The Witcher 2 : Assassins of Kings is shaping up to be a can’t-miss fantasy RPG for the Windows PC. For those who are unfamiliar with CD Projekt Red’s Witcher franchise, the games are based upon the popular Witcher saga series by Polish novelist Andrzej Sapkowski. Unlike most typical fantasy RPG’s, The Witcher is heavily influenced by Slavic mythology. It also touches on subjects that are typically considered taboo such as politics and racism.

You play as Geralt of Rivia, a professional monster slayer or “Witcher.” The first game, which sold over a million copies, offered a more traditional approach to the PC RPG genre in that the battles were mostly a point and click affair with some timing elements thrown in. The Witcher 2 looks to change that by changing the combat to an active system where the player is now allowed to more directly control Geralt in battle, making the game more of an action RPG. Don’t worry if you’re not a proficient hack and slash gamer, though. Tomasz Gop, Senior Producer of The Witcher 2, told us that on the easy setting the battles will be very manageable. He also emphasized that the game will remain a hardcore RPG and that this change was not done with the console market in mind. Story and relationships are to remain the integral thrust of the game, and the title retains its skill tree of swordsmanship, alchemy, and magic.

Some other additions that will be found in the sequel include:

  • A nonlinear storyline that has multiple possible endings.
  • A new community subsystem that is akin to that found in Fable 2. The non-player characters will have their own motivations and lifestyle and will react to Geralt based upon his actions.
  • Geralt will be able to more freely explore his environment, which will present more tactical options. Geralt can now jump over fences, scale walls, and ascend rock formations.
  • A more complex dialogue system that aims to draw the player deeply into the story. Conversations can include more than two characters at a time and some conversations will require a response from Geralt within a set amount of time.
  • The overall time to complete the game will be shorter, but the gameplay will feature more events and have a more intense feel overall.
  • Sexual encounters will now be more story-driven rather than a “collectible card” mini-game.
  • No loading screens!

Those who completed The Witcher will be able to import their save game into The Witcher 2, a la Mass Effect 2. Decisions made in the first game will affect the world of The Witcher 2, but Gop emphasized that players need not have completed the first Witcher to fully enjoy or understand the story of the sequel.

We were permitted to see some new gameplay footage, which looked very promising despite being in the alpha build stage. The game features a brand new engine that is a marked improvement over the original, which was no slouch.  Below are some of the screenshots of the footage we observed for your enjoyment.

CD Projekt Red does intend to release The Witcher 2 onto the console gaming market at some point in the future, but at this time, Gop could not confirm a timeline for this. He did say that the new engine created for the title was also designed with the console market in mind. More information about a possible console release may come in the second half of this year.

What we saw of The Witcher 2 has us excited about its potential. Notwithstanding the Mass Effect series, deep and original RPG experiences are a rarity in gaming today. This is definitely one title that RPG fans should keep on their radar.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is scheduled for release on Windows PC in Q1 2011.