About a year ago today, I was convinced to play the Witcher 2, which wasn’t very difficult considering I tend to jump into any RPGs with positive feedback, kind of like how Miley Cyrus’ ass jumps into anything with a lens. I absolutely adored the game, as I do her ass, but for some reason I never took a step back to play the prequel. So why did I pick it up a year later? If the amazing trailers for the Witcher 3 on the PS4 was the sole factor in convincing me to purchase a PS4, then spending $20 on the original to better prepare me for this highly anticipated adventure was a given. I am certain that the popularity of this series is going to exponentially grow with every future instalment and this is due to the amazing story telling, memorable characters and brilliant, deep world in which the story is told. Now these three points were only somewhat evident in the original Witcher and for this reason, it’s quite a large leap behind the sequel. With that said, it’s still a must play for those who wish to get the most out of the Witcher universe.
The main hero of this epic journey is Geralt of Rivia. He is a highly complex character with a very detailed back story, but don’t worry, he lost his memory and we discover his past as he does. This may sound cliché or an easy way out but the Witcher pulls this off exceptionally well to the point that with Geralt, we feel relieved, concerned or any other reasonable emotion when he finds out a key point in his past. To make things more interesting, Triss, who is Geralts friend/love-interest/sidekick/whatever-she-is knows a lot about her dear friend but for her own reasons, will not give away any more information about him than she deems necessary. This uncommon relationship is one of the most interesting threads of narrative in the game and even builds in the sequel. Usually when characters clearly have their own agenda, they are naturally not trusted, but somehow we do trust Triss (and her rack) and this is both brilliant and frustrating.
There are many other characters in the game that play a large part in the story, but none come close to the above mentioned dynamic. While this never feels like a bad thing, what does is the slightly less important non-playable characters. This area needs a lot of work, mainly due to the serious lack of character models. You may be working through a quest with one character, then hours later be thrown into total confusion when you meet the ‘same’ character again for another quest. This happens constantly and is a clear reminder that the Witcher is just a game; making is very difficult to get lost in the rich world.
The story begins when Kaer Morhen, the home of the few remaining Witchers (monster slaying biologically altered humans) is invaded and some very important, secret documents are stolen by a mysterious group. The Witchers decide that for the safety of the people, these documents must be retrieved, so they split up in search for clues. You spend the most part of the game investigating this mysterious organisation and their motives in hope of putting an end to their evil and preventing something that could potentially be catastrophic. This story itself is nothing extraordinary but the way in which it is presented is definitely worthy of praise, and that is through moral choices. There are many key events in the game that directly influence how future events will unfold and this is one of the biggest plusses of the Witcher (and is also pulled off even better in the sequel).For example, at one point you can choose what to do with a werewolf. Should you follow through and slay the beast, which is an expectation of every Witcher, or should you let him live because he is a good guy and is doing no harm to society? Furthermore, what would Geralt have done before losing his memory? Is he following his destiny, or can destiny be altered? In the end, it will affect the plot. For example: if you let him live, he will help you out against a boss later in the game. Geralt faces these moral choices many times throughout the game and they are one of the most rewarding parts of the Witcher.
The game is divided into five chapters, each with its own areas to explore. While all of these locations are set around a single city: Vizima, there is still plenty of variation ranging from city slums to the more upper class areas as well as swamps, crypts, forests or anywhere else you could imagine monsters to lurk. Most of your time will probably be spent taking on the side quests. Most of these are quite generic and require a large amount of tedious back tracking, but some will keep you on the edge of your seat. I hate to say it, but yet again, there is a certain sloppiness/slackness that often reminds you that you’re playing in an artificial world. During one mission, for example, a bank is robbed and all of the bankers are on the ground pleading for their lives. After completing said quest, guess what? Right! They’re still there, pleading for their dear old lives. Regardless of the quality of the side quests, you’re going to want to complete most of them as it’s the main way to gain experience as fighting enemy after enemy never seemed to fill my experience bar much. The gameplay is very simple and doesn’t allow for much strategy at all. Most of your interaction comes from the switching of weapons and styles. To be clearer: enemies are either classified as Monsters or Humans. Geralt can hold a number of weapons but Silver weapons are only effective against monsters, and steel weapons should only be used against humans. Furthermore, there are three styles of attacking that Geralt will have to alternate though. These are ‘Strong’ (used against large, slow enemies), ‘Fast’ (used against smaller, faster enemies) and ‘Group’ (used when there are loads of enemies surrounding you). Most of the time there is only a single plausible style/sword to use, which results in a repetitive battle system. Fortunately, there’s a little more to it than simply hack and slash. Geralt is able to time his swings to unleash combos on enemies for major damage. There isn’t much challenge here however, as the cursor tells you when you need to click for a combo attack. To make things worse, trying to dodge enemy attacks is pointless. Regardless of how well you time an evasive roll in any direction, you’ll get hit.
To make things a little more interesting, Geralt has five different spells at his disposal that can be upgraded to suit your play style. These include a gust of wind, a fireball, temporary armour, mind control, and traps. I only chose to specialise in the wind gust and the trap and they were crucial to my play style. In addition to this, Geralt can make his own potions by combining ingredients. These increase his statistics and are basically the only strategic aspects of battle, as some potions will increase damage against certain enemies. I never found much use for potions but the game states that using them is essential for the higher difficulty setting.
The way in which Geralt becomes stronger is through gaining levels, which grants him Bronze, Silver or Golden Tokens. The Gold ones unlock the most powerful of Talents (abilities and stat bonus’s), but are only earned later in the game when Geralt has reached a certain level. The Witcher uses a Tree system that will look familiar if you’ve been playing RPGs over the last ten years. Each Talent tree focuses on a different area, for example, there is a tree for each of the five magic spells, a tree for silver swords and steel swords and even a tree for each of the offensive styles (Strong/Fast/Group). By the end of the game you will have leant most of the available Bronze Talents for every tree, about half the Silver Talents, but only a hand full of Gold Talents, which is why it’s important to choose the talents that suit your playing style. As mentioned before, I only focused on two magic spells, so naturally my gold tokens were spent on these two trees. This system works quite well and allows you to tackle the game in a variety of different ways. The image below shows the different talents on offer for the Strength tree. Below is an image of Geralts talent tree.
The Witcher is a good game that has the potential to be great. The story and characters are the strong points of the game, but there are many areas that could have been improved on, namely the simplistic battle system and lack of attention to certain details. Fortunately, the developers (CD Projeckt RED) realised this and made all the necessary improvements in the sequel. In the end, despite its flaws, The Witcher is a must play game if you plan on diving into the rich Witcher universe. I’m no fortune teller but I can tell you now that this series popularity is going to go BOOM in 2014 when the third is released, so do yourself a favour and jump on board now.