Pete Davison: Wotcher, Witcher

Posted on May 25, 2011 by

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I’ve been playing a shit-ton of The Witcher recently, and if you haven’t played it, you probably should. Unless you have a PC that won’t run it very well. And even then, you should at least try and play it, because even on low detail it’s still an excellent game — as is the sequel, from what I’ve heard… though the sequel is significantly more demanding on your poor old graphics card and processor than its predecessor.

But anyway. Why is The Witcher good? Many reasons. Sure, it has approximately ten different character models, many of which are used for both major NPCs and minor ones, making visual identification of characters a bit jarring sometimes. And sure, some of the animations are a bit clunky, and characters standing talking to each other look distinctly uncomfortable, unintentionally. And the interface isn’t wonderful, though I’ve seen worse. But despite these little flaws, the game is a genuine gem.

Probably the biggest selling point is the titular Witcher himself, Geralt of Rivia. PC RPG purists often baulk at the idea of playing a fixed, non-customizable protagonist, but the (slightly cliched) amnesia subplot helps go some way to justifying the player moulding Geralt into the protagonist they’d like him to be. More than that, though, it’s the fact that The Witcher features choices with genuine consequences, and a complete lack of an oversimplified “good/evil” or “paragon/renegade” meter. Simply put, there is no good and evil in the world ofThe Witcher, only shades of grey. Geralt is often thrown into awkward situations and asked to make a decision to side with one or the other of the parties involved — but notably, abstention is often an option, also, and that, too, carries with it consequences.

The best thing about these choices, though, is that the consequences don’t make themselves immediately apparent. This helps get around the “quicksave/try out dialogue options” problem that some games are plagued with. In The Witcher, you have to make choices, and live with the consequences of those choices — because said consequences might not become obvious until a good 5 or 6 hours of play later.

This is a Good Thing. If nothing else, it forces players to immerse themselves in the role of the protagonist and decide What Would Geralt Do? on a regular basis. But beyond that, it neatly sidesteps the accusations of overly-simplified morality systems that are sometimes levelled at BioWare’s otherwise-excellent games.

Then there’s the fact that the game treats you like a grown-up. Sure, there’s the notorious “sex cards” (abolished in the sequel in favour of some good old-fashioned full frontal nudity) but besides that, characters speak to each other in an unashamedly adult way that never feels forced. There’s some very strong swearing from a number of characters, but it’s worked into conversations in a pretty natural way, rather than a Kingpin (the game, not the movie) sort of way. It’s nice to see a game have the guts to unashamedly use the word “cunt,” for example, and it’s also nice for the sequel to avoid BioWare’s prudishness when it comes to sex scenes. There’s no keeping underwear on and dry-humping here. Gratifyingly, in the first game, there’s even a Captain Kirk-style “let me show you that sex without procreation can be good” scene with a thoroughly naked dryad. And for those who feel that Geralt’s naked adventures are a bit gratuitous — well, there’s always the option to not shag your way around Temeria.

I haven’t finished the first game yet but I’m looking forward to seeing how it concludes. The story so far has been interesting, combining political intrigue, magic, monsters and world lore into an engrossing “dark fantasy” setting that — dare I say it? — is much better than Dragon Age. If you’ve never spent a night with Geralt, then what are you waiting for? Get thee over to Good Old Games and score yourself a copy for just $9.99 — bargain.

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Posted in: Pete Davison