very similar looking game, but the details are incrementally bettered. Better animation, fancier particle and filtering effects would be flourishes you’d expect, but it’s the scale of the thing: being able to peer off into vast landscapes, then leap on a horse or climb into a boat and head out into those vistas, fills me with anticipation. Nor is it an experience that is necessarily locked down by its loyalty to storytelling. While the main story will spill through the game in a certain direction, the entire game space – an archipelago of islands and a chunk of the North Kingdoms of The Witcher’s world – will be open for the first moments of the game. Explore, say CDP, and damn right, says I.
We watched as the developers rode to a distant castle, spoke with the Jarl, and then headed out into the lavish countryside to look for Geralt’s next lead in his search for The Wild Hunt – a group of demonic slavers that are raiding villages from their nightmarish floating galleons. As Geralt travelled, the men from CDP spoke about the need to create points of interest across the landscape, from villages to ruins and to more mysterious things besides. Having dealt with bandits harassing a farmer, Geralt climbed a hill towards a desolate ruin. A spectacular fight with a horned monster – half stag, half bear, half ick – ensued, and led to the creature fleeing, which could have given the player an opportunity to monster-hunt in the huge landscape. Tracking down beasts is now at the heart of the experience.