The Witcher - Review @ AceGamz
RPGWatch's Michael Anderson (txa1265) has done another review of The Witcher at Acegamz, this one more detailed and adult-oriented than his previous effort at Gamerdad. While giving the game a top score of 10/10, the reviewer is not blind to the faults of the game, but as usual with Mike, takes a close look at both the positive and negative in this in depth piece:
The problems with the game, and there are a couple, are centred on the seemingly incessant load times and issues with the translation of the dialogue from the original Polish. But let me cut right to the chase: this isn't a game that will be played and forgotten. Nor is it likely to end up like Oblivion or Halo as revered one day and ridiculed for all of its flaws the next. Nor like Bioshock is it likely to face a sea of backlash when enough time has passed for people to see the difference between the 'bestest EVAR' game in many reviews and the excellent game they actually played.
No, The Witcher is a game that will sell okay now, get decent reviews now and yet be the one on everyone's lips for 'top RPGs of all time' when they are discussing it five years from now...
Some of the flaws discussed are load times that have since been addressed in patches, character limitation, the first boss battle, and language:
The other complaint I have is with the dialogue. This was originally developed in the native Polish tongue of the developers, but alas suffers in both adaptation and translation. There are two reasons for this: first, the original Polish script had to be translated and reworked into English, apparently losing something along the way. Second, that script had to be acted out; this isn't an inherent problem like the first, and in general I found the voice acting quite good - but having heard some of the original Polish matched to the English version made me wish I had listened to my Babci and gotten off my dupa and learned some more Polish as a kid.
Having disposed of the flaws, the review goes on to list the game's strengths:
I could drone on about the technical stuff more, but in a real RPG there are three things that really matter: the story, the story and the story. Okay, perhaps that is overstating it - the combat system and quest structure also matter. So do many other things; alchemy, skill progressions and character development, to name a few. But, the bottom line is this - what separates many of the best RPGs from ones that are just very good is the depth of the story and how you fit into it as it evolves throughout the game.
My quick take on the story of The Witcher is that it takes game writing to a level we haven't seen since Planescape: Torment. You will find the usual assortment of quests, side quests, twists and turns, and other elements that keep you engaged for the eighty or more hours it will take you to traverse this massive tale. Eighty hours: they still make games that long? They sure do - games with tons of characters, loads of interesting stuff going on, masses of dialogue and just generally some of the deepest game writing we've ever seen. It all starts with the fiction of Andrzej Sapkowski, the Polish author of the Witcher novels and stories, and he is behind the story here. The style of the game is quite eclectic; it makes a choice not to present the characters and dialog and overall style in a manner such as Two Worlds that immediately suggests a time and place in existing history. Instead, The Witcher at times suggests themes associated with the whole of the European literary tradition, from Eastern to Western, ancient to modern and serious to humorous. It is this juxtaposition of humorous moments - of seemingly nonsensical pairings of characters and names and speaking styles - with a very serious set of themes associated with a world at odds with itself, one which is spiraling towards ruin.
It is this depth of moral and emotional content that sets The Witcher apart. Fairly early on you come across a village and meet up with a leader who tells you that the monsters are not just random creatures, but embody some sort of human evil and that the problems spreading through the land are the coming to fruition of those evils across the land. This isn't some sort of prototypical 'Evil Kowakian Monkey Lizard gone bad' story; it is a story of an evil and darkness encroaching that is of our own accord. In all honesty, it is the fantasy realization of the horrors that humans bring upon themselves and each other on an all too regular basis.
But don't let that make you think that The Witcher is a tale whose solution comes through recycling and biking to work; it is more that the characters you see in the game are mainly people you could see while walking through any big city anywhere in the world on a Saturday afternoon. They have just been put in that position of having years of suffering, injustice and brutality put upon them - and they increasingly come to reflect their surroundings. This ambiguous morality, of good people doing horrible things for what they see as the greater good, is just an absolutely fantastic backdrop for an epic RPG, and The Witcher takes full advantage of that setting. In this world, the choices you make truly matter and the decisions you make are not of the typical Bioware "I'll help you no matter what / show me the cash and I'll think about it / I'll kill them, kill you, and take everyone's money" sort. In those games you can see the impact of your good and bad decisions stacking up over time, such as with the 'light/dark' Jedi meter in Knights of the Old Republic. In this game however you get to make loads of small choices - give or take, be nice or cruel, help someone at the cost of a greater goal or let them suffer knowing that you are doing it for the right reasons.
Mentioning 'morality' and 'mature content' in the context of The Witcher is sure to bring a single topic to people's mind: sex. Certainly you can play the game as some sort of late-night soft-porn fantasy, but that really misses the larger point. Well, it misses the larger set of possibilities, but if that is how you choose to play then there is nothing to deter you, with the possible exception of consequences later in the game. In many role-playing games, the 'romance quest' is about as romantic as picking through a half-pound bag of M&Ms looking for the green ones, but here again, The Witcher isn't about a 'victory condition for romance'. It is about the fact that you are already a hero with a history behind you and a star-like reputation; you can use this leverage that for 'a bit of tail', you can try to be good to as many people as possible, you can seek out your 'one true love' only to find that you then need to choose between making her happy and doing what you truly feel is right.
There is an old saying that basically goes "I have seen the future and it is 'x'". There have been some very popular RPGs released over the past few years that some point to as the future of the genre. I hope they are wrong and I hope this because I want more depth in my role-playing games and less glorified action games. So when I think of that saying, I hope that The Witcher represents the future; it has plenty of combat, a deep skill system, nicely integrated alchemy and most importantly one of the best and deepest stories and quests ever written into a video game, as well as looking gorgeous throughout. Now that is something to strive for.
This is just a representative excerpt, so for the full review, head on over to the link above.