Review by one_gundam_war
The Named One?
Ah, The Witcher. I would say that it was heralded by many as the next Baldur's Gate, but that would be a lie. Oddly enough, there was very little hype for this game. The question now is whether or not this game was deserving of hype.
Overall, I loved the gameplay. Often with RPGs, the player loses interest in the gameplay itself, but continues to play for the story alone. With this game, I never once lost interest in the gameplay.
There are three key components of the game: Combat, Alchemy, and Dialogue.
The combat itself, while flawed, is probably the best I have ever seen in a traditional CRPG. Much like other modern CRPGs, combat is initiated by left-clicking an opponent. However, rather than leave the player as a passive observer, the player must then click the left-mouse button at key points to consider a combo string. While simple, this proves to keep the player interested in the battle at all times. By clicking the right-mouse button during combat the player can use a sign. Think of signs as force powers in Jedi Knight, and you won't be all that surprised. While I only used three of the five signs, I also never felt like Geralt's signs were superfluous. A timely aard (a blast of force that stuns or knocks down an opponent) can turn a deadly battle into a simple coup de grace, whereas the appropriate use of igni (a wall of fire) can distract Geralt's enemies long enough to even the odds.
The odds themselves are often so one-sided that combat itself becomes far too complex. At a certain point in the game, the player is essentially dropped into a battlefield. As such, there will often be battles against relatively large groups of NPCs, with the player in the middle. As a result, it becomes far too easy to either click a friendly and end a combo string, or click a civilian and brutally murder a random looter.
Also, the enemies have a very big advantage in that Geralt will randomly refuse to fight. Whether it be the Witcher's need to taunt the opponent in a fistfight or a simple inability to move, which often results in a solid wall of enemies cutting the Witcher to ribbons.
However, when the combat is working as it should Geralt will still need an edge. Alchemy plays this role. Alchemy consists of finding formulas, obtaining ingredients (usually by cutting it out of a fallen foe), and mixing it together. While this sounds tedious, the end results usually prove worthwhile, and can easily transform Geralt from a slightly above average human to a full blown ubermensch. And, alchemy is not restricted to buffs alone; bombs can be crafted too, which tend to also aide in the act of crowd control.
There are many alchemical ingredients, as well as additional items that can be sold or used to enhance the player's weaponry. The player can carry three bags worth of items. However, these bags quickly fill up, resulting in frequent inventory management, which can at times ruin the flow of the game itself.
We have all heard about moral ambiguities in gaming before. And more than a few games do begin with moral ambiguities. However, even fewer continue the trend throughout, and often become black and white tales where the only non-good option available to the player is to kick a puppy.
The Witcher takes a slightly different approach.
The tale begins with an intro cinematic of Geralt of Rivia engaging in battle with a beast. Over the course of a brutal fight, Geralt manages to delay the beast long enough for it to transform into a woman.
The game itself begins with Geralt coming back from the grave, sans his memory. He is brought to Kaer Morhen, the headquarters of the Witchers, by his friends. The player then learns that Geralt is a Witcher, a man who has been mutated so as to be able to fight monsters and protect humanity. However, it quickly becomes clear that humanity doesn't appreciate the protection as Kaer Morhen is attacked by a mysterious army. During the battle, the enemy manages to steal the secrets of the Witchers. So, of course, the survivors decide to split up and send the amnesiac to hunt down items he can barely remember on his own.
Awkward premise aside, the player must then guide Geralt as he attempts to recover the stolen secrets. Throughout the course of this, the player performs Witchery duties (hunting beasts, rescuing damsels in distress, and beating the living hell out of anything that looks at him funny) while learning about what he missed, and what he is missing. As the game progresses, the player also learns of the war between humanity and the nonhumans (dwarves and elves).
And here is where the shades of grey come in. Early on the player will protect a shipment of equipment from some monsters. Upon the successful completion of this, the player then learns that this equipment was to be sold to a terrorist group of nonhumans. What initially seems like a simple decision later results in the potential death of a somewhat valuable NPC.
Decisions like this continue throughout the game, but become much direr. Will the player stop the nonhumans from robbing a bank, knowing full well that much of the money will go to allowing them to continue living? Will the player feed the starving nonhumans knowing full well that some of them will likely use their new found strength to continue taking hostages and killing humans? Will the player protect a witch who has been terrorizing a town that is led by men who raped and murdered a woman?
And these seemingly innocent yet profound moments, whether it is telling a child that he should cherish his gift or writing a letter to one's lover, all have an impact later in the game. Decisions made in act one might follow the player all the way to the epilogue.
To help facilitate these decisions, the third component of the game comes into play; the dialogue. While the voice acting is often awkward and amateurish, the written dialogue, while blunt, is quite atmospheric. While most of the dialogue does not offer too many options for the player, the options that are there (usually during a cutscene) never leave the player confused as to what Geralt means.
However, as effective as the dialogue and plot are, there are two key flaws. First and foremost is that Geralt acts like a thirteen year old. Witchers, as a result of their mutation, are sterile. As such, Geralt seems to make it a point to fornicate with anything with two legs and breasts. While it is usually in a good humored, purposefully cheesy, manner, it does get tedious at times. However, the developers did manage to keep it from detracting from the plot exposition, so it usually is just a nice collectible for the player.
The second flaw comes in the nature of the game. A decision the player might make in the first hour of gameplay can have far reaching effects. However, as a result of this, the player's intent might be lost. Often during the game it felt like Geralt's dialogue was being flavored by my previous actions. However, once or twice it felt as though the flavor was coming from perceived intents of said actions, rather than the actions themselves. However, this was rare enough that it didn't detract from the immersion.
Overall, the story is one of the best I have seen in a game in years, and has led to me looking for translations of the novels this game is based off of. While one could argue that the final twists might have been predictable, the predictability adds to the immersion in that the player feels Geralt's pain as he is forced to continue along a path that he knows can only end in suffering. I did feel that the endgame would have benefited from previous knowledge of the books, but that was the only time.
While this game might not have had as many particle effects or as high of a poly-count as other games, it was far from ugly and definitely feels like something I would expect to see on shelves. The graphics proved to be atmospheric enough to allow for immersion.
The sound effects though, were rather awkward. The voice acting often felt like the actors did not understand the meaning behind their words. One particularly humorous moment was when a character professes her love for Geralt. However, the voice acting results in it sounding like she is completely insane and is likely to carve Geralt's name into her arm.
Also, the generic grunts felt far too generic, and only the chosen mesh differentiated between the various enemies. All in all, I would call the graphics and sounds adequate.
On my first playthrough, the game took me approximately twenty-one hours or so. Even better, the game never felt to drag during said twenty-one hours. I was just as interested in the game during hour one as I was during hour twenty-one. In fact, I was much more interested in both the gameplay and story during hour twenty-one.
As for replayability, this game is oozing with it. While I don't see myself replaying the game immediately, I definitely see myself grabbing this off my shelf in a few weeks and doing a second runthrough. And, by this time next year, I might very well be on my fifth or sixth run.
All in all, it is clear that this is based off of a literary work, rather than a generic designers story. In fact, in many ways this game reminds me of Planescape: Torment in that it felt more like I was reading a good novel rather than playing a game. And while the game itself has a few rough edges, said edges don't detract, and in many ways help point out the parts of the game that are done superbly. Even Bioware and Bethesda Softworks could do to take a few lessons from CD Projekt.
Final Score: 8.7175/10
I would recommend getting in your car or on your bike and buying this game right now. It is well worth the fifty dollars (closer to sixty, since I pre-ordered the European version). I can definitely see this game being listed alongside Fallout, Arcanum, and Planescape: Torment when people lament the decline of CRPGS in five or six years.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: The Witcher (EU, 10/26/07)
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