A lot of fans of the fantasy genre may have heard of The Witcher, the brainchild of CDProjket, and published under the Atari label. Since its release back in 2007, The Witcher has received over 90 awards for the sheer unbridled quality of the game. What you might not know is that the CDProjekt teams has not been content to sit on it’s laurels and has been since that time to tweak the gameplay experience. This was done by adding new and smoother character animations, 2 new quests to play through, and improvements to the inventory and alchemical system that were one of the falling points of the initial release. As excellent as the first version was, however, it did have some flaws and it’s the purpose of this review to show to what extent those flaws have been corrected.
The Witcher is a quality gaming experience. The visuals which have been retooled to create a graphical experience that is simply beautiful. To be able to see glittering sunlight or shimmering moonlight or to see the light of a flickering fire illuminated in the eyes of character or across the troughs, planes, and curves of their face is an inspiring sight to be sure. The CDProjket team has also reworked the character animations in how they act and react to their environment. The people at CDProjket have worked in over 100 different character modeling techniques to promise a more lifelike appearance but in the course of the game these animations tend to look repetitive and often confusing in execution. It doesn’t seem natural, for instance, for a character to look upward and left to right briefly before looking at the person being spoken to. The characters themselves, however, are very well designed: it’s only their body motions that seem confusing and often out of place.
In other areas apart from bodily language, however, the game can be quite realistic as NPCs often react to weather changes in both action and dialogue. If it begins to rain, for instance, any nearby NPCs will run for the nearest shelter and often decry the rain with phrases like “a new blouse, soaked!” or “there’s talk of a flood!”. NPCs also react realistically in a battle situation: archers won’t continue to fire bows at you as you rush at them, instead backing away and gtting shots off whenever possible before drawing a knife and going close-combat. This makes the all-around interaction in the game fresh and vibrant.
As is suitable for an epic of this kind, The Witcher offers two distinct gameplay styles to appeal to both experienced and casual players. The first mode is the more traditional way where the both the mouse and the keyboard is used in interacting and moving through the world, allowing for a firmer grasp of the world, and the second primarily uses the mouse which allows for a more strategic appraoch suited for more casual players. In a combat situation, however, the combat is always fast paced. Geralt, the main character, can wield up to three different weapons but the sword is by far the most useful as it allows for Witcher-specific combat styles.
There are three different modes of combat available in battle: strong style, fast style, and group style and the player can switch between all of these in the course of a fight. This is especially likely in group battles where a player would have to switch first to group style to take down several enemies rapidly and then to fast or strong style depending on the remaining combatants who could be armored swords wielders or less heavily equipped archers. The emphasize of speed and timing as opposed to brute force is also reflected in how the Geralt fights: the player right clicks to start him swinging and then waits till an icon of a flaming sword is scene to click again. This starts a combo which can be quickly chained together to knock down enemies with amazing rapidity and makes for a system both engaging and novel.
How you fight in The Witcher, however, is often complicated by factors outside your control, one of which is that there are often cutscenes between battles that leaves you with little time to prepare for fights that often need preparation to complete. It doesn’t help that using restorative items is not an instantaneous action. You have to pause, select the item, right click, and then wait for Geralt to consume whatever it is so the effect activates. Doing all this in the middle of a pitched battle seems clumsy when combined with such a smooth and fast paced system. These potions, however, can be quite effective when you have time to take them before a fight but the system doesn’t always give you that time.
The Witcher is all about detail: detail in the environments, detail in the characters, and attention to detail needed in the combat system. This detail also occurs in character interaction as the choices you make can lead to decisions that’ll impact your character, often seriously. An example of this is if you offend a merchant by asking the wrong question he’ll become upset and refuse to deal with you. Decisions in game can also lead to fighting different battles which can alter the story in ways that will follow you throughout most of the game. It’s good to see a game that puts such an emphasis on careful thinking.
The emphasis on careful thinking is extended further into the leveling system. To level up one must do what is always done in these games: kill monsters. Doing so gets talents which will be stored until a specific amount is collected: once the right amount is gathered players have to sleep or meditate whereupon the talent distribution screen appears. This screen shows how character development is taken far beyond just raising strength, dexterity, and other abilities by also making passive character skills like botanical or alchemical knowledge available and even can make the character able to hold his liquor. When you upgrade in The Witcher, you upgrade in ways that are often very unexpected; while this upgrade scheme is extensive it is also easy to use. Moving your mouse will show a description of the ability which you just have to click on to earn and if you don’t like that you can always cancel the new ability.
Examples of The Witcher’s greatness and it’s flaws could go on for much longer then this review has been already so it’s time to sum up. Yes, the Witcher does undoubtedly deserve all the acclaim it has gotten for it’s beauty, it’s gripping story, the lifelike appearance and largely lifelike behavior of it’s characters, and for the grand scale of the game itself. Like any great work of art there are smudges and streaks that often make for a frustrating or less then realistic experience but if you have the time and patience Once you’ve finished with the main storyline, there is a newly installed Adventure Editor where you can make your own adventure. That is the ultimate replayability feature but it may be too complicated for most players.