Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Witcher: Review & Commentary


I will be honest in saying that I let the sentiment of the general public get to me when it came to choosing whether or not to play The Witcher. Indeed, I had assumed that this game wasn't worth playing mainly because of what I had read about it on the internet.

After paying the huge sum of $2.50 for The Witcher: Director's Cut, I fired the game up and expected something that, as I had read from reviews online, was unpolished, had a horrible combat system, and lacked in so many other areas that I would be convinced to skip it entirely and play The Witcher II instead.

Thirty hours into the game, I can tell you that most of these accusations are overblown or downright incorrect, and that it would be a severe mistake to pass up on the first Witcher just because the second one is an improvement.

First off, one of the primary complaints I heard of this game was that it had amateurish voice over dialogue. While it is important to keep in mind that the game's developers, CD Projekt Red, fixed many of the original voice over errors in the enhanced edition that I bought, I still feel that the complaints about dialogue were overblown.

From Geralt's menacing growl, to Detective Raymond's suave baritone, to Siegfried's unique dialect, nearly all of the important characters in The Witcher have voice overs that get the job done while drawing you into the universe. Though you won't find Bioware like quality here, I'd argue that the voice actors in this game, at the least, match what is done in Bethesda's Elder Scrolls series.

Though there are times when dialogue is recycled and the generic NPC's voice overs make you cringe, all in all I'd say that the voice acting in this game serves as a positive more than it does a negative.

The second major complaint most seem to have about The Witcher is its combat system. I'll admit, it isn't the best. It can get very frustrating when you are fighting a pack of enemies and the combat system causes you to die, as opposed to a lack of skill or preparation on your part (and this is coming from someone playing on normal -- I could only imagine the pain felt by those playing at the hardest difficulty).

Is it game breaking? I don't think so. As long as you upgrade your weapons, make potions, and choose decent talents, you should be able to get through the game's combat just fine.

In case you're wondering why the combat system is so controversial, it's because it's centered around a rhythm based mini game that the player has little direct control over. Essentially, when you engage an enemy, you click on them, and Geralt (your character) will run towards them and begin attacking. While he swings his sword, your cursor will flash from blue to orange periodically. When it's orange, you click your mouse and Geralt will begin to chain together multiple attacks.

If you miss this flashing orange prompt, Geralt stops attacking and you have to begin the rhythm game once more. This becomes annoying in large battles, as the game often gets confused as to who you're attacking, leading you to miss your rhythm prompts constantly, resulting in Geralt standing there being pummeled by enemies without you being able to properly respond.

Situations like that, however, are few and far between. Though The Witcher has a poorly thought out combat system, it does get the job done the majority of the time. Like I said, the main issues occur during large fights, which are fairly infrequent.

Though it is easy to dwell on the lacking combat system, The Witcher offers so much more that should not be overlooked. For instance, CD Projekt Red is able to do what Bioware never could: create areas that contain a certain amount of freedom of movement and exploration.

While Bioware has a talent crafting cities and towns in their games, they are rarely able to craft open areas effectively. The Witcher not only has impressive towns and cities (with the main city of Vizima rivaling Denerim and Kirkwall), but it also includes many open zones that are fully explorable and contain monsters, locations, loot, and more.

While the level of openness is more akin to Fable than it is to Skyrim, it's still much better than anything offered in Bioware games made this generation.

As an aside, the reason I compare CD Projekt Red to Bioware is because the latter is still considered to be the cream of the crop in terms of western rpg developers.

Lastly, I have one more reason for why the Witcher is such a great experience, namely, the fact that there is a huge amount of choice in the game.

I remember near the beginning of the game I made a choice to help a certain group, and near the middle of the game this group came back to screw up several important quests I had (I am being vague purposefully). If I had eliminated them originally, who knows how my game would have turned out. The fact that The Witcher makes you feel like your decisions have an impact on the game world is a major positive in my book.

To wrap this up then, all I have to say is that The Witcher is the rpg fan's dream. If you can get past its wonky combat, what lies beneath is an incredible world filled with decisions, betrayal, intrigue, drama, depth, complex characters, and places to explore. Additionally, as a huge Bioware fan, I can safely say that anybody who enjoys their games will find something to love about The Witcher.

It would be a shame to skip this game just because its sequel made improvements, and at such a low price, you'd be a fool not to give it a try!


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