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.

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/witcher%202007-10-30%2020-51-43-60.thumbnail.jpg) IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/witcher%202007-10-30%2020-09-19-04.thumbnail.jpg) IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/witcher%202007-10-30%2020-19-43-73.thumbnail.jpg)

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.

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/witcher%202007-10-29%2019-38-41-12.thumbnail.jpg) IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/screen5_large.thumbnail_1.jpg) IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/witcher%202007-10-30%2020-12-58-50.thumbnail.jpg)

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

- Shawn Andrich

Comments

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

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.

Strange, the pic works fine for me.

Also, I know if you look hard, people are already putting up the file you replace to get the "improved" version of the cards. They are releasing an editor for the game later in the year for the mod community, so maybe the other stuff wll come in. I have no idea why Atari was so skittish about nipples, though, plenty of games have come out with them that haven't gotten any negative publicity surrounding it.

Just ordered from GoGamer. I've always been a sucker for an RPG with a strong storyline, and I actually enjoyed NWN2. It sounds like this one is better than that, so I'll look forward to playing.

Aah, 'poker dice'. Here in Hong Kong, we know it as a drinking game called Lucky. Works with any number of people, but best with just a single table of 3-6 people. Everyone rolls five dice, lowest hand re-rolls as many dice as they want, and if they don't beat someone else's hand, they drink. My liver cowered a bit after seeing this in The Witcher.

As for the game itself, this is the most fun that I've had with an RPG since Gothic 3, and I don't have to qualify it with 'if you can get over the bugs', as I'm yet to run into any. The combat isn't terribly innovative (I would have loved to see more branching attack options), but at least it's more involved than most. RPG-systems-wise, again, more choice would have been nice, but it's enough that I don't feel locked in to a particular playstyle. The voice acting won't win any awards, but it's never jarringly bad, and the storyline and choices buoy the whole experience. I get a pretty smooth experience (occasional minor hitching) at 1680x1050, everything on high, with an Athlon 64 X2 3800+/1GB DDR/7800 GT 256, or basically, a high-end PC from two years ago.

After NWN2 and Bioshock this baby is going down. I too am a sucker for great storytelling games and immersive virtual worlds!

Great writeup btw

This one has me intrigued, but it's probably going to have to wait till early next year when all the other shiny things on the shelves start to dull down & the post-christmas void opens up.

Not so much a financial problem, more of a time problem!

kuddles wrote:

have no idea why Atari was so skittish about nipples, though, plenty of games have come out with them that haven't gotten any negative publicity surrounding it.

Look closer at the NSFW pic... that's full-frontal nudity there. I was a little surprised. Of course, it was during the conversation with that particular NPC that my wife decided to come in and check on me. Her response: "What kind of game is this again?"

On a 3200+ w/ 1GB RAM and a GeForce 6800GT my load times for the Outskirts of Vizima (large zone) was a little under 4 minutes. Yes, I timed it. I had the details at minimum and was playing in 800x600. My den is now cleaner than it's been in months, since I'd straighten up while I was waiting for the zone.

The game was so good, though, that I had to play it. I went and bought two more GB of RAM and a new 7900GS. My load times dropped to under 20s for large zones. Based on my experience, then, if you're having problems with load times, look to your RAM.

I'm really enjoying this game. I persisted through 4-minute load times and 10fps graphics, then upgraded my computer, just to keep playing. Meanwhile I've got the Orange Box (which I was playing before the Witcher), Bioshock and Stalker (both of which were good, but basically unplayable due to graphics), and finally Hellgate:London should be arriving any day now. They're all going to have to wait their turn.

Compulsion wrote:

On a 3200+ w/ 1GB RAM and a GeForce 6800GT my load times for the Outskirts of Vizima (large zone) was a little under 4 minutes. Yes, I timed it. I had the details at minimum and was playing in 800x600. My den is now cleaner than it's been in months, since I'd straighten up while I was waiting for the zone.

I know this sounds like a stupid thing, but try defragging with a program other than the generic Windows disk defrag. Persistent load times will always be present, but on another forum I frequent, people with load times significantly longer than others (and yours is significant, others with your specs still never have anything over half a minute) who used DiskPerfect or something similar saw their load times drop by well over three quarters.

And yes, I guess you can see "down below" but again I doubt it would have caused a furor. The X-rated version of the modern Leisure Suit Larry didn't, and the uproar over things like nudity in Oblivion or The Sims had more to do with the fact that it was "hidden". I guess Atari isn't in a position to take a risk nowadays, though, just as they made those cuts to Indigo Prophecy involving sex. Kind of crazy since The Witcher contains tons of blood and is already rated "M", but I guess there's a thread discussing the irony already in the General Discussion forums.

I guess if The Witcher's data folder consists of thousand of tiny files, defragmentation could result in a noticeable improvement. If that is not true, however, I believe the people on the forum you frequent are still using FAT32 filesystem, which handles fragmentation quite disgracefully as opposed to NTFS.

shihonage wrote:

I guess if The Witcher's data folder consists of thousand of tiny files, defragmentation could result in a noticeable improvement. If that is not true, however, I believe the people on the forum you frequent are still using FAT32 filesystem, which handles fragmentation quite disgracefully as opposed to NTFS.

Nope, I'm talking people using SATA drives with NTFS and are running Crysis on high settings. I have no idea what causes it, or if it'll help out our friend here, but too many people went from three minutes to 20 seconds of loading after a deep defragmenting with a professional utility for it not to be worth a try.. I do know that people having problems with the game crashing fixed it by lowering their pagefile settings too.

Also, the devs on the official forums acknowledged that their next patch is planning to give you the option to turn off the autosaving after nearly every area load, so that should help.

With regards to defragmenting, I recommend a small freeware utility called Contig. It's a command line utility but it's easy to use and with it you're able to defragment individual files or specific directories without defragmenting an entire drive. I use it regularly to defrag my game directories after a fresh install since quite a few of them like to install with as many as 2 or 3 fragments per file.

http://www.microsoft.com/technet/sys...

I did do a deep defragmenting with Diskeeper. The load times stayed about the same subjectively after defragging. I didn't get out the stopwatch until afterwards

I'll check out the program you posted, Ravage. It looks like it could come in handy.

I don't think defragmenting the hard drive is going to help much unless it's a very bad case of fragmentation indeed. In most cases what you need is a SATA 7.200 RPM drive with 8 or 16mb cache. That usually solves the problem if you have 2 gigs of ram already. Low amount of ram and slow HD is something no amount of defrag will help you with.

As for The Witcher, its simply a great game. The best stuff I've played since Planescape: Torment. Thats a HUGE compliment coming from me, someone who has been completely disapointed with stuff like Oblivion, NWN, Dungeon Siege and other boring and univentive games of late. At least bethesda is coming up with fallout 3 and Mass Effect seems to be the next big thing. I hope so, because the RPG and FPS genres are getting stale by the day.

There are some wrough edeges, though. You can't jump over fences and other stuff and you don't feel the freedom on the levels that you should. This inescusable by todays standards and its a limit of the game engine that the devs didn't change. A change to this would have made the game feel much more free than it is. As it is some limitations to movement feel artificail and may break suspension of desbilief. The loading times are also terrible, as mentioned already. But these are minor things that pale away when comfronted with the rest of the game. The quests rabge from average to simply great. Some of them are simply masterful like the one in which you have a party at Shani's house. Its a simple quest, but done with such fine details that I really wonder what the hell are other devs doing when there are so simple things that can be added to games that will make them unique. The Witcher will be one of those sadly games considered Cult Classics indeed.

By the way, as defrag utilities, try Auslogics diskdefrag. Its free, fast and way better than MicroSoft utilities.

Just bought it today, and am floored at how wonderful the first three hours have been. It's amazing how this game just snuck out of nowhere.

I wonder if doing a NTFS compression of the data folder and THEN defragmenting it might help. If the data isn't compressed already, this should reeeally help systems with slow hard drives and fast CPUs.

Shouldn't compression make loading times even longer, as the system has to decompress all the data to be able to read it?
By the way, this game sounds awesome. It sounds like the RPG I've been waiting for since... well, Baldur's Gate II, which I played in 2002! Man that's a sad thought...

il dottore wrote:

It sounds like the RPG I've been waiting for since... well, Baldur's Gate II, which I played in 2002! Man that's a sad thought...

I don't want to oversell it, because it does have it's own quirks and issues, and it certainly isn't a spiritual successor or anything. But this is easily the closest thing to a new Black Isle game that has ever come out.

On the downside, apparently this game has been horribly butchered to appeal to the mainstream. AAccording to people who can speak Polish, the dialogue in the game was simplified a lot, and the complex political struggle and racial intolerance of the world has been toned down significantly. One of the translators actually admitted as such in this thread at GameFAQs. That kind of pisses me off, and hopefully at the very least an version of subtitles with a better translation will come out by a fan, but even with the "dumbing down", this game has better dialogue than most coming out these days.

il dottore wrote:

Shouldn't compression make loading times even longer, as the system has to decompress all the data to be able to read it?

On modern systems, the CPU speed is so fast that decompression is nearly instantaneous and therefore it is faster than the actual time it would take to read the longer, uncompressed file from a slow HD than to read the shorter, compressed one while decompressing in realtime.

kuddles wrote:

But this is easily the closest thing to a new Black Isle game that has ever come out.

You just made me a happy man.

Shihonage, I bow my ignorant head in shame. By the way, do you have a homepage for your RPG? The trailer looks interesting! Reminds me of some other game though...
If you need a level designer, I'm an architect with no game-making experience whatsoever, but quite proficient at photoshop. Am I in or what?

Evil Timmy wrote:

As for the game itself, this is the most fun that I've had with an RPG since Gothic 3, and I don't have to qualify it with 'if you can get over the bugs', as I'm yet to run into any.

This comment intrigues me, as I avoided Gothic III due to the bugs, but I *really* liked the first two Gothic games, warts and all. I also find the "close to a Black Isle RPG" comments interesting, since I succumbed to the filthy enablers here and re-installed VTM: Bloodlines the other day. (No, Troika isn't Black Isle, but they once were and are related in an inbred way.) The experience didn't make me want to play that particular game, but it did make me want to play a big, engaging, story-based RPG. I think the Witcher might be it, but I'm going to wait a while given the glut of quality games. Anyway, are there more comparisons to the Gothic games from folks who have played both? How annoying is the 3rd person perspective?

The third person view is the only way to play it when wandering about, in my opinion. The isometric views don't do the visuals justice, but it can be a good idea to switch to it when in a big fight to get better situational awareness.

So mostly not very annoying at all.

il dottore wrote:

By the way, do you have a homepage for your RPG? The trailer looks interesting! Reminds me of some other game though...
If you need a level designer, I'm an architect with no game-making experience whatsoever, but quite proficient at photoshop. Am I in or what?

Hehe thanks I have a development page which is mostly full of my sobbing as I run into various problems. Other than an entry on the front page of NMA and two threads with various information/screenshots, it doesn't have a page.

http://www.nma-fallout.com/forum/vie...
http://www.nma-fallout.com/forum/vie...

As for level design, I appreciate the offer, but we have it covered

Hi folks,

It's been a long time since I've purchased a game. In fact, I don't think I've gotten anything since Medieval II: Total War came out. I saw Certis' review on The Witcher, and my wife and I ran out and bought it the following day. We're loving this game!

We really enjoyed the Vampire series, Diablo series, Oblivion and the Baldur's Gate/Icewind Dale series of games. The Witcher seems well in line with these titles. The dark atmosphere is a nice reference to Diablo, while the gameplay itself seems to owe a little bit to the first Vampire game and Baldur's. I mean this as a big compliment of course.

We just made it past the first chapter, so we're still early in the game. We're finding that the character development and plot is excellent. It's nice to start out fighting large critters and bandits rather than rats and snakes. The quests are interesting and often surprising, and most plot-oriented actions seem to significantly change the direction of the storyline. We've both found that the choices we've had to make thus far are far from black and white, and we've puzzled over which path to take several times.

We do find the translation to be awkward at times, but not so bad as to spoil the game. We've laughed out loud at many of the lines, and chuckled at the "wooing of the women". The mini games like bar brawls and dice are very well done, though the rules to dice poker are a little opaque at first.

I'm already feeling that I want to play it over again as I missed some side quests that looked interesting. The first major boss was also frustrating due to the awkwardness of the only available save point which is before a significant amount of dialogue. If you die, you have to click through the cut scenes and dialogue each time.

The loadtimes are certainly a major annoyance. On my reasonably up-to-date PC, I'm in the 4 minute mark for the larger outside zones. I also agree with the comments above about the fencing. I really wish it wasn't there, but the game is so good otherwise I can overlook it.

For someone who has been debating about leaving the gaming hobby for good, this is a refreshing title that has renewed my hope for PC gaming. The plot is engaging, the battles are kinetic and exciting and the overall atmosphere is absorbing. I highly recommend this game to fans of plot-driven RPG's. If it maintains itself throughout the plot, this will go right up there in my slightly eclectic list of "Most Favoritest Games of All Time".

FeralPug wrote:

The loadtimes are certainly a major annoyance. On my reasonably up-to-date PC, I'm in the 4 minute mark for the larger outside zones.

How's your RAM? I was in your situation, and upgrading my RAM helped dramatically.

I lived with the 4 minute loading times until I got into Vizima. You have to go in and out of houses frequently, and four minute load times would be a game killer. To talk to Shani, for example, I have had to go in and out of the house around 10 times back and forth (as soon as you enter the house, an old lady kicks you out immediately 80% of the time...) You're looking at over 40 minutes of load times for very little payoff.

4 minute load time? That's... insane.

Compulsion wrote:
FeralPug wrote:

The loadtimes are certainly a major annoyance. On my reasonably up-to-date PC, I'm in the 4 minute mark for the larger outside zones.

How's your RAM? I was in your situation, and upgrading my RAM helped dramatically.

I lived with the 4 minute loading times until I got into Vizima. You have to go in and out of houses frequently, and four minute load times would be a game killer. To talk to Shani, for example, I have had to go in and out of the house around 10 times back and forth (as soon as you enter the house, an old lady kicks you out immediately 80% of the time...) You're looking at over 40 minutes of load times for very little payoff.

Yikes!! I'm running 1 gig of ram with Windows XP. What are you running?

Yeah, there's certainly something wrong here. I haven't had a load time over 20 seconds. Mind you, I'm playing a digital download version so maybe having it come straight from the hard drive is helping, but still.

It is so nice to suddenly learn that there is a sweet RPG out there, and you don't even have to wait for a release date. As far as the censorship on the virtual nakedness, I always get a chuckle out of that. Yes, you can butcher countless mobs and leave a trail of corpses all the way to the end of the game, but oh no, lets not have nudity

Good RPGs are hard to find. Thanks for the writeup and for everyone's impressions in this thread. I think a trip to Best Buy is in order.

Well, after some tribulation I decided to pick this up after all of the positive user comments at sites like Metacritic and the GWJ Perspective. I'm barely into Act 1, but already all of my initial doubts have faded away. The game certainly has a few oddities, but for a first attempt at a serious RPG this is quite an accomplishment! The atmosphere is very different from the standard D&D fare and so far even the simple fields of Act 1 have managed to be evocative when coupled with a thunderstorm and some soulful music. I'm really looking forward to sinking my teeth into this over the next couple of months.

Thanks for sealing the deal, GWJ!

Well I'll try a 3rd party defrag. Hopefully that will help.

Any other suggestions? It's an AMD 64 2800 with a GeForce 7950 GTKO homebuilt box. It's not blazing fast, but it's not a dinosaur by any stretch.

FeralPug wrote:

Well I'll try a 3rd party defrag. Hopefully that will help.

Any other suggestions? It's an AMD 64 2800 with a GeForce 7950 GTKO homebuilt box. It's not blazing fast, but it's not a dinosaur by any stretch.

My computer was a 3200+ w/ a GeForce 6800GT and 1GB of RAM. I was getting 4 minute loading times. I upgraded to a GeForce 7900GS and 3GB of RAM and my load times dropped to around 20s.

My experience boils down to:
1GB of RAM = 4minute load times.
3GB of RAM = 20second load times