The first time I finished playing The Witcher I was stunned. I can say with all confidence that it was the RPG that redifined the genre for me, and probably for many more gamers. Every part of the game was perfect to me, from the chain attack mechanics (previously utilized in a game called The Summoner, and no other RPG to my recollection) to the story. The story is The Witcher's greatest strength. It introduces a whole new idea to the philosophy of the game: good and evil are just the matter of point of view - only neutrality is true in the world of The Witcher. The revolutionary thing in the game, for me, is that you don't get to choose your alignment at the beginning in character creation. Your actions in the game define you, your persona in the game. And on top of that you are actually given a choice. In the most crucial points in the story you have a choice. And you have to keep in mind that it's vital for you as a witcher, to stay neutral. The plot actually changes depending on the decisions you make, you can feel the impact of your actions on the world. In the end it becomes a quest for true Justice and Retribution. This game is more than just an RPG. It's a book that you write as you play the game, because there are so many different ways of playing it. It is also ground breaking because it deals with issues with which RPGs never dealt before, like racism (humans vs non-humans in this case), personal struggles of the character, and many others. Playing other RPGs, like Neverwinter Nights, makes you feel that you are part of the whole story-of-the-game machine, that you have to play your part. In The Witcher, YOU ARE the machine. The story adjusts to you, not the other way around. It's a really deep, thought-provoking game. It's not a fairytale about dwarves and dragons, it's an experience for mature audiences who wish to get something more of a game than just a couple of hours of entertainment. It's a milestone.
So why didn't The Witcher become a huge hit? The game is based on The Witcher Saga, a series of fantasy novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. It was developed by CD Projekt Red, a Polish company, and published by the blessing of Atari. What I think is the most important factor, because of which the game didn't become a hit, is that the audiences outside of Poland are not familiar with Sapkowski's novels. As far as I know, the books have only recently been translated to English and the saga hadn't had a chance to gain popularity yet. Playing The Witcher game without knowing the story of Geralt, the main character is like looking at something though dirty glass: you can only see the overall shape of the thing without any detail. The novels describe his personality, why it is so important for him to stay neutral no matter what happens. The saga is the story of one man fighting against the whole world, and also fighting an internal struggle. The character of Geralt has a lot of depth to him. And the novels paint a picture, both of Geralt and the world.
The problem was, that The Witcher franchise didn't have an established fan base outside of Poland (however, in Poland the books are even more cult than Lord of the Rings). Gamers didn't have a chance to see read the books, didn't get to see an Academy Award winning movie adaptation, nothing. Basically, before the game came out in the USA most people didn't have any idea that The Witcher even exists.
Why is all this so important? Because The Witcher is not a game that you can just jump into and feel cozy, like the Forgotten Realms-based games, or other popular RPGs. This game needs the player to know the background stories in order to fully appreciate the experience. It's a shame that this game never made it to the top. It sure had the potential to be game of the year 2007 (despite the lousy translation, but that's a whole different story). And in my personal opinion it definitely deserves a place in the RPG Best Ever Top 5, if there were such a thing. It's a real shame this game never got the attention it deserved. It is also a shame that The Witcher Saga translation took/is taking (I'm not sure of the status) so long. The Witcher as the story, the game and the books, do to Lord of the Rings what Ryu Hayabusa does to fiends in Ninja Gaiden II. Shreds it to pieces.