As any role-playing game fan knows, 2015 is already shaping up to be a fantastic year for the genre – and nothing has contributed more to that rosy outlook than CD PROJEKT RED’s The Witcher: Wild Hunt. Starring the titular Geralt of Rivia, Wild Hunt, which is scheduled to release on May 19, 2015, promises a bigger, badder, and more detailed world than fans have ever seen in the series.
We’re excited as heck to see Wild Hunt on Xbox One, and we hope you are, too. That’s why we’ve decided to make its predecessor – the excellent The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings – available for free on Xbox 360 this January, as part of our Games with Gold program. Not only does this game serve as a deep, exciting introduction to the world of The Witcher, it stands on its own as one of the best RPGs of the past decade, and it will keep you enthralled for dozens (if not hundreds) of hours.
Assassins of Kings does just about everything that an action-RPG should do, and does it better than almost anything else. The controls are crisp and intelligently laid out; the character progression system is deep without being overwhelming; the graphics are absolutely crackling. And the characters have real motivations and respond realistically to your choices. What you do (or choose not to do) has real consequences for the outcome of the game, and for what kinds of trouble you find yourself getting into as you work your way toward that outcome. The game features a rich storyline, multidimensional characters, and the most well-rounded dark fantasy world this side of Game of Thrones.
As part of this month’s Games with Gold offering, we sat down with Jakub Szamałek, Senior Writer for CD PROJEKT RED, and asked him some questions about the story of Assassins of Kings – and how it ties into Wild Hunt.
Xbox Wire: The Witcher 2 starts off with a romantic liaison between Geralt and his love interest, Triss. For fans of the series, tell us a bit about the background of these two.
Jakub Szamałek: The Witcher books offer no clue as to how these two got to know each other – but it most likely happened through their mutual acquaintance, one Yennefer of Vengerberg. My guess is that Yennefer quickly realized she made a mistake, because there turned out to be a strong chemistry between Geralt and Triss. And so, after Geralt and Yennefer broke up yet again (their relationship has always been of on-and-off kind), Geralt and Triss became more than just friends.
I think it’s fair to say that they both influenced each other. Triss helped Geralt to pick up a bit of courtly savvy (something that never featured very highly on the Witcher curriculum) and learn more about magic. She also helped him a great deal with training his ward, Ciri. Geralt, on the other hand, helped Triss to see through her fellow sorceresses’ schemes and grow more independent.
Xbox Wire: What would you say to fans of, say, The Lord of the Rings about the differences in the fantasy of The Witcher versus the fantasy of that series?
Jakub Szamałek: The elves and dwarves of the Witcher universe may look similar to those of Middle-earth, but the resemblance is superficial. Sure, our elves are tall and lanky, and are good with bows, too. And dwarves tend to have a liking for mines and smithies. But, unlike in The Lord of the Rings, elves and dwarves are not honorable, proud races. They have been defeated by humans and now live among them – dirt-poor, oppressed, and hateful. Some of them took up arms again to form the so-called Scoia’tael, ruthless guerrilla fighters who swore to push humans back into the sea where they came from. So, when you see an elf in a forest, you shouldn’t expect him to play the flute and exchange niceties… but rather getting shot with a poisoned arrow.
Xbox Wire: The recent Wild Hunt gameplay preview makes it pretty clear that Witchers are none-too-popular in the Northlands – they’re seen as little more than mercenaries at best, and corrupt half-humans at worst. How have the people viewed Witchers historically in this world? What formed their current negative attitude? And why are there so few Witchers left in the world?
Jakub Szamałek: Indeed, Witchers are now a dying caste – but things were very different in the past. Once, there were many different Witcher schools, with their own distinct styles of fighting. Each year, they turned dozens of young boys into the ultimate monster slayers – agile, strong, and tough-as-nails. However, the magically induced mutations which all young Witchers had to endure in order to complete the training influenced not only their bodies, but also their minds, dampening their emotions and feelings.
This was motivated by the fear that warriors endowed with such exceptional skills would be tempted to use them to their own advantage, rather than stick to their original and somewhat ungrateful goal of defending the common folk from foul creatures for a handful of coins. The idea was that as long as Witchers don’t care for anything else than doing their jobs and getting paid, they won’t meddle in politics, or become mercenaries or bandits. In other words, they would stay neutral.
Everything worked as planned… but the Witchers’ aloofness and reticence made people distrust and resent them. After all, Witchers never shed a tear for monsters’ victims, they always demanded payment, and they don’t give a damn for the common folk’s problems as long as they weren’t caused by some beast. People started making up horrible stories about how Witchers actually lure monsters towards villages, just so they can later demand money for killing them. The Witchers did nothing to deny these tall tales – and so, little by little, people grew to fear them more than they feared the monsters. In the end, provoked by hateful itinerant preachers, villagers came down upon Witcher schools with pitchforks and torches, killed everyone, and burned the buildings to the ground.
Very few Witchers survived these massacres. Disillusioned and bitter, they gave up training new brethren… but continue to ply their trade. After all, this is what they were made to do.
Xbox Wire: According to the Wild Hunt gameplay preview, the Conjunction released magic upon the world. Is it possible to remove or reduce the influence of magic released as a result of the Conjunction, or is this now impossible? The video implies that another Conjunction is possibly on the horizon; what consequences could this have on the world of The Witcher?
Jakub Szamałek: The Conjunction of the Spheres is a mysterious cosmic event which made the world of The Witcher what it is. Once in a few millennia, through some sort of a magical catastrophe, it happens… and things get ugly. Monsters come and go; climates change; everything gets mixed up in the worst possible way. There is no agreement as to what triggers a Conjunction, although some argue that this is a natural phenomenon, not unlike an eclipse or the coming of a comet – and that there is nothing one can do to prevent it from happening. No one knows if this is the truth or not.
So, there you have it! If you’re the type who enjoys backstory, character, and plot twists, you’ll be ecstatic at how well The Witcher combines those elements with action-packed gameplay. And since we’re giving away Assassins of Kings in January absolutely free to anyone with an Xbox Live Gold membership, now is the time to slake your thirst for adventure – and save some coin while you’re at it. By the time you’re finished with the second installment, The Witcher: Wild Hunt will be out on Xbox One to keep you coming back for more!