At times overly ambitious, The Witcher has plenty to offer for those that can look past it's flaws.
It has taken me nearly 4 years to beat The Witcher. Why? Well that’s really my own fault rather than the game’s, but it is the game’s fault I kept coming back to it. Whereas most games I’d have given up and moved on, I felt compelled to see the journey of Geralt to completion. Now I finally have and I can say that The Witcher is a game full of ambition, dreaming of being a grand epic, and while it mostly succeeds, a few things keep it from fulfilling its true potential.
The Witcher is about a man named Geralt of Rivia who is well, a Witcher. Witchers are monster slayers, taking on contracts and traveling the lands searching for the next place they are needed. Geralt is found in the woods, with most of his memories gone, and his companions all telling him that he’s been dead for some years now. This doesn’t really have time to sink in for Geralt as the Witcher keep is attacked by a group called Salamandra, who make off with their secrets. This acts as the main focus of the game, but Witcher likes to add more to the mix. The world of The Witcher is a complicated one, with many people, groups, and stories all coming into play. A lot of them feel like part of a much larger piece of a puzzle, showing up just enough to be noticed but then leaving without much resolution, clearly being saved for later installments. Honestly I don’t mind this, as it makes the world feel so much larger than just Geralt and his problems.
It’s also a very bleak one. The human’s are oppressing the nonhumans turning them into rebels, greedy nobles seek power, every creature out the wilds wants to kill you, and Geralt is stuck in the middle of it all. You’re forced with many hard choices as is expected these days with this kind of game, but as a Witcher Geralt has the opinion to play the neutrality card, picking nether side and simply watching everything play out. Its interesting to play a character that seems like he could honestly care less about the problems of others, but is forced into situations where he has to. In fact I find myself siding with Geralt a lot of the time, because outside of the Witcher and his close friends, everyone else kind of sucks as they all lie and betray one another. It’s an interesting world to be a part of, but certainly not one I want to live in. It almost never ends well, even in the minor quests, and someone innocent always dies. It’s a far cry from a very black and white world like Fable.
The combat of The Witcher is an interesting, if unpolished one. Being a monster hunter, Geralt carries two swords with him, a silver one for monsters and a regular sword for non-monsters, with the opposite swords not being effective against prey that isn’t for them. You also have 3 different combat stances, heavy, medium and group. Your need to switch up your swords and stances in order to be as effective as you can on your opponent. Once your weapons and stance are chosen the combat is rather simple. Click the mouse on your opponent and Geralt will go into a pre-canned animation. At a certain point in the animation your cursor will light up orange and if you click on the enemy again at the right time, you’ll chain your attack, continuing your assault and increasing your attack speed. It’s less about the finesse and more about timing. This works ok but it can be unbalanced. Sometimes fighting enemies is a cake walk, and Geralt can slice them down like butter. Other times enemies will use attacks that knock Geralt to the ground, and while he does the animation to get back up, they have already attacked you a second time, dealing massive damage and knocking you on the ground again. These weren’t frequent occurrences but they happened enough that I found myself irritated at times.
Another big component of Witcher is its alchemy. Geralt can collect ingredients and create potions for himself or oils to put on his weapons, all of which are necessary. You see Geralt doesn’t regenerate health in combat, and you can only drink potions when out of combat. This not only makes potions much more of a necessity than most games, but also demands preplanning. You need to think about what yourself getting into, and take the best potions and oil before you jump into the fray. Unfortunately you don’t always have the foresight to know when you’re walking into combat. Sometimes combat just happens, and you could unprepared, crippling your chances in the fight. Sadly there is no really way around this, and the best advice I can give is to just save as often as you can, so you can reload and prep before the fight.
The Witcher is a long game, and while its length doesn’t bother me, it has some slight pacing issues. The 2nd act felt like it went on far too long, the swamp area is particular, where I found myself running back and forth just little too much. The game doesn’t hand hold you either, which can be downright confusing for a first hour or two, but you’ll get the hang of it and it’ all manageable.
I did however have a real, almost, game breaking moment. I simply couldn’t beat the final boss of the first act. It was relentless, killing me in seconds sometimes. It didn’t help that there was also an unskipable cutscene I had to watch every time, furthering my frustration. After giving up I turned to the internet for tips and strategies. Turns out I’m not the only one with a problem with this boss. Many players described it as straight up broken and impossible unless you spec right. I was eventually able to beat it, but this busted boss nearly caused me to give up on the game. Fortunately the rest of the game is much better balanced, but that doesn’t forgive such a terrible encounter.
Presentation wise the game fairs ok. It certainly wasn’t a stunning beauty back when it came out in 2007, but its does the best with what it has. The characters range from ok to rather ugly, sometime intentionally so, and its drab buildings perfectly fit with the grey and dreary world. You do get plenty of time outside in boggy swamps, lakes, and green plains, and they all look and feel great. The animation is ok, but it’s rather choppy and stiff looking during dialogue. The Witcher looks fine; just don’t compare it to its successor which almost unfairly destroys it visually.
The Witcher has its barriers. You’ll need to look over its dated graphics, lack of a good tutorial, and broken first boss. But if you can make it over those bumps, you’ll find an interesting dark world, filling with terrible people and evil monsters, and a man ready to slay them. It’s not for everyone, but those that embrace it will have a good time.