Review by Girospeck
RPG fans, do not overlook this game!
This review is written with the goal of being absolutely spoiler free. I will simple explain the basic premise or back-story. You are a Witcher; a sterile mutant with superhuman abilities. You were once a human; as a child you where taken from your family by a group of Witchers who mutated you through alchemical processes and sorcerers magic. They trained you to become the perfect monster slayer; they trained you to be a Witcher. This is all background (nothing revealed from the game itself) for the protagonist, Garalt of Rivia. The remainder of this review will not mention specific story or character elements.
Story, Dialog, and Atmosphere:
The atmosphere and story in The Witcher is much more mature than most role playing games (PC or otherwise). The overall feel and theme of this game are clearly designed for older audiences. The choices presented are not a simple good-evil dichotomy, but are instead flavorful and often morally difficult. For example, Garalt must make a several difficult decisions where there are no truly good options available (or even conceivable available given the scenario). This forces some hard decisions, which can lead to well thought out philosophical or moral considerations on the part of the player. There were several times when I had to get away from my PC to allow myself time to actually contemplate the consequences of my actions.
The decisions Garalt makes will determine which of the 3 story paths you will follow and will have an impact on NPCs and their affective states. The dialog options presented to the player during conversations are clear, although sometimes the characters interpret them slightly differently than I had. This particular inconsistency occurred rarely, but was part of a larger problem with dialog in general. The voiced dialog often times consistent, but then other times it feels either unemotional (or the wrong emotion) or was choppy (ex: bad transition between sentences or topics). This is because dialog was shortened from the original Polish release in order to shorten the total dialog length and save development cost associated with translation and voice acting. This might please some gamers who prefer the atmosphere, combat, or alchemy components of RPGs rather than story and character development. Personally, I enjoy long and well written narratives so this was a noticeable problem that drew me out of the game occasionally. This is a huge flaw (for me), however, poor dialog was intermixed with enough consistent and good dialog to satisfy most people.
Many of the NPCs that inhabit the world are fun and entertaining. There seems to be a great variety of characters traits and dispositions. The game designers considered a great number of factors when creating characters (including intelligence, wisdom, charisma, strength, dexterity, and constitution). Anyone who has played Dungeons and Dragons or who has been dungeon master themselves will appreciate this attention to detail. The main complaint I have is that many of the characters are represented by a small set of images, meaning that all the priests or drunks look the same.
The gameplay is formulaic, yet well presented. The Witcher also offers several nice features such as a robust journal system and an enjoyable combo combat system. There are 3 major components to the gameplay: conversations + town exploration, fighting + dungeon exploring, and alchemy.
Town explorations and conversations make up a large part of this game. There is very little difference between how The Witcher executes this and how other PC RPGs have executed it. There is the usual innkeeper who keeps tabs on your inventory and offers a place to meditate. You run around a town (usually safe) and talk to different villagers and important citizens. Some of these characters will offer quests, while some of characters will offer a nice warm garage to park Garalts (probably white) truck (metaphorically speaking, of course).
Another huge aspect of the gameplay is the fighting and dungeon exploring. The fighting system is excellent. This is largely in thanks to a combo system based on timing hits. When you click to attack an enemy, you must wait until the correct moment before clicking again. If you succeed, your attack combo continues, and you have another opportunity to advance the combo. If you fail, you miss your attack, and start from the beginning. This is infinitely more fun and skillful than the click-fest style RPG.
Garalt carries two sword types: silver and iron. Silver is designed for slashing monsters, while iron is designed to tear humans apart. With each sword, Garalt has 3 stances to choose from: strong, fast, and group. The first (and most important) aspect of combat is choosing the correct sword and stance. The rest of based on the players timing skill and tactical choices.
Besides sword fighting, Garalt can use an array of (eventually) 5 magical abilities which range from extremely helpful to utterly useless. Also the game offers a difficult to use but very cool dodge system. Its possible, with a double click, to dodge to one side or the other, dodge forward or backward, and also jump over enemies in combat. This combined with the combo system makes for some fun combat.
The dungeon exploration is relatively simple and straightforward, with relatively few puzzles. Many of the areas explored are very atmospheric, making up for the simplicity in their design.
The leveling system is well designed, but nothing original. Upon each new level, Garalt receives points (split into bronze, silver, and gold) which you may allocate to different improvements. These improvements cover basic attributes, skills, magic, and sword fighting. How you choose to allocate these points has a drastic impact of Garalts fighting abilities, so points must be spent wisely. This is the only component allowing players to develop their character during level ups.
The alchemy system is huge and wonderful. Garalt must learn (through reading, talking, and spending talent points) how to pick or harvest the necessary ingredients to create a wide number of potions. Alchemy is a core part of the game, and especially important for the hard difficulty. Garalt must also learn formulas for this potions, although players are able to experiment (or cheat and read formulas online). The alchemical formulas include designs for 3 broad categories: status altering tonics, deadly oils, and powerful bombs. The alchemical system is robust and well designed. The alchemy is important for the survival or ease (depending in part on difficulty level).
The Witcher also supports an equally robust journal system. The journal tracks known ingredients, monsters, characters, places, and quests. The journal updates whenever a Garalt finishes reading a relevant book or conversation. Many of the quests have an option to track, which puts a red dot on the map pointing you in the correct direction. This is not turned on automatically, so you dont feel forced to follow a particular mission, but it is a useful option.
The music is nice, offering soft cheerful songs in villages and heart pumping songs for battles. Many songs change from chapter to chapter which helps to fit with the changing mood of the game. The sound effects were efficient and not to repetitive (exactly what I look for in sound effects). Overall, both the music and sound effects were very good.
The quality of voice acting fell along a wide spectrum. There were some voice actors who were excellent in conveying the mood and meaning behind the words, yet these were very few. There were some voice actors who read their lines completely out of context, giving the impression of lifelessness, yet these where also relatively few and far between. The vast majority fell somewhere in the middle, between acceptable and miserable. This was in part caused by the voice acting, but at times it was also the dialog itself. There are several moments in the game that highlight the poor and sloppy translation and/or story telling. (There is an option to download a patch that will return the game to Polish, while adding a new and more complete English transcript. This option turns the voices back to Polish, while improving the quality of the typed script.)
The graphics in The Witcher are beautiful, but come at a heavy cost. The Witcher supports very nice and detailed graphics for a small number of environments. Many of the textures and character models are reused (or only slightly modified) throughout the game. This is most noticeable with character models, and is only really annoying when you mistake an unimportant character for a more prominent one.
The game has a wonderful draw distance (if your PC can handle it). There are also small animals that roam or fly around the city streets or grassy fields, add aesthetic value and a feeling of life. Many of the monsters are well designed and artistic. I really enjoyed the detail of the monsters, but like the character models, there are a few monster models that are reused throughout the game. The graphical detail is not the best to date, but they are still extremely beautiful (enough that many PCs will have difficulty running this game on high settings).
As I said, this comes at a heavy cost. This game has very steep system requirements and even with the strongest systems will most likely crash every few hours. This means that quicksave will have to become like second nature to anyone looking to play The Witcher. The system crashes and steep system requirements are the primary reasons for point deduction, followed by repetitive graphic models.
Length, Difficulty, Replay Value:
The total length seems to run people anywhere from 25 hours to 60 hours. My first run through took about 40 hours (with many side quests completed). The main quest could be completed in less than 20 hours if one was so determined. By the same token, it could take somebody 60+ hours to master this game on a run-through. This is an excellent range of game length.
The Witcher has 3 difficulties (easy, normal, hard), with a hard difficulty that actually offers a challenge. Normal difficulty offers some challenge, but may become too easy for veteran PC RPG players. The hard difficulty is refreshingly difficult, but nothing unbearable. Playing through on hard requires a commitment to complete more side quests to successfully complete the game. This is because the hard difficulty ramps up the difficulty while reducing the amount of experience points you receive for killing monsters or completing quests.
The game offers many choices, yet it boils down to only 3 truly distinct paths. This game is not a sandbox game and once you complete the game, its over (no roaming around afterward like in The Elder Scrolls series or other sandbox type RPGs). The game does not support a new game+ feature, so each play through is a fresh start.
Its clear that this game was based off a series of novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, rather than last minute developer patchwork. Its also clear that this game was translated (from Polish) rather than written in my native tongue (English), since parts of the dialog feel broken. This game offers a well present atmosphere for a fantasy RPG while offering a robust journaling system and fun combat system. I would highly recommend this game to any fan of fantasy works or role-playing games.
+ Mature atmosphere
+ Complex story
+ Well designed player choices
+ Cool combo system
+ Robust alchemy and journal system
- Dialog sometimes incomplete or poorly translated
- Voice acting sometimes out of context of lacking in proper emotion
- Steep system requirements (considering game scope and graphics)
- Prone to crash (played with patch 1.2)
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: The Witcher (US, 10/30/07)
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