When your game is infested with more bugs than a bug collector's room as well as dialogue more awkward than a teenager's first date, revamp it and release that version for retail. They'll never suspect a thing...
Based off of a series of Polish novels of the same name, The Witcher, upon initial release, was one of those flawed yet fun games that a lot of critics liked, even if they did have problems with the bugs and the then-weak dialogue. CD Projekt Red Studio took all of these technical complaints into consideration for this rerelease called "The Enhanced Edition", which is the one that's being reviewed right here and right now. Speaking of reviews, the last game I reviewed, Enslaved: Odyssey To The West, played off of the saying "less is more" like it was going out of style, while The Witcher has a lot of depth that may seem overwhelming at first, but when given some time in the sun, The Witcher shines as a fantastic game that every PC gamer should play through.
You'll be playing as a Witcher named Geralt. His job is to hunt monsters, and he's able to do this, as he is stronger than the average human due to some mutations, but he also has to live with the burden of having no children, emotions or general humanity. Oh, and his memory is wiped when the game begins - apparently, if you die and get revived, you'll get amnesia. Oh joy, the old amnesia plot... and the writers get to combine that with the old "you are a part of a hated minority group that ends up saving the world" plot, as the rest of the world doesn't seem to take too kindly to Witchers, yet Witchers, with their superior combat skills, are able to protect humans from monsters. Humans, unfortunately, don't seem to care, and are growing increasingly intolerant of anything not human, down to the point where they have cultists that take down Witchers, and Geralt doesn't like that... Seriously, there is a lot of ground to cover with the storyline, and not enough space to cover even a quarter of it.
There will be times where you have to choose how to respond to various characters in the world, and even the simplest decisions at the beginning of the game can have the most drastic effects as the end draws near - that guy you killed, for instance, won't be helping you hours later, and oftentimes, you'll have to make decisions that make you think of presidential elections (also known as picking the lesser of two or more evils) - meaning that upon repeated playthroughs, unless you choose the exact same decisions again and again, you'll be experiencing a roughly different storyline... and don't worry about the story and characters not seeming as good upon the second time due to change, because unlike Heavy Rain, every little point is written very, very well, and executed so that you won't have any problems when dealing with a change when going through again. This game's story was written in a way that'll peak your curiosity, as you wonder what it'd be like if you did or said something differently from what you chose before. There is absolutely nothing else I'll say about the story here, because I want everyone to experience it for themselves, and it's something that words can't accurate describe. Even those with the widest vocabularies would just let you experience it for yourself instead of vividly describing it...
I suppose I should let you guys in on a secret – this is about as M rated as a video game can get. You'll be required to drink alcohol to get some information, and you can even have sex with the women in the game, provided that you can hit on them correctly, and the cards you get from them after bedding them have pictures of them naked (only problem is that the American release censors the sex - typical). Also, there is a good amount of bad language in this game – not that it even comes close to rivaling House Of The Dead: Overkill and it's 1000+ uses of the F word (and within an hour and a half, at that), but just don't be too surprised when swearing occurs in this game – for every knight that speaks ever so flowery, there are also thugs who drop F bombs... and yet, no Samuel L Jackson in sight. In fact, I'm surprised you don't perform drive bys on pimps and kill innocent townsfolk just to loot them. Everything here is actually pretty serious, brimming with maturity... something that seems to be missing in this market of immature games often indulging in the urban culture (ie. Grand Theft Auto), or just full of sex jokes (ie. Leisure Suit Larry).
Before I go on about the gameplay, I have to warn you that this game is very loading screen heavy. Transitions between small rooms aren't bad, but when you're going through whole areas, oh god, grab a beer and be patient. Supposedly, this version's loading times are meant to be more tolerable... I'm glad I never played the original, because by the sounds of things, the PS2 version of Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets would be blushing itself to death if it saw the original version's load times through to the end... it gets worse when you die, because then you'll have to reload your save and head through another lengthy load screen just to get back to where you left off... the rest of the game has problems too, but this one makes me cry.
If you can tolerate the load times, then you should be able to tolerate everything else that could go wrong, but let's go through what you have to do and pick out what's wrong as we go, alright?
The Witcher's combat will be familiar to those who have played Diablo and other such games, where you can either hack at the enemy, or use magic. You'll be given three stances - Strong, Fast and Group, which should be self explanatory, but ultimately, it'll be up to you to know when and where to use each stance. Also, just spamming the left mouse button won't help in the long run - you'll need to time each click so that you can pull off combos (don't worry about it too much; unless you're blind, the cursor will blink for the next time you'll need to click to pull off combos). That, or you can use magic to set some bandits on fire, or stun said bandits and deliver some killer hits, and more. There aren't any tricks with combat, as it's actually pretty obvious which stance works best, what weapons are more effective, and what spells are useful for whatever situation you're in.
As you defeat more enemies – ranging from monsters to bad human beings (this game isn't rated M for nothing, people) – you'll gain more experience points, allowing you to level up. As you'd expect, you can learn new skills and power up your statistics – in this case, Strength, Dexterity, Endurance and Intelligence – and after some time, you'll see Geralt executing more powerful spells and complicated combos. I know this ought to be a no brainer, but eh, it's worth mentioning.
On top of combat, you can become an alchemist by mixing items together to create potions. Throughout the game, you can find recipes inside books or from townsfolk for potions that can heal you and allow you to see in the dark, for example, though another way to create potions – which is usually touted “the fun way” - is through experimentation. Just be prepared to have more than half of your inventory consist of recipes, because there is a shitload to learn.
Which brings me to information – The Witcher has a LOT of information to absorb via books and townsfolk, which Geralt writes down in his handy dandy journal. You'll learn quite a lot about NPCs, monsters, plants and locations, to name a few. Most RPGs have this, but The Witcher goes the extra mile, so if you're either unsure of what it is you're up against and how to kill it, or if you're just bored out of your mind, well, there's something you can do. It also keeps track of all the quests you've done or are currently in the middle of doing.
Speaking of quests, townsfolk will offer you many different quests. Unfortunately, there are duds, like pretty much any and all fetch quests, but for every dud you'll encounter, there are many that you'll really want to do, like slaying certain monsters or getting some information (and the latter is because of the excellent writing). There are a whole lot of quests to go through, including some bonus quests that come with the Enhanced Edition, but for the sake of surprise, I'd rather you experience it all for yourself.
The graphics are pretty good. Each of the environments are serene with some very nice color usage going for it, just enough to give it a vibrant yet dark look that'll titillate the senses. On top of that, each animation is fluid... the original version had some god awful animation going for it, making it look dreadful, but they listened, and with the usage of motion capturing devices, the animations are much, much more realistic, fluid and something that doesn't make you go “what time constraints were they under”. Yes, you will encounter some minor issues, like some lifeless looking faces and bad lip syncing, as well as sometimes looking inside Geralt's head when entering buildings at times, not to mention repeats in NPC models, but none of them really wreck the game – just looks odd, that's all, and it all makes the good aspects even better. It's also nice that whenever you drink alcohol, the screen blurs up a bit, like you're looking in the eyes of a drunk, and the drunk walking animation is also quite convincing.
As for sound, the soundtrack is excellent – each song manages to portray to correct atmosphere, like ambient tracks for swamps and crypts to make you feel like you shouldn't really be there, or relatively peaceful music when in the trade quarters. The battle songs manage to really get you in the mood to battle, as they tend to have faster beats and are usually heavier than the rest of the soundtrack. Really, it's just excellently conducted, that's all you can really say about it. The voice acting is good, managing to push the story forward even more than the fantastic writing alone (and if you don't believe me, just imagine it being mute after hearing voice overs – nuff said), even if a decent amount of it seems forced.
The Witcher is easily one of the best RPGs out there. If it's not the simple yet complicated combat or the quests, it's the story and writing that will win you over. There is just so much depth to this game, that it'll be quite intimidating at first, but then it makes you love the game even more at you progress. The only issues are long load times and some lame quests here and there, but given everything else, the only thing that'll stop you is your impatience.
Oh, and parents, please do not purchase this game for your kids, because this game is rated M for a really good reason, and I don't want this game to get banned because you were dumb enough to not notice the M rating on the box...