The Witcher Review
While it may be rough around the edges, The Witcher is one of the most engrossing and well made role playing games of this gen
The RPG genre is one that has seen an incredible amount of change over the past ten or so years. The pen and paper Dungeons and Dragons games that started the decade have been long since replaced with action heavy button mashers like Oblivion and shooters with a few Role Playing elements thrown in like Mass Effect. While good games in their own right, these genre hybrids have nearly done away with traditional RPG’s because of their accessibility to those in search of a more casual experience. The Witcher is a hybrid of an Action/RPG hybrid and a more traditional RPG. It doesn’t have turn based combat or point and click party-based gameplay, but it isn’t a button masher. It fits somewhere in the middle, and is more of an RPG than most games with the RPG title released today.
At a glance, The Witcher seems like a very generic, albeit poorly translated fantasy game. The further into the game you get the more you realize this is not true in the least; the world you explore in The Witcher is more of a allegorical Medieval fantasy world which has the exact same problems as our modern day society; racism, crime, poverty and substance abuse are just a few of the rather serious topics dealt with in this game. While the story in The Witcher is complex, the world it takes place is even more so and just wandering around observing the everyday lives of the inhabitants of the game gives you the feeling that this is a very difficult world to live in.
This world would be almost perfectly crafted if it weren’t for the lack of different character models. There is a single character model for every character type in the game; one for old ladies, one for old men, one for peasant women, one for peasant men, etc. In the more densely populated areas of the game it is not uncommon to see 3 or 4 of the same character models wandering around at the same time. While this doesn’t really do much to detract from the overall excellent quality of the game, the repetitious use of these NPC models is a bit jarring at times, and does serve to lessen the immersion.
Gameplay in The Witcher is broken down into a few parts; dialogue/conversations, combat and exploration/looting/experimentation. Unfortunately the dialogue is another area in which the Original version of The Witcher suffers; while the voice acting and variety of choices is generally pretty good, the writing suffers severely from translational issues, grammatical and logical errors occur often, and the dialogue is often incredibly blunt and crude, sometimes even using modern language which certainly wasn’t around at the time the Witcher takes place in. Once you get used to the dialogue in The Witcher it is fine, and often enjoyable, although much of the dialogue seems rather out of place.
The combat in The Witcher is a very interesting middle ground of button mashing and point and click gameplay. To initiate an attack, you click on an enemy, and to continue the attack you have to continue clicking at very specific points when you are given subtle audio or visual cues, which are harder to spot on higher difficulty settings. You can also double tap the directional arrows to dodge incoming attacks or to escape situations that you are sure will end in your demise. Combat flows very well, and the longer the combo you string together the more spectacular the animations of Geralt, the amnesiac albino you play as. Geralt will do flips and spins as he flails his sword in all directions, and you can switch between group, fast and strong style to adjust to the different types and numbers of enemies you will be fighting. The combat is very fun and often challenging, rewarding both tactical thought and fast reflexes.
You are offered a number of different camera angles to choose from, ranging from the classic isometric perspective to over the shoulder. You can flip between these different camera angles by pressing different keys, and you will likely find yourself switching to the isometric view in group combat situations for a tactical advantage, although I played the rest of the game from the over the shoulder perspective. Geralt can be controlled either by using the WSAD buttons to directly move about the map, or by clicking on a spot on the ground which Geralt will move to. In the over the shoulder perspective you can control the camera as well as Geralt with the mouse, while the isometric perspective allows you to move the camera around for the best angle.
The exploration in The Witcher is limited to a relatively small area which you will thoroughly comb over the course of the five acts the game takes place in. Looting is definitely not the main point of The Witcher; you will use the same two swords for pretty much the entire game, and will find only one or two armour upgrades. More interesting are the various potions and bombs you will find and eventually be able to make. Potions are very important in The Witcher, and must be used if you wish to succeed in combat. There are health potions, stamina potions, and potions which let you see in the dark to name a few. You will also find various poisons and upgrades which you can use on your weapons, although none of them are permanent. You also have 5 different spells you can use, some to stun enemies, some to damage them, some to help you progress through the game world. The Economy in the game is simple; you get gold for doing quests, or you can gamble/steal/barter for money. There isn’t a whole lot to buy in the game, since most of the ingredients to your potions are found growing out of the ground, although quests often involve spending some money.
Levelling in The Witcher occurs relatively slowly, and when you do reach a new level you are given a set number of bronze points, which can be used on small upgrades to your skill trees, silver points, which are used on moderately effective upgrades to your character and gold points, which while received in small numbers and not until much later in the game can drastically change Geralts ability in one specific area. Each spell, each sword type and fighting style has its own skill trees, so you need to be very thoughtful in using your skill points to support your preferred play style. If you pour points into a spell you never really use early on you could find yourself struggling later when the fights get much tougher.
The story in the Witcher is truly fantastic, and the choices you make throughout the game have major impacts on how things play out later on. The game introduces you to your main foes right at the beginning, and at the end of each chapter you are usually confronted by them in one way or another. You start out in a private castle type area, and move on to a rural village and then to a busy town and a stagnant swamp. Later in the game you have fairly large areas to explore, and each chapter has a massive number of side quests that blend almost seamlessly with the main story arc, making for a game that last well in excess of 40 hours on an average play through. The plot is very good and will keep you guessing until the end; there are a huge number of memorable moments to be had while playing this game. The Story, plot and setting are all very well realized and for the most part presented, other than some less than stellar writing.
Even though the plot is fantastic and frequently satisfying, what really set The Witcher apart from other games for me were the great little moments that occurred oh so frequently while playing the game. Stumbling into a crowd of elves bullying and harassing a dwarf, drinking with some friends in the upstairs suite in a cranky old ladies house and sneaking downstairs to steal some wine, watching the brick makers groan and grumble as they do their work, The Witcher is chalk full of great, memorable moments that will stir up a wide range of emotions in the player and offer a level immersion almost never seen in any game to have been released thus far. Had a little more polish and work gone into making more character models for NPC’s and correctly translating the original version, The Witcher would have likely been a true masterpiece that is revered by gamers for many years to come.
Visually The Witcher looks really good overall, with environments being highly detailed and varied. Facial and character animations and models are particularly impressive, especially during combat. Some interior areas are especially good looking, thanks to some great texture work and good use of lighting effects. The music in The Witcher is really fantastic, very well composed and works exceptionally well with the game, often adding to the experience in a big way. Other sound effects are good although not outstanding.
While it may not be the most flashy or compulsively addicting title available today, The Witcher is undeniably one of the best Role Playing Games of the current gaming generation. It is fairly accessible but incredibly deep, innovative in creating an involving and tactical combat system, and engrossing because of the truly fascinating world it takes place in. The story works on more than one level, and the game deals with some very mature subjects and does not shy away from many things which could potentially prove controversial. There are so many great small touches and memorable moments that the limited number of NPC character models and the writing that suffers from translational issues are simply far too insignificant to mar what is otherwise a fantastic role playing experience. The Witcher strikes a near perfect balance of innovation and tradition, and deserves to be played and replayed by anyone interested in seeing how important a social commentary a video game is capable of delivering, as well as by those in search of an utterly engrossing and fantastic RPG.