06 February, 2010

Review: The Witcher

written by Blain Newport on Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Developer: CD Projekt RED
Platform: PC
US Release: October 2007
Genre: Third Person Action (and Role-Playing Game)
Price Paid: $14
My Score: 5 of 5

My experience with The Witcher was magical. And as we all know, magic is about making the mark believe something impossible is happening. :)

The First Illusion is Self

The Witcher is the main character from the fantasy novels of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. As such, he has a well defined character with a wealth of back-story. But the game uses the hoariest conceit known to fiction (amnesia) combined with another old chestnut (resurrection) to let the player decide who Geralt of Rivia will become in the game.

The crazy thing is that the game owns these clichés by completely surrendering to them. This isn't convenient amnesia that goes away once the tutorial is over. And for that it feels genuine. The same goes for the resurrection. It feels like a legitimate mystery.

The Second Illusion is the World

The game draws on a rich fiction: persons, places, plots, principles of magic, and prophecies. It's a huge amount to take in. There is a journal that automatically records much of what you learn, but even still, there are many details (sometimes even ones that impact major decisions) that I had to remember myself.

In a game like Mass Effect or World of Warcraft, I felt the lore was an extra for über-nerds. In The Witcher, because enough of it mattered, I cared.

The Third Illusion is Other People

I got the impression that many of the main characters in The Witcher had lives of their own. They had their causes, their desires, and their failings. I wouldn't say any of them are ever fully developed, which is appropriate in a game about a loner and outsider. But many of them have enough quirks and foibles and went through enough changes to make them interesting.

DISCLAIMER: I played the game in Polish with English subtitles. This makes a tremendous difference in how I experienced other characters. Hearing the better (and better directed) voice acting, having fun learning tiny bits of Polish, chalking strange bits up to cultural differences, and knowing that people weren't saying exactly what I was reading made the NPCs infinitely more believable. If you played The Witcher in English, you have no idea what my experience was like. Occasionally I would forget and start the game in English. It was physically painful to hear.

The Fourth Illusion is Choice

As I mentioned previously, I looked forward to the consequences of my actions in this game. This was because the game had already established that bad decisions could have very dire consequences and might not even effect who you thought they would. GTAIV felt like a story told to me. At it's best, The Witcher felt like a story I made happen but was never in control of, a true adventure.

Mundane Stuff
The game looked fine. It had some interface / camera issues. The combat was simple but serviceable. The gathering and crafting and skill choices gave me plenty to keep me busy and experimenting. The game has a lot of implied sex in it, but it had little bearing on the plot or what other characters thought of Geralt. Growing up I read a number of Conan stories, so the frequent and unmotivated boot knocking came off as a genre convention to me.

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