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Page 3 of 3To keep you well-informed about the NPCs you've met, the monsters you've fought, the locations you've discovered, and many other gameplay aspects, the game sports one of the most impressive journal systems I've seen in a video game to date. It's also linked to the gameplay, in that missing journal entries may keep you from taking certain actions. For example, if you haven't previously read about, been told about, or otherwise researched Hellebore Petals (a type of alchemical ingredient), then you can't gather them from the plant that produces them. As another example, if you haven't learned anything about the Bloedzuiger monster, then you won't be able to accept any witcher contracts that deal with slaying such beasts. It's a great system that actually has you spending your hard-earned Orens on books and scrolls from vendors just so you can read up on certain topics and, as a result, add a new entry to your journal that may or may not unlock some additional options for Geralt.
It's also worth mentioning that despite the fact that The Witcher was entirely developed in Poland, the English localization is very well done. The game's voice acting is certainly above average and there have only been a couple of instances where I noticed an oddity in the translated text. Given the track record in this regard for other games that have come out of eastern Europe, I'd have to say that I was pleasantly surprised.
Despite enjoying my time with The Witcher immensely, I do have a few quibbles. Obviously I wasn't playing a gold version of the game, so these items could be ironed out before the game's release later this month. First up is the way Geralt abruptly stops whenever you run him into even the smallest obstacle (some small bushes, a tall weed, or a bit of rubble, for a few examples). If you need to get past something, you're forced to turn a full 90 degrees and walk around it. This also comes into play when you're trying to ascend a flight of stairs. If you don't hit them just right, Geralt will refuse to climb the stairs and often times he'll just strafe to the side of the stairway instead.
The NPC character models could use more diversity, too. While running around the outskirts and streets of Vizima during the day, it's not uncommon to see two or three NPCs that look identical standing within just a few feet of one another. If they're labeled "Old Townsman," "Village Militia," or "Priest," for example, chances are that they are one in the same. It's certainly not game-breaking or anything, but it can ruin the immersion factor somewhat when you see the same character model strolling down the road, cutting some wood, and tending to a garden - all at the same time. On top of that, there are also quite a few loading screens in the game. Once you're in an outdoor area this problem isn't an issue, but expect at least 10 seconds of loading every time you pass through a doorway - even if it's just into a small one-room hut. CD Projekt was kind enough to place some sweet-looking concept art on all of the loading screens (that even change depending on whether it's day or night), though, so at least there's something to stare at during the transition.
Those few issues aside, The Witcher is quite an achievement. Its unique take on character development and combat combined with a healthy dose of dialogue, a comprehensive journal system, a well-developed alchemy system, and distinctive art style make it a welcome change compared to what we've been seeing from other RPGs lately. While it doesn't quite reach perfection, CD Projekt's debut title is probably the best CRPG I've played in years. Gamers looking for a fulfilling, mature-themed, single player role-playing experience should definitely pick the game up when it hits store shelves later this month.
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