The success of the 2007 RPG, The Witcher, put CD Projekt Red in an interesting situation. In the space of a single game, it grew from an anonymous European developer into a Respected RPG Studio, with all of the expectations that moniker entails: specifically, broadening the audience for the follow-up without alienating the core of fans who made the original such a hit.
It's a trickier balancing act than you might think. RPG fans are the most volatile, hard-to-please gamers on the face of the planet, while the hardcore end of the genre's scale, where The Witcher chews its bubblegum, sometimes seems intentionally designed to drive away mainstream gamers. So with The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings finally made official, the obvious question is: how do you make and keep everyone happy?
"We've approached the changes and improvements in two ways," CD Projekt Red Senior Producer Tomasz Gop said. "First, we need to give people who just want to experience the story something that they can play. We did that; the combat can be really simple for those who prefer it that way. On the other hand, there are new options, as we've dropped the time-based sequences and moved toward letting players make their own style of fighting - sword strikes, combos, magic, using items, a defensive approach, in any order they wish."
The "time-based sequences" refers to The Witcher's unusual combat mechanics, which relied on carefully-timed mouse-clicks to build complex, deadly sword combos. It was a real change from the more action-oriented approach taken by most games and it didn't really catch fire with a lot of players. While it's been dropped from the sequel, what's taken its place sounds equally complex and much more visceral.
"Not only does combat offer more variety right now, it's also more connected with the world of The Witcher and with character development," Gop said. "If you know how to kill one monster, you're okay. But if you want to get really good, you will need to make use of Geralt's expert monster knowledge to, for example, find out more about the ecosystem, nests, hierarchy of the creatures living around some area. Then you could use this knowledge (together with some handy tools, alchemy etc.), to exterminate more than just a single monster, using more sophisticated methods. It would, of course, reward you with better loot, more respect from the communities and such."
"The Witcher is a master swordsman, a mutant, so it was pretty important for us to make him move and look like he could really do things faster and stronger than any man," he continued. "If you are looking for tactics, you definitely will want to check out the variety of strikes, combos and ways to combine it with magic. But if you're all about fast and painless fights, you might as well just mash your buttons - I mean, there are people who play RPGs and don't really care about combat because the story is what keeps them in. We implemented a dual approach to combat in The Witcher 2 - if you're not into it, just chose the easy difficulty level and there you go. For others, there will be so much underneath."