This game is worth playing.
The Witcher is a very robust RPG that follows a well-known format but uses a an updated interface. They kick things up a notch (Bam!) in the combat area by giving us a completely new style of combat in comparison to the more traditional D&D approaches. Then they top things off with a very well-deserved M-rating by including a plethora of sex, vulgar languages, graphic deaths and more.
You are Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher also known as The White Wolf. The introduction is a very gorgeous, very detailed and exciting movie of Geralt's past, showing us what a Witcher does. You watch him remove the curse on a princess - who is cursed/transformed into a Stinga (a monster) - without killing her. During the introduction to the actual game, you'll find that Geralt has lost his memory, just been rescued by the few surviving Witchers left and taken back to their home of Kaer Morhen. After a number of cutscenes and movies, you'll slowly discover the recent history of the world, the hatred thrown toward Witchers, and the plague and war that has ripped through the kingdoms, creating a shaky state in the world.
The prologue (there are five complete chapters plus the prologue and epilogue in the game) acts as the tutorial, slowly introducing you to combat options, the use of alchemy, your limitations, magic and almost everything you'll encounter in the game. The difficulty is not very high here as you learn, and the game does an exceptional job teaching you how to fight and use your options progressively.
Suddenly, your fortifications are under attack; before there is any chance for you - as Geralt - to get your senses, a bunch of bandits led by a well-known criminal, a mage, and a mysterious summoner commence the attack. The combination of surprise attack, poor condition of Kaer Morhen, and being completely outnumbered (typical for a Witcher anyway) leads to you and your allies falling back. You do eventually discover why they are really attacking. It is no typical hate-filled mob looking to ice a Witcher; their leaders are there to steal a Witcher's secrets - namely, the laboratory supplies. Witchers are not entirely human; they are somewhat a mutant. Having undergone very difficult and extensive training at an early age, during which many die, they develop enhanced vision, regeneration and reaction speeds, making them ideal fighters. Their training is focused on killing monsters and protecting humans ... but as you find out, humans can be the worst monsters.
By the time the enemy's intentions are discovered, it is too late. The supplies and secrets are gone. Before their secrets can be used for evil, the handful of remaining Witchers must spread across the continent and locate those who attacked. The entire game is a very large and well-told story.
While fantastic cutscenes and movies are used frequently in gaming to engross a player in a story - and this game is no different - The Witcher continues to use cinematics to keep up the fantasy until the game ends. To me, this screams one thing: quality. From start to finish, The Witcher is just that. The game was developed in Poland, and the usual language and translation issues expected aren't seen in in this game; you'd think things were developed in North America.
The movie clips are suspenseful, and I feel like I'm watching a feature film. Highly detailed and life-like, it is an experience, not a game. The cutscenes are numerous, and help to advance the story; they make you feel like you are experiencing an extremely well-crafted world. The only oddity I did notice is that characters often will move their necks or swing their heads around (probably to not appear too rigid), but this leads to them seemingly not paying attention during an important conversation. It only happens sometimes, but it's kind of an odd quirk.
There is something about The Witcher that just "feels" right, and I can't describe it. Oddly, this feeling is one of the best parts of the game. Maybe it happens when a developer just nails it and creates a world, atmosphere and characters that all blend together just perfectly or creates a story that just really makes sense and is not full of sidetracks to extend the game. The Witcher has - as those American Idol goons say - the "It" factor. I kind of jumped ahead on some of the fluff there, but I felt it was very important - at least for this game - because the feel of this game is something I've encountered very, very rarely in the past.
The gameplay in The Witcher is a blend of solving your main story quests, side quests to help with money and experience, fun minigames to spice things up, and intermittent jolts of combat. Combat isn't the focus of the game. You will spend a large part of the many hours it takes to get through the game performing quests, which occasionally break into combat, be it a task to help someone or an ambush by Salamander (the enemy) agents. Like many RPGs, some quests can be completed through negotiation, and most can be completed in more than one way from either combat, money or a bunch of very gray-area decisions.
The developers excel in creating this bastard of a gray area in so many quests, you often second guess yourself. Racial tensions are high in the world, and you have the option of being neutral, helping the Scoia'tael (Dwarven and Elven freedom fighters) or helping The Order of the Flaming Rose (human knights). Each choice will change your access to future quests and resources and will change the story as you progress. Personally, I would prefer additional side quests that are not related to the main story. The game has a few, but many of them do relate to the main story and characters.
As I mentioned before, combat in The Witcher is different than your typical D&D based combat system; you won't find any statistics to adjust. A Witcher typically carries two weapons, a steel sword for cutting down forces native to this world - wildlife and humans for the most part. It is a two-handed sword that does a high amount of damage but does little against the supernatural. A silver sword is a lighter, one-handed weapon; while causing less damage, it is very effective against the undead and other monsters and beasts. Witchers also carry other weapons, but they are hardly of any use. An axe or flail cannot be used in normal "Witcher style" combat; you'll often use them to exchange for cash..
Both silver and steel swords have three combat styles to fight. Strong style is a slower, heavy strike sequence, leaving you a little more vulnerable to take damage; balancing the heavy damage is impaired accuracy when trying to hit faster opponents. Fast style is the opposite of strong, using very quick accurate blows that don't penetrate, and uses your defense ability in concert. Group style is essentially the stance you take when surrounded by a group of enemies. and While it does the least damage per hit, it can hit many enemies at a time on successful area attacks. Group style is quite accurate, like fast style, but if you aren't careful, you'll take a large amount of damage.
While your character will parry and evade for you, you can move around to avoid damage and dodge manually. If surrounded, take the time to flip yourself behind your enemies and make them regroup. Movements can be keyboard- or mouse-based (I preferred point and click oddly), and a double-click to a specific spot will result in a roll to get there, helping you to avoid damage. To create a combination attack, you need to click to attack again at the end of a sequence of blows (on easy and medium difficulties, your cursor will change for you). There are up to four sequences providing more and more damaging blows and maneuvers as you complete them. Later on, you can unlock the ability to power up your attacks. Holding down the mouse to power up will use your endurance but can quickly take down some opponents. Combat is pretty fast, resulting in a variety of flips, parrying, twirls, leaps and slashes; the animation is great, and there is a good deal of variety in your attacks and maneuvers.
Witchers are capable of using very basic magic.As Geralt has lost knowledge on this, he'll need to regain it as he explores. There are five magic spells, and the effects of those five spells will differ depending how you upgrade them while you level. There are force-based attacks, flame-based attacks, mind control, protection fields and ground-based attacks. My favorite is Aard: a Jedi force-like blast which often will knockdown an enemy or stuns them. Either of those two status conditions can lead to an ultra cool-looking finishing move on your enemy. Geralt may jump up on their chest and shove his sword through or twirl his sword with one hand and jam it through their heart. There are many, many more animations that can be pretty graphic and gruesome. Just before I wrote this, he decided to severe an enemy's hamstring, then lift up his neck and slice it - a first time for me. The combat physics are superb, the animations look amazing and it is quite fun to watch Geralt move so gracefully in combat.
To augment your combat, a Witcher will brew and drink potions, use explosives or apply oils to their swords. There are a number of ways to enhance your combat, from complete night vision, to regeneration of vitality or endurance, to lightning-fast reaction enhancements. Drinking too many potions will raise your blood toxicity, and only a special potion or rest will lower this. When it rises too high, your vision suffers, and eventually, you'll suffer physically. Explosives will invoke status effects on your enemies, like a stun, poison, blindness, etc., allowing you to take advantage. Blade coatings can assist against particularly difficult situations and enemies; a necrophage oil will cause additional damage to a ghoul but not effect something like a wraith or specter. Rarer upgrades involve the creation of custom weapons and purchasing new armor.
On the easy and medium difficulties, very little in the way of alchemy is required, and the combat isn't very difficult. However, on the hard setting, you need alchemy very much, and combat is a challenge. The creation of potions is not particularly difficult. There are a total of six chemical compounds that are the main ingredient in a component and three more that are minor compounds. All potions are made in alcohol bases, and fats are used for oils and powders for explosives; the purer of each, the more complex they can be. All your components (from monsters, purchased or gathered) can have a different mix of the primary and secondary compounds. By matching the secondary compounds, you can create potions with bonuses. You can create them once you have the formula or you can experiment and create your own concoctions.
There really are no statistics in The Witcher. As you level, you gain tokens (bronze, silver and gold) depending on your level. Those tokens are used to buy varying levels of abilities and then the subsequent bonuses for that level. For example, you can unlock up to five levels in all five magic schools and the three combat styles for both steel and silver combat. There also are four additional attributes, including strength, intelligence, stamina and dexterity; these affect all combat styles. Most of the experience for your levels comes from completing quests. It is not really designed with an area to grind experience.
The Witcher contains a knowledge accumulation system in which, by talking to people, reading books, witnessing events or seeing objects around the world, Geralt will learn and store that information as he goes. Information - such as the details on characters throughout the game, formula for potions, monsters, world history and even updates to quests - will become added to the appropriate section. Knowledge is important as you will typically be able to gather little from a monster (components are used for alchemy and/or quest requirements) until you know their biology. Killing them is significantly more difficult than when you know the proper stance and weapon. The rewards for killing monsters are rarely great. They are often a means to an end, part of the story or optional quests.
The M-rating of the game may turn a few people off, but believe me when I tell you, a lot of it really fills out the world. The game is heavily based around a very strong racial prejudice, where humans hate all others, and some of the others are fighting back. You'll hear a lot of filthy racial statements from NPCs. Of course, some aren't racist and are simply insulting. There is a nice mixture that just fills out the world. NPCs, just like real people, are a little dirty ... very dirty at times. The first time I heard a lonely NPC complain that his balls itch, my reaction was "What'd he just say?" You'll encounter such beauties about your mother who sucks Dwarven **** and all those other sayings that we all heard in grade school.
NPC actions, on the whole, are done well. Some NPCs roam at different times of the day; some sleep in; barkeepers clean the bar in the wee hours of the morning; and residents do so at different times; the whole world feels very realistic at times. People work in the day, sleep at night, except for those that work at night, of course. Some people go for walks but always return home, and they all seem to hate the rain as they always run for cover under trees or balconies.
There are a variety of minigames iincluding sex, fist fighting, gambling, trophy collection, drinking contests and more. Fist fighting is a profitable and quest-related game. You can wager your coin on regular contestants and then beat the local champion to gain fame, rewards and reputation before moving onto the next. Gambling works very similar to fist fighting but is not action-oriented. The game involves five dice, which are rolled and form a poker hand. You can discard the dice and re-roll or keep and bet; it is quite entertaining. Drinking is often a way to extract information out of people. By out-drinking them, you can gain quests, items and information. And sex is perhaps the best minigame ever. While sex is optional, in I think all cases, you can find people in the main story, side quests and randomly to just gun for. The reason? I think it's because Witchers are horny, or maybe it is just Geralt, or maybe just me ... From telling a town clerk that they are naughty to romantic girlfriends, to saving innocent damsels who need to "repay" you, there are a lot of ways to "get some" in The Witcher. After you rock their world, you gain a sexy card of the person in their profile ... I guess it's for ... later use?
The game requires a good machine to run. Pumping up the graphic settings results in a beautiful experience, but my system started to experience a large amount of memory accumulation issues. The game crashed a lot at first. It seems to be a known issue, and luckily the developers are pretty quick in fixing the problems. A lot of the quests, annoyances and other technical issues have been fixed as of this review. The only other bug I found quite annoying was on regarding your stance in combat; at certain positions, you can swing forever and just never hit an enemy. You'll need to move your character around and re-engage and then you can fight normally again. The sound effects and music are both fantastic: They are original, fitting and done very well. The voice acting is exceptional all around, with the main characters doing a superb job. Translation is spot on, and even the smaller characters are well-played and fitting. All the details are here, and they've spared no expense in doing things the right way.
For me, The Witcher isn't just a game: It is an experience; few games have ever crossed that line. You feel the game, bite your nails at the decisions and panic when things start to go bad or NPCs trick you. It has made its way close to the top of my all-time favorite games, despite a few bugs. Gorgeous scenes, unique features, an incredible one-of-a-kind story and loaded with all the details, combined with complete immersion, makes The Witcher a must play for all RPG fans and something you should seriously look at even if you don't normally play the genre. I enjoyed every second of the game, and even though it has a very long play time, I'm already well into round two, because the choices you make really can change the game drastically. CD Projekt's first game has fit me perfectly, and here is to hoping they'll make many more just as inventive and detailed.