The Witcher 5-Years Later Review
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: December 11, 2013
In 2007, the video-gaming world was introduced to Geralt the White Wolf by CD Projekt RED with its first game, The Witcher, which is based on the literary work of Andrzej Sapkowski. Since then the developers have released an Enhanced Edition of this game and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (plus an Enhanced Edition of it), with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt targeted for a 2014 release. As some gamers may only be discovering the series with the latest game, we are going to take a look at where it began.
Witchers are warriors who have undergone training and mutation to make them the most effective monster hunters possible, as they are the only defense humanity has against these monsters. Or at least they were, as new groups have formed to protect the people, supplementing and replacing the Witchers, whose numbers have been dwindling due to time and war. Sometimes though, it still takes a professional monster hunter to get the job done.
The Witcher is a role playing game filled with complex characters with secrets to hide and lies to share. Geralt, having lost his memory, is exposed to all of these anew as he struggles to recover that which was taken from him. Fortunately his friends have not forgotten him, so there are helping hands along the way.
The Witcher has an M rating for blood and gore, violence, nudity, strong sexual content, and strong language. Trust me, it has earned that rating, so if you should not be exposed to such content, you should probably not be reading this review.
If you have never played a Witcher title before, but are now interested in the franchise for any reason, is its origin story worth your time and money, or should you save both for something else? About time we find out.
As usual, I am going to discuss the graphics immediately. The reason for this is that I believe the graphics are among the least important aspects of a video game. They can make the experience more visually interesting, but otherwise serve only as a vehicle for the larger gameplay experience. As The Witcher is a dated game, its graphics cannot stand up against more modern titles in complexity and intensity, but they are still of a high quality, with a singular exception, which I will get to a little later. First, my computer's specs:
- Processor: AMD A10-5800K @4.50 GHz (45.0x100)
- Cooling: Corsair H110
- Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
- GPU: EVGA GTX 570 1280 MB
- PhysX: MSI GTS 250 1 GB
- G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
- PSU: OCZ Fata1ty 750 W
- OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit
As you would expect, the game runs beautifully on my computer, thanks to the components being multiple generations newer than what the game would have run on at launch. On one occasion I did notice a little slowdown, but it only happened once so I believe it was the result of other operations being run on my computer and pulling some resources away. Far more often it appeared my hardware was actually running the game too well, causing screen tearing with framerates higher than 60. There is no internal vertical sync setting to prevent this from happening, but if it is bothersome to you, you can likely force it through your driver settings.
As you play the game you may notice that a lot of people look familiar, as character models are reused for most NPCs, though they do receive different textures to change up the colors. This is what a developer had to do back when graphics cards were less powerful and had considerably less memory to load models into. Closer examination of the models reveals a fair amount of detail, showing, if nothing else, the effort put into this game.
The environment is a slightly different story, as its detail can be evident without having to look closely. In some areas it may be hard to see, where bare ground is more common than grass and other plants. In other areas you can hardly see the ground beneath the foliage. Grass and trees of different varieties can fill the landscape. The insides of homes and inns also have a good amount of detail, though some of it does come from well-designed textures instead of intricate models. Still, some of it is the models. Some large structures, such as dungeons, crypts, and castles, can be spectacular with detailed elements including columns and sarcophagi showing their well-kept state (or state of disrepair).
The whole of the graphics, in my opinion, are of great quality. Of course you will be able to find those points that are lacking compared to modern games, but then the same will be true of those games in a number of years. These graphics (and possibly those of modern games) represent a high quality for any era in gaming. In fact, in some places you can find examples where The Witcher is still superior to modern games. I have found these in its treatment of fluids, with water being disturbed as you walk through it and fire actually dancing and consuming some of what it touches, instead of just being an animated texture.
However, there is one aspect of the graphics that does not stand the test of time well. Non-combat character animations, such as facial animations and body movements when talking, do not look that good. Characters will appear stiff and awkward at times, including those when you are zoomed in on them during a conversation. At times I even spotted animations glitching, causing characters to not move when they should or moving when they should not. These, however, are more amusing than aggravating to me.
Even though The Witcher was released years ago, and every aspect of it has been documented and detailed for you to read, I am still going to try to avoid spoilers as much as possible.
At times I wonder if there was a convention of video game developers, where it was decided that characters in RPGs must have lost their memory or are otherwise left with no story (and occasionally no name) prior to when you start the game. Apparently those at CD Projekt RED either missed that gathering and were relying on somebody's incomplete notes, or something was lost in translation. Yes, Geralt has lost his memory when the game beings, but you do get to discover and even determine his past as the game progresses. Due to the political intricacies of the world, you are forced to take a side, based on what you have learned since you started playing. When you do this though, you learn that it is also what the 'old Geralt' would have chosen, so the 'old Geralt' will depend on your choices, just as the current Geralt does. If nothing else, it is a nice take on RPG-amnesia that gives the character more of a persona than just that of the destined hero.
Those choices you make mostly relate to whether you support the Scoia'tael or the Order of the Flaming Rose. The Order is one of the groups that has formed to fight monsters, but they also have a somewhat racist agenda. Knights of the Order have little compunction from killing or otherwise harassing non-humans. At times even heavily-armed Geralt is treated as an inferior, just because he is not human. The Scoia'tal, on the other hand, is a group of non-humans that fight against the Order for freedom. While the decision of which to support may seem obvious at this point, there is more. The Order, though racist, most often acts in a defensive manner, only seeking out and killing non-humans who have committed crimes. For comparison, the Scoia'tael will turn to violence against civilians whenever it feels it may serve their cause.
Where you do not have a choice is in the destruction of Salamandra, a powerful and secretive group that is trying to take control of the world and will manipulate those visibly in power. Eventually you will discover the purposes of the group, as well as their leader.
Throw in the complexities of aiding your friends, old and new, as well as a love interest, if you take that path, and you have a rather full story experience. Many of these side interests do return to the main story eventually, such as a person whose life you spare coming to your aid. Also they can provide you with information to better understand what is happening in the main story. The multiple romances you can have, however, do not reveal more of the main story, just more of the world's women. (Perhaps not as explicit as some games, but The Witcher does earn its M rating for sexual content.)
When put all together this creates an intricate story with so many facets that multiple playthroughs are practically a must. Thanks to its good design, you will only rarely find yourself deviating so far from the main story that you can forget what you are doing. Even if that happens, though, returning to the main story is pretty easy, as I will discuss next.
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.
Additional Gameplay Images:
It's interesting to look back at a game that started a franchise still loved today. You know it has earned respect, but you also know that time changes how we think of things. Years ago and years from now, a good, quality game is still a good, quality game. Despite its age, The Witcher represents a very solid and enjoyable experience that I would easily recommend to anyone interested in the franchise or in the role-playing game genre. Sure the graphics are not mind-blowing now, but forgive it its wrinkles and enjoy what it offers you. Besides, it can be nice to play a game that does not cause every fan in your computer to spin up to full speed.
The Witcher is a well-designed and well-crafted game that I am glad I own and put the time in to. If you have an interest in playing it, either to experience the whole of the franchise or to take advantage of a great price, I recommend you do so. I would easily call it a classic and look forward to loading my save into The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.