Unquestionably this is an improvement, and a change that's unlikely to alienate devotees of the first game. Melee justice is still dispensed through meaty sword swipes while the finishing moves are just as gruesomely satisfying.

Planting his first blade through one side of an enemy's chest, then adding the second before ripping them both out and delivering a swift but clean decapitation, Geralt is still every inch the devil's carvery chef.

While it's a tighter, more engaging method for dealing with the miscreants of the world, doubts linger over the effectiveness of crowd control. Holding a monster at bay with a magical pushback while breaking down the defences of a melee opponent is only rewarding if you've held back the right enemy.

There's a niggling lack of feedback for single-entity, distant targeting and only a short amount of time between now and the game's release to get this right - or leave people clamouring for the earlier, drier system.

Combat is tighter than ever. Fierce.

Coupled with a layout that seems suspiciously suitable for a 360 controller, this move towards a brisker fighting pace raises inevitable questions about a console port.

Tomasz is coy: "I'm not saying we're doing a console version, but I'm always saying I want to do it. If we did not think beforehand about controls, then we would be digging deep and re-writing huge portions of the code."

We're playing only a small section of a mid-game, non-linear quest - a doll within a doll - and Tomasz is understandably cagey about giving away too much of the main story.

But he's confident that the team will deliver an experience that offers as much content as the first game, with even greater depth for those prepared to travel further along its non-linear path. As well as a story culminating in a possible 16 separate outcomes, there will be an unlockable 'insane' difficulty for those who fancy risking a 30-hour investment on a perma-death roll of the dice.

If you can resist the urge to become a jack-of-all-trades at the character development level, maxing out an area of combat speciality will lead to additional upgrades that are unique to that particular play-style. The devoted melee fighter will unlock an ability to unleash finishing moves upon multiple enemies for example, while potion-scoffing mystics gain a new Sign.

Aware that the Dallas-like employment of amnesia in the first game was somewhat awkward, the team is making greater efforts to ensure that a transition into the new story of character progression won't feel too forced, or leave players feeling cheated from past achievements. Improvements are also being made to the way back-story is revealed, not only for those unfamiliar with the books but the events of the first game.

Those who did complete the original Witcher will have the option to import their saved game into the sequel. Rather than turning the game into a half-product for those new to the series, the import instead rewards players by reflecting earlier decisions into the new story, and allowing access to certain parts of the inventory - not everything, but certainly swords, armour sets and some currency.

On the thorny issue of DRM, CD Projekt is taking a firm stance. Steam's natural protection aside, the digital versions of the game will remain DRM-free. While plans for the retail version are still under negotiation, the developer is clear that it will not follow the path of a certain infamously hard-line peer: "We'd rather break the contract."

Under the nurturing care of a developer who saw fit to scatter business sense to the four winds, devote a year to perfecting its fledgling title post-release, and then give it all away in exchange for nothing more than goodwill, The Witcher 2 will undoubtedly provide an expansive home for those explorers always keeping one eye on the next horizon.

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John Bedford

John Bedford

Editor in Chief, Metabomb

John is Metabomb's Editor in Chief, and is responsible for all of the Hearthstone news, features and guides content on the site.

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