The Witcher 5-Years Later ReviewGuest_Jim_* -
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One issue some people have with large RPGs is how easily they can get lost in side quests. The Witcher may not be as large compared to today's standards, but it still has a lot to do and a very good system for guiding you through it.
Geralt's Journal holds all of the information you gather during your playthrough, including information on people, monsters, alchemical ingredients, formulae, and, of course, quests. You can view all open quests at once, or have them sorted by the chapter they were last updated during, as well as by main story quests or side quests. The game consists of a prologue, five chapters, and an epilogue. Some missions given in one chapter will be completed in another, and other missions will become inaccessible as you move from one chapter to another, so be sure to check the list before moving forward.
As the number of quests build up, it can be hard to remember the status of each and therefore which you can move forward on. The game knows though, and tells you by placing a star next to the quest's name, with the exception of some fetch quests. These quests may involve hunting specific monsters for items they drop, and there will not be a star when you are still hunting. Once you have collected as much of the drop as you need, the star will appear. At that point you can also track the quest on your map to lead you to the person who will accept the drops in return for some payment.
While there are definitely a number of fetch side quests, which serve little purpose except to provide you with funds, most of the other side missions will impact the main story in one way or another. You are not necessarily running off, forgetting you have a world to save, you are just finding another way to save it, while collecting experience and potentially some of the best loot in the game.
Enough of the quests; time to talk about combat! The combat system of The Witcher is different from any other game I can think of. Button mashing does no good here as every action has a timing element to it. While this does, in a sense, make combos easier to achieve (you are actually told when to trigger them) a lack of patience will kill you. Pressing the attack button too quickly will end the initial attack early, meaning you do not attack, but your enemies will. The same is true of Signs, the magical spells you can cast that become invaluable as you level them up.
While this combat system is not what you may expect, it actually does work quite well, most of the time. There were occasions when the controls seemed unresponsive, and it seemed to be related to having my sword arm against a wall. If I wait to see if the attack works, my enemies are freely able to attack me, but if I button mash trying to get it to work, I end up stopping my own attack, again allowing the enemies to hit me. In the end the best solution is to just run, get out of that situation, and away from the wall, which can be tricky if enemies are clustered around you.
For almost all of the combat, especially later in the game when you become exceptionally powerful, it feels pretty good. You may become too powerful for it to be challenging, but it is still fun. However, there are some situations, either caused by the particular enemy or the number of enemies, which feel completely unbalanced. In situations like these you can be thankful for your high runspeed, relative to your enemies. Even in small rooms you can still run around in circles to regain health or endurance, the fuel for your magic attacks. Not exactly the most fun experience, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do. Fortunately these are not terribly common, and the most common of them (in my experience) are just avoidable.
Another interesting twist for combat are the fighting styles. Different enemies have different abilities. Some wield heavy weapons and are less able to parry or dodge attacks, while others have lighter weapons that allow them to move quickly, yet do less damage. To best combat these different enemies, you must switch to the proper fighting style. The strong style does the most damage, but is the easiest to counter. It makes it useless against faster enemies, but perfect against slower ones. The fast style, naturally, is designed to defeat faster enemies, which comes at the price of damage output. The group style, more or less, ignores the class of enemies you are fighting as its large swings strike all the opponents around you, though at the cost of being more open to attacks. Switching between the styles is instantaneous, unlike switching weapons.
Complementing the combat is the alchemy system. With this you may craft potions, oils, and bombs (which I never actually used). The potions give you special effects for a limited time, including accelerated health regeneration; sight in the dark; and accelerated abilities, which appear to slow down time. The oils are applied to your swords and can make them more lethal to specific enemy types; more likely to hit; or apply effects to your opponents, such as pain and bleeding. As it takes a moment to apply oils, the player is encouraged to think ahead and prepare for upcoming fights before meeting their opponents, which appears to also be the norm for Witchers within the fantasy world.
After killing a human or humanoid enemy, you have the opportunity to loot their remains, assuming they have anything to loot. Their remains may contain weapons, money, food, potions, and, occasionally, ingredients. Looting these enemies is not the ideal way to collect ingredients. The best method would be to go to the source and kill the monster they come from… or find the plant to harvest, but that's less interesting. Initially you cannot just kill and loot a monster for its ingredients; you have to had read a book or been otherwise informed of how to 'skin' it for the ingredients. Until you do, the body may have nothing to offer you.
The Witcher gameplay experience definitely has more to offer than I have already described, and while it is interesting, to discuss it would lead into minutia best left to the actual experience. Though I do not discuss it, do not believe I am dismissing it. That and what I have discussed combine for what is certainly a strong and good gameplay experience! Indeed I wish more modern games were as well-crafted as this, but times can change, as do the tastes of both the players and the developers.
Finally, I am not forgetting to share the game time here, though I did forget to start recording when I started playing. Fortunately Steam records that statistic, with some accuracy at least. According to it I put 36 hours into my one playthrough, which consisted of as many quests as I could do, and perhaps some lost meanderings. Maybe it was because I played this across multiple days, but I must say I felt like the experience lasted longer than that. Of course it will last longer when I play it again, with different choices.