The Witcher is a single-character action-RPG based on Polish fantasy author Andrzej Sapkowski’s series of novels, featuring Geralt of Rivia, the eponymous witcher, a magically-mutated monster hunter for hire. The plot follows Geralt trying to retrieve formulas and items required to create more of his kind, which were stolen during an attack on Kaer Morhen, ruined fortress serving as haven for the few remaining witchers. However, this turns out to be only one thread in a much more complex series of events, in which the protagonist gets involved.
The game was created by CD Projekt RED, development studio branch of Polish game publisher and distributor CD Projekt. It was the studio’s first release and clearly a work of passion, as it shows that creators were the book series’ fans. The Witcher’s faithfulness to the source material and attention to detail is remarkable, maybe even a bit too much, with some characters, ideas and dialogues clearly recycled from the books, sometimes with a different name.
The Witcher was created on highly modified version of Neverwinter Nights’ Aurora engine, but you probably would not notice that, if it was not written in huge letters on one of the splash screen. Graphics are vastly improved, even compared to Obsidian’s Neverwinter Nights 2. Sound design is very good, and the bleak music may not be very appealing to listen outside the game, unless you are trying to fuel your of depression, but it complements the game’s setting perfectly. However, CD Projekt RED have not avoided the trap of adult = sex, violence and profanity, as The Witcher has more than its share of each.
The world created by Andrzej Sapkowski is a place, where happy endings are very few and far between. Its inhabitants are usually savvy enough to understand this, and try to cope using (often dark) sense of humour and cynical attitude, only emphasised by the fact that almost nobody in the world cares about religion. This creates an interesting mix of classic fantasy and mature themes with a semi-serious approach. Monsters roam the countryside, with most people helpless against them. Human dominance has forced elves and dwarves exist to live in ghettos or take up arms as guerillas (or terrorists, depending who you ask). Mages reserve their miracle-working magic for elites, who can afford their services, while human and inhuman life is valued highly only by a selected few.
Geralt is one of those people, as much as he wishes he was not. He tries to be a cold professional, but more often than not he ends up helping people, because nobody else will or can. He repeatedly tries to remain neutral in the affairs of the world and just do his job. In the novels he usually fails, in the game the player decides which path is the right one, or rather the least wrong one.
While The Witcher is not an open-world game, each chapter puts Geralt, in a fairly large area, which he can explore, and interact with its various inhabitants. Character progression is hand-waved as Geralt regaining his skills and knowledge lost due to a near-death experience and subsequent amnesia.
On each level up, Geralt earns skill points (called talents) of three types: bronze, silver and gold. These talents can be spent to improve his abilities, with higher ability levels requiring the more rare silver and gold ones to unlock.
As witchers are superhuman monster hunters, Geralt is able to take on multiple enemies at once from the very start, using one of his two swords – steel against humans and their like, silver against monsters – and a fast, strong or group fighting style (which work well against agile, armoured and numerous opponents, respectively). Using other melee weapons is possible – but suboptimal, as Geralt’s kill only work with his swords – but ranged combat is not possible.
The game offers two camera modes for you to play in. Clicking on the enemy when in top-down view will cause Geralt to automatically close the distance and attack, while clicking on the ground will move him away and/or evade attacks. Over-the-shoulder camera makes controls more action-like, with manual, keyboard-controlled movement. In both modes well-timed button presses will chain attacks into combos, with increasingly more elaborate animations and higher damage as the protagonist’s abilities increase.
Geralt also knows five simple spells, called signs, which can help him in a pinch, and can be quite significantly upgraded. The toughest fights may also call for preparation in the form of alchemy, used to create potions temporarily enhancing Geralt’s abilities.
Most of the time, however, is spent talking to people living in the city of Vyzima and its rural surroundings. Over the course of his adventure Geralt will meet villagers, merchants, minstrels, craftsmen, child prophets, guards, knights, bandits, medics, prostitutes, spies, princesses, freedom fighters (terrorists) and many more, including even a private investigator. Player will get immersed into the world mostly by interacting with this lot, solving their many problems, fist-fighting, playing dice and occasionally getting drunk in good company.
Because ultimately, this is what this game is all about – becoming the witcher and living his life for a little while. And it does it very well. Mico Selva