By ArbitraryWater 34 Comments
It only took me 3 months of on-again, off-again playing to do it, but I've finally manged to finish one of the more egregious black spots on my RPG backlog. I've been meaning to do this for some time now, as my impressions blog from mid January shows, but silly things like "School" and "Other Video Games" got in the way and helped contribute to my personal assumption that I am horribly inefficient at actually finishing games. With Midterms out of the way and no other immediate concerns I finally managed to sit down and finish The Witcher, giving me the almighty privilege of writing about it for my tens of adoring fans. This is also good because I can finally attempt to start writing semi-regularly again. But first, let me give you a brief summary of my video game playing from the last two months.
Things that are not The Witcher
Of all the other games I have played recently, aside from the always present League of Legends, the major ones of note seem to be Shadows of the Damned and Dead Space 2. They're both third person shooters with a strong "horror" element, with the difference being that they are practically inverses of each other. Dead Space 2 is, in fact, a game that is very similar to Dead Space. Similar enough that at some point I really couldn't tell you if it was better or not. Much like the first game, it's super polished, it drags something fierce around the middle before coming around at the end, and the actual art of murdering fake "The Many" is still incredibly enjoyable. The story is also still "Isaac! Go here! Uh oh, there's something in the way, so now you have to go here!" Having Isaac talk actually adds nothing to the experience since he is the most generic actionBro you could possibly put in a role like that and in fact I preferred it when he kept his mouth shut (on the plus, he curses whenever he stomps corpses). All in all, a great game and one I heartily recommend... but not on the PC. I experienced the shittiness of EA's DRM firsthand with this one and was unable to play the game until it randomly decided to work. It did look really good on my computer though, so there's that to be glad about.
On the other hand, Shadows of the Damned is not a great game. It's hilarious, bizarre and juvenile in the way that Suda 51 games apparently are (I wouldn't know, though I really want to play No More Heroes now). But the shooting is kind of bad. It's floaty in a way that is frustrating, making precise shots impossible and ensuring that you will kind of just fire wildly (missing far more than you should) instead of focusing on headshots. Which is weird, since Resident Evil 4 and 5 were, among other things, fairly tight as far as shooting went. I also watched all of Gurren Lagann on a particularly self-destructive bender. If we ever want to talk about tonal dissonance in an admittedly great work of fiction, that show is a textbook example. I also watched like 10 episodes of Fruits Basket because I was sick and my roommmate was goading me into it. I do not recommend that course of action unless you are a 14 year old girl who thinks that people turning into animals when they get hugged by Laura Bailey is in any way hilarious.
Things that are The Witcher
With that rather unfortunate revelation out of the way, we turn our internet heads towards the actual subject of what will obviously be a lengthy write-up. The Witcher is a great game with great characters and a great story. It's also about 10 hours too long for its own good and doesn't really show its true colors until halfway through, although when it does it's one of the better RPGs I have played since Dragon Age Origins.
But maybe I should slow down a bit. The Witcher is a RPG released in 2007 by CD Projekt Red, with much hulabaloo on the internets how it is supposedly super rad and is basically proof that you can release a full-on RPG in this modern era capable of achieving financial success. In the current climate of “Hating on Bioware is cool guys”, it is seen as a beacon against games that are dumbed down shooters full of pandering fanservice. To which I respond: Kinda. Saying that The Witcher is some sort of hardcore RPG is like saying that Halo Wars has the depth and complexity of Starcraft. Saying that The Witcher is free from pandering fanservice is a terrible lie, one that can be exposed the second one realizes that cards of naked women are a collectable, which may or may not be equally offensive to me as Bioware's weirdly obsessive focus on your dude romancing non playable characters. And let me tell you: there are a lot of cards. I still maintain that the combat is dull, the mechanics simplistic and needlessly obfuscated (you could finish the entire game without ever realizing that the secondary components of ingredients can be used to make better potions) and the actual quest designs are either based around the Planescape caveat of running back and forth between multiple NPCs or the excessively dull “kill X monster for money and experience that you really don't need”.
In general, I'd compare it to Planescape in that way, although every quest in Planescape was filled with that delicious, delicious writing that made it so great. In general, The Witcher is about 45% fetch quests that act as padding between story segments. It's one of the reasons that I think it would be a better game if it was shorter, and the not amazing minigames of fist fighting (which I never figured out, despite doing all the quests for) and dice poker (It's poker. With dice.) don't really serve as the interesting diversions one would think they are.
But these broad generalizations don't reveal what makes The Witcher great. While it fails to present a great impression until midway through the second act, once it starts rolling it gets a lot better. The grey morality at work is always interesting, with the game usually showing you the consequences of your actions, often in a real gameplay sense. While Geralt is a fixed character whose responses are clearly within a certain range, his choices and moral compass are within the hands of the player. Does one side with the terrorist Scoia'tel, who are trying to fight for their freedom (by murdering all the humans), or does one side with the zealous Order of the Flaming Rose, who may or may not be racist zealots. Or does one just say “Screw both of you guys, I'm not taking a side!” Because you can totally do that too. Giving any more specific examples would spoil the fun, since (like Planescape) the gameplay isn't good enough to hold up on its own. Similarly, the game does a surprisingly good job of establishing a supporting cast that can be helped or screwed over in a menagerie of ways. None of this would be as effective as it is without great writing, which The Witcher definitley has. The voice acting is less consistent, with Geralt's delivery being the kind of hilariously forced emotionless gravel that I find ironically endearing. Still, it never dips into “Early CD Game” territory, so at least we have that to be thankful for.
Other than that, I have to say that I'm pretty sure that the game still looks acceptable (especially considering that it's running on a heavily modified version of the Neverwinter Nights engine), but I wouldn't know from personal experience, as I had to do some out of game tinkering to get it to run on my laptop (which far exceeds the minimum specs) which in turn made me unable to improve texture quality or anti-aliasing. The anisotropic filtering was totally bitchin though, so at least the character models looked nice.
So thus, in order to prevent me from stealing any more of your time (then again, you are browsing a forum, so you clearly don't have much else you need to be doing), I will say this: I think you should play The Witcher. I don't think I personally will give it another playthrough, for as much as the choices make it viable to do so, but I think it's worth at least one of them. And thus, now I leave myself with another RPG out of my backlog completed... which means another one to start playing again. I'm thinking Vampire the Masquerade, or perhaps finishing up the last third of Icewind Dale II. So you can expect a blog on either of those... in 1-3 months.