Game: The Witcher
Developer: CD Projekt
The Witcher is an RPG based on a series of fantasy stories and novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, which I’m sure you’ve all read. What? You mean you haven’t read them, just because they happen to be written in Polish by an author whose name I probably couldn’t pronounce without several years of training? I’m shocked! If you think of the things that come to mind when you hear the term “fantasy” you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of what this is like. A medieval style world full of monsters, dwarves, elves and the usual cliches. It’s a little bit darker than your average orc slaughter-em-up though, with less of the usual ridiculously nice heroes. You play Geralt, who is a witcher. A witcher seems to have absolutely nothing to do with stopping witches, and is instead a sort of mercenary monster slayer, so why they have that name I can’t even begin to imagine, other than something being lost in translation. As Geralt, you go around killing monsters and performing side quests in the typical RPG style, while following a reasonable but not spectacular storyline.
Let’s take a look at some of the good and bad points of the game. One of the main interesting features of the game is the fact that the characters tend to avoid the usual extremes of good and evil that everyone usually falls into in the average RPG. Most of the characters in The Witcher avoid this sort of black and white characterisation, falling instead into a murky sort of middle ground that makes you actually think about who you want to help. Many of the decisions you get to make in the game revolve around the central conflict between the Order of the Flaming Rose and the Scoia’tael. The Order of the Flaming Rose are a group of knights, spouting the usual nonsense about honour while discriminating against all non-human races. The Scoia-tael are a group of non-humans who are fighting for their freedom, although good as their cause might be, they’re doing it by using terrorist tactics. I don’t quite understand where the logic behind this was, since I can’t imagine anyone thinking “Hey, I think I’ll accept the elves as equals now that I know they’re happy to go around slaughtering my friends.” But whatever, it means that neither side can be considered entirely good or bad, so you have to think through what you want to do carefully.
Another interesting aspect of this game, which I’d like to see more, is how these decisions are handled. Usually in these games, whatever decision you make will have immediate consequences, meaning you can see what happens straight away and maybe reload if you don’t like it. The Witcher handles things in a slightly more believable and interesting way. A minor, seemingly irrelevant decision you make might turn out to have a logical consequence later in the game that you didn’t anticipate. It makes the choices you make have a genuine effect on the whole game rather than just on the one small section of the game that they occur in.
The combat system in The Witcher is unusual. Instead of the RPG standard point and click interface, or full combat control of games like Oblivion, this uses a system that falls somewhere in between the two. You attack enemies by clicking on them, but rather than then just leaving your character to get on with it, you have to continue to click on the enemy at the appropriate times. Timing your clicks properly allows you to build up a rapid succession of hits while preventing them from attacking you. It keeps you involved in the combat a little more than just leaving your characters to fight off the attacks while you go and make yourself a cup of tea. There’s also two separate swords that you carry, one that causes most damage to human enemies and one that causes most against monsters. Each of the swords has three attack styles, and choosing the correct one of these along with the right sword is vital to dispatching the enemies quickly and efficiently. While the combat system does work reasonably well, it can become repetitive at times due to the annoyance in some areas of constantly respawning monsters. Fortunately, it wasn’t too long before I realised I could run away from most of them, thus relieving some of the tedium of constant fighting.
The Witcher actually has an 18 age rating, and I was hoping that this was due to a proper mature and intelligent adult storyline. However, I think it’s actually more to do with the fact that the instant Geralt meets a woman he seems to attempt, and usually succeeds, in jumping into bed with them. Sometimes the women are harder to convince, and need him to do something for them, such as give them a flower, before they’ll drag him off to their bedroom. Women in those parts must really go for the rugged, white haired and scarred look. Whenever this happens, you get a picture of a collectable card featuring the woman in a semi-nude pose. It’s like some bizarre adult version of Pokemon: Sexually Transmitted Diseases – Gotta Catch ‘Em All™! I’ve nothing against sex in games if there’s a reason for it to be there, but this is clearly just tacked on with absolutely no purpose relevant to the game.
The game isn’t short of problems either. When it first came out, there were plenty of bugs, although thankfully the worst of them were fixed in the later patches. It doesn’t change some of the other fundamental flaws though. The interface is several times more complex than it actually needs to be, featuring all the information about various aspects of the game spread out over multiple screens when one or two would do. It also has a confusing alchemy interface where you can mix up potions using ingredients found around the levels. Thankfully, the game has a good range of difficulty levels, and playing on the easiest means you’ll never have to create any potions to get through the game, as well as letting you get through the combat quicker if you’re the sort of player (like me) or plays RPGs for the RP part of it rather than the fighting.
There’s a couple of optional mini-games included at various times during the game. While in pubs, you can join in a fistfight tournament to make some money. These work in basically the same way as normal combat, and so don’t offer a great deal of interest. A version of poker using dice would at least offer a bit of variety for the occasional game if it wasn’t for the ridiculously stupid opponent AI. I’ve had opponents who’ve had three of a kind after the first roll, and instead of keeping those dice, have kept just one dice seemingly at random and rerolled everything else. It doesn’t seem to use any sort of strategy at all, making the whole thing quite pointless again, although it is a way to make money if you really need it. It’s unlikely you will though, and it would be a very slow way to do it anyway.
Then there’s the repeated character models. While some of the very main characters have their own unique model, characters with the same appearance crop up far too often. I don’t mind this in random villagers and the like that play no part in the game other than to fill out the world, but if it’s a character you can speak to as part of a quest, then they need to be distinct. When you repeatedly see the same ugly old woman all over the place, one minute throwing you out when you try to visit the woman who lives upstairs in her house, the next being the leader of a small community, it becomes a bit of a stretch. Are all these people clones or something? There’s also some baffling design choices, like the fact that before you can collect body parts from monsters, you have to research them by reading a book on the subject. Apparently you can’t recognise what part of the animal is the head, or the eye, or anything like that, unless you read a book. On top of this there’s a whole bunch of minor annoyances. For instance, while the changing weather effects are nice, in the docks area, when it starts raining everyone runs for cover in the centre of the area, completely blocking the way past and forcing you to wait out the weather or try and force your way through and risk getting trapped in the middle of the crowd. It’s these sorts of details that indicate a general lack of polish to the whole Polish game.
So is The Witcher a good game? Why am I asking you? I’m the one writing the review. To answer my own question, yes it is. But it’s not a truly great one either, there’s just too many flaws for that. This is one of those games that I wish I could recommend more than I actually can. I did enjoy it, but the game was also slow at times due to a few too many monster slaying side quests. True, they’re optional, but the monsters are still always there meaning you still often end up having to fight them. The storyline also isn’t quite as well developed as it could be. But the way it deals with decisions is very good, and it’s nice to see a game that’s slightly less stereotypical than the usual Tolkien rip-offs. It’s good, at times very good, but with a bit more work it could have been a classic.
Save System Review: Save anywhere you like. Let down only slightly by the fact that every time you quicksave it saves in a separate slot. If you’re one of the people who quicksaves every few seconds, you’re likely to rapidly fill up your hard drive unless you clear out the save folder regularly.
Graphics: The graphics are very good, and some of the settings look amazing. The Witcher uses Bioware’s Aurora engine to full effect.
Sound: The soundtrack is very fitting, and the voice acting is mostly competent, but not outstanding.
Bugs: A lot more than there should have been. The patch has sorted out most of the worst, but it’s not completely free of them.
Gameplay: A mixed bag. The actual role-playing elements are very well handled, but the combat is a bit of a mixed bag and the extras like the dice game are just poorly handled.
Storyline: Many of the side-quests have interesting stories to them, although there’s also a lot of rather generic “Kill x amount of monster y to collect reward” ones. The main storyline is interesting, although could have been better developed than it ultimately was, although still stronger than most game plots.
Arbitrary Final Score:
Enjoy the game despite its flaws or did they kill the game for you? Let us know on the forum!