Last year at E3 we were blown away by the demo of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and coming in to the same (or perhaps only very similar) locales at the Los Angeles Convention Center expectations were high. This time we were given a glimpse at the main story as the demo continued on from the Griffin battle showcased at Microsoft's press conference.
It's tricky showing off a grand open world role-playing game within the confines of E3. It's not the kind of game you play in 15 minute chunks after all. The way CD Projekt solved the dilemma was to compress what likely made up an hour and a half of the main storyline of the game into a 40 minute sitting, showing various aspects of Geralt's persona, a range of non-playable characters, a glimpse into the greater picture (without really spoiling much), and a closer look at some of the different environments we'll get to enjoy in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. It's the kind of demo where you're torn between taking notes, not missing a beat of the dialogue while trying to take in the scenery. Afterwards it feels like you've been on a rollercoaster that you could swear only lasted a few minutes, while your watch tells of a different story.
"How do you do a 5 minute demo of a hundred hour game. It's just crazy," says executive producer John Mamais. "So the Griffin thing [demo at Microsoft's press conference] was a hard thing to pull off. But it made sense to do a monster hunting quest for that."
Turns out the Griffin had a bounty placed on its head by a fellow with information related to the Wild Hunt, more specifically about a girl with ashen hair, we're told she's someone from Geralt's past and the sections of the main story we get to see lets us witness some of her struggles as Geralt follows in her footsteps, while walking the razor sharp edge between bad and even worse choices in the somewhat depressing world of The Witcher.
"[We're] pretty early on, basically, and you've heard about this ashen haired girl, and she's somebody that you know from your past," says Mamais. "It's a girl that appeared in the early saga of the books. But in terms of the game it's in the first quarter of the game."
We're introduced to Novigrad, the largest town in the game - a what a city it is. Full of life and presumably full of diversions. We're hurried along its medieval looking streets catching some of the main sights, the harbour, some of the key buildings. It's the 5 minute sightseeing tour, and the guide seems to skip over anything but general remarks on what we're seeing. We asked Mamais what to expect from the city.
"There's going to be some politics going on," says Mamais. "Some witch hunting stuff happening there. There's going to be some dungeons that you have to go down into and explore. And that's really all I want to talk about right now."
After visiting Novigrad we were taken to a swamp area and introduced to the mysterious "Ladies of the Woods" via a Godling, the ladies control an old woman, a servant if you will, and in order to learn more about the girl your chasing you're forced to try and deal with "an evil" that turns out to be a forest spirit. It's a wonderful peak into the world and lore of The Witcher - a world where not all monsters are to be hunted down, where deals can be struck and where an enemy may not be exactly what he or she seems to be. It's shades of grey (in a good way, unlike the E.L. James' shades), and while we first think we're helping the villagers to rid them of a dangerous forest spirit, perhaps things aren't as straight forward as that. In the demo, we took the straight forward approach killing the forest spirit even if he claimed he needed help protecting a bunch of orphans seen earlier in the demo. As we told the village elder about removing the threat telling him "the ladies" wanted their tribute, he cut off an ear for us to give to them.
We're not going to delve too deeply into the moment to moment action of the playthrough - afterall there was a lot of stuff going on, but needless to say it was captivating.
The demo gave us of good idea of the tough choices we'll be faced with in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. In this case it seems we were left with two poor choices - one would perhaps slow progress in our main quest, while the other meant a number of orphans disappeared and a village elder lost his ear. How these choices affect the greater story like rings on the water remains to be seen as we eagerly await the February release date.