The Witcher, gaming done right.

Over the last few days all gaming has come to a near standstill thanks to The Witcher. I figured I would put down what really strikes me about the game. Notice that this is all purely based on a limited amount of time with the game, specifically up to the start of Chapter 3, which is perhaps 20 hours in, so things might get better/worse as I get further in.

First I’ll just cover the basics; The Witcher is gorgeous, and not just in a ‘million polygons per model’ technical way. Everything in the game looks ‘right’, it all fits together and never draws you out, while still having its own unique look. The characters, the towns, the monsters, even the weapons, it all works. The sound is equally good, oftentimes being used as a queue for combat, be it to continue a combo or to inform you that something just popped up behind you and is ready to take your face off. The voice acting, while always debatable, works for me. From the random banter in town between NPCs, or towards you as you pass them, to dialog during the many in-game cut scenes, nothing you hear will ruin the gaming experience for you, and at times will make you laugh or slightly shock you in its directness. More than once I’ve been running through town only to stop on a dime and turn around due to some NPC yelling something vulgar at me. While amusingly childish in a game like Grand Theft Auto, for some reason in The Witcher it sounds real, and at times it can be tough to disconcert random quips from something story driven, which is a huge plus towards immersion.

The combat system, a timing driven take on the Diablo’s ‘click to attack’ model, is solid but not great. If the appeal of The Witcher relied heavily on its combat model, it would simply be an average game, but due to the fact that everything else in The Witcher is top notch, the combat being serviceable is not an issue. This is not to say that the combat is bad, as visually all the combos and finishing moves look fantastic, and the system itself has a bit of depth with the different sword types and fighting styles. For me however, I find I look at combat as a means to an end, I engage to push the story along, rather than engage for the pure enjoyment of the system itself.

This brings me to the parts that I feel The Witcher hits dead on, story and immersion. In most RPG’s you either play the good guy hero, or are given obvious choices whether to play the good guy, the neutral guy, or the ‘kinda bad but ultimately going to save the world anyway’ guy. The Witcher is all shades of gray, with most choices being a tough call between the lesser of two evils, with future impacts that are very difficult to predict. Knowing that regardless of the choice you make, a possibly innocent NPC is going to get butchered actually makes you stop and think. And instead of trying to pick the dialog option that will yield the most gold or grant the best item, I often found myself thinking about which path will leave the characters I like alive, or which choice I should make to exact revenge. It’s odd that such meaningful choices are so rare in games, that it is so rare for a game to come along and do a great job in hiding the outcomes so naturally. Without even being halfway through the game, I’ve already been genuinely surprised a few times by the consequences of my past actions, choices that at the time seemed so unimportant are coming back to haunt me and determine the future of my progression. Once you see a result, you honestly get that ‘what if’ feeling, leaving you to wonder how different things would be if you made a different decision a few hours back.

The story itself is also interesting, a simple case of chasing a murderer and thief that quickly gets very complicated. The game is filled with great characters, each one as two faced as the next. That seemingly helpful grandfather turns out to be a cannibal, the local thug leader becomes an ally, and the shady merchant turns out to be nothing more than a shady merchant rather than some greater evil, despite his best effort to make himself seem important.

Everything has an adult overtone to it, which is mostly successful. The f bomb gets used, plenty of women get called whores, actual whores walk the streets, you sleep with a bunch of women, some of them whores, racism is rampant, kids get sold into slavery, and it seems everyone you talk to is a murderer, rapist, or just plain crazy. The few times you talk to a seemingly honest character, you suspect them more than anyone else, since it feels like everyone in The Witcher has skeletons in their closet. All of this would not matter much if the choices you made did not have so much impact, or if the game did not pull you in as much as it does. A classic case of the sum is greater than its parts I guess. To me personally the whole ‘adult’ thing works, and feels natural, but others might find it crude, offensive or maybe even childish.

To me The Witcher is a breath of fresh air, not only for RPG games but gaming overall. While not one single feature is revolutionary, the game overall just feels so different than any game before it. While a game like Oblivion gave us a huge world to explore, it was still filled with the generic RPG characters we have seen time and time again, with a story that while well crafted, did nothing truly memorable. In contrast, it’s going to be difficult for me to go back to another RPG after playing The Witcher. I think that more than anything else is a statement to the impact The Witcher makes. Highly recommended.

9 Responses to The Witcher, gaming done right.

  1. mbp says:

    Have you seen the zero punctuation review of “The Witcher” Suncaine? He absolutely hated it.

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/zeropunctuation/2831-Zero-Punctuation-The-Witcher

    I love Yahtzee’s stuff but I dont think we share the same taste in games. From what I have read, including your own comments I think I would rather enjoy “The Witcher”. It sounds a bit like Gothic 2 and I really got into that.

  2. syncaine says:

    Wow that reviews is amazing… I swear it must be sarcasm, because every criticism he makes is so far off its laughable.

    If he can’t figure out the interface for the Witcher I don’t see how he manages to open a box of cereal to feed himself. Getting into combat is tough huh, yea ONE click on a monster to draw your sword is seriously tough and unintuitive, and god forbid the first 5 minutes of the game explain the 3 (god so many) combat styles for a sword. It’s so hard to keep strong, quick, and group styles separate… Alchemy is equally tough, since you have to one click the mix button after the game AUTO puts the components in for you…

    Also laughable, the whole ‘kill ten mobs quest’ thing he talks about. Aside from being entirely optional, those quests are also fairly obvious as to what they are (a way to make some quick coin) since they are all posted on a Wanted board in the game. The actual quests in the game are all far more intricate and detailed, but maybe he got lost in the interface to see that.

    Of course he overrates the whole ‘sleep with women’ thing, thats an easy cheap shot to a minor component in an otherwise very deep game. Comparing The Witcher to an MMO seals the deal in that review being pure comedy. Good for a laugh though.

  3. LadyPao says:

    Syncaine- I saw your response to my comment on Wilhelm’s site, and your invite to discuss the game here, so I’m back.
    I figured I needed to re-read what you wrote about the ‘natural’ feel of the adult content, and see if I’d misunderstood you. While I can accept your clarification that what you *meant* was that the type of content you wrote of seems ‘natural to the game’, that it fits the ‘atmosphere’, I still am greatly disappointed in this garbage still being used in games, and here’s why:
    We saw it in Grand Theft Auto
    We saw it in “Postal” – not sure that’s the exact title, but the extreme violence and stereotyping created a lot of flack in its day
    We saw it/see it in Manhunt 1 and 2
    It’s been done, ad nauseum, we don’t need to keep doing it, let’s move on to the next level in gaming.
    You said that The Witcher is targeted to the male audience. What game isn’t??!! And herein lies the second part of my frustration. Warhammer – for males. Conan – for males (and ‘staying true to the Conan IP’ is no justification – PotBS doesn’t have slavery, and trading in slaves, for good reason, altho it very much would be true to the “IP” of the time). Warcraft – for males. It’s all geared to guys. I have nothing to look forward to, but more games that don’t really fit me and downright chafe. (Imagine if you only had to choose from games that were full of what the stereotypical woman does -shopping, babies, makeup, hairstyles. Would you go bonkers in 30 seconds..or less?? Would your gaming life be a wasteland of mind numbing boredom punctuated by moments of sheer aggravation?? Mine’s getting there, with the Denny’s grade buffet of ‘male targetted’ games out there).
    And then it hit me: my demographic is such a niche market I will never see a game targeted for me. Which got me thinking about your PvP discussion of a few days back that got about 40 comments, some uglier than others. And now I understand your rant about wanting a game to ‘scratch your itch’ for PvP ‘done right’. Now I know how you feel (I think) – you think an upcoming PvP game might be really great (the way I was thinking The Witcher sounded at the beginning of your review) and then your PvP gem looks like it might be getting diluted by the game designers going after the carebear market, where the money is…and you go “G*DDammit all to hell AGAIN!!!”
    That’s how I feel about wanting a thinking person’s game, a fantasy escape from the victimization and objectification of women (especially) and anyone else who is of the Other, that I see around me every day of my (un)real life. I want a game that uplifts me, teaches me a new way of thinking, that opens my mind to other possibilities, not drags me down into the same old muck. I’m looking for something egalitarian, where gender stereotypes and human brutality aren’t used as crutches for poor story writing. But yeah, I realize I’m a freak, way way out there in the freakiest of niche markets ever, and I probably won’t ever see it, unless I write it myself.

  4. syncaine says:

    We did see content of similar themes in the games you listed, yes, but in those games it was thrown in for shock value. It’s in The Witcher because that’s the world it takes place in. The darker sides of human behavior are not used as silly ‘hey look its the bad guy’ stuff, but to make the choices you make more difficult.

    For instance; do you overlook a merchant getting his good illegally, maybe. But do you still overlook it when those illegal goods are being used against innocent people? The choice becomes gray when stopping him means siding with the over-zealous military, who not only try to keep the peace, but also have their own agenda, one which is laced with shady dealings.

    Most situations in The Witcher are similar to the above, and I think using sensitive subjects like slavery, racism, rich/poor add more credibility to the world. Like it would feel odd if everyone was evil just from greed or other ‘safer’ topics, and they never addressed other issues. That make any sense? It’s certainly not just thrown around and used for comedy or shock value.

    Granted if you just don’t want to play a game with the topic of say racism in it, well then no matter how it is presented it won’t be your type of game, which is perfectly ok as well.

    Also, I read your reply last night, and then as I was playing, I realized most of the sex is totally optional. I think only a few instances do you not have a choice, but that is with the main interest of Geralt, and is part of the plot as far as I can tell. So I believe you could play through it without the ‘card collecting’ mini-game that is sleeping around. Either way it really does not affect the game in any meaningful way, and is probably the one feature they sort of threw in it would seem. Either that or thats how Geralt acted in the books the game is based on, in which case maybe it would seem odd if they completely left it out, not sure about that.

    There is a demo out, which I would recommend you download and give a try. As I remember it lets you play most of the tutorial and then a little of act 1. More than enough to get a good feel for the game anyway, and see if you have the hardware to run it.

  5. sandboxCoder says:

    You just reminded to give that game a try sometime.

    About TES: Oblivion I agree the mail plot was so-so but the Dark Brotherhood quest line was genius. By far was best part of the game for me

  6. LadyPao says:

    OK, once I got down off my soapbox/rantbox, in the interest of ‘broadening my scope’ in life, etc, I checked out the Witcher site, and the system reqs. My old rig has the minimums, but not the recommended, so that was a negative ‘check box’.
    But- even if I could set aside the whole ‘mucky icky bleagh’ reaction I got, Yahtzee’s wrecked it for me forever with one word – “Pufferfish”

  7. ArgleBargle says:

    Thanks for your review, Syncaine. From your description and other things I’ve heard about the Witcher, I think this might be my next game. What intrigues me the most is the depth of the choices. As you describe it, it sounds as if the game never gives the player the typical 1-dimensional character choices that are sadly so common in computer RPGs. For me, the story and the feeling that I’m making meaningful choices are among the most important criteria in whether I enjoy a game.

    The setting and the context for the choices is not as important for me as the depth and immersiveness of the world. Some of the best examples of this type of game in my opinion have been Fallout, Knights of the Old Republic (the first one), Morrowind, etc. I’d be open to other untried settings/themes if they could be done with depth and complexity. I don’t think a game has to have a “male-centric” basis to offer this kind of quality. I suppose The Witcher could have broadened its appeal by allowing the player to start the game as a female or male, and as a result offer different encounters and interaction based on gender. This has been done in other RPGs before…

    • Josh says:

      It IS valid to state that The Witcher does follow the sexist mantra of modern gaming, but it can also be argued that the guy who wrote the novels inspiring the game also had a hand in Geralt pimping up every town he entered, as he participated in many of these adventures throughout the series. Regardless, though, feminism is definitely a movement that needs to occur in modern gaming as well before all video games become eye-candy for men instead of genuine and thought provoking experiences.

  8. Josh says:

    Wait, I think I posted that in the wrong place. Damn, I’m such a noob to WordPress.

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