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The PC has always been a huge market for bizarre European RPG’s, and in 2008 CD Projekt Red entered the market with The Witcher, an epic story-based RPG adapted from a series of Polish fantasy novels. It blasted its way into the PC gaming scene, gaining a large and loyal following of fans which CD Projekt Red are hoping to impress with The Witcher 2 when it comes out later this month.
The Witcher set you as Geralt of Rivia, who is surprisingly enough, himself a Witcher. In the land of Temeria in which the game is set, Witchers are professional monster slayers who are part rogue, part warrior, part wizard and part alchemist. During the opening of the game, Geralt is found unconsious and suffering from amnesia in a field by a group of Witchers and taken to their stronghold of Kaer Morhen. At this point, the stronghold is attacked and one of the younger Witchers is killed while the enemies steal chemicals called Mutagens which are vital for the creation of more Witchers. Geralt must then set out to avenge the death of his comrade and retrieve the stolen mutagens.
The story of the Witcher is very good and very well told, but what makes it so good isn’t the places that Geralt visits, its the situations that he encounters. You go everywhere from country towns to swamps to cities and encounter all sorts of morally grey conflicts that Geralt can choose to resolve.
The world of Temeria is full of conflict and the choices Geralt makes never boil down to right and wrong. Do you help the knights kill the elven freedom fighters who are fighting for the rights of their people? The Witcher is filled with situations where the solution is never black and white.
Other RPGs give you good or evil points depending on the moral choices you make in them, The Witcher has no need for that as the reward for making that choice is that you get to see the consequences of that choice play out and that is actually rewarding enough.
A fair amount of combat in RPG’s boils down to just pressing buttons and watching animations, The Witcher made action more involved by turning it into a timing mini-game, you click once to attack and when your cursor lights up your click again to hit your opponent with a follow up attack which does more damage, you could then build these up into ferociously deadly combo attacks which would tear apart Geralt’s foes. The Witcher also featured a unique stance system which allowed Geralt to use different stances for different combat situations. For example against heavily armored foes, Geralt could use strength stance and when fighting packs of enemies Geralt could use his group fighting stance. On top of the stances and combo system, The Witcher also featured a unique mechanic whereby Geralt used different weapons for different types of enemies. For humanoid foes you utilized your steel sword and for the slaying of monsters you used your silver sword. These unique elements that made up the game's unconventional combat system really helped The Witcher stand out amongst the RPG crowd.
While CD Projekt Red is going a very different route for the combat in The Witcher 2, they definitely succeeded in their attempt to create a more involving RPG combat system with The Witcher.
While modern games just seem to get shorter and shorter, The Witcher is one long game. Its opening tutorial chapter is fairly long and each additional chapter following it tends to get longer and longer with the third chapter standing out as particularly long.
The graphics are less jaw-dropping, but still impressive due to the game's technical origins. The Witcher was built on the Aurora Engine which powered Neverwinter Nights and if you compare the graphical detail of Neverwinter Nights and The Witcher you can clearly see the huge technical improvements to the engine that CD Projekt Red made in order to get it to look so good.
The soundtrack is also commendable, with it perfectly matching the grim feel of the setting and bringing the world of Temeria to life. The voice acting and script was less than stellar on release but since bringing out the Enchanced Edition and Directors Cut of the game, CD Projekt have completely overhauled the voice acting to suit the game much better.
Some might think of The Witcher as The Little RPG That Could. CD Projekt Red’s ambitious RPG based on a series of Polish books has definitely made a name for itself in the PC gaming world and with the mixed reception that Dragon Age 2 received, it looks set to give Bioware a run for its money this year with The Witcher 2. The Witcher 2 is set to be released on May 17th on PC.