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Developer:
CD Projekt
Publisher: Atari
Platform: PC
Release Date: 11/15/07

by Will Morrison





There was no guarantee that the computer game based on Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher literary series would meet with the positive reaction that has thus far been its fortune to behold. Already, the celluloid outings based upon its source material had met with much derision from Polish critics and public alike, and there was the risk that the game license could follow down similarly murky paths. However, effectively utilising the hugely popular fantasy-literary canon, the Poland-based development team of CD Projekt have successfully worked their magic, and woven a gorgeous digital tapestry that pays homage to its source material, and rewards the player with many hours of entertaining and challenging game play.


Immediately steeping the player in the lore of Sapkowski’s creation, we are treated to a gorgeously rendered movie laying the back-story for our protagonist Geralt. No sooner has this scene been set, than the player is thrust into the gauntlets (at this point leather gloves) of the titular hero, and begins to do battle in the world of Temeria. And it is from this first point that you realise that you’re playing a game that has been created by the type of folks who enjoy playing this genre themselves, they’ve done their homework and the little touches become apparent.


You are able to manoeuvre these troubled lands in one of three ways, two of which offer third person perspective with clicks to move, Diablo-style, and the third an over-shoulder or first person view which can be controlled by mouse or more straightforward ‘wasd’ key-combination. The choice immediately warmed me to the game. You are tasked with defending the keep, home to the aforementioned Witchers, having been introduced to your circle of companions, and the introduction scenario offers you a chance to familiarise yourself with a few mechanics that set this title apart from others of its ilk.


First of all, there’s the combat. This is not a blatant left-click fest. Well, it is in some ways, but the introduction of a timing mechanic to the flow of combat, and variations in speed of attack style automatically add an element to the combat that makes it necessary to pay attention to the fighting. If you do not click in synch with the battle, and fail to pay heed to when the cursor highlights and react appropriately, you will soon find yourself frustrated. Think of the judgement ring from Shadow Hearts meets Diablo II combat and you get the rough idea of things.


Secondly, there’s the alchemy system. The prologue weaves this into the tale in the form of a potion that needs to be brewed to save the life of one of your comrades injured in combat. This feature can prove important to turning the odd-battle or two to your favour (and crucial to higher difficulty settings players may opt to play at). It is a scheme well implemented, with a wide variety of herbs that can be harvested using the herbalism skill set. When it comes to concocting your various elixirs, it is a case of finding yourself one of several fireplaces that are spread liberally across combat/non-combat game zones, and getting down to some chemical tinkering.


Speaking of fireplaces, be they camp-fire or hearth-based, these are where you can not only practice your alchemical skills but importantly rest your character for some regeneration over a set time of your choosing, and at times where you have accrued skill points from gameplay, you are afforded the opportunity to distribute these points out around key stats for your character.


This skill-point distribution is in no way ground breaking, but it does allow a certain customisation to your particular play-style of Geralt, likely impacted to varying degrees by whichever segment of the game you’re in at the time of point accrual and distribution.


The story itself belies the rich source material of the novels. It is a troubled land in turbulent times, and as much as the struggle of its inhabitants echo throughout the game in various dialogues and tidbits caught here and there, the core of the story, of Geralt’s struggle to find those who seek to destroy him and his kind, is related in a convincing and interesting manner through the quests that you embark upon. Everything ties in well with everything else. It can be a chore in many a game to be sent on ‘kill-x-type’ quests, something that the MMORPG genre has turned many players away from that genre of title. However, in The Witcher, the quests do serve as thread to weave together a far larger tapestry of the story of the game.


From early on in the game, Geralt is forced to make decisions which affect the state of the world he also inhabits. Some of these decisions reflect on struggles that he himself appreciates, given his own quest through the game itself, such as those of racial tensions, isolationism and persecution. The choices that Geralt makes can pay either with rewards of varying natures, or add to the uphill struggle that Geralt faces on his path to resolve his personal quest.


This is a game steeped in what could at times be described as a moody atmosphere, and I am not referring to any particular artistic temperament, but to the nature of the characters of the game and their tales. Early on in the game, a quest reveals unpleasant back-story with even more gut-wrenching impact upon Geralt, whose story and actions have seen him interact with, and even benefit from, those capable of dark and shadowy deeds. And such adult themes and ramifications are commonplace throughout this title. That’s not even counting the number of women that Geralt might choose to bed throughout the course of the game, rewarding the player with ‘collectible-art’ card-like for each of these sub-conquests.


The Witcher is a compelling, heavily playable title which draws you in from the start into a fantasy world infused with some (purposefully chosen) rough edges and represented with some gorgeous graphics and top-notch sounds. It is not without issues: character models are repeated fairly often and the combat can be unforgiving in the first couple of hours, but as I was half-way into writing this review and playing through the game, CD Projekt announced that a new version would be forthcoming in Q2 ’08, with fixes to the dearth of graphical models (many characters peppered throughout the world are literally identical model-sets) and which would address other combat, lip-synch (no problems noticed by this reviewer) and graphical anomalies. A bonus is that this content will be downloadable for free for those who have already bought the title, so we’ll keep a look out for this when it is released, as it will definitely smoothen the ride if it does what’s promised.


Its adult themes might raise eyebrows amongst some players, but after the world of Temeria draws them in to its clutches they’ll find a riveting storyline in an immersive world that creates one of the most memorable RPG experiences of recent years. Even with its share of minor glitches, this is one title that stands out from its peers.


Final Grade: 83%




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