The Witcher

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Kipi
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The Witcher

Postby Kipi » Mon May 30, 2011 7:31 am

The Witcher is Polish RPG developed by CD Projekt RED STUDIO and published by CD Projekt in Poland and by Atari in the rest of the world during the October 2007. The game takes place in the world created by the Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski.

For this review I used the Enhanced Edition of the game, which was released as separated version for sale as well as free downloadable patch 2008. The chances introduced in the Enhanced Edition contains some dialogues cut out from certain versions of the game, few minor graphical tweaks, new animations, improvements in loading times as well as improvements in dice game. It was also required for the installation of 1.5 patch, which among other things removed DRM protection, something which I had huge problems with. The Enhanced Edition offered much more, like additional adventures, but those should be discussed in separated review. For this review Enhanced Edition was used mainly for making the game stable and playable.

The Graphics

The Witcher uses BioWare’s Aurora Engine, successor to legendary Infinity Engine. Due the engine The Witcher resembles somewhat to Neverwinter Nights 2, which uses the same engine. Luckily The Witcher is more beautiful; in fact I still get surprised how good the game looks when ran at decent computer.

Now, even though The Witcher looks great with decent computer the same can’t be said when played with lower end computer. This is of course understandable, but there will be some serious problems with computer nearing the minimum system requirements. One serious problem, which made me to neglect this game for nearly three years, was that with lower settings strange stretching would occur when objects or part of the objects were drawn to the screen. For example the wing of bird could suddenly become three to ten times longer, and the same thing could happen to nearly everything ranging from the plants to the shoulder of Geralt. Even though I understand that the graphics would and shouldn’t be good with slower computer this kind of stretching was just unacceptable, especially since otherwise the game ran fine. Luckily this sort of thing hasn’t happened with my current gaming computer, which should be more than enough to run any game I can think of.

While the graphics are very good the perfect score still stay out of reach. This is because there are some clipping problems, especially during cinematics. What this means is that, especially the hair of characters, has tendency of appear in a way that it looks like the hair comes through the head. This looks very ugly and it is shame that problems like this happens with a game otherwise so beautiful.

Audio

The background music of The Witcher can be considered good as it brings nothing special to the game while still enhancing the general atmosphere of the game. After a session, even longer one, I can’t remember how the background music was except that it was there and it fit the game. While some may complain that it was too generic and didn’t stand out enough I say that the music did the job which it was meant to do.

The sound effects are very good, and the world feels more alive thanks to those. Clashes of weapons, dogs growling, coughing and everything else falling to this category are well made. At one point I noticed that I relied quite lot to the sound effects for determining if there were any aggressive monsters or humanoids around. Several times I also had to check my surrounding just to make sure that the sound effect I heard was just some background stuff. These kind of small things enhance the experience a lot, especially while travelling through an area which is known to be dangerous.

While the background music was good and the sound effects were better the real thing that shines in audio is the spoken dialogue. Each important character has specific voice, and at least I didn’t notice any occasion where same voice was used twice. The accents and styles of speaking were fitting to the character, and there just weren’t any moments I had felt that this kind of speaking shouldn’t come from this character. A nice addition is also that all dialogues are spoken, even those lines or twos that can be heard from any random NPC the player meets. Everything has been acted, and that’s something not many game can claim to have done.
"As we all know, holy men were born during Christmas...
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Postby Kipi » Mon May 30, 2011 7:33 am

The Story

This section contains some spoilers. You can skip this part if you want to avoid those

In The Witcher the player controls the character called Geralt, member of small guild of witchers. The witchers are basically group of mercenaries who will hunt down any kind of monsters for the price. What makes the witchers special is that they are mutated by alchemy during the training. This mutation makes them faster, stronger and even immune to poisons and diseases, though nothing comes for free as the mutation also makes them infertile. The mutation and training in general is also quite dangerous, only few of the candidates actually becoming witcher.

At the beginning of the game Geralt is transported to last known bastion of the witchers by other witchers after being found unconscious. After Geralt wakes up it’s apparent that he doesn’t remember anything that has happened, though he still remembers some basic things like how to fight. Quite soon after Geralt comes around the bastion, old ruined fortress called Kaer Morhen, is attacked by strange group of bandits. During the assault some of the secrets of the witchers are stolen by the leaders of the bandits, and the few remaining witchers decide to spread out around the world to find out the attackers and to recover the stolen goods.

During the hunt of bandits Geralt gets meddled in several other events, forcing him to take sides of those events. This is one aspect where The Witcher shines on, as some decisions have effects on the rest of the game. The more interestingly the decisions are not black and white seen normally in other RPGs, but instead all of the choices fall to gray area. For example one side may have good cause but the actions they are ready to take are not so good, while the other side may not have as good cause but at least they respect the law and general order. It’s up to player to decide which sides to take. While normally this kind of decisions have only small effect, mostly on the ending video, in The Witcher the effects are bigger. For example some NPCs may refuse to talk to Geralt if he has sided with the opposing side, even affecting the possible outcome of certain quests and even which quests can be done. On the extreme side one choice of action may even cause the death of another NPC in the next chapter, but I’m not giving more details about that. Sufficient to say that the choices do matter in The Witcher, and it’s refreshing when the choices are not black and white but more like gray and gray.

The general story of The Witcher is very good, as the main plot is very complicated with hooks and surprises. It’s also interesting how some of the smaller secondary quests, which seem to have nothing to do with the main plot, get tangled with the main plot in surprising way. While this is very good thing in storywise, making the world feel more dynamic, the system also makes the game progress rather slowly at times. This is because at times the main plot requires the player reach to specific phase of secondary task before advancing, and the quest tracker is not always clear enough about this. It is also at times hard to say which quests are related to the main plot and which are not, and as some of the quests can be completed only in certain chapter this makes it annoying at times.

Gameplay

The Wicther offers three different camera angles: two isometric styles viewing the game from the sky and one angle from behind the Geralt. The controlling of Geralt is done by using the mouse and keyboard, though the game allows the mouse to be made more dominant, which is useful especially with the two isometric views. Personally I didn’t like the two isometric views as the turning of Geralt was clumsy and it felt like trying to turn a huge buss instead of nimble humanoid as the turning angle terrible. The angle behind the shoulder works far better as the turning is done by mouse, making it far quicker.

Combat is one of the most important aspects of the game, as nearly all the quests contain some form of fighting. Basically Geralt must choose between two different weapons; normal sword which is usually made from steel and silver sword. The difference between the two is that steel harms humanoids very well while being nearly ineffective against monsters, while the silver sword having the opposite effect. After the weapon is chosen the player must choose which style of fighting Geralt uses: strong, fast or group. Strong attacks do much more damage but quicker opponents can avoid the hits quite easily, fast attacks have greater chance of hitting while the damage is lower and the group is basically usable when Geralt is surrounded by the enemies. The damage and effects each weapon and style combinations cause are depending on the talents of Geralt, which may be gained through leveling. The interesting aspect of the combat is the combo feature. After each successful attack, one attack usually contains one or more swings, there is very short period of time during which the next attack will be the second from combo, usually resulting more lethal combination of swings. There are up to five attacks that can be made in combo, each successfully timed click advances to the next combo level. So in The Witchers the combat is not just madly clicking the enemies as the timing is required to have more lethal attacks, and without those most of the fights becomes quite difficult, perhaps even impossible. It’s also possible to stun enemies, either with effect caused by the melee attack or by magical attack, and when stunned enemy is attacked Geralt will perform nice looking coup de grâce, instantly killing the target.

Even though the combat system is good and the fighting looks beautiful, there is one slight problem. Very often when I tried to perform group attack the games just fails to perform it without any apparent reason. This is very annoying bug, which fortunately affects only the group attacks, that potential of killing Geralt quite often as the situations when Geralt is surrounded are usually the most dangerous ones.

Another important feature in The Witcher is alchemy. It’s possible for Geralt to produce wide array of potions, oils and bombs to be used in fights as long as Geralt has potent enough alcohol, grease of powder in his inventory along with the proper ingredients. The recipes can be gained either by reading books or in certain instances by talking to correct NPC. The ingredients can be acquired from plants and monsters, and again Geralt must learn about those from books or NPC before being able to gather them. While the alchemy is not needed in lowest difficulty in medium setting it eases things up quite much and in hard difficulty alchemy in nearly mandatory for surviving. The problem is that to get the recipes and ingredients Geralt must acquire wide array of books, which cost huge sums of money, something Geralt is always short of. The alchemy also requires meditation, which makes it impossible to produce potions in short notice. While this becomes frustrating at times, as the need of some potions is revealed only after when it’s too late to produce the potion, the system is still quite logical and serves the game well. It’s also a good thing that the Enhanced Edition separated the ingredient section of the inventory from the general section, making it easier to manage all the ingredients. Unfortunately alcohols, powders and greases weren’t affected this separation, so the main inventory still gets cluttered with all the bases need for alchemy.

Character developmet

What would be a RPG without character development? In The Witcher Geralt gains experience from beating creatures and solving quests. After reaching the new level Geralt gains more vitality, which basically same as HP, and endurance, which serves more like mana as endurance is used for special magical abilities called signs. Each new level grants Geralt certain number of talent points, divided in the bronze, silver and gold talents. Bronze talents are basic ones, silver talents are more advanced and will not be available immediately, and gold talents can be considered as mastering the talent tree. Obviously bronze talents are gained most often, seconding by silver talents and finally followed by few gold talents.
The talent points can be used to train talents. Talents are divided in categories, six fighting categories for each weapon-style combination, six sign categories and four ability categories. Each category has own talent tree. Each tree is divided for five branches, two bronze branches, two silver branches and one gold branch. To learn talents from certain branch Geralt must use one corresponding talent to “open” the branch, which will also have some general effects of the skill. For example, opening the second branch in any fighting group will unlock another level in combo of that group. After the branch is opened the special effects of that branch can be purchased by talent points.

To learn new talents Geralt must meditate, one hour being enough. There is only certain number of places where the meditation is possible, such places being camping fires and certain NPCs. The system works well as with it Geralt can’t learn new things in the middle of fight but there is no requirements of finding closest trainer or inn for gaining the skills. Usually there are at least one place where meditation can be done in nearby, though not always.
"As we all know, holy men were born during Christmas...
Like mr. Holopainen over there!"
[color="Red"]- Marco Hietala, the bass player of Nightwish[/color]

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Postby Kipi » Mon May 30, 2011 7:33 am

Minigames

Like any good RPG The Witcher also introduces few minigames. In this case there are only two, and both are only used to gain money. The fighting, which is more or less boxing, is the easier one. Player challenges the opponent, accepts the bet and then fights. The controls are quite simple, left mouse button will punch, holding the button a bit will charge more power to the attack, and right button dodges. The system is simple but the dodging is made too complicated, as there is no way to tell when button should be clicked to dodge successfully. This makes it quite random, though rule of thumb is that always after Geralt has landed his punch it’s time to dodge. Another bad thing about the boxing is that there is finite number of NPCs that will accept the challenge, the number being quite small, and you can beat each opponent only once. So, while being an easy way to make money, the source is quite limited.

The other minigame is dice poker. As the name states the game is poker played with dice. At the beginning of the game the betting is done, each NPC having certain amount of money which will affect the choices of initial bets and the raises. The player has three choices for the bet, but it’s always good idea to choose the highest amount unless Geralt doesn’t have enough money. After the betting both Geralt and NPC throw their dices, Geralt being always the first. When the first throw has been done it’s time to choose whether to raise, stay or pass. After the second betting it’s time to throw the chosen dices again, which will resemble the changing of cards. After the second thrown is done the winner is determined. To win the money the player must win two rounds, each round having own initial bet.

The poker is really game of chance, where player has hardly any possibility of affecting the outcome besides choosing the dices to be rerolled. It’s also good to note that, even though in player’s case the outcome of rolling is random, the harder the NPC is the better chance it has to roll better hand than player. So, if player has three twos, the harder opponents have better chance of throwing four twos or better, not depending on their initial hand. This feature makes the gambling quite annoying, and at least I lost much more than won in poker.

Another interesting thing to note about the dice poker is that, as the dices are used, it’s always better idea to leave only the higher pair if the player has two pairs than keep both of them. This is because there better chance of getting three of the same or better hand with rerolling three dices than to have full house while rerolling only one dice. So basically it’s better idea to discard better hand (two pairs) for worse hand (one pair) and hope to get better hand than the first throw resulted. This makes the game quite unbalanced as, especially in case of harder opponent, four of the kind is not even close to enough to beat the opponents full house, as it’s quite possible to get four or even five of the kind with reroll.

Poker is something that, fortunately, was partially fixed in Enhanced Edition. In older versions the opponents had a habit of making stupid mistakes, like saving the pair from full house instead of the three of the kind. With the Enhanced Edition such mistakes don’t occur often, in fact I have seen only one occasion when such thing happened.

Anything else?

The developers have succeeded in making the world of The Witcher alive and dynamic. One solid proof, among the ones I have already mentioned in this review, is that the generic NPCs wanders around the street, have small conversations between each other, and even try to get under shelter when it’s raining. How many games have generic NPCs running around the streets, trying to find a place where the rain can’t reach them? I can’t think any. The game also relies heavily on the current time of the day in the game. Certain NPCs can be found from certain locations during certain time of the day and somewhere else at other times. Some quest related NPCs appear only very specific time, like noon, midnight, or time between the dawn and noon. Some event gets even as close as minutes when determining the moment of happening. Good example of this is that one location was inaccessible until 6 p.m and the game was very specific about that moment. The time of the day also affects if it’s safe to move around the streets, as the monsters have a bad habit of appearing during nights.

One minor complain which fits in general category is the toxic levels of Geralt and how it’s handled. When Geralt drinks potions or takes part in the drinking events (parties, trying to get information and so on) his toxicity level raises. When the level is high enough the side effects appear, making Geralt slower, more ineffective in fights and even cause some things in the camera angle, as the game draws the world as seen when heavily drunken. While all of this is well done, appear gradually as the level of toxicity raises and is even realistic, the only good solution of getting rid of it is to meditate. And this brings two problems. First thing is, not depending on the level of toxicity, one hour of meditation is enough to remove all the toxics. Secondly, there are several moments when drinking is forced to Geralt, and the closest place to meditate is far away, forcing Geralt to walk all the way there. While being drunken Geralt staggers back and forth, the moving is slow and not so precise, making those journeys quite painfully to do. Good thing is that those moments are rare and most of the time Player has the control of the toxic level of Geralt.

Last thing, which didn’t have much effect on the score, is that the game should be considered as mature, and not just because all the sexual references, like videos, dialogues, collectable girl tarot cards and so on. The world and things going on in it have dark shadows, like slavery, racism, revenge and poverty. While it’s refreshing to see subjects like those handled in a game instead of general how the knight saves the day –plots, I don’t recommend this game to players who doesn’t like these kinds of topics. If you want to be the hero who does everything to save the princess you should play some other games instead of The Witcher.

Score

If The Witcher could be scored by the setting and story alone, the score would be the highest possible. Unfortunately that can’t be done, though those two are so well done that I was able to forgive quite lot just for those. Still, even though there are no big issues, the list of smaller ones is quite big. At times problematic control system, confusing quest listing, problems with group attacks and the balance problems in dice poker are just examples of small problems The Witcher has. Still the game can and should be considered as one of the classics, especially because of the way the main story is handled. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to, I can’t give this best possible score, though it was close call.

My score system: 9,5/10
GameBanshee score system: 5/5
"As we all know, holy men were born during Christmas...
Like mr. Holopainen over there!"
[color="Red"]- Marco Hietala, the bass player of Nightwish[/color]

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sqdlin
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Postby sqdlin » Wed Jun 01, 2011 1:11 am

wonderful story

wonderful story and nice talker.
thanks to let me know so much about the game.
i am a new game player and i think i will have a try and see the wits of this games. :p :cool: :)