June is a special time of year for gamers. The weather is beautiful, the sun is shining, and despite all that we might be doing outdoors, we have three special days at the edge of our seat as the industry’s biggest hardware and software manufacturers give us a peek into what’s coming over the next year. These are the days of E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, an event which is more and more being called the super bowl of video gaming. It’s an apt description and this year’s conference was no let down. Between new trailers, overviews, announcements, and insider looks at developing projects, RPG gamers have a lot to be excited about. We’ll be covering this all week at MMORPG but this is your first look at what’s in store. Let’s get into it.
CD Projekt Red started things off right during the Microsoft press conference, giving us a fresh demo of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in action. The stage presentation saw Geralt venturing through the open forest of No Man’s Land hunting down a gryphon, first wounding it with a crossbow bolt and then tracking its blood using his Witcher abilities, finally confronting it in a glorious battle. In a slightly disappointing move, CDPR cut to CGI just before the demo’s end and skipped the gruesome finish, instead showing Geralt riding his horse back into the city of Novigrad with the head tied to his saddle.
If this were all that was shown, players would still have left salivating but CD Projekt upped the ante, showing two other gameplay sequences in floor demonstrations. The shorter of the two featured Geralt using the same tracking ability to find a lost “boy” in a swamp, if you could call him that. The second demo went deep into Novigrad, a bustling little city home to dozens of shops, brothels, crafting stations, mini-games, and “thousands” of citizens. (Take that last one with a grain of salt).
Throughout these demos was a running commentary from the developers that has left me more excited for Wild Hunt than ever before. They described the updated combat system as easy to learn, hard to master; refined from the previous games to place an emphasis on parrying and clever use of Witcher signs instead of dodge-rolls. This is a welcome change after Witcher 2’s mighty leaps and defensive ripostes. That enemies can now be dismembered is gruesome but wickedly cool. Let’s face it guys, it’s high time head’s roll in this series and damned if Geralt doesn’t do it with style. Speaking of, The Witcher 2 featured 20 combat animations. Wild Hunt has over 90.
Geralt can now jump, a concession to the expansive open world. They developers didn’t want any artificial barriers marring their “if you see it, you can reach it” design ethos. The world is 35 times bigger than that of its predecessor, which already felt large. The developers claim that, horseback at a full gallop, it would take twenty minutes to run North to South. Within that world, players will be free to take on the main story laterally, approaching missions in multiple ways whenever they like. Side-missions are plentiful, doubling the main story which is said to be 50 hours alone, but in a very Bethesda-like move, some quests block out others, so do take care which gangs you’re taking up work for.
Does anyone else get the vibe CDPR is throwing down the challenge to Bethesda? With their story chops, it seems pretty likely they might even beat them at their own game.
Not to be outdone, Bioware showed up ready to play. They threw down the gauntlet during the EA press conference, not only showing a new sequence of Dragon Age: Inquisition gameplay, but also teases for Mass Effect 4 and an as yet untitled new project “in a contemporary setting.” What we were shown of the last two was brief, mainly highlighting the power of their graphics engine (which really was stunning). Mass Effect fans will be happy to know, however, that this appears to be a fresh take with new worlds and new characters to fall in love with.
The real push was for Dragon Age, due to release this October. The stage demo, honestly, played it far too safe and bordered on boring. The presenter played through a sequence featuring a dragon battle. While the fire breath and overall graphics tech were stunning, the actual gameplay emphasized the on-the-fly character switching the series is known for and little else. For Bioware, the real impressive stuff came in the private demonstrations.