The Witcher Review

One would almost forget they hadn't reviewed it yet, but primo RPG site RPGWatch only now takes a look at the Witcher, rating it 5/5 and naming it the most significant game since Fallout. And I'll be quoting a wad of it here.
However, there's far more to the story than mere cleverness. The wryly humorous metafictional overlay and obvious satire overlays genuinely serious themes. This is what the game is really "about," the real meat on the eight-out-of-ten bones described by most reviews.

While The Witcher doesn't give a hoot about consistent linguistics, its fictional underlay follows some very strict and rather unusual rules. Monsters are not of the usual "assault from the outside" variety. They spring from normal, petty, entirely believable human evil. Monstrous plants grow from graves of unavenged murder victims; necrophages feed on the corpses of the fallen; a village's petty evil in aggregate summons a demon that sows terror in the night. "Every monster embodies a human iniquity", a character in the game explains. Devourers - gluttony. Vampires - drunkenness. Characteristically, though, Geralt replies "So what does a giant centipede embody?" At one level, The Witcher is a morality tale -- it's "about" the bitter fruit our little sins bear. War really does breed ghouls and graveirs, only in the real world we don't have any silver swords with which to cut them down.

The Witcher sees a society spiralling towards civil war. Friendships break, neighbours become estranged, grievances build, and eventually there is an explosion of senseless brutality that then feeds the next cycle of violence. We hear it in random comments from passers-by, notice it in conversations and even experience it ourselves as we find ourselves swords drawn, facing an individual we could respect or even like. A group of non-humans has been dispossessed, run out of their homes and is starving by the lakeside, forced to live on charity from a human village nearby... and then responds by slaughtering that same village in a burst of powerless rage. A shifty individual deals with the resistance and then betrays them for money.

This is real, friends. This is how war really is. The evil overlord who is evil because he's evil is refreshingly absent. There are only grievances, injustices, oppression, segregation, misunderstanding, a deepening cycle of violence with normal - basically good - people doing horrible things. In the end, only the ghouls, crows, and cemetaurs attend the victory feast. And you're right in the middle of it.

Ah yes, sex. Sex, sex, sex. The Witcher's naughty postcards have netted a quite a lot of attention, as well as some accusations of blatant sexism. There certainly are some juvenile bits in the game. For example, the identical fantasy babydoll nighties Geralt's female friends wear to bed are more unintentionally funny than "adult" in any real sense of the word. Or take one of the female leads: she is a veteran military surgeon caring for plague victims but none of it shows on her perfect sixteen-year-old face. And someone really should tell Triss that plumber's butt is not sexy, even if Heidi Klum does it too.

However, there's far, far more to the game than simple tail-chasing adolescent fantasy. The Witcher has a complex underlay of gender relations, mores, appearances, expectations, and behaviors.

First off, the women in Geralt's world appear to actually want to sleep with a famous heroic swordsman type that looks like the lead singer of a rock band, is polite and courteous, and is sterile and immune to disease. Go figure.

Second, the way they -- and, by extension, Geralt -- go about it is not at all trivial. Villagers and peasants inhabit a patriarchal society where women are pretty much powerless. A raped girl's only recourse is suicide; a young woman living alone is assumed to be a prostitute; a barmaid plays the "decent girl" in public but is quite ready for a tryst if she can get away with it. On the other hand, we have the Viziman aristocracy, which holds some courtesans in reasonably high regard, whose women take what they want whether they're men or power, and where extra-marital affairs are the norm rather than the exception. And then we have the egalitarian, "pagan" elves, the exclusively female dryads and, I hear, a matriarchal society in faraway Zerrikania.

You, as the wounded and recovering Geralt of Rivia, are dropped right into the middle of this mess and are expected to make some sense of it. Do you side with one of the belligerents? If so, do you attempt to moderate their actions, or further their victory? If not, will you just let them slaughter each other indiscriminately? Will you take advantage of your rock-star status and bed every female you can seduce, coerce, buy, guilt or blackmail into putting out for you or will you be a gentleman and only get it on with those who are genuinely interested - or will you forswear it all in search of a genuinely meaningful relationship? Will you try to make every woman in Temeria happy or just one? If so, and are faced with the choice of doing something that you feel right but know that will deeply wound her feelings, what do you do?

In any computer game, many of these choices are illusory, but in The Witcher less so than most. On my second play-through, I made some rather different choices and while the main storyline was more or less the same, it played very differently in ways that kept surprising me.

The Witcher isn't some epic tale of saving the world, nor is it some trivial thing happening against impressively detailed backdrop. It winds itself around you -- the player, as Geralt of Rivia -- in a way that makes the story an intensely personal one, more so perhaps than any computer game yet, even Knights of the Old Republic or Planescape: Torment. Not coincidentally, like Planescape: Torment, The Witcher hands you a fully realized character -- but then takes its hands off and lets you decide what happens to him, how he grows and evolves - not just in the spreadsheet sense but also inside, where it counts. So if you can't deal with not choosing the colour of your hair ("oh, the hair!"), or being able to play as a female gnomish sorceress, tough -- because you're depriving yourself of something very special indeed.

Your choices and actions have profound effects on the world at large -- even if this is one game where you won't be able to topple the Dark Tower and bring on a golden age of peace, love, happiness, and sunshine. If there is a moral to The Witcher's story, it is that in the real world there are rarely simple solutions to complex problems, the most terrible evil is done in the name of the greater good, and much of the time the best you can hope for is to pick the lesser evil and hope for the best.
4 opinions from other editors are added, but they all got their nose in the same direction: this one is a game for ages, a genre-changer.

No small praise.