I must admit to being a computer role playing game (RPG) freak. I’ve bought and played probably all the commercially available RPGs and have played dozens of free and shareware games. Out of perhaps the 100s I have played there are probably only half a dozen that were good, and even less that really captured my attention all the way through.
Once in a while a gem comes along that does; The Witcher is one of those games. The Witcher combines good old fashioned hack and slash RPG styles, but blends in a huge amount of atmosphere and some decent character building to create a fully immersive and addictive game.
As you start the game you know that you are going to be in for a treat. The opening movie is simply stunning and does an amazing job of setting up the atmosphere, and introducing you to the dark and dangerous world you are entering. The opening movie is several minutes long, but it’s one of the opening sequences I haven’t escaped out of in an RPG game.
The Witcher is not a standard AD&D hack and slash type of game, but is one of the first games to become truly immersive, dark and particularly adult. It relies more on the storyline than most other RPGs I’ve played, and quite often the manipulation of statistics to produce the best character is simply secondary to the enjoyment of running through the story, and making informed and moralistic choices.
I was amazed by the atmosphere the game created – it was an immersive feeling, and I felt that I was in a real medieval world, that existed despite of me! I loved the way in which my actions would have an effect on the world, changing the way some people reacted to my character, and presenting different story lines as I made my choices (this also makes the game replayable!).
With an adaptive plot, The Witcher has joined the likes of Dragonage in producing a storyline that gives you choices that are moralistic, and quite often are not a simple case of choosing right or wrong.
As an example, I made a choice to defend some dwarves and elves, although they were rioting, I decided that they were being abused by the people and authorities and I simply had to make a moral choice – however some characters I had met earlier became alienated by this choice and ultimately became my enemies – had I chosen differently this wouldn’t have been the case.
The Witcher is built around the engine used from Neverwinter Nights. The graphics have been improved for the Witcher and there is definitely a lot more atmosphere and tension in this game.
Traditional RPG gamers may be a bit disheartened that they have no choice over the character they play the game with, and while I understand their grief, I did begin to realize that it was important for the game to have a central character to base the storyline on – as you progress through the game with Geralt you do get to concentrate on some skills, thus you essentially do build your own character, you just don’t get as much flexibility as some current RPG games.
The story itself is perhaps a little atypical for the RPG genre, with an underlying Good v Evil theme, which exists despite the choices you make throughout the game – however, the adaptive story, and the different paths you can take to get to the final ‘plot’ do make it a very intriguing and satisfying game – it almost feels that you are playing a living book rather than playing a game.
Of course, there are plenty of monsters to fight, with vampires, wargs and a whole host of creatures to combat, but interestingly, The Witcher focuses on humanity as being the main enemy, and the underlying failings of humans . This even extends to Geralt who isn’t your typical hero – he is an outcast who has lost his memory – as you play the game you being to piece together his life, and you begin to realize that he’s almost reluctant to save the world, and is doing most of the ‘quests’ for personal gain and to follow his own journey – saving the world is a secondary bi product for him.
Even more interesting, as mentioned before, the moral choices you are presented with are often not simply a good v evil choice. Every side you fight for has their own agenda, some of them have shades of good and evil, and thus making choices isn’t always simple. Sometimes, you end up picking the lesser evil! The whole game therefore has a darkness to it that is pervasive and really makes the game so much deeper than any I have played before.
The nitty gritty
Dialogue – even though it has been updated from the original, the dialogue is still not perfect! Originally it was simply translated from Polish, but eventually it was re-written and the game was ‘re-mastered’ – while the dialogue isn’t bad, it does seem a little forced at times.
Adult themes – The Witcher is an adult game and there are plenty of risqué moments. In the European game you actually see quite a bit of semi nudity; this is toned down in the US version but still is of an adult nature.
Game Mechanics – the combat is different than almost every other RPG I’ve played and in the harder ‘modes’ does require some skill to get the best out of. It’s a matter of timing, and for me this really made the combat feel less real – but I’m sure some will enjoy it.
Customization – The Witcher employs quite a different way of leveling up, giving you the ability to ‘buy’ skills – there really is a huge amount of choice too, and I must admit to being a little overwhelmed at times – while in ‘easy’ mode, it really didn’t make that much difference, in ‘hard’ mode where potions and spells suddenly become very important, you really have to find the right balance in skills.
Battle Styles – what is interesting is the fact that you can choose between different battle styles depending on the type of opponents you fight. You have fast, strong and group – and depending on the type of enemy each has its own advantages. Now this is where the game gets annoying – to use the styles you have to use the Witcher silver sword – any other weapon does not have this versatility – some of the other weapons in the game thus become pretty redundant.
Magic and potions – while these are in the game, I actually found that I could finish the game without using them much; occasionally they have their benefits, but I really didn’t feel the need to delve into them much, especially with the complexity of finding so many ingredients to make your own potions!
Graphics and Sound – what is amazing is that the underlying engine for this game is nearly ten years old, and yet the graphics and sound are among the most atmospheric I have seen in any RPG game, even including recent games. The attention to detail is incredible, and you really feel you are in a dark and dingy world!
The Bottom Line
The Witcher is exactly what an RPG should be. It is a story in which you play the main character and effect movement in the plot – it does not rely on statistics to make it good, but relies on a superior story, great graphics and sound, and an interesting adapting plot based on some moral choices you make.