The Witcher is loosely based off of a series of fantasy novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski . If you're not familiar with the novels, you may be asking yourself "What the hell is a Witcher?". Simply put, a Witcher is a member of a fraternity of mutated humans that have undergone intensive training from a young age to become monster slayers for hire. Usually when a Witcher is in town, it's never a good thing as any situation with a monster or the paranormal has gone from bad, to worse if a Witcher is needed. Having not playing the original release, the Enhanced version boasts new recorded dialogue to fix some translation issues, improved game play, two new adventures and even a comes with an adventure editor that allows you to create and download custom adventures you can share with others which is a real treat for me for not having playing the initial release back in 2007.
Without giving too much of the story away, you play as the famed Witcher - Geralt of Rivia. As the game opens we see the protagonist, Geralt running from some armed pursuers while holding his stomach where he eventually collapses. The pursuers turn out to be Geralt's fellow Witchers whom presumed he was dead some time ago hence why they gave chase. As Geralt is being transported back to the Witcher stronghold - Kaer Morhen, he mentions he remembers nothing. This was an excellent move by the writers to introduce the world for those whom are unfamiliar with the Witcher novels which happens to remind me of Planescape: Torment. Geralt doesn't spend too much time recovering back home as Kaer Morhen is attacked by men wearing salamander pins wishing to steal Witcher alchemical secrets that happens to be the source behind their power. As luck would have it, a powerful mage and his associate - the Professor make off with valuable Witcher secrets causing the Witchers to leave Kaer Morhen and split up to seek out who stole their secrets and for what purpose.
More writing like this please.
Seriously, the writing is phenomenal compared to the boring dungeon-crawls that make up the modern state of RPG gaming which just have you talk to one dimensional characters that will send you out on a fetch quest, and reward you with gold or a weapon of sorts. Yes, it happens time to time in this game but at least it's left to minor characters. Since Geralt has lost his memory, you come across many people he had interacted within his past and you have to try to figure out their motives. Did this person used to despise you? Where they a former lover or a friend? The story is wrought with adult themes such as sex, relationships, murder, drug use, alcohol use, corruption and racism to name a few of the themes that play a vital role. A great example of corruption is there's an optional quest that you can undertake that exposes one of the major banks in the Northern Kingdom is operating without any money. Does this sound familiar to anyone? If not, you really need to pay attention to the news. What The older RPG gamers of yester-year thought was long dead was the use of descriptions that engage senses other than just sight and sound. For example, when Geralt walks into a cemetery he comments on the stench of death being present and how these graves were freshly dug which brings in another level of immersion (the sense of smell) which would be lost to the player if the information wasn't presented in this manner. It's used few and far between, but it's a welcoming sight to see something like this again.
Choose your own adventure!
Throughout the game, you have to make choices that will reflect how characters react to you and even shapes the very nature of the story. In most RPGs you're only given two choices - evil or good. The Witcher deals with the morally gray and more often than not you're not going to be sure of the outcome of your choices. For example, do you help "The Order of the Flaming Rose" a militant religious organization with ties to the royal crown that seeks out to destroy the Scoia'tael; a non-human freedom fighters whom wish to wipe out human rule and impose their own brand of racist policy against the humans? Or do you side with the Scoia'tael or just simply decide not to get involved with politics at all. Choices like these shapes the story and overall outcome of the game, which is rare these days as in some RPGS that allow you to join every faction your first play through without any repercussions from factions or change the outcome of characters or the story as a whole. If you're not paranoid about humanity before, after playing this game you sure as hell will be due to the countless number of people exploiting Geralt for his skill set for their own gain. When you do find out what the big picture is later on, usually it's too late and you have to live with your consequences as a result. There's no going back unless you want to reload from a previous save state of course. I find it refreshing that the developers are going back to this style of quests design as a lot of RPGs of late just focus on getting "sweet gear" and dungeon crawling and doing "good" or "evil". It's nice to have a game once every 4 years that decides to deviate from the aforementioned style of binary morality. Expect to get least 60-100 plus hours of game play out of this, due to how multitude of choices given to the player.
The game overall is fairly dark. Most of the action seems to take place at night, and anything you need to do dealing with NPC's issuing quests is taken care of during the day time. So the game relies on a horror element when it comes to dealing with monsters as when you do have to go down into a crypt, expect it to be totally black unless you have a torch or a potion that will allow you to see in the dark. There are plenty of little elements that add to the world such as wild animals and even how NPCs live according to the hour of the day. During the evening hours, expect people to be in their homes eating dinner or drinking heavily at the tavern. NPCs having their own "life" can be bothersome if you're looking for an NPC to complete a quest.
The issues I take with the character models is that when you alert NPC to bad or good news, their faces are dead-pan. The only thing that moves is their mouth and maybe some hand gestures which makes me wonder if this is a limitation with the Aurora engine. Speaking of NPC s, there's a lot of recycling of the same model. One of the key characters from Act II uses a generic merchant model. In the initial release, this was a big problem and bothered many gamers, so in the enhanced version they've done little things like maybe giving certain characters using a generic model a goatee and have changed the color scheme of his their outfits. Regardless through, it's the same model with some texture differences. Sometimes when I would initiate a conversation with an NPC, the camera would be focused on something else near the NPC, like a chair. The problems are minor and don't distract from the game very much, but they're there. But on the flip side, there are some great animations. One time I was walking around town at night, and found a drunkard pissing in the street. The death animations are excellent. When you perform a coup de grace, expect some phenomenal finishing moves. My all time favorite is when an opponent is stunned, Geralt goes behind him, pulls back his head and proceeds to slit his throat which nullifies all previous graphical flaws for me.
The first problem you'll notice off the bat, even through a lot of the dialogue has been re-recorded some of the acting seems really forced but it definitely isn't terrible. There seems to be some mixing issues when it comes to some sounds. The finest example is when the fist fights are taking place in the taverns, you can hear the smack of fist against flesh all the way on the other end of the tavern.
The music is something you would find in your typical fantasy setting RPG, very epic and orchestrated when you're walking about the town of Vizima. While in the slums, you hear music that's rather depressing, while in the trade quarter where the nobles live in relative peace, the music is peaceful and somewhat calming. While in crypts and the swamp, expect plenty of ambient noises and music to compliment the surroundings. The battle music tends to differ from the rest and seems a bit out a place when you hear a synthesizer as Geralt is cutting down bog beasts.
When you start a new game, you're given your choice of difficulty options and even a camera view. You have 3 difficulty choices ranging from easy, medium and hard. The camera views are isometric and third person "over the shoulder view". They don't seem to do much other than give the player a slightly different perspective. I fooled around with both for awhile, and found out the isometric view seemed better suited as you can see who's coming up behind you in combat. Speaking of combat, combat takes place in real time and you're given various ways to vanquish your foes. You have a steel sword to take care of any human opponents, and a silver sword to take care of anything monster related. Combat is rather simple, as all you have to do is click on what you want to die. First and foremost in melee combat you're given three fighting styles:
Strong Steel - With this fighting style it's best to be used against foes that are slow and tend and are heavily armored. You can use this style on other faster enemies, but they have a higher dodge and parry rate while using this style which brings me to..
Fast Style - Style used to take down fast opponents. Damage dealt is fairly low, and you have to rely on executing combos for the maximum effect. The game alerts you that you can execute a combo when your cursor lights up, when it does, you click the enemy again to unleash more pain.
Group style - As the name would suggest, best used when you're surrounded. This style allows you to do an "area of effect" melee attack to those who are around you. The more enemies around Gearlt, the more damage he does. Since I found most of the combat not to be very challenging (I played through this on the normal difficulty setting) I would go around, chain as many enemies as I could together and unleash hell all who dared to get near me.
These fighting styles can only be used with steel or silver swords. The only time you can't use these styles if it's anything other than a sword. If you pick up an ax for example, you're given a base damage range with that weapon and any other bonus it might have (such as a 20% chance to disarm). The other weapons are essentially useless since it's more effective to just stick to your 3 Witcher styles of combat and to use the two other weapon slots to sell the useless weapons you find to vendors. Eventually, you're going to want a better sword: well, when I was told I can "re-forge" my sold with various runes for silver swords, and meteorite ore for steel you would talk to the blacksmith to literally "re-forge" your weapon upgrades. This isn't the case as I found out looking at a message board that "re-forge" actually means "forge". If you want a new weapon, you're going to need 3 runes to make a new silver sword, and 3 meteorite ore pieces to make a steel one. You think something like this would have been clarified in the enhanced edition.
Since your job description has you slaying monsters, it's best to know their weaknesses. You can find a variety of books sold by vendors or in people's houses.
Alchemy and Inventory
A big component of the game is alchemy. As a Witcher, you rely on using a wide variety of potions and blade oils do your job. To make such tonics, you have to pick a variety of plants, get monster parts and acquire knowledge of the potion before you can make one. You need more than just mandrake root and monster guts to make a potion. For a potion base, you have to use strong alcohol of any kind. So expect to be carrying around a lot of booze. Of course, you can experiment and make your own potions, but experimenting with it can often lead to unintended consequences and sometimes even death when you drink them. So it's best to go with the formulae you have at hand. Even if you do find out a good combination of ingredients for a potion or oil they're labeled as "unknown" until you acquire the recipe that tells you what kind of potion you just created with your chemistry set. To create potions, you have to meditate (rest) at an inn, an allies house or a fireplace to create anything.
When it comes to the inventory, the inventory has been split between "general use" items and alchemical ingredients complete with an auto sort button. One interesting thing I noticed is when I first tried to pick up another sword and it told me my inventory was full. As it turns out you can only carry two swords at a time one "large" weapon (which can also be used a sword slot) and a small one. So don't expect to be carrying around a cornucopia of weapons.
Magical Potions and Magic its self.
The magic system seems pretty useless. The only two spells I found worth in was "Aard" - a telekinetic attack that has the chance to knock down opponents and stun the, and "Igni" - a attack that sets opponents on fire. There's a damage reducing spell tree, a "buff" and "de-buff" tree. I found the aforementioned wildly in-effective as the spell duration is very short. It's best to stick with potions and sword oils. Don't rely too heavily on potions. Potions are toxic, and the more you drink, the more it effects your combat performance and if you're not careful it can even kill you. When you're toxic levels are high, you get this annoying red flickering crap all over the screen that's accompanied with a heart beat that won't stop until you bring toxicity levels down to a respectable level.
Level system is straight forward: Find somewhere to rest, and distribute your talents in various areas such as strength, dexterity, intelligence and even your weapon and magical skills. There are no other skills since you're playing an already established character.
Please, go ahead take what you want.
I always found it odd in most RPG's that most of the NPC's don't mind you taking their stuff. Which was fine for me because money can be tight in this game, so I would rummage around in peoples cabinets looking for booze to make my potions. I kind of felt like some robber who was also an alcoholic because I was too cheap to pay the bar maid at the Inn 30 gold for a bottle of booze considering money can be tight due to the fact the contract job pay out offers little in reward as vendor prices are pretty steep.
Since I'm reviewing the downloadable version of the game, expect a making of bonus, the original game soundtrack and music from various artists inspired by The Witcher. If you did buy the Witcher before the enhanced edition, you can download the enhanced patch via CD Projekt's website here. Another added bonus for the American audience is that all the censoring of any nudity has now been done away with.