; edited by: Michael Hartman
; updated: 4/17/2012
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A review of CDPROJEKTRED's newest, dark and immersive RPG, "The Witcher".
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The Witcher is a dark, and immersive action RPG that derives its roots from somewhere between Diablo and Neverwinter Nights. It delves the player into a medieval type setting while maintaining a fantasy filled atmosphere.
The game is chock full of amazing CGI cut scenes, solid voiceovers, beautiful graphics, and a tough-to-learn but very unique combat system. On the flip side the game also has its own set of flaws including painstaking load times, cheesy dialogue, no tutorial for the combat system, and some confusing story changes here and there.
However, the development company just released a special edition version and patch for those who bought the original game, which snuffs out most of the worst problems. I reviewed the special edition version, but I also tested some of the original to weigh the differences and I'm here to explain some of the best and worst aspects of the game.
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The game opens with the main character; Geralt, a witcher, and he is seen running wildly through the wilderness. He runs for some time and then passes out, obviously wounded. A few unknown men throw him onto a cart and haul him away. They take him to a mountainside castle named Kaer Morhen, which is later revealed to be a "Witcher" school and base of operations for our hero. Through a series of circumstantial events the school is attacked by an evil Zerrikanian Mage who steals powerful magic substances known as "mutagens" and rather quickly destroys the fortress. This in turn is where the plotline is introduced; the surviving "Witchers", including Geralt, embark on a journey to retrieve the stolen mutagens.
The plot actually grows a little more complex as the game progresses, and includes some great side stories and quests. Overall the entire story-line is very satisfying; more than you can say for most RPG games out there on the market today. I personally would have to say "The Witcher" is one of the most in-depth games, plot-wise, that I have ever played.
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One of the biggest things being integrated into any game these days; specifically RPGs, is a real to life consequence system where a player's decisions affect different parts of the playing experience and story. The Witcher has such a system built in; however it was designed to be a little more than just the normal black and white; right and wrong. Sometimes, in life you are forced to make decisions that are more in the grey area, in-between right and wrong. That is exactly how the system in the Witcher is, grey area decisions that force u to side either one way or the other. The situations however really aren't that true to life; unless of course you often find yourself stuck choosing between a rioting mob of pedophiles, thieves, and murderers or a blood hungry, murdering witch who was trying to rid the world of the scum now chasing her. This of course could in some events relate to an ex girlfriend or mother in law, but I digress...
The kind of situations which happen in the game are sometimes even a little comical but still fun to participate in; and the player often leads Geralt to ultimately bring about the deciding factor in the out cause. The rewards from NPCs aren't bad, and the branches in the storyline are rather broad so there is a certain replay factor present as well.
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Biggest Feature: Amazing Cutscenes
I must admit early on that I'm a big sucker for awesome, graphically enhanced CGI cut scenes; I mean what gamer isn't? The most rewarding point of playing games (games with a good plot anyways) is watching everything that transpires during the in game movies. A lot of times however most games hit or miss in this area. For instance, sometimes cut scenes are just thrown in and spruced up with good graphics but never really make sense or even fit the bill for that matter. None of that is the case within the beautifully dark world of Temeria.
As soon as the game boots up you are rewarded with one of the most amazing CGI cut scenes ever made; let alone the fact that it is only an introduction. It provides a little information about the main character's past and helps establish a new player's foothold in the world of Temeria. The intro, however does somewhat give a tease of what is to come further on in the game, and leaves you foaming at the mouth with desire to immerse yourself completely into the game world. Unfortunately, sometimes intro's are awesome, but so much so that they seem to outshine in-game cut scenes. Thank the heavens this is not the case with "The Witcher".
The cut scenes of the actual game are just as rewarding; and just as beautifully rendered. In the original version, there are some sections that jump without explanation providing a very confusing break in-between sometimes; but as I've said up above CDPRJEKTRED released a special edition version and patch that fixes this problem and a few others. A couple scenes have been added in to connect the storyline and transitions between chapters a little better.
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The Combat System
The unique point and click combat system is actually pretty entertaining, however it does get somewhat repetitive after a while. The main fallback to the system is due to the fact that the player is thrust almost immediately into combat and not given any type of tutorial on how to attack or fight. A simple left click on an enemy is needed to engage in a fight, and then from there a series of clicks is needed to continue an attack combo. A sword icon appears as the cursor, and a thin orange outline appears around the edge to indicate the perfect time to click, and keep the combo going. The player can also listen to the sound effects and a small ping sound occurs when another click is needed. This is simple enough it seems for someone who has never played games before, but for those of us used to Diablo and related games we go in clicking hazardously away thinking it will help our chances; instead it makes our on screen character look like a fool who can barely wield a sword. On a further note the explanation of the combat system is barely evident in the game manual as well, leaving the knowledge on its proper use up to mere experimentation; which makes you feel somewhat retarded until you get the hang of it.
It should be noted that the inventory is somewhat jumbled up in the original version of the game, attributing also to confusing item use. The special edition version however has been changed and this problem is no longer evident.
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Dialogue and Voiceovers
Let me just start out here by saying Dialogue and Voiceovers are not the same thing in a game. One very good example of this is portrayed well in The Witcher. The voiceover acting for the characters in the game is actually done well; the voices match the character they belong to and help keep the story going strong. The dialogue however is a little stiff at times, and even corny in some parts of the game. The biggest fact being that Geralt can manipulate any woman he meets into climbing into a bed with him, through the completion of side quests and random dialogue. I mean I know we all have friends who are like Houdini with women and can get them to do pretty much anything they want; but let's face it...their skin isn't pale white and they don't have a huge scar running from forehead to chin.
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The overall game atmosphere is very involving; as soon as the game starts you are completely immersed into the game world. The scenery, buildings and game structure help shape the environment very well. The buildings all look somewhat medieval, and the characters are wearing some eccentric outfits here and there but not so much so that they are unbelievable. The unnerving musical tones also help keep the mood tense as well and suit the game perfectly. It's very clear cut that CDPROJEKTRED took their time making this game, and have tuned it up as best they could. It's just a shame they missed their mark in some very small areas which ruined most of the presentation.
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The Witcher definitely does hit and miss in separate areas and in fact most of the flaws can be overcome now with a patch, or the purchase of a special edition version of the game that was recently released. The patch fixes the terrible load times, several annoying bugs, it adds in some extra cut scenes to make the storyline fit a little better, and cleans up many of the game systems lacking in design such as the inventory. With these new fixes the game is more than just playable; it's damn near one of the best rpgs I've played in a long time. The game includes great voiceovers, amazing cut scenes which will have you drooling all over yourself, relative characters, a pretty cool combat system, and a bizarre, but still fun, consequences system which changes the storyline based on decisions you make throughout the game. I would recommend this game to anyone interested in fantasy RPGS, or in fact anyone into RPGS in general. Although, be sure to pick up the special edition version or download the patch before jumping into the action.