So I finally picked this game up over Steam. Going into The Witcher, I thought that this game took a different approach to RPG narrative and gameplay than other recent RPG's that aimed to be traditional such as Dragon Age. I think that I was right; The Witcher not only plays differently but the whole tone of the game feels very refreshing.
Sorty telling is a whole different affair from games like Mass Effect.. In a lot of western RPG's the game throws a lot of decisions at you but you don't ever really get to see them play out. Instead, you have to wait several years for the next game to come out and even then, you find that the decisions you made a only superficial or are not addressed at all. In The Witcher, major decisions that you make drastically change which characters you meet, who you are friendly with, and who is alive or dead. The Witcher seems to be made with a lot more thought put toward player satisfaction since the game shows you exactly what consequences your actions create by changing the story as you play instead of just throwing a bunch of choices at you and then making you wait for the next game to see them play out.
The tone of the game feels much more mature than other RPG's I've played such as Dragon Age. When I say mature, I don't mean the large numbers of sexual encounters that Geralt can participate in or that the game features quests that contain mature themes like incest but rather the way that these mature elements of the game are handled. In Mass Effect, sex was treated like the ultimate pinnacle in a relationship which is unrealistic and insulting to the player's intelligence. In The Witcher, sex is just something that people do and enjoy. You can have sex with a large number of people without having to court them throughout the entire length of the game. This change of pace when it comes to romance makes me believe that the games attitude to mature themes is a well rounded one. Instead of focusing a romantic engagement into the one moment of sex like in Mass Effect, The Witcher deals with sex as if it was banal or common. This difference in treatment of sex makes the game feel like it is much more able to handle it's mature themes without getting wrapped up in trying to make sex a big deal. For example, picture a grade schooler talking to his friends about porn and they are all snickering and acting uncomfortable. That's what I feel games like Mass Effect do when compared to The Witcher. Mass Effect is not as bad as grade schoolers. In fact, it does a pretty admirable job of creating a playable relationship. It's just that when compared to The Witcher, it feels like The Witcher is the grown up who treats sex as just something that people do instead of putting all their attention on it, a la grade schooler style.
I think that the character class that you play in The Witcher is quite unlike any others that I have played in recent RPG's. Most RPG's have three distinct classes and their iterations: the warrior, the rogue, and the mage. In The Witcher, gameplay feels like a mixture of all three. You have the abilities of a warrior in that you are proficient with melee weapons and thus can use brute force if you choose to. You are also like a rogue in that your attacks are fast and agile and you can switch styles on the go to fit the situation. Finally, you have access to five different magical spells to further add to your combat repertoire. At the same time, though, Geralt is not a master of any of the three classes. He can't, for example, grab a shield and tank or pick up a two handed weapon and one hit kill enemies. He can't go invisible and stun lock someone and then proceed to crit them to death. Nor are his spells complex or have nuclear level capabilities. Still, The Witcher's mix of the usual three RPG classes makes a truly unique class, The Witcher, which feels completely unique and refreshing. Alchemy further adds to this class.
The Witcher's ability to create potions, oils, and bombs is the final piece of gameplay that makes Geralt truly stand out from your usual RPG classes. In The Witcher, brewing potions and other helpful mixtures is vital to many fights. However, if you think that this game encourages crafting 100 health potions before a boss fight, then you would be mistaken. This is because the game includes another gameplay element, blood toxicity. Each potion you drink increases this green bar and if it fills up all the way, you're dead. Thus, the game encourages brewing and using potions that have an effect over time instead of "winging it" in fights by using whatever potions you want. Typically, if you go into a fight having already drunk your potions (for example, one that increases you vitality regeneration, one that allows you to see in the dark, and another that makes you immune to stun or knockdown) then you will often finish the fight relatively easily and with minimal damage. Attempt that same fight without preparing, however, and you'll be dead within seconds. This element of careful preparation before a fight changes up The Witcher's pace and makes the game feel very different from other RPG's. Instead of winning because you had an obvious level advantage or had stocked 100 health and mana potions, it becomes much more rewarding to know that you brewed your own custom made potions that buffed you up in a way that was tailored for that particular fight. In short, it makes you feel like professional monster slayer which is what you play as in The Witcher.
A weakness of this game is bad voice acting and lack of polish. Some textures, especially ones for buildings, lack detail. Also, character models are used over and over. You'll see the exact some model for a random villager in one part of the world used for another character that is key in the story, right down to the clothes that they wear. Characters also have very limited facial expression if any at all. By far, though, the biggest upset is the bad voice acting. Geralt's voice has a cool growling aspect to it, but he delivers his lines in a deadpan, monotone style. This is evident in many of the characters you meet which is disappointing. One of the worst examples of bad voice acting would be the character Dandelion. He is a famous bard who should be eloquent and have a marvelous singing voice along with a great range of expression in his voice. However, Dandelion's voice sounds like any other random NPC that you would meet, completely ill fitting to his character. The translation from Polish to English can also be wonky. Characters will say things that don't make sense when heard in the context of the conversation. It is evident that several details got lost in translation which is a pity since some great voice work and writing are crucial to narrative driven RPG's.
In summary, The Witcher stands out by being truly unique from a story telling aspect as well as catering to the hardcore audience by having deep and rewarding gameplay.
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