Like all good Dark Age-based games, we need monsters, whores, gambling and alcohol (+18 rating game). The setting is really crude and quite misogynistic. Strangely, as a woman, it didn’t bother me much, it actually felt “right” (well, besides that one time where I rolled my eyes). Usually games set in that time period are all the same, but the Witcher avoids the clichÃ© shiny medieval setting and goes straight for the lowest denominators of the time period: inquisitions, racism, noble vs the poor, etc. The world isn’t all flowers and rainbows and the first chapter of the Witcher punches you in the guts with its grimness. You can see whore in the street (and pay for their service, although you just get a porn card out of that), you can gamble by playing dice poker with a few people (fun mini-game and you make lots of money out of it), you can drink until you pass out or compete with others at drinking, and you can participate in fights in bars. All of these are optional, but help to set the setting’s ambiance.
Of course, having people in different places at different times of the day also helps with the ambiance, as does the day/night cycle and the monsters that come at night or live in the sewers/swamps. A Witcher is all about hunting monsters, so there are a lot of them, they all have weakness and reading books on monsters will give the player access to specific information and monster-related ingredients that can be using to make potions.
In term of gameplay, combat isn’t that amazing, it’s pretty much click, wait until “sword” glows, and click again. The game isn’t really demanding in that aspect, except when it come to sword fighting/stance type. Witchers have two swords: one for monsters, one for non-monsters, and three fighting styles: strong, fast, and group.They have five signs of magic, each with different effects. The combat difficulty resides in switching weapons and fighting styles depending what you are facing. Each enemies are weak to different combos of weapons/fighting style and it’s the player who needs to decide which one to train and use. It’s also possible to use magic, but some of the signs are rather weak or not that useful.
The Witcher also gets access to potions and potions making. Certain characters give access to the “sleep” icon, which is actually Geralt starting to meditate, in that mode it is possible to spend skill points into the different category: fighting styles, magic, and the attributes. While meditating, it is also possible to make potions, oils for weapons, and bombs. Oils mostly just add extra damage to weapons against specific creatures, bombs, well they are bombs, but potions have multiple uses. Some increase regeneration of vitality or endurance (what is used to cast magic), some give the ability to see in the dark, others give damage bonus at the cost of defenses, etc. But drinking potions come at a price, they increase the “toxicity” bar, so the player needs to choose wisely which potions he will use; you can’t drink all of them at the same time.
The Witcher is a good game, if you can endure some of its flaws: back and forth between areas, so-so combat, and combat focused last chapter. The game quality comes from the ambiance, the main characters, and the lore. Might not be for everybody, but with 40+ hours of gameplay it’s worth it for people who like RPGs and have some time to spend.
Its sequel releases on May 17th. If you want to try the game, buy the Enhanced Editions for much improvement over the original version.