HBP February (and March) -- The Witcher

It’s been just over two months since I first loaded The Witcher, and tragic though it may seem, I am irretrievably bogged down and discouraged only a half dozen or so hours into the game. It is not a result I necessarily anticipated. Here was a deep story with adult themes that invested players into a well-realized world with characters that acted in complex ways. This was not a game that shied away from its maturity, and had clearly never been created with the nefarious mainstream in mind.

In short, it seemed like the perfect game for a holier-than-thou video game snob like me.

And yet, there I stood hacking at ghouls in a dank tomb dreaming of other far away lands. Oh how I longed to be toting a firearm of some kind, one with endless ammo dispatching enemies who stood there with all the self preservation skills of a Dutch Elm. As I listened to someone who may or may not have been a witch explain the intricacies of local politics, I wondered not for the last time where the payoff was. Tragically, I think the lesson of The Witcher is that maybe I’m not as gamer-chic as I thought.

And, maybe that’s ok.

The whole point is self-discovery. It’s why I started my Horizons Broadening Project in the first place, to find out who I am as a gamer and expose myself to new ways to play. I suppose it never occurred to me in a meaningful way that I would come up against something I should like, but simply didn’t.

I want to blame Vizima, which makes a lot of sense if you’ve played The Witcher and not much sense otherwise, but in reality it’s just a cop out anyway. A convenient excuse to pull the ejector lever and crash through the canopy back out into the clean open air. The truth is that I was already languishing before I even got into Vizima, and I only played on dutifully and without any sense of wonder.

Vizima is the primary location of the game, a town with a lot of pretty deplorable people in and around it whose various backstabbing and unpleasantness describe the backstory of this world. Somehow I went into this game with a fundamental misunderstanding made no clearer by what turns out to be an elaborate and somewhat tedious tutorial. I thought I would be going into a world where I would explore a variety of areas, when what I was actually about to do is commit to hours of busy work in a town I didn’t particularly like.

I realize the fault is partially mine for going in with preconceived notions about the nature of the game. I suppose it’s not the first time I’ve sabotaged my enjoyment of a game simply based on my own faulty assumptions — Fallout 3, I’m looking at you. But, I known from historical experience that the right game can elevate above that and impress me despite whatever baggage I bring into it.

When I look back on my experience with The Witcher, I don’t even think it was the environment or endless traipsing back and forth through the pathways of a confined world. No, my real problem was combat; repetitive, tedious, uninspired combat.

I am loathe to talk about mechanics when describing a game. If I do it’s for one of two reasons, either the mechanics were so unique as to inspire me or they so failed to create a fun experience that I was never able to get past them. For The Witcher, the latter. I could go into detail, but suffice to say that World of WarCraft has a vastly more robust and interesting combat system. There was no sense of feedback, of investment and strategy, or if there was I was so incredibly dense as to be unable to decipher the hidden subtleties of click, click and click a third time.

As a story, perhaps The Witcher is deep and compelling in a way that few games are. I suspect that in truth had I just slogged on through my experience, eventually there would have been some better pay off, but I am firmly in the camp of gamers that resents being asked to hate the first ten hours of anything just to enjoy the rest.

I realize how strident, annoyed and contrary I sound, and how surprising that may be in the face of such devotion from the chosen few who just get it. If I am angry it is at myself, in part for not going in with a clearer head and a better sense of what to expect and in part for giving up. I suppose my willingness to commit long term requires a much earlier and more substantive payoff. I want to be wooed by my games, have them beckon at me with flirty eyes and the concrete promise of more if I just buy it a couple of drinks.

I realize that fans of the game will wail and moan, perhaps rightfully so, about how I didn't get it. Yup, that sounds about right actually. I didn't. Maybe it was standing there, right in front of my stupid-muddied eyes and I was just too thick and obtuse to make it work. I am not in the slightest discounting the possibility that the fault lies not with the game but with me.

If I were writing The Witcher a letter, I’d definitely have the phrase “it’s not you, it’s me” in there somewhere. And, I’d almost mean it.

Now it’s time for me to finally move on with my Horizons Broadening Project.


So.... two months and six hours? I'm not judging (I haven't played the game and screenshots haven't made me want to play it). Just looking for clarification.

Your written experience falls in line with my ideas of it in my head. But again, I haven't played the game.


So.... two months and six hours? I'm not judging (I haven't played the game and screenshots haven't made me want to play it). Just looking for clarification.

Yup. Here is my play session -- Ok, this time I'm going to make some progress. Ok, this quest, right I have to run ... hmm about a mile. What the hell am I gathering plants for, am I supposed to be making potions. Wait, how does this work, I um, nevermind. So, I'll just take a shortcut through here to get ... ohh, invisible walls. Awesome. Ok, finally here, and now ... wait, what do you mean go back?! Oooh, Peggle.

No, my real problem was combat; repetitive, tedious, uninspired combat.

I hear you on that. It's the sort of combat I would except from a pc game that was "dumbed down" for a console controller, not from a game designed for the pc. I hate it. It's stupid. It's lame.

I like everything else about the game, but the combat is just no fun, regardless of how many new animations they add. It's a shame because I like just about everything else about the game.

At the same time, I also apply the above quote to WoW and all other MMO's I've played, but then again, I've never made it past level 30 in any MMO.

Several months ago, when the Enhanced Edition was released, I was tempted to get The Witcher based on reviews and comments I'd read online, but I just couldn't bring myself to buy it. I guess I'm afraid I would've had a similar experience. I just wouldn't "get it." Maybe I'll pick it up if it ever shows up as a weekend deal somewhere. I'd probably give it a go for $20 or less.

So, have you decided on the next game for the HBP?

I thought the combat was reasonably deep for real-time action, but it does take a while to get the hang of it (and they never really explain the sword-swinging mechanic...press the button again when it's on fire? What does that even mean?). I wound up liking the game regardless, due more to the political intrigue and the concept that there really is no "right" or "wrong" side, just people with slightly varying shades of evil doing various nefarious things to each other and asking for your cooperation.

The verbosity (heh) of the plotline reminds me a lot of Jordan's Wheel of Time series. A lot of readers don't like it, because it's so dense, with all this seemingly unnecessary political backstory, with a main plot that could be written in three books, not twelve. But then there are freaks like me who get even more drawn into the world because it seems so much more fleshed-out. Tolkien's Silmarillion had the same effect for me when applied to Lord of the Rings--with the added bonus of a Russian-esque tendency to give every character seven names or more.

Did the run bouce affect anyone else? I Didn't notice it too too bad in Chapter 2 but when you get to the trade district in chapter 3 it was intense. I couldnt play for longer than 20-30 minutes or i got a terrible headache. I tried to shut it off but no avail.

I did end up finishing it though, like most RPGs lately, the last 10 hours or so were mainly because i was so invested and wanted to conclude instead of out of enjoyment. I thought i would play the 2 adventure packs afterward but it turns out after the credits rolled that I just wasnt that interested.

The Witcher was by far my favorite game to come out in the last few years. To each their own!

I really, really *LOVED* The Witcher, so I need to be up front about my emotional investment in it. On the other hand, nothing in your experience with the game was foreign to me. Certainly there is a LOT too much grinding in the first two parts of the game and I needed to put it down for six months and wait for the EE and start over before I really understood how to get through combat and leveling up in a way that made sense and was fun.

That said, there is a wealth of richness in the game that is rare and extremely valuable. It is a game that has a tremendous pay-off for completion, not because the final boss level is amazing, but because it ties a lot of loose plot ends up. On the other hand, if you don't enjoy the first 10 hours enough to keep playing, the unfolding plot probably won't be worth sticking at something unpleasant. Elysium is right that the combat is non-standard, but in this I found The Witcher to be very similar to the Gothic games, impossible to like until I figures out the weird-assed controls. Impossible to dislike after figuring them out and getting into the game world. Like I said, I had to put it down a number of times before I finished, but I was glad that I did. Really glad. As I write this the best comparison I can make is Deus Ex. They are similar in that the designers didn't just string together a random series of action levels loosely connected w/ paper-doll characters and a generic story. Instead, they created a story that spans the entirety of the game and pushes the genre forward. Games are not interactive movies or visual novels, they have untapped potential for non-linear storytelling that we are only just learning what to do with. Comparing how CD Projekt Red and Andrej Sapkowski used the same setting and characters to tell stories shows that some things are possible in games that aren't possible in other media. I like being in the front row to see a growing and developing expressive medium.

Anyway, I wrote a blog entry about finishing the game and the Horizon's expansion project. My writing style is still a bit obtuse despite my best efforts, but I think I got close to explaining why my reaction to the game was both so strong and so positive.

You're dead to me.

I completely agree on the combat and potions, they're just so damn boring. It's like a book where in order to read a page you have to watch paint dry for 3 hours.

HBP? High Bastard Ping?

Oso wrote:

Anyway, I wrote a blog entry about finishing the game and the Horizon's expansion project. My writing style is still a bit obtuse despite my best efforts, but I think I got close to explaining why my reaction to the game was both so strong and so positive.

I just read your blog post and rather enjoyed it. You may want to fill out the Nietzsche and the Unbearable Lightness portions as most people won't know what you're talking about even with links (as I did with the latter). Or just pull it and find a less "obtuse" way of explaining it. I enjoyed it, but I have a degree in philosophy.

Anyway, everything you said is fantastic and even though I am little farther in the game than Mr. Sands, I just can't get past the game mechanics. It's a bit like reading philosophy actually. The concepts are fantastic, it's just the execution is terrible (i.e. Kant translations). I'd like to get past the hurdle because the little payoff I've encountered was a breath of fresh air in terms of story telling.

My guess (hope) is that Dragon Age will do for me what the Witcher did for you.

Is the combat in WoW really that much better? I mean, 6 hours into WoW, how many abilities do you have? 4? At those low levels, where you're shadowbolting/frostbolting/whatever away, are you really doing much more than in the witcher? Where is the sense of investment, feedback and strategy when you're spamming 3 keys and rinsing and repeating during your quest to kill 20 raptor-things?

I agree that at higher levels of WoW, and in PVP, the combat is much more interesting as you have a much more varied stable of abilities - but to the same effect, the combat also gets more interesting later on in the Witcher when you learn new spells and how to integrate them strategically in your attack pattern.

I'm not saying your gut feeling is wrong about the combat - but you peg it out as your major problem with the game, and then devote only one paragraph of a 12 paragraph piece to describe it. I'm not sure I understand where you're coming from on it, especially when your comparison to WoW, comparing the early-game mechanics of both, doesn't resonate with me.

fangblackbone wrote:

HBP? High Bastard Ping?

Hit By Pitch?

Herpes Big Planet?

Have a Big Pee-pee?

but you peg it out as your major problem with the game, and then devote only one paragraph of a 12 paragraph piece to describe it. I'm not sure I understand where you're coming from on it, especially when your comparison to WoW, comparing the early-game mechanics of both, doesn't resonate with me.

I don't know that I have a better answer for you. Even Diablo's combat, which amazingly is even more simple, just feels better to me. For me, I'm more connected and involved in those fights than I ever was with The Witcher. At times it felt too long and repetitive, where one fight seemed like a single note held too long. Then other times I'd be surrounded by three foes and how they were interacting with me just seemed off. This is why I don't write a lot of reviews.

This sounds just like my experience with Fable II. There is just nothing interesting about it. Nothing to grab you, and it's just not fun to play.

Too bad, because I was planning on trying The Witcher when I finally get a new PC sometime later this year.

I am torn. I heard great things (Certis et al) and I am now hearing bad things.

I am a gamer with an increasingly smaller amount of time to enjoy games. As a result, I am less tolerant of annoyances and things that don't "jive" right away. In that sense, I just don't have the 5, 8, 10 hours necessary to "get into" a game before it gets good. But I also crave very immersive (why does firefox think immersive isn't a word?) stories. I have struggled mightily against getting into MMOs precisely because of the mechanical aspect of time/commitment; though I dabbled with LOTRO and really enjoyed the writing and story (largely because I already knew the canon.)

Unfortunately, the mechanical beats out the ephemeral - meaning, my time is too valuable to waste on something that may very likely not pan out for me. I have to make that decision because otherwise the few hours I am supposed to be sinking into enjoying a game are lost.

To that end, I have actually done something different from the HBP. I am revisiting the games I liked and didn't delve into the first time. I feel I have only superficially touched on games like GalCiv II, Civ IV, to say nothing of the as-yet-unfinished Fallout 3, Fable II, etc. So, I am going to focus my time on the games that I know have value (L4D, DOWII), or that I want to better know/enjoy GalCiv II.

It also means I need to be very circumspect about the new games I DO buy. Once I complete Fable II and Fallout 3 I will want a new RPG... and so I am torn on the Witcher...

Elysium wrote:

At times it felt too long and repetitive, where one fight seemed like a single note held too long. Then other times I'd be surrounded by three foes and how they were interacting with me just seemed off.

Ok, I'm getting you a bit more now. I don't think there is anything wrong with talking about mechanics when describing a game, so long as you don't get bogged down in the details. Even that pretty short, general description of combat mechanics went a long way in helping me to understand your point of view.

I'm another Witcher fan, but I agree about the combat and the early parts of the game. While playing Fable II, I often wished combat had worked similarly in The Witcher -- it would have felt a little more interactive, not just click, click, click...

The best part of The Witcher is its story and the idea of choices and consequences. Not knowing how a choice would turn out always added weight to your decisions, and I really liked that.

In the end, life's too short to play games you don't enjoy. Looking forward to your next HBP pick.

I'm waiting for the console version.

Does this make me retarded?

So, this is what it took for me to register =D
I'm in chapter 5 or 6 (don't really remember, I've left Vizima though). I'm not very engaged in the story, or the quests. I'm just enjoying the world, the protagonist and the combat actually. The animation is so great that I don't get tired of watching it. It's really badass

Elysium wrote:

Even Diablo's combat, which amazingly is even more simple

It's simple in terms of interaction, but there is actually quite a lot of finesse and depth to it. I think that's the brilliance of it, that it can manage to fit that in while being so simple to interact with

What happened to Dwarf Fortress being your horizon broadening game?

Your frustrations and failings mirror my own, and in doing, bring me some small comfort. I am not alone. Vizima, you bore the sh*t out of me.

I've tried to jump into the Witcher twice now, and stopped both times. The first was in the outskirts of Vizima. I enjoyed the beginning, which hardly felt like a tutorial at all. I liked the first parts in the outskirts. But after chasing down/running from my hundredth barghest, something in me snapped. I put the game down for a year.

I picked it back up again at the beginning of this year (by coincidence around the same time the HBP began), and made it out of the outskirts and into Vizima proper...and promptly lost all interest in continuing.

This was a game that I had pretty much convinced myself I was going to like before I'd even touched it, so the second breakup was "for reals."

I think the biggest transgression are the frequent lulls in the action. I certainly don't mind a game that switches between action and narrative, but the Witcher goes from action to a void of loading times and fetch quests running from one part of the city to another, whereyou are bound to trigger 50 loading screens before you can progress.

I don't mind a bit of mindless fetching or running around, but I came to loathe running back and forth in the same environment. This was not a change in pace, and there was little to no narrative happening. Some MMOs can get away with this, but they have the luxury of being social places where you are likely hanging out and questing with live people. If not, you are most likely on ventrilo chatting with someone in another part of the same world, or a different game even. In other words, if the game isn't occupying your attention, at least you can shoot the breeze with friends.
No such distractions with the Witcher. Just you and a few dozen loading screens, and a few dozen more gnashing their teeth eagerly waiting their turn at you.

I can and have dealt with load times in games before, and will doubtless do so again. (And yes, this is with the big Extended Edition patch which was supposed to improve load times.) The bigger problem was that they wore my patience out with no end in sight. When I got sick of the running in circles and side quests, there was no way to fast track back onto the main story.

Combat doesn't have to be great, story doesn't have to be great - I've enjoyed games that lacked one or both in varying degrees. But when I get bored with a certain stretch of the game I need to be able to speed up until I get to another fun bit.

I had high hopes for the Witcher, but we just weren't right for each other in the end. I don't think I would have enjoyed it more with faster/no load times, but I would have disliked it less, and might have discovered the hook that would have kept me playing.

Ah well. C'est la vie. We'll always have Vizima.

Clemenstation wrote:

I'm waiting for the console version.

Does this make me retarded?

Not in the least. At least, not this time since they're adding a bunch of stuff and refining things. I waited for Mass Effect on the pc and that was a fantastic decision.

What happened to Dwarf Fortress being your horizon broadening game?

The year is still young.

Oh btw, I think it was on the GWJ CC that someone said that nobody plays DF with the ASCII graphics
Well, lots of people do =D that's the way to play. Let your mind fill in the blanks (give it a few hours)

Clemenstation wrote:

I'm waiting for the console version.

Does this make me retarded?

No. The fact that your IQ is 53 makes you retarded!

And, maybe that’s ok.


Certis wrote:

You're dead to me.


Was Vizima a bit of a slog? Perhaps, but the story was so well fleshed out, the quests much more than usual Fedexery that it's worth it. I know where you're coming from Elysium, but I can't help but feel another hour or two and you would be drawn into the world like so many others were.

One thing that I think would have improved the game is a more tactile combat experience, which is something I expect the console version to address.

I played The Witcher on a medium difficulty setting and wish in hindsight that I'd chosen a harder setting. There's simply no motivation to use potions beyond the occasional "see in the dark" or "healing" potion at this difficulty level, and the use of signs is largely unnecessary as well. When they say "potions are sometimes needed" what they really mean is "you'll lug around an inventory full of potions waiting for the challenge that will never come"--I ended up finishing the game with hundreds of ingredients and enough potions to stock an apothecary the size of Price Club. This may actually work for the people who are interested in story and not so much in combat, but I think the game was designed for people who like both in equal measures. Still, I quickly learned to simply run from encounters I wasn't inclined to bother with... dogs near the village, drowners in the swamp, etc. The alternative was suffering the monotony of fighting yet another group of critters that seemed largely present to provide ingredients for potions.

That said, I absolutely loved The Witcher, warts and all. It is the only game in recent memory where decisions in game actually matter and are more nuanced than a choice between something idiotic (the "evil" option) and something sensible (the "good" option). The setting really worked for me as well, as it provided a relatively gritty and altogether believable game world. After finishing the game I tracked down a copy of "The Last Wish" and I'd recommend reading it before playing the game to provide some context. It really is a pretty solid collection of short stories in its own right, so there's a reason to read it for pure entertainment anyway.

At the end of the day though, some games "click" with people and others don't. For example, I've realized that I simply hate first-person sandbox games in classic fantasy settings, but give me a gun and I'm happy as can be. It sounds like The Witcher simply didn't click with you, and perhaps there's no way to really elaborate on that.

Chapter 2 nearly did me in. I still have quests that I am not sure what I have to do with to get them to move along, and others disappeared without me knowing for sure why. I definitely do not like the combat (things seem to get in my way sometimes and I can't click the monster constantly to keep the action going).

That being said, I am enjoying it. Probably for the same reason Ely did not. Nothing specific, but the game keeps my interest in a way others do not. I will probably finish it this year (I am slow).

My thoughts pretty much mimic your own, Elysium. I'd wager that I've been playing for about as long as you have seeing as I've also had my momentum blown by Vizima, and my conclusions are largely the same as yours. I went into this game wanting an RPG that forced me to make hard choices, and to that extent, it delivered. The choices you can make during major events really made me stop and think about what I should choose, and the ramifications were evident. I loved that. Unfortunately, the rest just didn't deliver. The combat was as dull as can be, the harvesting and potion making was largely useless, the inventory system was painful and the quests were fairly typical (which would be fine if the rest of the game was entertaining, but was otherwise just a reminder of how unenthused I was to be playing). Maybe I would have liked it better as a console game, where I feel more would have been done to make the action less cumbersome. All in all, it just couldn't get by on charm, no matter how much I wanted it to.

Also, what's up with the random nonsensical sex followed by collectible cards? I think I was up to five sexual encounters by the time I threw in the towel, and the progression into all of them was awkward, abrupt, and stilted.