The Witcher

[center]I'll come back. I'll slay every lice-ridden peasant, anything that moves and can't climb a tree. Or you can try to lead honorable lives, clear your conscience, and start again. The choice is yours. - Geralt, The Witcher

The Witcher is like Knights of the Old Republic, only with a story that demands the player make truly ambiguous moral decisions and live with the ramifications hours later. It's like Neverwinter Nights except the combat is fast, streamlined and not weighed down by a ponderous lists of spells. It's the Gothic series without all the bugs or awkward translations. The Witcher brings a lot to the table that we've seen before, but the end result is something unique. It's good, real good.

Based on a series of popular Polish fantasy novels, The Witcher follows Geralt, a sardonic wanderer whose past is long and bloody. You don't customize anything about him before you start the game, the scars on his face and his penchant for swords and magic are all set in stone. The man has walked many paths, but conveniently for those of us who haven't kept up with popular Polish literature, he can't remember any of it. Rescued at the brink of death by his fellow Witchers, Geralt remembers the basics of sword fighting and sarcasm but little else.

You'll want to settle in for the introductory parts of the game. After a long, opening cinematic you're treated to more exposition through conversations with the other Witchers and a sorceress with some connection to Geralt's past before you have a shot at the combat. Even though the game throws quite a few enemies at you to start, it does a good job explaining the three stances (fast, strong and group) and how to switch between them quickly depending on the situation. Attacking is simply a matter of left clicking once on an enemy to initiate at attack and waiting for your cursor to flash and clicking again to continue the combo.

It's a simple system and it works well but you may find yourself put off by repeating the same attack animations until you unlock better skills and a few spells to spice up the encounters. Even with all six spell types unlocked, the combat doesn't vary much from timed sword swinging and knocking back enemies, setting them on fire, slowing them down or throwing up defensive shields. For all the potions and options available when fighting, you'll spend most of your time just clicking in time to the attacks. You can pause the action and give commands if things are moving too fast for you, but it's simple enough that you'll rarely need to for more than searching for the right potion.

While at first the more distant isometric camera seems best for moving around and fighting large groups, as you get used to things you may find yourself spending more time in an up-close, over the shoulder 3rd person view that controls with the WASD keys. Both methods work well, so it's completely up to your own play style.

When you're not slaying monsters or thugs, you'll spend quite a bit of time immersing yourself in the unique world of The Witcher. It's not just a question of graphics or sound, both of which are actually very good, it's all the other details. The people in the city of Vizima don't just stand around waiting for you to talk to them, they go about their lives begging, sweeping or just walking around town. When it rains, most will run inside their homes or get under some eaves for shelter. When night falls, the streets empty until it's just thugs, guards and a few others prowling around. Pushing through the seedy part of town you might find yourself and the surrounding inhabitants beset by a vampiric beast. You could leave it to the thugs, but vampires can be tough to take alone so lending your sword is a good way to collect some high end alchemy ingredients from the corpse.

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Even some of the main NPCs in the story will be at different places depending on the time of day. One woman could work at the church tending plague victims by day, and have more time for personal chats in the evening at her home. Assuming you can get past the old lady landlord who keeps throwing you out of the house. Sometimes just getting the right person at the right time will require branching story paths before you can move forward with the main plot line. Thankfully there's a great map system that makes tracking NPCs, quests and locations of interest easy and intuitive.

Putting aside the main plot and all the branching quests that come of it, there are also other things to do. You can fulfill contracts from bulletin boards, play poker dice with various people you encounter in your travels or get into fist fights at the local Inn. The fighting is more of a Fight Club style affair, only with more betting. You win money as you fight and if you want to move up in those circles, you need to find bigger and tougher opponents to take on. The quest log will keep track of who you've beaten, so it's completely up to you how far you want to go with finding new opponents. The fisticuffs are simple, relying on one button to punch and the other to block. You can pull off more intricate moves if you spend skill points on some brawling skills. It's not deep by any means but it can be a nice two minute diversion when you're at the Inn looking for someone.

Also of note is the Alchemy system. In The Witcher you have to LEARN how to make things. From BOOKS. Then you have to figure out what to get, where to get it, and only then can you sit down and make something useful. With your ingredients in hand, you can create concoctions that do anything from seeing in the dark, aiding your recuperation or even creating explosives. This is not a health guzzling style of game though, drinking a "swallow" potion which slowly revives your health is ok once or twice, but more and you will poison yourself. Everything in The Witcher comes with a price, especially if it's good for you. Like bran muffins.

Because The Witcher is a mature game that assumes you're, well, mature, there is sex to be had if you're into that sort of thing. This being the North American version, there are a few instances where the hair on your nubile target is obviously a little longer than it needs to be, but I wouldn't say the game suffers for it too much. Being that you play a heterosexual man, you only sleep with women. Sorry ladies. When you've managed to bed a woman (Witchers are infertile and immune to disease so why the hell not?) you'll be treated with a painted card of the woman posing, often fully nude. So 3D nipples are out but painted ones are in. There are no sex scenes per se, just an artsy kind of background filter that fades quickly. It's actually quite tasteful.

There are numerous load times which could be an impediment for folks on slower computers. Even with a speedy system, a small house can take up to five seconds to load while a large game area can take up to thirteen by my watch. I can't say it's impacted my enjoyment of the game in any fundamental way, it's no better or worse than the Neverwinter Nights series from Bioware. It's also relatively bug free and stable despite the shaky Atari pedigree backing it, so PC players can buy with some confidence. There's already a 100 meg patch waiting for new owners, but I can't say I had any problems before or after I installed it.

After all this there's still a lot to say about the game. The story is well realized for the most part. Some warts will pop up here and there with a poor turn of phrase or a small plot point that could have been more clear, but not often enough to detract. The promised "lesser of two evils" decisions are in full force throughout the game, I've already been surprised many times by twists and turns in the story based on my past actions. No matter what happens, Geralt always has something to say about it and he's rarely apologetic about the decisions he makes. I've regretted a few, but even looking back I'm not always sure I would have handled some things differently.

The Witcher is a good game. It's not always perfect, but it positively oozes with interesting moments and details well worth exploring. It's not likely to change any minds uninterested in story-laden RPG's, but for the rest of us it's a godsend in the current PC landscape. On any platform, the amount of control the player has over the shaping of the story is unprecedented in modern times. It's not an "Action RPG!" nor is it a "Which of my 200 spells do I want RPG." It's The Witcher, and it's about damn time PC roleplayers had something to crow about.

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For more on The Witcher, check out the latest GWJ Conference Call podcast!

- Shawn Andrich

Comments

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Great write up. I can't wait to import this.

So what score do we give it?

I wish these books would get translated to English. Can't wait to play this game!

magnus wrote:

So what score do we give it? ;)

Sounds like an 8.4 to me!

Nice writeup. Thank you. Once the main plot has been completed can you still wander around and kick ass? That's a big plus in my book.

I'm glad to hear the game has turned out well. I'm still making my way through NWN2, and then the expansion, and then Mass Effect and I really should finish Final Fantasy XII... so I'm not going to pick this one up right away but it's good to know there is a good RPG out there for when we hit one of those RPG dry patches.

This game sounds excellent. I love it when something great never even enters my radar until after it releases.

Great write up. I've been reading around and the game really seems to be great. Too bad I have so much on my plate right now. But I have this on my list of games to get before the end of the year. It would be nice if I could fit it between now and Mass Effect, but I'm sure that's impossible, so this will have to wait.

Sold.

Sounds great. I think I'll be waiting until after the holidays for this one, but I'm looking forward to it now and before I read this I was going to pass on it.

Certis - how was the voice acting? Two Worlds had absolutely abysmal voice acting, making me cringe every time i entered dialog. I was pretty curious if this next big European RPG fared any better.

This review's just made me want to play it more. My Collector's Edition should arrive fromthe UK any day now I hope.

I hadn't really read anything about this game up until now. I have to say, your review was very well done and very tempting towards picking up this game.

sadly, it does what a lot of RPG games these days do, not display ingame avatar changes. aside from perhaps the handful of weapons, your avatar will look pretty much the same throughout the whole game.

to me, this makes it much less than a 'great' game. there's no excuse for this in the pc arena. the story/graphics are nice, but this one little thing is always a thorn in my side that bothers me throughout the whole game, this and all others. it breaks a lot of the immersion for me. and at the end, instead of remembering a good game/story, i remember the stupid avatar always looking the same.

Dysplastic wrote:

Certis - how was the voice acting? Two Worlds had absolutely abysmal voice acting, making me cringe every time i entered dialog. I was pretty curious if this next big European RPG fared any better.

A little better than average, which may not be saying much, but it's night and day compared to Two Worlds.

araczynski wrote:

sadly, it does what a lot of RPG games these days do, not display ingame avatar changes. aside from perhaps the handful of weapons, your avatar will look pretty much the same throughout the whole game.

to me, this makes it much less than a 'great' game. there's no excuse for this in the pc arena. the story/graphics are nice, but this one little thing is always a thorn in my side that bothers me throughout the whole game, this and all others. it breaks a lot of the immersion for me. and at the end, instead of remembering a good game/story, i remember the stupid avatar always looking the same.

Couple things, first of which is we require capital letters in these here forums.

That aside, I don't mind the graphics on Geralt not changing too much. Little things like the occasional monster head hanging from the hook on his belt and the different weapons are enough for me. They made decisions throughout the game to make it more about the story and less about the "101 ways to customize your avatar" which sits fine with me so long as there is a payoff to balance the lack. I think writing any game off completely for something so small would be pretty foolish in the face of all the great stuff in there.

I've already got the import on order from Ebay. Cost about twice as much with the dollar sucking ass versus the pound these days, but what the heck. Boobies!

I have been so excited about this game. My only problem now is deciding whether to import it or run to Best Buy at lunch to pick it up today.

Like bran muffins.

Hells bells, if it is like bran muffins I will buy!

The comments about importing vs domestic... I didn't see any import info in the review. What does the import version gain? I assume less censorship? Really?

Certis wrote:

I think writing any game off completely for something so small would be pretty foolish in the face of all the great stuff in there.

didn't write it off, just wrote it 'down'. it matters to me, as it affects my immersion, so therefore i think 'less' of the game for being lacking in that aspect. The same as Eternal Sonata, Blue Dragon, etc. If you take the time to show a bunch of loot, take the time to do more with it than change a string value.

Shawnosaurus wrote:

The comments about importing vs domestic... I didn't see any import info in the review. What does the import version gain? I assume less censorship? Really?

import version supposedly shows boobies on the cards you get for sleeping with a woman. that's it.
gogamer.com also has the import available.

There haven't been any rumblings about a console port for this have there?

Color me very interested but capped out on game funds for the year. Thank you for the write-up, it sounds excellent.

Couldn't hold out. Ran to Best Buy at lunch.

Thanks for the writeup! You have fueled my fire!

araczynski wrote:
Certis wrote:

I think writing any game off completely for something so small would be pretty foolish in the face of all the great stuff in there.

didn't write it off, just wrote it 'down'. it matters to me, as it affects my immersion, so therefore i think 'less' of the game for being lacking in that aspect. The same as Eternal Sonata, Blue Dragon, etc. If you take the time to show a bunch of loot, take the time to do more with it than change a string value.

Capital letters matter to me, too. I find it hard to take your opinion seriously if you won't take the time to write so your posts are readable. I won't ask a third time, please refer to the Code of Conduct if you're confused.

zeroKFE wrote:

There haven't been any rumblings about a console port for this have there?

Afraid not, these guys are very much PC developers.

Fantastic game so far (into Act II). An actual honest to god adult RPG with a great setting.

Feels kind of like if "Brotherhood of the Wolf" had been penned by Tolkien. Supposedly the first book in the series has been translated to English.

Anyways, really good so far, your write-up is spot on. Now if they could just address the bloody load times and add a toggle for the auto-save feature we'd be set.

Certis wrote:

Capital letters matter to me, too. I find it hard to take your opinion seriously if you won't take the time to write so your posts are readable. I won't ask a third time, please refer to the Code of Conduct if you're confused.

since when do gaming site opinions (yours or mine) need to be taken seriously by anyone? my opinions need your syntax approval to be relevant? please...

either way, i didn't know it was in the code of conduct, sorry if all lowercase hurts your eyes, confuses you or whatever the case may be.

since i have broken the rules three times now (twice intentionally even), feel free to exercise your almighty powers and ban me if it makes you feel better.

Or you could just hit your shift key once in a while. Totally up to you, because if you think this is personal, you couldn't be more wrong. We all have to live by the standards set in the CoC, it's part of what makes the site a nice place to visit every day.

araczynski wrote:

import version supposedly shows boobies on the cards you get for sleeping with a woman. that's it.
gogamer.com also has the import available.

And a couple boobies are missed in the game. Look at Certis's screenshot in the review, and look what I get in the UK edition. (NSFW?)

All the content in the American version is exactly the same though.

I pretty much agree with his write-up. This is a great, enriching experience. You have fewer choices than you do in some RPGs, but you actually feel like your decisions have significance in the game when you make them. I can't think of another game that does this so well, although parts of KOTOR came close.

I actually came to love the combat. A welcome change from completely mindless clicking or waiting for the invisible dice to roll. Only problem is the animations sometimes don't match up perfectly. Sometimes I feel like I'm killing my enemies through interpretative dance.

It's also interesting to note that the main character is voiced by 47 from the Hitman games. And frankly for a first time game by a small European developer without a lot of funding, I was astounded as to how well both the translation are and how few bugs there are.

This game interests me a great deal. I love it when developers manage to create a little world inside my computer, without immediately managing to break the immersion.

And a couple boobies are missed in the game. Look at Certis's screenshot in the review, and look what I get in the UK edition. (NSFW?)

If so, then the Euro version must have be censored even more heavily, because all I get clicking on this link is 403 -- Forbidden.

Anyway, speaking of hte oogaba in North American version, I am sure that a patch will surface soon that will "unlock" all there is to see.

P.S. and Certis's article is very nice indeed. Do we see a legitimate challenge rising to Elysium's editorial hehemony?

P.S. and Certis's article is very nice indeed. Do we see a legitimate challenge rising to Elysium's editorial hehemony?

Ye gods, no. For every minute he spends writing I spend 10 of my own editing and begging rabbit for help. I have no shame.

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