The Backlog returns for yet another installment, this week we discuss The Witcher. If you missed last week's jaunt through the tropical isles of Far Cry 3, check it our here.
The Witcher is a game that’s been sitting on my shelf for what feels like ages. Released in the far off time of 2007, CD Project Red’s video game continuation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s novel series offers players a sword and sorcery adventure set in the rich, yet dangerous, world of Temeria. For me, The Witcher was one of those titles I’d seen on Steam, read a few reviews, thought to myself, “This could be interesting,” played it for a few hours and then moved onto some big release. What pushed me into finally sitting down with it was my desire to play The Witcher 2, another game I bought, played for a bit, put it away only to hear later on that a third game was in the works. Because the beginning is always the best place to start, I decided the time was right to try The Witcher once more.
What sets The Witcher apart from most role playing games is just how procedural it can be. For example, by collecting various herbs and ingredients from slain monsters Geralt can brew different potions allowing him to see in the dark or gain damage bonuses against specific species of monster. However, in order to do all this the Herbalist skill must be unlocked from the talent tree - an important fact the game isn’t all that explicit about. Once the skill has been unlocked, you can’t do any actual herb picking or sifting through monster guts for important items unless you purchase encyclopedic volumes books on those herbs and creatures.
While I admire the game for doing something different with these humdrum activities, I was often vexed by it. Like life, the biggest problem in The Witcher is that everything costs money and for some reason, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of it. Despite playing the game for ten hours and taking on all manner of different quests and activities, I’m still scrounging for cash. This makes certain quests difficult as I don’t have enough money to purchase a specific monster compendium needed to extract wyvern wings or drowner brains. Whatever happened to the noble and trusting idea of putting a down payment on a good day’s work? Something has to be wrong when I’m thrilled to receive 200 gold pieces for finishing a quest.
Another aspect of the game I take issue with is the quest system. Perhaps I am crazy, but managing and viewing quests is a messy and somewhat intimidating exercise. Every quest, be it primary or secondary, are thrown into a pile (which, admittedly can be divided by chapter or hidden from view) without any semblance of organization. It would be incredibly helpful to have them group and keep monster contracts separate from primary and secondary tasks. The written content for quests is often infuriating as they contain no real information outside questionable vagaries. For example, at one point Geralt gets involved with an investigation and must interrogate notable NPCs to determine their innocence or guilt. When talking with these people, there comes a point when the conversation breaks down prompting Geralt to suggest coming back with more evidence. How do I do that? Although there’s a file for each suspect, it doesn’t necessarily tell me what I should do next. A little help?
Lastly, and this is certainly a petty thing to get upset about, what the hell is up with all of the reused character models? The first chapter of the game features an NPC named the Revered who, after a lengthy series of quests, reveals himself to be nothing more than immoral charlatan. Depending on your conversation responses, the Revered is killed by your sword. Once inside the quarantined city of Vizima, I can’t go five feet without seeing NPCs using the exact same character model as the Reverend. Duplicated character models also extend to innkeepers, dwarves, barmaids and other wenches. Another example from the first chapter: while exploring a catacomb system, I found the corpse of a woman who looked exactly like Vesna Hood, a barmaid I saved from a gang of thugs (and subsequently bedded). Was it her? Probably not, since the game marked her as “Girl’s Corpse.” A trip back to the inn revealed that Vesna was alive and kicking. Look, I can understand that CD Projekt Red was probably working under some limitations and I can accept that. However, to have a game filled with a startlingly limited number of character models significantly breaks the immersion.
I have yet to finish The Witcher and right now, I’m not sure if I want to. My quest has taken me to a swamp area and I’m finding the whole thing to be an absolute slog right now. I really enjoyed the story up to this point and I’m beginning to head down the road of disinterest. Does it get better? Is it even worth continuing? Drop me a line and let me know!
And that does it for this week. Be sure to check back next week to see what game and what we have to say next. Until then, let us know what you that of The Witcher.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.