There are two kinds of people in the world. There are those that see an RPG experience as no more in depth than staging a racially motivated home invasion, making off with all the booty and gear that you can carry, and then reaping the rewards of selling wolf ears, goblin tongues and dried dwarf parts to the local populace – the local populace you haven’t killed yet, that is. Then there’s the second kind of RPG fan, the kind of person who will develop a backstory for their character, then devote as much time to mastering, say, wheat farming, as they do mastering the art of the sword. They will sit in make believe inns and talk for hours about dark lords, orphaned princes, and their own dark origin.
We guess there’s also a third kind of person, too – the ones that beat up the first two for being total geeks, but we don’t care for their kind here.
The Witcher, while replete with action aplenty, will definitely appeal to the more cerebral gamer. It’s a rather grim tale of, you guessed it, a Witcher, based on a series of novels by the Polish scribe Andrzej Sapkowski. His is a dark world, over run by monsters and other evils, relying upon the skills of a few hunters, witchers, to keep the darkness at bay. It’s a thankless job, as the witchers are actually outcast mutants, effectively; they are immune to plague, blessed with seemingly supernatural powers, and generally distrusted by the local populace, who don’t realise what a lucky gameworld they’ve ended up in, and aren’t likely to be slaughtered by the player as the game progresses.
And there’s a lot of progression in this game – up to 70 hours of gameplay awaits you, depending on how many of the sidequests you take on, and how involved you get with the game’s plot. In that time you’ll engage in alchemical research to make potions to boost your skills, cast spells to smite enemies, and cut up a lot of beasties with your twin swords – a steel blade for humans, and a silver one for supernatural type baddies. The game’s dialogue is suitably dark, and you’re just as likely to see beggars pissing against walls and the other NPCs engaging in grim acts, as you are to see them tilling their fields or wandering around doing whatever it is NPCs do while you’re out saving them from toothy doom.
The time of day and the weather also play a part in the reactions of NPCs, and in the overall look and feel of the game. The Witcher uses a highly modified version of BioWare’s Aurora engine, and features a robust lighting model that includes day/night cycles and random weather. It’s no next gen graphics extravaganza, but with environments created in 3DS Max and then imported into the game engine, then painted with custom textures, it’s still a visual treat.
Your own interactions can also come back to haunt you, thanks to the game’s decision consequence system – things you do and say may not effect you immediately, but some hours later the consequences will come home to roost. There are no lightly made decisions in this world.
It may all sound like a rather grim affair, and it is, but in a good way. The Witcher offers a dedicated and in-depth single player experience that neatly places you in the shoes of the story’s main character, and in the context of the game’s wider world. It’s not a game for everyone, but for RPG fans looking for a quality title that simply drips atmosphere, The Witcher is a game that simply cannot be ignored.