When I first started playing The Witcher, my favorite aspect of the game was being able to pick through people’s wardrobes without fear of getting NPCs angry. I could go through their digital closets and house-barrels without fear, permanently borrowing one-to-four pieces of in-game currency worth of weak beer, omnipresent flint, or ham sandwiches with inventory pictures that looked like evidence exhibits at a murder trial. I could then fence the goods at my leisure—or until my inventory filled up. Which happened quite often. And, since there are limited weapon slots on our witcher friend, I had to leave behind more torches and Temerian iron daggers than I would care to admit.
I didn’t like the game much then, if at all. The voice acting was just tolerable, only occasionally dipping into Tales-series levels of badness. The prologue wasn’t all that engaging. The combat was bizarre, and poorly explained. The horrid amnesiac protagonist trope played heavily. Strangefully, a sorceress decided to sleep with me after I made her drink a magic potion, thus allowing me to collect her sex-card. And there was lots of you’re-the-chosen-errand-boy action.
And yet, 60 hours later, I’m glad I decided to play The Witcher. Pretty sure I’m glad.
I’d been interested in the game for years, possibly since before its release. I recall walking by it several times at big box stores, admiring the out-of-place metal wolf head on the box’s cover, always standing out among the latest WoW expansions and shovelware Diner Dash releases. The metal promo vid was nice too. At that time, I’d more-or-less disowned modern gaming, but that’s another rant entirely.
So, let’s get down to business. I purchased The Witcher, eventually, and some time later, finally played it. I finished it yesterday. Was it a good game?
Is anything truly good or bad? Isn’t everything in life simply a catalyst for tomorrow’s memories? Why am I bringing up this drek?
Well, because I think I truly started to enjoy the game when I began to have to make tough decisions. Not the right decisions—there really are no such things in the game—I began to have to make choices which would probably help one person I liked while destroying a different person I liked.
I know that is not a unique concept, and companies such as Bioware are famous for this sort of thing. I also remember attempting to play Dragon Age: Origins, and laughing at the moral options.
Approximation of an average DA:O moral dilemma:
You have encountered humans in the forest.
A.)Slay them and drink their blood dry, in no particular order.
B.)Throw them a party to celebrate their arrival in your secret elven village.
C.)Pretend they aren’t there until they leave.
The morality in The Witcher is more ambiguous. There are no good/evil/neutral choices, there are paths to help some, paths to help others, and a path where you can furiously attempt to maintain a witcher’s neutrality. Forced morality is not inserted into every single conversation, so when you do have to make a big choice, it actually feels like a big choice.
And this is pretty true to the books. Yep, the world was fascinating enough for me to pick up the two translated American releases by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski.
The Last Wish, essentially a collection of short stories about witcher Geralt of Rivia, is pretty damn good. In it, Geralt moves from town to town in a dark fantasy world, fighting monsters and solving peasant problems. However, little is as it first seems, and he is constantly forced to make tough decisions.
The other book, Blood of Elves, is more of a straightforward fantasy novel. I didn’t enjoy the pacing at all, but the characters were still…
Oh yeah! I’m supposed to be reviewing the game! Which means getting sidetracked is plenty appropriate. The game has way too many random side-quests, most involving your running across town, and they constantly interrupt the supposedly important main quests. It adds a ton of time onto the game, and I didn’t enjoy it.
But the dark fantasy world is pretty good, and the translation of characters and ideas from book-to-game is pretty fantastic (although Dandelion’s voice was awful). Geralt gets more interesting the more you play, although I think the damn amnesia idea was kind of unnecessary. So what if we don’t know the every detail of the dark fantasy world? That doesn’t mean you have to sever the character’s connections to it too. Just feels a bit unnecessary.
And the weapons system is a bit silly. There is no real reason to use anything but Witcher weapons, even though you keep finding other weapons. Kind of feels like a waste.
Anyhow, let’s talk about some more of the positives. The combat, as bad as it is initially, becomes something of a strength later in the game. Once you get more swords and techniques, you’re able to do some really neat stuff. If anything, it got too easy on normal mode, especially after obtaining the Igni sign, not to mention the insanely powerful potions.
There is some very nice ambiance. Some country areas feel downright spooky after dusk, there’s a swamp that feels massive and slimy, and some cities become old friends after HOURS OF RUNNING BACK AND FORTH THROUGH THEM.
There are some optional pointless things, like sexing up randoms or fistfighting or Yahtzee betting. Leaving them as optional was a good call.
The fact the game was made in Poland by a Polish team based on a Polish author’s book full of Polish medieval myths is pretty badass. A lot of love and knowledge of the subject matter went into the game, and it shows.
So yeah, The Witcher is a dark fantasy PC game. It’s not the pinnacle of PC gaming I hear the sequel heralded as, but it’s not terrible. The story is decent, and the gray approach to morality is nice. Some of the mechanics are poorly explained, but they mostly work well in the end (I had to look up a bit online, although a physical instruction manual may have fixed this). The inventory setup is a pain for any sort of compulsive item gatherer, and the game suffers slightly from Offline-MMO Syndrome, though not as bad as Skyrim. The voice acting ranges from mediocre to acceptable. Also, you cannot use a gamepad with this game.
On the other hand, the Last Wish is a fine collection of short stories, and I definitely recommend checking it out.