| Summary: The Witcher is a 3D, single-player RPG set in a gothic medieval setting in which the player is a Witcher, a mostly-human bounty hunter of evil and monsters. The world is rich and immersive, and full of numerous quests, side quests, and open-ended exploration. The soundtrack is excellent, adding much to the atmosphere yet remaining in the background. The richness aof the world, while immersive, borders on needlessly complex. This is a game for mature players only.|
The intro to The Witcher sets the tone for the game very well. In this intro the player is seen hunting a monster in an event that appears to predate the events in the game. It is sundown in a ruined castle, birds and small creatures flee the failing light. The soundtrack contains long, dissonant tonalities, reminiscent of a middle eastern lament. The hunt begins, the Witcher and the monster face off in the courtyard, and after a long battle the Witcher is the victor.
The player in this game is Geralt of Rivia, one of a dying sect that calls themselves Witchers, people that have taken on the duty of hunting the evil creatures that stalk the night for the protection of the populace. Far from being celebrated, however, the general population of the game world seems to consider them one step above the creatures they hunt; indeed, the Witchers are privy to some mysterious, powerful magics that can mutate some of their members and give them slightly supra-human powers at the cost of physical alterations: in this case, slit pupils and white hair. It is these magics that become the focus of the plot.
The game opens with an unfortunate hook: amnesia. The player, a Witcher, has been found wandering in the wilderness, fortunately by his fellow Witchers. In this way is the player able to rediscover talents and abilities he may or may not once have had, and progress through the game. Despite the suspension of disbelief required to accept the amnesia and its effects, the plot takes off quite rapidly when the player and his fellow Witchers are attacked and their mutagenic magics stolen. This "introductory" part of the first chapter is well done. Though it goes through much of the basic mechanical aspects of the game (movement, fighting, camera angles, the alchemy system, and levelling up the hero) rather quickly the information is stored in the journal for the player to refer to later if desired.
As noted above, the game takes place in a gothic, medieval setting that is wholly supported by the environment and soundtrack. The opening portion of the game is set in a ruined castle and then a haunted village in the middle of a pine forest, with dark clouds roiling overhead. It moves then to a city as he hero tracks the thieves, complete with an infested sewer and close overhanging buildings, giving the place a somewhat claustrophobic feel at first. The haunted swamp location also helps to convey the gloomy atmosphere; the sun rises and sets, but at night danger is increased and during the day the sun is muted by fog or mist. The transition between these areas and the more well-to-do districts of the city is obvious, where there is a more open, airy, sunny feel. In each case the muted colors, voice acting, and well-developed soundtrack bring constant, low-grade tension and unease to the player.
Danger abounds throughout the game, and the player is expected to wade through veritable armies of monsters in pursuit of information about the stolen magics. Depending on how efficient the player is in organizing quest-driven trips through the swamp and other dangerous areas, this can get repetitive; on the other hand the player is a Witcher, and Witchers exist to kill monsters. The combat system is fairly simple, and there is clear progression in the character's abilities as he progresses in power; monsters at the beginning of the chapter that are almost impossibly challenging are much more easily defeated later on.
The Witcher is very complex. Indeed, the game is based upon a novel, "The Last Wish" by Andrzej Sapkowski, and the vast backstory and repository of lore that comes with a novel is hinted at in the game. There are two main quests, tracking down what was stolen as well as the hero recapturing his memories. There are also innumerable side quests that range from simple bounties (kill x number of creature y) to becoming embroiled in a gradually brewing war between two of the factions in the game. There are hints of political intrigue as well, though I was unable to progress far enough to determine whether this was more than a hint or not. The array of "things to do" make the game very open-ended. While this generally would be considered a benefit, The Witcher almost suffers from an embarrassment of riches in this way. It is very easy to become distracted by the criss-crossing paths of many of the quests and lose sight of the main plot, despite the main quests being -- or being made to feel -- time-sensitive. There are also some quests that seem to be halted arbitrarily until other quests are completed or progressed, and there is no explanation for this in game. While this is a bit frustrating at first, one simply learns to recognize what is going on and change focus to a different quest. Alchemy is a major part of the game, which the player may choose to explore or not; it is a useful, if not necessary, aspect of the game. There are hints that suggest experimentation on the part of the player may allow even greater benefits than the recipes that are encountered in-game.
The interface is fairly simple, with relatively few things cluttering to be on the HUD. Because it is a single-player game, the game can be paused anytime one is accessing the inventory, journal, map, or other screens, which allows them to remain hidden unless they are actively used. Animation of the main character's walking is a bit choppy, though otherwise there are few complaints.
Lastly, The Witcher is a game designed for mature players. Much of the sidequests involve development of physical encounters between the hero and a number of NPCs. The game stops short of actual nudity, though it difficult to call these "romantic" encounters. It is a matter of personal taste as to whether this is an enjoyable aspect of a game or not, and as such it is difficult to pass judgment on this facet of The Witcher. Nevertheless it has been given significant attention in this game, for good or ill.
In conclusion, overall I am finding the Witcher a very enjoyable game. The somewhat choppy animation and interrelated and complex side plots, while slightly disappointing, are far from game-breaking and the main plots are engaging enough to see it through. The magic and alchemy systems in the game are, while perhaps not strictly innovative, add a level of interest that give a definite feel of strategy to combats and game play.
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