sadexchange's The Witcher (Limited Edition) (PC) review

One of the most engrossing, well-rounded RPGs of the year

Every once in a while, a game will come out that extends the boundaries of its genre through multiple facets. Whether through graphics, sound, or just general gameplay and the Polish developers at CD Projekt Red might have done it with their first release, The Witcher. Releasing onto store shelves on October 30th of 2007, The Witcher strives to become something new in a genre that has been somewhat lacking since the days of Baldur's Gate and Might and Magic. Using a heavily modified engine that once created Neverwinter Nights, CD Projekt Red tried to turn the RPG genre on its head with The Witcher. From the beginning, you'll notice that The Witcher is something different from the intro movie that lasts around eight minutes and is superb in every essence.

First, to begin with, you have to somewhat explain the background and concept of how the witcher came together. This is something that CD Projekt Red just created, but they definitely did a superb job translating it to a game setting. Andrzej Sapkowski, a Polish fantasy writer was actually the man behind the world of The Witcher, publishing multiple books about the setting and about his main character Geralt of Rivia, who is also the main character of the game. Now don't get worried that you might not understand the game because you haven't read any of Andrzej Sapkowski's books because frankly, there really hasn't been much in the way of translations of his novels to English. From the beginning of the prologue of the game, you'll be learning about the world that Andrzej created, much the same as Geralt has to because he's just suffered a form of amnesia where he remembers some things and not others. The story is one of the many things that stands out in The Witcher. Not only is the overall story engrossing and engaging from the beginning till the end, but the choices and decisions that you'll have to make between them actually matter in not only you're overall character as a witcher, but also your friends who may accompany and help you along your journey. Lets get one thing straight, Geralt isn't you everyday overly friendly hero that you might be used. He's a hardened witcher, a slayer of monsters and everything evil. You could classify witchers as somewhat human if you wanted to. Their taken at birth and subjected to three tests transforming them into monster slayers through intense training, meditating, and even mutagens to help intensify their quickness, combat abilities, and also to lessen their emotions. They have a superb combat ability and also have the use of signs, which are simply put, sorcerer spells which may help them along their travels, such as the ability to create shields around their bodies, to ignite their enemies, and so on. Without ruining too much of the story, I will say that strange sorcerer has stolen the secrets to creating witchers and plans to create his own race of superumans to rule supreme and Geralt plans to stop them. That's about as simple as you can explain the story element of this game, but everything in between the prologue and epilogue is simply epic. Throughout the game's five chapters, you'll be subjected to a multitude of decisions to make between helping out someone here, while neglecting another there, or even to helping someone find a cure to their husband who suffers from lycanthropy or just to kill the beast. You won't see the end results of these decisions right away though, they'll pop up on their own as the story progresses whenever you see these characters again. And to boost the game's replayability even more, there are three different endings to find to be seen.

As any role-playing game of its day, you'll have some quests that state kill X, collect Y amount of this, but that's not just it because you won't just be able to collect everything off of monsters of you slay or collect the different types of herbs you come across. First you have to read about them in different books you'll find being sold by the different vendors, and if you don't want to spend the money, ask one of the locals and they might be able to tell you about a certain herb that can be collected from within crypts or caves. This adds another element to the game because it can halt you from doing some quests early on till you find out more about what needs to be collected and it adds a sense of realism to the mix because of having to find out about a herb before you can actually collect it and have it become useful for creating different potions because you don't just collect herbs because the plants are pretty. The Witcher has an alchemy system that is easily superior to all others to this point with the ability to create a vast array of different potions and additives that can help you along the way. Components of these different potions consist of different herbs, monsters body parts and having the main ingredient of alcohol. This isn't your regular fantasy world where dwarves and elves are happy alongside humans, the world of The Witcher is rife with conflict, racism, and sexism. The kingdom of Temeria is full of angry dwarves, also known as semi-humans and hookers who are always looking for another way to earn money. Throughout your adventures, you'll come across many racist statements against each faction of humans and semi-humans as you decide which side to pick, or if you're familiar with the work of Andrzej sapkowski, which side is the lesser evil. There are a couple different mini-games in the game that can be quite entertaining including boxing in the local taverns, a dice game, and another mini-game of being able to sleep with the largest amount of women you can, because as witchers are somewhat human, through their testing process, they become infertile and are immune to most diseases. Lucky them right? Anyway, you can collect different cards of woman you sleep with and in the UK edition, these cards can be viewed as somewhat pornographic, but it's just the style and the world of The Witcher. They're in no way explicit, and they're hand drawn instead of 3D pixilated woman, but it probably would detract you from letting your kids play it unless you have the US edition which has gone through some censorship on its way to the states. Besides the censorship of the cards, the US edition has also cut down on some of the side quests which involve the use of sex, which doesn't take away from the overall story of the game, but if you want the full experience, you might want to have it shipped overseas. All that aside, while the kingdom of Temeria may seem harsh, racist, sexist, etc, it only adds to the setting and atmosphere that CD Projekt Red has created with their rendition of an adventure in Geralt's life.

The character development tree and overall journal has to be given some credit of its own because the developers did a great job in creating it. Although, unlike other RPGs lately where you're able to create you own character and customize your appearance, in The Witcher, you only have Geralt to deal with, and as some might find this as a hindrance, it helps flesh out the overall story and setting of the game. But one cannot go through the game and not marvel at the journal. Each and every herb you might come across, each new and revolting monster you might fight, or any character you might talk to, an entry goes is made in your journal for you to read that fleshes out the world that Andrzej Sapkowski created. Things that had an entry already will periodically get updates to inform you on different characters throughout the game's course to provide you with updates on their moods, ties, and feelings towards Geralt. This journal can be something that you just overlook the entire game, or it can be something where you gain a world full of knowledge about the entire setting that CD Projekt Red wanted to create.

Another aspect of the gameplay experience would have to be the combat of The Witcher. While a lot of recent role-playing games have gone the way of some form of turn-based combat, games like Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, or even the late and great Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale games, The Witcher is done in full real-time where you have to pay attention if you're looking to succeed in defeating your foes. As a witcher, you have two different swords, one steel and one silver. Steel for humans, and silver for beasts and monsters you'll come upon in your travels. Each of these weapons has three fighting styles including strong, fast, and group style which are pretty much self explanatory. And it does matter which style you're fighting in and which sword you're using when going against different opponents across Temeria. Each of these styles has five stages that you can run through each time you attack an enemy, but you'll have to pay attention when doing so because you'll have to click the mouse button each time a stage ends to begin the next stage and if you don't, it leaves you open for an oncoming attack from your opponent, and you must start your sequence all over again. This form of combat is fresh in a role-playing game experience and can engage you further into the game instead of just repetitively clicking again and again until everything is dead. Besides these fighting styles and two swords, you're also able to carry an alternate medium size weapon and dagger, which can be used against different foes and contribute to 'finishing moves' when dealing with enemies. Although these weapons can't be used with the different fighting styles of the witcher, you can still intersperse them in your own unique fighting style.

Onto the sound of the game which parallels the story in overall greatness. All of the lines within The Witcher are voiced, whether it's yourself Geralt of Rivia or some cocky townsman who tells you, "You mother sucks a dwarf c#*k." The setting of The Witcher has a gritty gray tone to it and the dialogue follows suit. And when in conversations with different locals or mentionable NPCs, you'll be given a different close up view of the just between the two individuals talking which makes the conversations more personal, along the same lines as Knights of the Old Republic. The dialogue spoken is well versed and each person does a great job of voicing their conversations. The sound effects in the game sound great as well with each monster sounding different and the sound of combat and raging mobs having their own voice and sound true to what you'd expect from them. Through a good portion of the beginning of the game, you'll have quite a lot of in-game cinematics to watch that progress the story and game along. As you journey through the game's five chapters and epilogue thereafter, you'll run through more of these sequences which only engage the player even more building the story and decisions that they make with each new sequence. And you can't forget the overall soundtrack of the game which has been done perfectly throughout the different areas and sequences of the game. The game's official soundtrack is something that can be easily listened to over and over again while reading, writing, or any other leisure activity that you're up to. The official soundtrack to The Witcher definitely contributes to the atmosphere and epic feeling of the game with each track and sequence it creates.

Being based off an older graphics engine might have most people believing that The Witcher might look a little dated in 2007, but CD Projekt Red has definitely done some heavy modding to the Aurora Engine, once used for Neverwinter Nights, to make it look superior to even some games of today. Character models, environments, lighting, and animations all look superb in this updated engine and truly add to the atmospheric setting that the developers wanted to create. And through building up the abilities of Geralt, gaining experience and leveling up, the combat animations of the famed witcher will change and you'll find yourself accidentally breaking the sequences because you catch yourself staring at the cool maneuvers that Geralt does to take down his foes. And not only that, when you stun an opponent, you have the ability to do a finishing move which depends on a multitude of things including which weapon you might have equipped at the time or what alternate weapon you might have including a dagger or axe. There are a host of different 'coup de grace' moves including one where Geralt leaps onto his opponent and drives his sword through his enemies throat, or one where he pulls out his dagger and leaps onto his enemies' body on the ground stabbing him repeatedly while blood jerks from the body. These little subtleties really add to the overall approach to violence that the world creates around you. And while traveling through the kingdom of Temeria, you're able to look through three different viewpoints. One is the traditional isometric view from rather far out to remind you of other RPGs such as Baldur's Gate or Fallout while it also has a closer up isometric view which you may spend most of your time in while traveling through the city streets and murky swamps. The third view is the over the shoulder viewpoint where you have a viewpoint over Geralt's right shoulder where you can be apart of the action first hand. Each viewpoint gives a different playing experience and you're able to switch between the viewpoints on the fly with your F1, F2, and F3 buttons.

Although this may be one of the better role-playing games to be released in the recent past, The Witcher still has some flaws that come with it. One of the largest problems it has is the load times, or better yet, the time it takes to save when it auto-saves after a quest has been updated and you enter a new area. This can lead to a few longer moments of frustration when you're doing multiple quests in the city of Vizima which entail going in and out of multiple houses and warehouses throughout town, with updates being given to quests everytime you enter a building, thus causing the game to autosave when you exit the building. Reading across multiple forums, I've found this annoyance to deter some people from completing certain quests because of not wanting to deal with the load times, but I implore you to not be dissuaded by this somewhat lengthy annoyance. You're going to be missing out on a lot of great gameplay and soon enough, you'll get used to the this loading and saving, but don't worry, CD Projekt Red has already stated that they're looking into the matter and are working on a way to shorten these loading and saving times, so you know a fix is on the way. One other little flaw that you're subjected to throughout the game is it seems that some of the dialogue is missing. Now, if you're only somewhat paying attention to the storyline, which this reviewer things would be a crime, you might not be affected by it, but if you're delving into the setting wanting to learn and know everything you can, it seems as if some of the dialogue and info was lost in the translation from Polish to English. While this doesn't take away too much, it does seem to leave little gaps in the storyline along the way from prologue to epilogue. One thing that might take away from some of the atmosphere of the game would be the amount of similar NPCs that you see throughout the game. While the character models look really well done, there are a lot of doubles throughout the cities that you'll come across while traveling the kingdom of Temeria. Townswomen and men and different merchants will be doubled around the world to create more population throughout the locales.

Overall, The Witcher is something special. It has great gameplay, graphics, sound, and an overall epic story that matches those of superb RPGs past like Fallout or Baldur's Gate. Yes, it does have some flaws, but flaws that can and probably will be fixed soon enough by a determined developer who wants to make their name well known in the role-playing game genre. Those of you looking for an engrossing role-playing game that will not only give you hours of entertainment on your first playthrough, but the availability of replayability because of decisions throughout the game's engaging storyline playing the character that 'you' want to play. Making the choices you want to make, to take a quest, or not to take a quest. To play the darker tone hero who wants money for each that he does or be the hero that offers to help when needed free of charge, it's your choice. It's all your choice, but remember, the choices you make will bring consequences later on.
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