The Witcher is an epic RPG that does justice to Sapkowski's novels and universe.
Most people that know me know that save for old school CRPGs and Fallout
, RPGs aren't really my bag. But I couldn't help but raise an eyebrow when I heard of The Witcher, simply because I'm a huge fan of writer Andrzej Sapkowski's novel series. Awhile back I took a trip to Poland, but ended up in bed for most of it do an illness and my friend of mine lent me a copy of "The Last Wish" and I absolutely devoured it, the short story Wiedzimin being my favourite. When he told me that it had recently spun off into a novel, I quickly searched it down and quickly devoured "The Blood of Elves," the first in the series. Over the years he would send me fresh copies until the series was done. So what do I think of the recent game based on the series?
Well, all I have to say is "Wow." I figured it would be hard to channel the universe and stories properly, but CD Projekt Red plays it safe by not directly adapting any of the several short stories or the novels and rather creating a new story, naturally set in the same universe. The story is awesome, and will please fans, but the story is accessible even to those who have no prior knowledge of the series which is likely here in the states knowing that the English translations haven't been released here yet, save for the original Short story translated for a US release of "The Last Wish" and I doubt the majority of US citizens speak Polish. The story is worthy of the series heritage and an engrossing addition, and a good starting point for those unfamiliar with the series.
The gameplay is either behind the shoulder or isometric, either way the combat is very unique and very entertaining. At first, I was thinking it would be like Diablo, and just clicked fiercely on enemies but was quickly cut into ribbons by them. Although the combat system is as simple as clicking, what makes it unique is that its rhythm and time based. Clicking like a madman or clicking too slow will not work, but clicking in time with the rhythm of your weapon and enemy will bring results, and if you continue the rhythm it'll get stronger with each blow. Once you get used to this style, it is as smooth as glass and a great gameplay mechanic. You also use "styles," fast, strong, and group. Although this concept has been seen in RPGs and several beat 'em ups, The Witcher does a much better job and it adds a mild strategic layer requiring you to analyze each enemy. As you progress, you will also learn the difference between both Witchers swords, one silver and one steel.
The environments look great, and help immerse you into the world. There are some decent looking creatures as well, although most character models are rather poor (More on that later.) amongst other graphical hiccups. The audio is great as well, particularly the voice acting. I stuck with the original Polish, but you can use just about any combination for several different languages, and even the English dub is good although there are a few weird translation errors in some of the final lines of dialogue.
The game will last you a LOOONG time. It has an epic scope and practically thousands upon thousands of locales, characters, quests and objects. The scope is absolutely massive, and the game has plenty of quests to back it up. The game took me a good 8 months to beat, and I'm sure I still missed some things.
The alchemy system works well. While it may add a somewhat tough learning curve and the tutorial makes it seem much easier than it really is, once you get the hang of it it works well and is a great system for creating various potions and later in the game, Witchers' mutagens. Each potion comes with a positive and negative effect and requires certain ingredients on a chemical level (Although this complicates it slightly, it also means that you don't have to find 100% specific items or plants to get that ingredient, you just have to find an object that has said ingredient) and has some other requirements. This system is necessary for survival later in the game, and is necessary for survival if you switch to one of the harder difficulty levels.
Back on the subject of audio, the soundtrack is ABSOLUTELY FRIGGEN INCREDIBLE. From the awesome title screen music straight on until the final moments, the soundtrack is easily the BEST orchestral soundtrack ever written for a video game. Orchestral soundtracks have been becoming more common lately, but most of them are minimalist, downplayed, and don't really have much soul or distinction from real classical or orchestral pieces. The Witcher has a distinct sound, combining various Celtic and European sounds to create a beautiful and unique soundtrack. I'm glad I bought the store version instead of the steam version simply for the soundtrack CD. The music in this game is some of the most beautiful I've ever heard, regardless of a video game or not.
Although the environments look good enough, the graphics really aren't that great. You'll run into several clones, and the characters are stiff and creepy as they barely animate, especially in talk. If you thought the animations in Oblivion/Fallout 3 were stiff you obviously haven't played The Witcher. Character models seem weird and out of shape/proportion a lot of times, which gives them a weird surreal look. Geralt looks fine enough and a few key characters have good models, but that's really it. The graphics are also poorly optimized, and the framerate staggers at times.
As somewhat of a feminist, I can't say I agree with the games treatment of women. I'm not complaining about the nudity (It would be hypocritical of a nudist to whine about nudity) so much as I am the fact that it seems that most of the female characters in the game are often reduced to the status of nothing more than a sex figurine. The term "Objectification of women" has never been truer here either, since if you decide to have sex with a female character in the game you will get 'sex cards,' which literally makes the female characters into a dirty collectible card game. While I suppose the artwork on them is decent, I still don't like the concept and a few of them push the boundaries of taste in their art as well.
The games scope and size, as well as a few gameplay elements, may not appeal to some as they might find it too "MMO" like. I won't lie, I've never played an MMO, but I couldn't help but feel at times the game was a little too large and some of the side quests are merely fetch quests and "Kill X-Amount of monsters" quests, and a few of them are fun but it can be annoying, especially early on, when they appear frequently and sometimes block you from completing a main quest.
The games menu and inventory system can be a bit head scratching at first. There are tons of buttons that don't really give a clear enough example of what they are or what they do and you'll often find yourself doing something you didn't want to. One time I was simply trying to find my map, so I clicked on an icon that looked like a map, and I ended up erasing my journal leaving me stumped and confused. I had to read a few pages in the manual to figure out what each button did.
Although I have no problem with swearing, my mouth isn't exactly the cleanest when given the ability to curse, but I honestly don't think some of the cussing in some of the dialogue here really fits. I suppose I simply find it strange to hear a dwarf quote "The Exorcist" (Literally, the infamous "Your mother..." scene from the Exorcist. I'm sure you can fill in the blank if you've seen that movie) and hearing conversations in bars and taverns using modern street slang and having chats that sound like something out of "Clerks" rather than a fantasy game. It just sounds anachronistic to hear some of the slang they use in this game, and sometimes it ruins the immersion for me.
The game has a bucketload of bugs that can be game ending. The game loves to crash at the worst times and various bugs will crop up during gameplay that can annoy you. The game also uses the damn FADE anti piracy system, and due to a glitch in the game, sometimes Fade will be triggered by anti-virus protection or bugs in the game, and even other discs that use anti-piracy systems. What Fade does is if it thinks you are using a pirated game, it will delete certain data from your game and make it impossible to finish. One time Fade accidentally went off during the main quest line, and removed all key characters required for me to progress. I had to reinstall the game completely to fix this problem.
The Bottom Line
The Witcher, simply put, is an awesome and epic RPG that will wow you with its sheer scope and epic nature. There are thousands upon thousands of quests and the main story is awesome, and there are several stories within that story that are excellent as well. You get plenty to do in the games world and the combat is unique and satisfying. Whether you are a fan of the books or not, this is a top notch addition to them and a great starting point for new fans. If you enjoy a hefty RPG experience, than this is a game you should check out. It will last you a long time and leave a big impression.