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The Witcher Review
developer: CD Projekt RED
PIV 2400, 1GB RAM, 8.5GB HDD, 128MB video card
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Oct 30, 07 (released)
|» All About The Witcher on ActionTrip|
Let me start this one off by saying - I am a World of Warcraft whore. The only time I ever really got out of my obsession with WoW (even when not playing it) was when I played The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind on the Xbox. Looking back, the only other title that surfaces from the murky pool of my video game memory is BioWare's Knights of the Old Republic.
My health is not so good...
"I fell into a burning ring of fire..."
Forgive my crassness, but thank fuck something's finally making waves in that pool. A new title is engraved in my video game memory as "one of those single-player RPGs that really took me out of the real world," and it's CD Projekt's The Witcher.
All of us here at ActionTrip have been following closely the development of this one, hoping that we might finally get our hands on a decent single-player RPG, a genre which once has shone brightly, but its light is slowly dimming under the heap of pretentious and short-lived games.
As the day approached, we became more and more skeptical, if for no other reason than because this industry has thought us to be cynical; to expect titles with not enough marketing clout, with not enough draw for the Attention Deficit Disorder audience to cut corners; to make compromises where compromises are not due.
Remarkably, the Polish-based team and the ailing publisher Atari managed to withstand this pressure, to crash against the waves in their makeshift raft and live to reach the high seas.
Take Obsidian's work as an example. They've taken two of the finest single-player RPG licenses from BioWare, Neverwinter Nights and Knights of the Old Republic, and they've screwed the programming up so bad even after all the patches I still cringe while trying to play Neverwinter Nights 2.
The Witcher is based on the same engine. Same engine, folks - the Aurora engine from BioWare. The difference in the quality of programming, the things that CD Projekt has done to extrapolate what seemingly the Aurora engine wasn't capable of are amazing. And all that while keeping the frame rate acceptable even on mid-range rigs, it's amazing.
The Witcher can be played from an over-the-top camera view a-la Neverwinter Nights, but I strongly recommend you do it in the over-the-shoulder third-person mode. Notice the shaking "live action" camera as the Witcher moves - a neat little trick so effectively employed by Epic in Gears of War. Over-the-shoulder camera view feels dramatic; it makes the combat seem more intense. The Witcher universe is also teeming with life - from the day and night cycles and weather effects to the lush vegetation, excellently crafted large maps and AI that's passable enough to help you completely immerse yourself in the world. The main character is marvelously animated both when doing mundane tasks like running, or performing choreographed fighting moves.
Take notes, Obsidian. This is how stuff should be done.
Are you taking notes yet?
The mechanics of the combat system are a remarkable feat in its own right. I hereby propose that all future RPGs use The Witcher's combat system. With such a simple neat trick - where the developers completely abolish excessive mouse clicking (click-fests) by making powerful sword combo moves completely dependent on the proper timing of your clicks - CD Projekt introduces just the right amount of skill in what is usually a dreary affair. By placing the spells on your right mouse button and mapping the Pause option to the "Space" bar, Polish developers lay the foundation for the most intuitive and exciting combat system I've seen in an RPG.
Bear in mind that even before the game's release, two patches were released (the game currently stands at v1.1a). I made sure to install this before I started playing and I advise you do the same.
From a technical standpoint, there are a number of gamers who have complained about the load times and admittedly, this is a concern. The loading screen will pop up way too often and at every single instance of this game. Interestingly, after the initial annoyance that it caused, I got used to it, and I have to say, at this stage of my Witcher experience it's not bothering me as much.
The reason why my aggravation has been dulled lies in the depth of the game world. The Witcher is an immersive experience on several different levels. While technically pushing the Aurora engine like no other title, the real draw is the rather unorthodox approach to the main character's moral choices.
In games like KOTOR for instance, while available, the moral choices that the player had to make were as black and white as pieces on a chess board. And while this makes sense literally, one should keep in mind that the color of the pieces doesn't stand for right or wrong. It is a fight between pawns and kings - all with their tools, means and goals.
Some of this philosophy is applied to The Witcher story. The game puts you in the middle of a war between the non-humans, the Dwarves and Elves, who are fighting for their freedom against the racially biased human oppressors. Things are not as simple as that, of course, as all sides are biased in their own way and the Witcher being an outcast yet of human origin, will have to make the tough choice of siding with those whose cause may seem right, or with those of his own kind.
Hailing from the turbulent Balkan Peninsula myself, I can tell you that these are exactly the type of moral choices that ordinary people have to make when engulfed in the madness of civil war. I found this element of the game strangely disturbing and yet I was grateful that someone had tackled this subject, all under the guise of a classic fantasy game.
Ingenious combat system, immersive game world, story, music, exploration, depth;
Load times; monsters, "bosses" and bad guys lack more creativity; loot design, other minor or highly subjective issues.