Apr 162011

For me, The Witcher 2 is easily the most anticipated game of 2011. Granted, that might have something to do with my expectation/fear that grad school will suck up every minute of available gaming time after July or August…but it’s also down to the magnificence of Polish developer CD Projekt RED’s first Witcher game.

The Witcher had its share of faults, but it was the most immersive and engaging RPG I’d played in years. Most of its limitations were later addressed by a sprawling “Enhanced Edition,” which replaced the game’s basic edition at retail – but was also released for free to all owners of the game. Remarkably, most of the EE’s improvements address issues so commonplace that it’s hard to imagine any other developer treating its fan-base with such regard. The EE increased the poly count of background characters, for example, and retranslated Polish text which had originally been left out of the English-language version due to word limits imposed on the game’s localization. (It also improved loading times and user interface, perhaps the game’s largest problems at release.)

At a time when the gaming news was full of major publishers slagging on the PC as a platform, CD Projekt RED’s focus on quality paid off handsomely. This independently-developed, PC-exclusive RPG sold over a million copies in its first year (Fall 2007-08), and it’s had a long tail in the 2.5 years since.

Fast forward: The Witcher 2 is due in North America on May 17. Two “final” previews hit virtual newstands in the past few days at Destructoid and RockPaperShotgun. Destructoid’s write-up is especially glowing:

I looked back on my experience with Dragon Age II afterwards, and BioWare’s fantasy RPG now feels like it’s in almost every way a mere toddler in the shadow of The Witcher 2. That’s not to say DA II sucked, but a single village in The Witcher 2 already has more personality than all of Kirkwall.

Pre-orders on the game receive a 10% discount at a wide range of digital distribution sites, including Steam, Direct2Drive, and GamersGate. However, GoodOldGames offers a DRM-free edition with the same 10% discount and a host of extra features, including a free bonus RPG. (I highly recommend Gothic 2: Gold.) Sure, smart money says the DRM will eventually be patched out of The Witcher 2 anyway, as it was with the original game. But GOG.com is run by CD Projekt, the parent company of the game’s developer CD Projekt RED, so this is the site to use if you want more of your dollars going directly to the game’s creators.

I’d like to say that calculus homework will take precedence over The Witcher 2 this May, but who am I kidding? Keep an eye out here for additional coverage.