The Witcher - PC - Review
There was a time when witchers were everywhere, battling the monsters that vexed the races of the land. But that time is past. The witchers disappeared, and with their parting went the White Wolf, the most famed of the profession, a man otherwise known as Geralt.
The Great War spread across the land, pitting humans against non-humans. Fear was everywhere and so was corruption and evil. With evil comes the monstrosities, the hell-spawn and other creatures that ride the nightmares of the races.
Meanwhile, in a far-off valley, stumbling through the marshes, is a man with no memory. He falters and falls, slipping into unconsciousness. There is one tracking him and with care, the latter takes the unconscious figure onto a wagon and transports him to Kaer Morhen, the ruins that are the last home of the remaining handful of witchers.
Could this be Geralt, the White Wolf? The short answer is yes. Presumed to have died, and maybe he did, Geralt is back and searching for the memories of what happened to him, but there is another quest. An evil and powerful sorcerer has invaded the home of the witchers and taken mutagens, potions that give witchers supernatural abilities. Those mutagens, in the wrong hands, could prove a curse upon the world. The remaining witchers, and Triss – a sorceress (and Geralt’s love, it would appear) – go in search of the mutagens, a quest that will lead them across the land of Temeria.
Players take on the role of Geralt in this title from Atari and CD Projekt, a story based on the renowned works of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. This is an adult-themed game, not only in the combat, but as Geralt, you will have the opportunity to bed the winsome lasses you meet, beginning with a tryst with Triss. Geralt, should you play him that way, will have the opportunity to go to bed with other women. This is a point driven home right at the beginning when dialogue choices allow you to bed Triss. There will be other women and Geralt can be a bit randy, if you play him that way. In addition to the sexual innuendo (you don’t actually see anything), there is also a fair amount of adult language in the game’s dialogue.
The game is very progressive in many regards. As you fight and kill, you unlock new abilities that must be activated in the skill trees, but these skills will lead to the ability to make more potions and gather better ingredients. Part of the alchemic element of the game requires you to meditate at a campfire. There you can access the potions table and mix potions, you can also skill up and manage your inventory.
One bit of advice, though, save often. If you fail, you restart from the last save point and that can take you back a fair ways unless you rely on the autosave feature. But spending time at a campfire, organizing, only to have that effort go by the wayside when you die seems to be a bit of trouble that can be avoided easily.
The Witcher is a deep role-playing experience, with plenty of opportunities to switch directions as you play the game. There are moments when you are presented with a choice and depending on the choice you make, you could alter the direction of the game. And it is important to note that sometimes evil can be masked by a pleasing face and gentle voice.
For example, in Chapter 1 you are on the outskirts of Vizima, helping the villagers with a problem involving a hellhound (the Beast), which has come because of their wickedness. You have the opportunity, first to bed Abigail, a witch that seems to be vexing the town. They accuse her of summoning the Beast. Defend Abigail and she will fight by your side against the Beast. Hand her over to the townsfolk, who will kill her and they will help you in the fight against the Beast. But you can turn the tables later and kill the principle townspeople who are, at the core, evil.
Such is the duplicity of the game. Gamers are allowed to forge their own path through and play as they see fit.
The combat is compelling and does not require much to get a handle on, though there are three difficulty settings that do come into play in terms of the game’s challenge. The game has two ways of moving and controlling your character – there is a straight mouse option and a keyboard-mouse combination. In the latter, you move using the WASD keys and can strafe in combat. To enter combat, you simply left click on a target. When engaged in combat, when the sword icon looks like it is on fire, you left click to unleash a combo. But that is only part of the witcher’s abilities. He also has mage abilities, and you will unlock them as you adventure. The first one you get is Aard, which is a telekinetic push. The signs are attached to the number keys. You key in the one you wish to use and then right click to use that skill. With Aard, you can knock down opponents and perform a finishing move, rather than engage in a prolonged combat with them. Also, different opponents require different combat styles. There are two main ones – strong attack and quick attacks. You simply pause the game (using the space bar) and then select which attack you will utilize.
There are three methods of viewing the game, and these can be switched back and forth at your discretion. There is the high and low isometric views and over-the-shoulder view as well. It is important to note that the game does have a targeting system, of sorts. You have to face the way you are fighting or casting, and if you use a spell, you have to click on the target of that spell in order to hit it.
The game does have some issues, though, including a few crashing problems. It crashed once after zoning (and prepare for zone/load times when you enter and exit buildings) and once when exiting the game.
Some of the other smaller issues with the game include the repetitiveness in the conversations and how – sometimes – the conversations seem to make little sense. Also, when you get to the first boss battle, you may not succeed initially, and failing means having to repeat the cut scene that precedes the battle. This is a bit of a pain.
The sound of the game is very solid. The voice acting is a little understated at times, but the music and ambient sounds are on the mark. Graphically, the game shines. There are some minor clipping issues with the preview code, and you will have a time working the movement in the over-the-shoulder mode as what you perceive to be straight ahead may be off on a bit of an angle. The lighting effects and spell effects are well done. The environmental textures are also nicely rendered. There are some invisible barriers that will prevent you from traversing the world freely, though. For example, you can’t wade or swim across water and if the quest lies on the other side, chances are there is a way around.
The game has five chapters and three possible endings. It did seem, at times, to advance one quest you needed to achieve success in others. You can save at any juncture and this is wise. Die and the game will reset to the last checkpoint, which may be on the other side of a cut scene.
This is truly a refreshing game that may plague your conscience through choices you might make as your journey through the game. Focus on one goal, though, and being the fact that Geralt is a mercenary, a killer for hire that judges right and wrong from his own standpoint. Those that want to see him dead are in the wrong. Those who don’t may not be right. The only one who is right is Geralt. The Witcher offers no easy choices. This is a game that thrives on challenging players to think, not just wander through the world in a hack ‘n slash escapade.
In that regard, The Witcher is a benchmark RPG. It does not belong in the hands of the younger set, if for no other reason than its adult themes. But it is precisely the latter aspect that makes this game so compelling. It feels alive. And even when you’ve made a choice and see the results as they work out in the cut scenes and environments, you begin to realize that what CD Projekt has created is a living, breathing world.
The Witcher is not without some problems, but it is a terrific RPG experience.
Review Scoring Details for The Witcher
Save and then explore the different paths through the game. Some paths may make you immediately regret decisions, while others can give you a helpless feel. Early in the game Geralt can challenge the notion of destiny and fate. As this is a game designed by a development team, that is sort of an oxymoronic moment. Still, the game does offer several different endings, giving players a strong voice in determining how they play the game.
The combat is great and the way the game makes you face your target (and yes, you can accidentally hit an ally, who will no longer be an ally) is well done. Shadows and lighting effects can be spotty. Geralt will move through a shaft of light and it won’t affect him, though it does affect the environment. On the downside, though, the game does have a number of NPC clones running about.
The musical score is solid and the actors voicing the characters do a nice job, though sometimes the dialogue seems to be out of context.
This is a game that has several elements seemingly gleaned from other sources. The ability to pause the combat, drink potions, set up attacks and select weapons or spells is akin to RPGs like Neverwinter Nights or other Wizards of the Coast fare, while the enemies and the manner in which you fight the various waves is reminiscent of titles like Diablo II. Still, give the dev team a lot of credit for the way they have melded the elements together and used the Witcher stories to forge a solid gaming environment.
Not without a few problems, The Witcher is still an important adult-themed RPG. The game is immersive and while you can pause it, consider choices and the like, this is a game that will ask you to think and make choices, not just hack ‘n slash your way to glory. The leveling system and alchemy elements are very nicely done. RPG gamers should have a good time with this title.