The original Witcher was an amazing game and a welcome break from the prolonged PC RPG doldrums. The Witcher brought back story-driven RPGs from the brink of extinction like no other game could. It may seem like I am hyping this game up to immense proportions, but I believe that this game deserves all of the positive reviews it has received so far. After putting the game on such a high pedestal, there are some small faults that did pull the game off of its high horse. One was the absurd long loading times. Another fault was the horrible translation that pulled the player out of an otherwise immersive game. Calling one of the characters “babe” is definitely something that broke the mood of an otherwise dark setting. The good news is that all of these issues were fixed with a patch that was released for free to owners of the first version of the game and the rerelease of the game entitled The Witcher: Enhanced Edition.
So, if you own the previous version of the game, should you jump out of your chair and pick up the Enhanced Edition? The answer is YES! Not only are there a plethora of game improvements in the Enhanced edition but the player also has the opportunity to read an excerpt from The Witcher’s first book “Last Wish”. I personally have read the book and thoroughly enjoyed it. The translation from Polish to English only caused a few issues with the way the book read. If you liked the short excerpt included in the Enhanced Edition, buy the whole book, you will be pleased. For all of the creative people who purchase this game, the D’jinni game editor is now available for them to craft their own quests and add them to the gameworld. Lets not forget the soundtrack and two new scenarios that add even more longevity to the gameplay. For around ~$40 dollars, you cannot go wrong.
Test Machine: Mac Pro 2.8 X8 Core Xeon Processor, 2 gigs of DDR2 800, 320 gig 7200 RPM SATA hard drive, 8800GT. Running 64bit Windows Vista in Boot Camp.
The graphics, as I mentioned in my previous review (Previous Review), are still gorgeous. It still amazes me that the ancient (by today’s standards) Aurora engine can be pushed to limits such as this. As the White Wolf walks through the swaying grass, birds fly overhead. This scenery causes the player to want to reach out and catch some of the wild monsters that are roaming around the area, or maybe just lop their heads off. On a less violent note, the birds flying away as you walk through the wilderness is a touch of genius. The engine itself has been optimized and huge chunk of the textures have been updated satiating a visual junkies need for some pretty graphics.
The graphics themselves have received a facelift and some optimizing as the massive loading times have been cut down by a great amount. Where it sometimes took up to a minute or more to load when entering and leaving buildings, the pace has definitely picked up and the long wait is now gone. The only real problem the graphics have are the clipping issues that sometimes occur during gameplay. This is more than likely just the engine showing its age, but it is a small squabble I have with the game. Even with small issues like this, the graphics in-game are spectacular.
As with the previous version, the ambient music contained within The Witcher changes depending on the situation. For example, as you walk calmly through the wilderness the music plays along at a calm pace. Once Geralt deems it necessary to get into a fight, the music starts to speed up and becomes more menacing. The transition between battle and exploration music is seamless even though I have seen moments were it stated I was in a fight and there were no enemies around so the music kept on playing. A small snafu in an otherwise perfect musical score.
Due to the Enhanced Edition receiving an overhaul in the script, and since the script and the voice-acting go hand-in-hand, I can only praise the changes made. Some of the dialogue is still a bit robotic, but most of it fits the universe and sounds natural. I am glad to have voice-overs in the game as they flesh out the universe and the player knows what the character sounds like versus having them be mute and then all of a sudden gain voices in a sequel thereby shattering what the player imagined the person would sound like.
Overall, both the voice-acting and the sounds complement the game in a positive way. With the tidying up of the voice-overs and the fantastic musical score, I cannot wait to see what CDPROJECT will pull out of their hat for the sequel.
Geralt can either be controlled with just the mouse or the keyboard and mouse. The keyboard and mouse setup was for “advanced” gamers, so I chose that option and have been very pleased with the control scheme. If you like, you can still choose the mouse only option if you have issues with multiple forms of input. You can also change the views from over the shoulder to a zoomed out view if desired. The camera in itself doesn’t get in the player’s way and is intelligent enough to offer an excellent view even during frantic combatnpcs. The interface in the game is fairly intuitive and nothing really causes you to scratch your head in frustration.
In The Witcher, you take over a character named Geralt, who is a professional witcher. Witchers themselves are mutated humans that are professional monster killers for hire. They can use some magic via signs and are masters of weaponry. In the game, Geralt returns home to Kaer Modhan with amnesia after his last exploit and this is where the story begins. I don’t want to delve any deeper into the story as this would ruin much of the surprise that is present in the game as you make choices on where to take Geralt. Many of today’s political and social issues are readily apparent in The Witcher. Racism, choosing the lesser of two evils, attempting to remain neutral on a moving train, poverty, the gap between the rich and the poor, and many other issues are present. The way Geralt interacts with the NPC’s leads to not only different endings, but also will affect the way certain quests are completed as the story progresses.
One of the best examples of this comes early in the game. This is a bit of a spoiler, so you are free to skip over this paragraph if you’d like. Geralt was speaking with some elves who were smuggling contraband around the area. Due to my bleeding heart, I chose to keep the elves alive and just gave them a warning. Later on, once I enter the city, it turns out that those elves kill an important NPC that would have made life easier in progressing the story line. Due to doing something I thought was the “good”, it cost the life of another person later down the road. The Witcher has many such moments throughout the game and this is what makes the story in The Witcher so tantalizing.
For all the combat lovers out there, The Witcher has a lot of that for you too. Combat seems pretty simple but is remarkably in-depth and complex once you factor in the many combinations of fighting styles, magic, and special moves. Fighting styles consist of a group fighting style, fast fighting style, and the strong fighting style. Each has specific weaknesses or strengths depending on what opponents you are fighting. The equipped weapon also matters, as only clearly defined witcher weapons can be used in tandem with the different styles. The weapons that a witcher wields consist of a nice steel sword, which is useful against non-magical foes and a silver blade that is effective against magical enemies. These aren’t the only weapons available to Geralt but will be the ones used most commonly. Once in combat, an icon will appear at your input cursor and once it hits a certain shade, if you press your mouse button, it causes a combo build up. By waiting for just the right moment, you can continue chaining the combos to unleash some devastating attacks. Signs, which are a form of magic, can also be released. Some release a kinetic attack while others construct a shield around you allowing for escape. One even unleashes a fire attack that incinerates the opposition.
Alchemy also plays a huge role in The Witcher. To normal humans, most of the ingredients in Geralt’s potions would be fatal. Geralt’s immune system isn’t like most normal people though, so the potions give him abilities like regeneration or night vision. Most of the ingredients can be found in the wild or by rummaging through slain enemies or empty houses (or you can just be a thief and steal stuff). When Geralt rests to recover health or just to move time forward, the option to mix potions becomes available. Potions are created by finding different recipes scattered throughout the gameworld. One improvement to alchemy in the Enhanced Edition is that alchemy ingredients now have a different inventory tab instead of being dispersed throughout the normal inventory.
No game is an RPG without stats and abilities to improve when the character levels up and The Witcher does not deviate from this formula. Once Geralt levels up, you have the ability to add points to different abilities and increase stats that affect how your character handles (more potent spells, stronger attacks etc…). The ability to customize Geralt gives you the option of becoming a strong spell caster with average sword fighting skills or any combination thereof.
All of these different aspects of the game, and the fact that the game and its side quests can keep you pretty busy for some time, combine to create an awesome gaming experience. Even after one play through, you will want to try again since different choices during your adventure will lead to different experiences and different endings. Think of The Witcher as a huge “Choose Your Own Adventure Book” with pretty graphics and no way to cheat with the choices you make (unless you look at a walkthrough…)!
With just the core game, the two extra scenarios, and the D’jinni editor, the game has just extended its life infinitely. As long as there are dedicated programmers out there that will take advantage of the editor and provide the casual players with in-depth scenarios, the game will garner a huge mod following just as Neverwinter Nights did.
Also, for $40, you do get a large boost of gaming goodness. With the soundtrack, the map, and the before mentioned goodies, you get a lot for your gaming dollars. I wish that other developers and publishers would take heed and include a wide variety of extras like this instead of creating special editions with one little extra soundtrack or something equally lame. Bottom line, you are getting your money’s worth with this game (as long as you like CRPGs).