The Witcher Exclusive Impressions - Combat and Story

This intriguing role-playing game ditches the concept of pure good and pure evil and replaces it with a morally complex world.

Stories in fantasy role-playing games are often an exercise in black and white. There's often a noble protagonist (your character) who usually starts out as an orphan or peasant unaware of his or her destiny, and then there's some unspeakable, monstrous evil that wants to take over the world for no reason apart from that it's there. But what happens when you play a fantasy RPG where you have to continually choose what you think is the lesser of two evils? That's what Atari and Polish developer CD Projekt are aiming for with The Witcher, an ambitious RPG based on the works of Polish fantasy writer Andrzej Sapkowski. With The Witcher finally nearing the end of development, we got a good look at how the game goes about creating a morally hazy world. Please note that this preview contains minor plot spoilers.

The Witcher will let you play as Geralt of Rivia, a professional monster slayer in a shady fantasy world.

You play as Geralt of Rivia, one of the last of the witchers, or professional monster slayers. Witchers aren't normal human beings, but rather magically mutated killers with superfast reflexes, limited magic ability, extraordinary weapon skills, and a resistance to poison. But since they're basically mutants, they encounter hostility and prejudice in many human towns. Because the game picks up approximately five years after the end of the book's saga, The Witcher will feature a new story for fans of the series; but it's also very accessible to those who haven't heard of the books. That's because Geralt "dies" in the last novel, but somehow is resurrected without his memory in the game. His amnesia means that he has to relearn everything in the world.

Like the novels, the game will deal with many contemporary themes--an impressive feat considering that this is a medieval fantasy world populated by elves, dwarves, and other magical creatures. The game will touch upon ideas like terrorism, genetic manipulation, and racism. And one of the core principles of the game is that you inhabit a world where your actions will have plenty of unintended and unforeseen consequences. A lot of RPGs offer the illusion of choice, but many times the choices are fairly simple. For instance, you often get a choice between good and evil paths. In The Witcher, the choices are a lot murkier, and often you won't know the results of your decision until much later in the game, so you can't easily go back to a previous save point and explore the other option if you don't like how things turned out.

For example, one of the big choices in the game occurs if Geralt manages to get a simple job guarding a cache of weapons along a riverside. In the middle of Geralt's watch, a group of elves and dwarves appear for the weapons. You can either let them pay you off so they can take the weapons, or you can kill them. Either choice will net you the same reward, so there's no fiscal advantage for making one choice over another. It all comes down to your moral decision.

The decisions that you make can often have drastic and unforeseen consequences later on in the game.

The consequences of your choice won't become clear until much later, as much as 10 or 12 hours in gameplay time. If you decide to let the elves and dwarves have the weapons, you'll eventually discover that they are using them against innocent civilians in their insurgency. Even worse, they kill an important non-player character, and his death removes a plotline and quests from the game. However, if you decide to kill the elves and dwarves, you'll eventually discover that their deaths sparked an investigation by the authorities. It turns out that you inadvertently are the cause of the insurgency's downfall, as the authorities identify the remaining rebel members and ringleaders, including another important NPC. His removal from the game denies you his plotline and quests. Note that there's no "good" option here; in either case, someone important to you is going to die. And the outcomes aren't something that you could have predicted, either. Over the course of the game, the consequences of your choices begin to cascade, and the state of the world can change wildly depending on your decisions.

The depth of storytelling in The Witcher makes it one of the more interesting RPGs in recent years, but the game also has plenty else to admire. One neat aspect of the game is that there are two ways of playing it. If you're a fan of top-down RPGs, such as Baldur's Gate or Neverwinter Nights, you can play The Witcher from a top-down perspective, in which case you use the mouse to control everything. However, if you like behind-the-back, third-person RPGs along the lines of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, you can play The Witcher this way and use the keyboard and mouse for controls.

The combat system in The Witcher represents a departure from most RPGs. First, you have to choose one of three different fighting styles. The quick fighting style lets you make fast jabs that don't deliver a lot of damage. Then there's the heavy fighting style, which is a slower style that lets you make powerful attacks; imagine a swordsman raising his sword over his head to deliver a crushing blow. Finally, there's the group fighting style, which features a lot of sweeping attacks that are best used if you're surrounded by foes. Regardless of the style that you choose, it's important that you maintain a rhythm in a swordfight. If you rapidly tap the mouse button, like you do in many RPGs, you'll interrupt Geralt's natural movements. Through practice, you'll discover the optimal moments when to hit the mouse button to initiate an attack. The system requires some skill, but that was the goal, as the designers felt that combat in many RPGs was either too automated or too mindless.

The combat system will require some practice, as it tries to capture the rhythm of sword fighting.

The Witcher is also an undeniably good-looking game, and it features one of the most realistic depictions of a medieval world that we've seen--granted, it's also one full of elves and other mystical creatures. You'll run around a lush, lifelike world full of animal life and weather effects as well as authentic-looking medieval towns and castles. CD Projekt rewrote a vast majority of BioWare's Aurora engine, which powered Neverwinter Nights, and the results speak for themselves: The Witcher looks absolutely nothing like that game.

All this makes The Witcher look to be one of the year's most promising RPGs. The game has come a long way since we first saw it a couple of years ago, and the thought of a morally complex story, along with a distinctive character and setting, should appeal to those looking for a slightly more mature take on the role-playing genre.

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204 comments
Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Baron_14
Baron_14

Yes you can play game like kotor but without turn based fighting HELL YES

Orthrand
Orthrand

I hope this is good, recently seems that Shooters have started to get more complex while RPG's have got less. Compares Dark Messiah to Arx Fatalis... Sighs for Troika and Black Isle.

BDANick
BDANick

oh man i miss fallout 1... i cant get it to run on my machine, dont know why... :( cant wait for fallout 3.... anyway iv been looking at his books, i still havent gone down and bought them, but i will...

-Dragon_Hunter-
-Dragon_Hunter-

This game might just end up being the savior of computer roleplaying games. In these later years they've been considerable "dumbed down" in order to reach a wider audience. The stories and the battles have been horribly simplified, especially the later. I mean, you can't even compare classics like Fallout 2, Baldur's Gate and Might and Magic series to the new bastardizations that are on the market. Pretty graphics and a large world to roam freely in just doesn't make up for the fact that they have stories stripped down to the bare basics, and a combat system that even an eight year old could figure out and master in fifteen minutes.

can0of0cheese
can0of0cheese

Looks like this will be the game Neverwinternights 2 should have been.

BontraXenderKyl
BontraXenderKyl

sound realy good........hope its like the Might And Magic games cause i so like them......u know......fantasy

au25
au25

i will borrow it from "a friend" and then me and my video card will decide! lol hope it has low requirements like jade empire

oldeenglish
oldeenglish

Wish My comp was good enough to play this game. Sounds really interesting. Hope it comes out for 360.

kleszczuch
kleszczuch

I WANT TO SAY BUY A BOOK - IF YOU'RE IN UK YOU'RE LUCKY THERE JUST HAS BEEN RELEASED A COMPILATION OF SHORT STORIES ABOUT GERALT - THE NAME OF THE BOOK IS "LAST WISH" BY ANDRZEJ SAPKOWSKI - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED ONLY 9,99 (let's hope all the books will be released shortly - all in all 7 of them 2 compils of short stories and 5 a saga about Geralt)

Last_Ride
Last_Ride

This seems to be a great game... I really need to upgrade my PC. LOL!

armont
armont

im a sacred fan and not in too massive online playing this game kind a got my finger twitching again hell im 44 y old and i like the idea of a grown up rpg il see how it will mesure up to sacred ill be playing while im waiting for falling angel

Gotharr
Gotharr

I hope that the dark side and light side system will be good. not like star wars: if you take light, it will give a lot of it instead if you give dark, it will give just a few of it.

BDANick
BDANick

Sounds like a very good author too, im going to have to make a trip to the bookstore today...

BDANick
BDANick

wow im in love with this idea. If only i could afford to get my pc up to this level... maybe if i cross my fingers and wish really really hard theyll release it for the consoles... just maybe...

ntnimara
ntnimara

Somehow this makes me think of Gothic 2... I think I like it..

eikmaster
eikmaster

Hmm. Release in October...that's my birthday! Now I know what to wish for. I have dreamt about a game like this for some time now, and here it is. Looks very promising and I hope it can deliver all that they say.

fissure000
fissure000

Haha, same here MREman, and I agree, this looks very promising, hopefully the combat can deliver, so many other rpg's have claimed to have a 'skill based' combat system that isn't just mindless clicking, but they always turn out to be just that... mindless clicking.

Galzakian
Galzakian

Looks really promising, can't wait! :D

kttdestroyer
kttdestroyer

THE MATURE GAMING IS BACK! AT LAST! THE WORLD IS OURS! KIDS GO BACK AND SPANK TURTLES!

FrozenLiquid
FrozenLiquid

This is the game PC enthusiasts should be hyping. Not bloody Crysis.

MREman08
MREman08

HONESTLY, oblivion was fun, but i have to say one of THE best RPG's ive played has to MORROWIND!!! oblivion was a bit of wa let down in transition from morrowind to oblivion....i sold it twice, and rebought it twice....it was such a great game...i hope somebody will make a game like that soon....

kylix999
kylix999

radek kij ci w oko i liove the witcher

gamers_cz
gamers_cz

Sapkowski is very popular writer here in Eastern Europe. He is being called Tolkien of East, because of his deep interest in history, great precision in storytelling and unlike Tolkien, he is not keeping away from gore and sexual content. Stories of Geralt from Rivia are literar masterpiece for fantasy lovers. Though iam not sure how game will transfer unique atmosphere from book, iam looking forward for The Witcher.

magicmo
magicmo

This is like taking the Light side or the Dark side. I like the choices and enjoy the plot twists the story takes.

meowww
meowww

I love this game

Faceless_Grunt
Faceless_Grunt

From the looks of this and previous reviews, the game looks incredibly unique and stylish. Hopefully it will beat out the mundane RPGs out there. I am praying for this to have one heck of a plot because it seems that every game these days or at least a vast majority of them lack plots and that is a major factor when it comes to entertainment and the overall liking of the game. I did like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic's plot though, especially the little twist at the end and the fact that your decisions would affect the way others looked at you. Then again, that is a whole different story...

tedibr
tedibr

Well, haesuse does have something of a point. Depending on the developer, some PC titles will aim low rather than high on system requirements, to make sure as many people as possible can play. Also, when a new console comes out, like the current/next -gen systems out now, they will actually have better set-ups than your "average" PCs. However, by the end of the console's life-cycle, the PC's will have passed the consoles. All of this means squat if the developer decides to target high-end PC's, but there you have it. Having rambled all of that, I can't wait to play this game :).

DredWulf
DredWulf

console version and I am in...*Too Broke for a new PC*

Archebius
Archebius

This looks amazing... that's all I have to say. AMAZING.

rizlaq
rizlaq

hromps, could it be that we finally get a game for demanding rpg enthusiasts and not just for feebleminded 13-year-old hack-n-slashers?? ooh, i pray! if only for the the respect of sapkowski's work.

dani_PL
dani_PL

Will be great. Read Sapkowski's books about Witcher. Awsome stories :)

Myriam_D
Myriam_D

I feel hopeful. My buying prospects so far have been a couple Blizzard games (Starcraft II, maybe Hellgate: London.) The Witcher makes me wonder though-will they make this work? Will it be worth it? I know this morality and complexity and non-monotony fighting could succeed, I just want to know if it will. Here's hoping. *crosses fingers* Best to ya, Myriam D.

GwarFan9
GwarFan9

Sounds like Fable, anyone? As i read this article i get excited, however i took a vow after fable that no matter what expectations its hard to preorder any game now. Same with halo 2, that was a let down. (Don't hate me, both were high quality games, ecspecially the latter, however they didnt live up to my expectations.

Booner17
Booner17

Wow...Let's hope that this game actually does the whole "Good and Evil" thing right...everyone says..."It will affect the littlest things that do so much" or whatever...This game looks good..Sounds...sound...but we will see...and for the person who criticized on oblivion being an RPG...Are you saying that all RPG's before the good and evil deal was even thought of is not an RPG cuz ur decisions dont matter on the world? Moron..

ldonyo
ldonyo

I've been watching this game develop for three years now. Everything I've seen and read regarding this game has been good. My only fear is that Atari will find some way to totally screw this up.

Empi3
Empi3

Great =[) i'm already excited about this game =]

Murrdox
Murrdox

Why does everyone always bring up Oblivion? Oblivion was good, but it wasn't THAT good. Combat was fairly mindless. Level scaling was highly annoying. There was no roleplaying involved in any of the quests of the game. The only thing Oblivion really succeeded at was being very very pretty, and having a completely open world. However, since hardly any of the choices that you MADE in that world mattered, it wasn't much of an RPG. This game looks better and better the more I hear about it.

necorium
necorium

awww.. i was hoping this one would have first person too.. but oh well,.. its still looks like its going to be one of the best games ever

ZuyDeith
ZuyDeith

It will beat Oblivion and other cRPG games :)

DouglasBuffone
DouglasBuffone

The game looks very interesting and very Fallout like in the fact that you can make decisions that can really affect the gameplay, thus adding to replay value.

g8summit
g8summit

This game looks rather good. Might even beat Oblivion although I doubt that.

arthas_prince
arthas_prince

Its look so great, that games seems to be a very good game, all that features make the game so interesting