You are Geralt of Riviera, you have a rather large bump on your head, and life sucks. It’s the end of a five year war, and you don’t know where you are, who you are, or what you are. Thankfully, some kind souls are along shortly to get you back up on your feet. Once, you were a mighty monster hunter known as a Witcher, bringing down the mightiest and most feared creatures throughout the land for bounty and fame. Unfortunately, that’s no more. Your kind, the Witchers, are now the lowest of the low, and that bump on the head didn’t help either. You’ve lost all your skills, your experiences, and your equipment, but at least you still have some natural talent. It helps that those who found you happen to be Witchers themselves, though in almost as dire straits as you are.
Aside from the opening cutscene, which is quite long and doesn’t really have much to do with the story, as well as some dialogue before The Witcher keep is attacked, not much introduction is given. Assuming you’ve read the Polish series The Witcher is based on, you’ll know generally what’s going on, but if you only speak English, you’re probably out of luck.
From there, you’re thrown into your first combat, which acts as a not so cleverly disguised tutorial, but at least it’s fairly unobtrusive. The battle system certainly needs some explaining, so it’s a good thing there is a tutorial. Unlike most traditional dungeon crawling RPGs, clicking wildly and hoping something dies isn’t an option here. Instead, combat is based upon a timed combo system, where one click initiates an attack sequence, and you must wait until the cursor lights up again to continue to the next attack in your sequence. Time it wrong, and you’ll screw the attack up and leave yourself wide open for a counterattack. Also slightly confusing is the introduction of the various combat styles. After running through the opening tutorial, you’ll have three combat styles to choose from, with more to come, which are the strong, fast, and group combat styles. Group works pretty much as expected and is effective against groups of weaker enemies, but what of the other two styles? It turns out they must be matched to your opponent’s style if you ever hope to achieve something, sometimes going against common sense. Against a strong enemy, you must match them with the strong combat style, though it would seem that attacking with a faster style would give you the advantage, possibly at the cost of doing less damage. However, attacking with a faster style not only does less damage, it does no damage. Hmm. Obviously you’re going to have to bend to the will of the programmers here and just accept that that’s the way it is. That little quirk fits hand in hand with the fact that some enemies (mostly monsters) can’t be harmed with your steel sword, and likewise your silver one won’t be as effective on non-monsters. Other than that, fighting styles are fairly highly customizable, with many different abilities, though on the official site it’s claimed that abilities are basically one stop shopping, and usable as soon as they’re purchased. I can’t help but think that’s a bit of false advertising though, as while you can purchase any ability and use it right away with enough points, there are tiers of abilities that are not available until you have met the prerequisites.
The Witcher also touts advanced animation, with “motion capture performed by medieval fighting experts.” I didn’t count, but there does seem to be a great variety of different attacks and finishing moves. However, the motion capture technique creates a few flaws, namely clipping and sometimes jerky movements. Fighting on something like stairs makes the clipping especially noticeable, as when Geralt steps back he behaves as if he were on a flat plane rather than stairs. When performing a combo, breaking it results in a somewhat abrupt cutoff that looks none too fluid. Battles aren’t the only thing to suffer from animation problems. In game cutscenes can only be described as… Shatner-esque. While one scene may feature a lively gesture, perfectly animated, the next will feature a motionless talking head attached to a wooden body, which may or may not then spring into sudden movement. It feels as if only half of the animations were properly finished. Sadly, many of the female characters in the game also suffer from breast misplacement.
Landscapes are some of the most detailed parts of the game, because they are all custom made and non-tiled. However, this also adds to the game’s hefty amount of data, which weighs in at about eight and a half gigabytes and takes quite a long time to install. You’ll also want to be running the game on full settings, though that requires quite a high end PC, otherwise it looks a bit odd. For instance, landscapes are virtually endless on the highest distance setting, but turn it down to medium and you’ll feel like an oppressive fog has closed in, and turning down such things as grass yields a rather barren and unwelcoming landscape.
Choices are central as well as one of the most interesting parts in The Witcher, and it’s not often that they’re cut and dried either. Most choices the player faces will be shades of grey, with neither alternative entirely satisfying. Consequences will haunt the player afterwards as well, as you can be sure someone won’t be happy about the choice you’ve made. Perhaps you decide it’s fairer to execute a criminal rather than imprison him, but his son disagrees. He may lie in ambush later in the game, ready to take his revenge. The Witcher also handles some rather adult matters, especially sex, earning it its 18+ rating. You won’t actually be seeing too much, and certainly nothing explicit, but Geralt can build up relationships with female characters, by either seducing them or doing them favors, and then… *ahem* reap the fruits of his labor. If you’re lazy, there are always prostitutes as well.
Innovative as it is, The Witcher suffers from some rather annoying flaws, but that shouldn’t stop you if you’re into this type of game. Newcomers to the genre may be put off, but the ethically ambiguous questions faced do present a certain kind of draw. It’s a game that I wanted so much to love, but in the end it ended up being just a decent RPG with interesting but not particularly memorable characters and the opportunity to be a total jerk, which is always fun.
Seven out of ten
- Difficult and varied moral choices that come back to haunt you later
- Mature topics given a approached in a mature fashion
- Geralt is fairly customizable in terms of playing style
- Breasts go where?
- Schizophrenic animations