While Gigabyte aimed to impress at PAX East this year, showcasing a number of powerful machines that sported its motherboards, the real attractions were the games they were running. Among the slew of playable games was a demo of the sequel to one of the most highly acclaimed modern RPGs, the Witcher 2.
The machine that I used to play the Witcher 2 demo was provided by Gigabyte and on the surface, the specs looked impressive, as it sported a G1 Killer Assassin motherboard with two 3.2 GHz, Core i7 960 processors from Intel. The machine also packed a whopping 12 gigabytes of RAM and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 graphics card. It was all very impressive on paper, to be sure, but ultimately what I experienced was relatively average.
The demo for the Witcher 2 looked good, but not great — it was on par to running 2009’s Dragon Age: Origins on the high-end settings. While this proved to be a bit of a knock on the game itself, it also showed me that the machine wasn’t exactly a force to be reckoned with. With the way the game looked, I expected nothing less than butter-smooth performance, but choppy frame rates and screen tearing abounded. It wasn’t anything that ruined the gameplay experience, but it’s always uncomfortable when you can’t even turn the camera without the frame rate dipping.
In Gigabyte’s defense, I never experienced much lag or slowdown when there were a ton of enemies on screen. The machine’s performance was consistent, for better or for worse, regardless of whether or not I was standing alone in an open field or in a cluster of foes swinging their swords and casting spells.
The demo itself was quite enjoyable, albeit a bit on the familiar side. Action-oriented fantasy RPGs like this (again, I draw a comparison to Dragon Age) are always fun. You roam through exotic towns and sprawling landscapes on epic quests, battling fantastical creatures along the way. What’s not to like? But the enjoyability of that experience is the very reason this has been done before.
That being said, it was still a blast to engage in swift, real-time combat with an array of weapons (my longsword proved to be particularly effect) and cast devastatingly powerful spells on the fly. Gameplay and combat were made especially smooth thanks to an array of hotkeys and quick commands for spells (although I had to figure them out on my own through some trial and error…would it have killed you to have a controls placard on display, Gigabyte?) Also, the zoomed-in, cinematic finishing moves that I would occasionally pull off in combat were a very nice touch.
As a matter of fact, the camera and controls in general were comfortable and familiar, especially with movement and camera angles, which was a relief; many a game have failed in the past due to a wonky camera system. Though an isometric perspective will almost always be my preference (hearkening back to the days of Baldur’s Gate II), this camera was easily maneuverable by holding down the right mouse button and rotating (or panning up and down), much like you would in Dragon Age.
The quest that the demo centered around was one of the few things that set the Witcher 2 apart from the rest of the action RPGs that it shares so many similarities with. Rather than engaging in some boring, simplistic, run-and-fetch quest that plagues so many RPGs these days, I was set off on a particularly creative (and at times, humorous) quest to discover the cause behind a number of mysterious deaths that had plagued the young, male population of the town.
After investigating what was basically a murder scene and the bodies of the victims in the catacombs, I came to the conclusion that these men had died at the hands of a succubus. I was expecting something far more generic, but I was pleasantly surprised by the turn the story took.
An interesting gameplay design choice that I encountered during the demo was a pseudo-detective mode where I had to investigate the corpse of a victim to figure out what had caused the death of all these young men. While pushing the boundaries of appropriate behavior, I rooted around in the catacombs and eventually found a corpse that hadn’t completely decayed and fallen apart. At this point, I could investigate different parts of the body and examine the damage done, which included fingernail marks on the back. It was at this point that my character was able to conclude that the suspect here was a succubus. It was a refreshing addition to what was otherwise familiar — but still enjoyable — gameplay, and it reminded me a lot of the investigating minigames found in the Condemned games.
The closing of the quest proved to be equally intriguing when I hired the help of a romantic poet (the source of much of the quest’s humor) to lure out the succubus at night so I could slay her. It was an all-around solid quest that I hope is a good indicator of the type of quests that will be featured in the game as a whole.