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GenCon 2007 - Atari booth

by: Tyler -
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While I spent much of my time at GenCon focusing on my tabletop gaming obsessions, I did manage to wander by for a visit with the good folks at Atari to take a look at a few of their new titles. 

First up, I got a nice long look at The Witcher, a very interesting new action-RPG. Set in a dark fantasy world, The Witcher is looking to make some interesting changes to the generic fantasy fare. Players take on the role of the Witcher Geralt, a near-human mutant, feared and awed by the rest of humanity. As a mutant, Geralt is privy to great powers and some impressive fighting abilities, but he finds himself stuck in a world that either loathes him or wants to use him for their own gain. Yes, this is a rather gloomy setting, made even grittier by the fact that there’s no real Good vs. Evil in play here. Players will have to make many tough ethical choices, most often merely different shades of grey. 
And here lies one of the key ideas of The Witcher: many choices and actions made early in the game have delayed repercussions. Players can’t simply save and load to get the best outcome for an ethical dilemma—simply lending aid to a particular person may have game-altering effects hours of play later, making a re-load painful at best. Of course, the online community will quickly point out the most power-garnering choices, but for the non-spoiler purist, The Witcher should be a treat.
Gameplay consists of a lot of real-time hack-n-slash, but The Witcher takes combat to a slightly deeper level than most action-RPGs. When fighting, certain icons appear over the enemy, and clicking at appropriate times can set up powerful combos, while mindlessly clicking will break these chains of attack. Combat itself looked fairly fast and furious, with a monsters often ganging up to overwhelm Geralt. Three different fighting styles could be adopted to deal with the given battle, so Geralt could at the flick of a hotkey change from one-on-many tactics to a more focused one-on-one attack. Of course, Geralt can also command some powerful magic-like abilities, should players wish to tailor his progression in that fashion.
Speaking of character development, the designers wanted to take a “what you see is what you get” approach to leveling up.  Picking a new skill or power has immediate, often quite flashy results. There’s no “3% increase in combat speed” skill choice here—Geralt gets a new skill, something goes BOOM in new and impressive ways. 
The Witcher also sets another action-RPG staple on its ear—the archetypical Potion works in a much different fashion. Oh, sure, potions give Geralt lots of cool benefits and abilities, but there’s just one small catch: all these Witcher potions are poison. So now players need to carefully analyze the costs and benefits of these liquid treasures.
I didn’t really get a good chance to see much of the story development during the various snippets of game I saw, so I can’t say much about that just yet. However, The Witcher is a good-looking game, although it certainly isn’t the most graphically advanced title on the market. But what I saw and heard certainly drew me in and kept me immersed in the world. This is certainly a title that’s high up on my radar right now.
After my time with The Witcher, I wandered across the booth to check out the latest expansion for Neverwinter Nights 2, Mask of the Betrayer. Now, I’ll have to admit upfront, I’ve been a very bad RPG fan, and haven’t had the pleasure of running through Neverwinter 2 (something I think I’m going to remedy soon, however). But I can say, Mask of the Betrayer certainly makes the D&D fan in me salivate. Set after the events in the original, Betrayer takes things Epic for another 15-20 hours of gaming goodness. 
And things look great—oodles of (so I’m told) new graphics and toolsets are making their debut, along with a nice assortment of new classes and races. Players can jump right in from their imported NWN2 characters, roll up a new character, or even start from scratch from the beginning of NWN2 with one of the new races and classes and make a marathon run all the way through. I also got to see several very cool aspects of the story, including a very interesting story-based mechanic that may just have to make its way to my next tabletop D&D session. In the interest of spoilers I won’t say more on the topic, but I will say that the luxury of resting after each and every fight is gleefully ripped away from the players. In about a half-hour, I was convinced that I need to play the original NWN2 quickly so that I’m up to speed in time for the fall release. Kudos to the design team for piquing my interest, and I look forward to seeing this in action. 
And so I bid adieu to the folks at Atari and wandered back to the world of physical dice and cardboard counters, but I know that in a few months I’m going to be putting the tabletop gaming on hold for a bit while I dive through a pair of intriguing titles.