Game: "The Witcher"
Published by: Atari
Reviewer: Dr. Boogie
Review: Among all the other great games of 2007, The Witcher went by with relatively little fanfare, and it's really too bad. Granted, there wasn't much of an advertising campaign apart from a few print ads, and I can't say I was overly familiar with the work of Polish fantasy authors like Andrzej Sapkowski, but it's still too bad that more people didn't take notice.
You take on the role of Geralt of Rivia, one of the few remaining "witchers", men who have undergone a severe regiment of training and genetic mutation to become natural monster hunters. Some people seem to recognize you as a legendary figure, while others call you a freak (white hair, pale skin, and oddly-vertical pupils don't help a guy blend in), but you can't really say one way or the other because you have amnesia. There's no time to learn your former identity from your fellow witchers, however, as their stronghold is attacked by a powerful bandit group known as the Salamandra. They wreck up the place, steal several important witcher artifacts, kill an apprentice witcher, and run off just as quickly. Now, the witchers have split up to get to the bottom of this crime and strike back at the Salamandra.
The job of witcher is a dangerous one, but luckily, you've got a strong sword arm and the ability to brew special potions, oils and bombs to give you an edge. Normally, making a lot of potions would require a special lab, but as a Witcher, you can cook up potions using plants and parts scavenged from slain monsters, and in lieu of special equipment, you can use animal fat and strong booze! The downside is that due to your amnesia, you'll have to relearn all these useful formulas and monster anatomy through books and scrolls scattered throughout the world. Fortunately, almost every town has a merchant who specializes in that sort of thing.
Combat is where the game really tries to differentiate itself from standard RPGs. As a Witcher, Geralt uses 3 distinct swordfighting styles: strong, fast, and group. They have more distinct names, but that's basically what they're used for. Certain enemies respond more to the fast/strong styles, and when you're facing multiple foes, group is obviously the way to go, so much so that it seems to do extra damage to individual foes when you're fighting a group. Plus, when you click to attack an enemy, Geralt will launch into a chain of attacks with his sword. After the last attack, you'll have the opportunity to click again to lengthen the chain, adding more attacks and increasing the speed of these attacks. Combine all this with the right anti-monster oil for your sword and you'll be carving a bloody swathe through the area.
If you're tired of combat, you can adjourn to a local village and try your hand at a minigame or two. At all hours of the day, you can find burly men fist fighting at the inn, and you can join them to earn a little coin. Then again, maybe you want to make more money without losing some teeth. In that case, you can dice poker (which plays like a simplified version of regular poker) with many different people throughout the game. If it's not money you're after, you can try your luck at seducing the ladies you'll meet in your travels. Not all of them are turned off by your pale complexion and white hair, and if you manage to bed one, you'll get to see a playing card-sized drawing of the lady in a compromising position (made less compromising for the US release).
There are two things that really sets The Witcher apart from other RPGs. The first is the bleak setting. The kingdom of Temeria has just come out of a war, and it looks like it might be headed into another one, this time with humans facing off with non-humans (elves, dwarves, and to a lesser extent, witchers). To that end, the theme of racism emerges often as Geralt travels through village after village of ignorant peasants. However, the non-humans aren't taking this lying down, and that brings me to the second unique aspect of The Witcher: decisions. Throughout the game, you'll routinely have to make decisions based on the situation at large. Sometimes, the decisions are easy (help the dwarf being attacked by a mob, or don't), but much of the time, the decisions you have to make will have no clear right or wrong answer. Moreover, you might make a fairly innocuous decision, only to find out the impact of your choice hours into the game. I really enjoyed this, as it forces the player to really think about every decision they have to make, rather than save, try one, and load if you don't like it.
All is not well for The Witcher. The game has a wonderful and engaging story, but you'll frequently find yourself yanked back to reality thanks to some shoddy voice acting. Nowhere is this more evident than with the actor portraying Geralt. The actor in question seems entirely unable to convey any sort of emotion, and while Geralt is portrayed as being fairly aloof and uninterested in peasant politics and bickering, he still has moments where he's supposed to sound angry or thoughtful about something. To be fair, most of the cast isn't up to snuff, so it's not all his fault.
The other thing that breaks the mood are a number of little problems with the dialog. The game was originally in Polish, and a number of the translated lines in the game are clunky at best. There's also multiple instances of characters saying things that you really wouldn't expect to hear in a medieval setting, like calling someone a "babe," or a thug who remarks that, "your momma sucks dwarf cock." Obscenity aside, there are also a few times in the course of dialog during which a particular line will play with a lot more bass, only to return to normal in time for the next line.
Even with those problems, The Witcher is a great game. The story and decision-making draw you in, and the combat and potion-making keep things interesting. It's just too bad that the game has such an unpolished feel to it. If the developers had hired some better actors and fixed the numerous minor issues, this game would have been an instant classic.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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