The Witcher is an action RPG based on a book of short stories by the same name. It’s a Polish game and uses Polish folklore providing a different feel and monsters you will not have encountered in other games. It’s low fantasy within a believable, feudal world stricken by war, poverty and plague. Witchers are monster slayers – mutated humans with superior strength and an affinity for magic. You play Geralt of Rivia, the famed White Wolf, mysteriously back from the dead but suffering from amnesia. The adventure starts when the Witcher’s secrets are stolen by a criminal organization called Salamandra and Geralt has to get them back.
You wouldn’t think that was a boring premise yet the execution is remarkably tedious. A huge amount of the game is hack and slash so this is mostly due to the combat. It’s unique, but not good, and quite a grind in the MMO sense of clicking on an enemy until it’s dead, except much slower because Geralt has to do some fancy pirouettes first. Similarly, when Geralt swaps weapons or changes stances he does so at a leisurely pace. Granted at normal difficulty the chances of death are remote, and with potions you are practically invulnerable, it would still be nice to see some sense of urgency. As it is monster slaying has all the excitement of a day at the office. Switching between OTS view and isometric using keys F1 – F3 will make your life a lot easier.
Inventory management is a real pain; the icons are tiny and certain slots will only hold particular items meaning you can’t carry things even when you still have space. There is storage at Inns, however vendours will only buy certain things – great for realism, horrible for gameplay. I was running back and forth between the Inn and shopkeepers to see just what they would take and still had things nobody would buy (even though the item description suggested they should). You can look it up online but would it have been so hard to put in a conversation option asking ‘What do you buy?’ However you pick up far better equipment via the plot than you could ever buy, making shopping essentially superfluous.
On the whole the role-play is good, with a lot of dialogue and a system of consequences to your choices which play out later in the game. The consequence mechanic was very good and I liked it (the game also thinks it is very clever and tells you so, which I’d rather it didn’t). The choices are not black and white good or evil, but exist in a grey area. Like real life you just have to make the best decisions you can based on the information you have at the time – and you won’t always have all the information. Because consequences play out later it prevents metagaming, i.e. reloading to only get the ‘good’ outcomes, thereby creating a more immersive experience.
What detracts from this is the poor English voice acting. Actually ‘acting’ is stretching it a bit since there is very little ‘acting’, merely people reading lines of dialogue straight from the page. Geralt is particularly monotone and lacklustre. This has the effect of making dialogue that could have been interesting, emotional and entertaining just really, really boring. If you can handle subtitles I suggest switching to the original Polish.
Geralt is into gambling, drinking and f***ing. Getting drunk is less fun than it sounds, making him move extremely slowly until the effect wears off. The poker dice mini-game is a lot of fun. Alas, all female characters in the game are literally sex objects. If they’re female you can f*** ’em. It’s very empty and perfunctory, you get a ‘sex card’ as opposed to a sex scene, and the ladies are unlikely to mention the event ever again. You could argue that since Witchers are sterile and disease free the ladies are using Geralt for some guilt free fun, but any way you look at it it’s badly done. There was one particularly jarring moment when you have sex in the middle of an argument for no reason that I could see.
The graphics are top-notch though a few years old. The world is nice and feels believable and alive, particularly the city. Characters have routines and will move about, getting on with their daily lives, and there is a day/night cycle. Why, oh why, did the game designers not put in the option to ‘wait’? There is no way to advance time except going to a campfire (or certain npcs) to rest, which are rarely nearby. Naturally this leads to a lot of unnecessary back-and-forth or hanging around. Plus the plot will sometimes require you to wait an unspecified amount of time until events progress.
The main reason for playing the Witcher is its deep story with twists and turns you will not see coming, all tied up fairly neatly. Personally I found the ending somewhat unfulfilled because the Big Bad Evil Guys motivations do not particularly tie up to their actions.
The Witcher would be a good game if only it lost weight! It has about 20 hours worth of good gameplay surrounded by 40 hours of tedious flab. Worth it only if you connect with the story and can tolerate the boredom. Witchers are supposed to follow the path of neutrality on that’s how I feel about this game: neutral. It was okay but I wouldn’t recommend it.