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.