My time on the path

The Witcher III – Wild Hunt

 

Tea: Assam Tea

 

After hearing endless praise for the Witcher back last year, I could not help myself and had to get this game that everybody was showering with love and awards. Naturally, I am a bit sceptical if such a large number of people enjoy and recommend something, since the same holds also true for games I cannot stand for the life of me (*cough* Five Nights a Freddy’s *cough*). And after being initially scared by the game’s seemingly infinite length, I sat down and started playing it and while I may not have completed every side quest, I did finish the main story and think I have a pretty good idea of the game’s content, strengths, and weaknesses. Let’s see whether the Witcher can live up to his name.

The story follows Witcher Geralt of Rivia on his search for his former pupil, stand-in daughter, and companion Ciri, a child with mystical powers everybody wants to wrap their hands around. The biggest competitor in the quest for Ciri is the titular Wild Hunt, a group of heavy-metal enthusiasts that cannot wait to make her their leading lady. Not really, of course, the Wild Hunt is a group of hardcore elven warriors that dress like the most intimidating metal band, but are in fact just mystical being themselves. On his way Geralt will meet old friends that you better read up in the glossary, if you haven’t played any Witcher games (like me). And since time is key in finding Ciri there is nothing that is keeping you from side-questing forever. This is sort of weird, but I will get to that. Regard the story as the central thread that does not only follow a single questline, but can and will be part of side quests and have consequences for the rest of the game.

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– I would buy their album –

Let’s talk gameplay, there are essentially two main parts to the Witcher: Walking and fighting. The latter is pretty well executed with a lot of options, including light and heavy attacks and a side step and full roll, which I have to praise specifically. This is a feature a lot of games could utilize. Take Dark Souls for instance, if you are light enough you will always full on bolt away from whatever was trying to rip out a piece of meat, be it a mighty dragon’s paw swipe, or just a light swish with a sword, making it sometimes tedious to get into range again. In the Witcher you can judge your distance beforehand and decide whether getting the hell out of there or simply side stepping the attack is more appropriate. In addition, you get semi-magic abilities, all unlocked from the start, which is another great thing to have, since I can freely try them out and decide what works best for me. And on top of this delicious mountain of combat options are oils and potions that have various effects. Not that I would know, I didn’t use any of them. All in all, the combat is fun and I hesitate to say realistic, but there is a lack of chance to strike back when you are surrounded, which is annoying, but also somewhat understandable. The combat probably has more going for it than it actually needs to and the fact that I didn’t use that whole alchemy thing and went through the game just fine is a testament to that. But it is fun to fight both humans and monsters so what more could one need.

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– Violent finishing moves are the icing on the combat cake –

Walking is a bit of a mixed bag, walking referring to general traversal. While riding your horse Roach and running are perfectly fine, there is a problem with walking slowly and trying to pick stuff up. I still haven’t got the hang of where to look at a box to loot is safely, seems I always need to fiddle with my camera. Add Geralt’s weird weight proportions to the mix, since he basically has the body of an ice cream cone and you will find yourself often running against things, since turning is not the easiest task for the Witcher and the camera zooms in a little too much during indoor parts and Geralt’s impressive physique covers most of your field of view. That is minor complaint, however, and certainly nothing game breaking.

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– Cover Geralt’s head with your hand and tell me what you see… –

What the Witcher does best and in it better than any massively open RPG I have ever played is context. There is a level of detail in the world that I find utterly amazing and not comparable to anything I have ever played. A world this huge would naturally sacrifice some detail, but I honestly did not have this feeling with the Witcher. Side quests feature cutscenes and a lot of context for the task you are about to be given and not just a simple “my wife has gone missing, find her” sort of thing. Accompanying the dense design are facial animations that are top notch. There are subtle movements that indicate a character’s emotional state, not over-acted agape mouths, but fine-tuned and barely visible twitches and differences. I was truly and utterly awestruck with the level of detail at work. This adds so much depth to the Witcher that side quests feel less like tedious exp grinds, but immersive and fitting in the overarching world. Yes, it is a bit odd that Geralt would spend his search for Ciri with some side questing along the way, but he is Witcher, it is literally his job to hunt monsters.

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– And of course Geralt has some interesting romance options –

Speaking of monsters, they are a highlight as well. Not only can and should you read up on a monster before you face it, but the fights are always presented in such an interesting context that they become more than just a bounty hunt for the latest abomination roaming the woods. Often there is even an option to not kill the monster if not necessary and that is something I can only support, since a lack of choice has been a hallmark of big RPGs these days. The Witcher does not have this typical box of text before accepting a quest, but a dialogue with the client, this is done on side quests as well as main quests. When the emperor gives you a quest you don’t simply walk up to him and accept it, no, you need to wash and shave, dress nicely and learn how to bow properly. Find another RPG that would have you go through this just to accept the quest. It immerses you in the world, rather than the game, showing over telling if you will and that is another thing I can honestly praise.

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– A witcher’s work is a lot of fun (for the player at least) –

In general the game is very well written (for an RPG that is). Dialogue fells less like a placeholder (as it did in Skyim) and more like genuine exchanges and the fact that the voice actors do a pretty decent jobs just adds to this. Leading man Geralt has a very iconic and accentuated voice that make him very pleasant to listen to and at the same time sympathise with him. All the other major roles are cast equally well, the peasants you meet on your way seem to come exclusively from Britain with all manners of regional accents present. All in all the writing front is solid, not outstanding, but surely not cringe worthy or distracting.

What sets the Witcher apart from other games of the genre is something very hard to grasp, but I will try to narrow it down. Basically it restricts freedom in a very good way by removing player created characters. In doing so, you manage to take away the possibility of the most hideous creations people can come up with, which some might perceive as bad, but I can only support. Most of the time you will play a traveller from a faraway land that came to this place and bla bla bla. But Geralt is an established character with a background and a personality, you can still shape his views and actions, but only within the frame Geralt himself would allow this, or rather in the frame that would make sense for his character. Yet, by subtracting a bit of freedom, the ultimate fate of the character becomes all the more meaningful to me. The fate of the world and characters within it bear more weight, since they are linked to him and have been linked to him prior to the events of the game. It not only makes the world feel more alive, but gives characters’ fates (be it yourself or others) more importance. That is, on my opinion, the smartest choice for a game of this size. I care about people, not only because they are well-written, but due to the fact that Geralt has a history with them.

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– Geralt is an intersting character and I picked up the first Witcher Novel –

Since the Witcher is so long, I do not feel bad that my review was a bit out of proportions. All in all, I can say that Witcher genuinely surprised me, simply because I did not believe I would have as much fun as I did. There is probably a bit more stuff than there has to be, but complaining about content these days is an utterly ironic thing. The developer message in the game box just underlines this. And the games comes with the soundtrack, not even the special edition, the base game. Why is this such a rarity? This fact alone could convince me. Anyway, the Witcher is a great game and a standout example of great game design. It will keep you occupied for a while and manages to be entertaining at the same timer, never does that so hated feeling of pointless grinding show its ugly face. The Witcher is simply a fun game that may not revolutionise the genre, but certainly shows how it can and should be done to stand out among the endless sea of RPGs these days.

 

 

Image sources in order of appearance:

 

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3 thoughts on “My time on the path

  1. I see your point about restricting players´ freedom to create their own character (though I usually spend hours creating mine and have a lot of fun doing so), but what really bugs me is the fact that I cannot play as a woman. Perhaps that´s just me, but I just expect to be able to at least choose my gender in an RPG. Geraldine, anyone?
    The game could at least have made a compromise in enabling a gay romance option (because why the heck not?).
    Otherwise I like the soundtrack, like the dialogues (I´ve seen so far), like the world and its inhabitants and love the card game “Gwent”.

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    • It is nice for a game about building your own fate, but often the resolution can fall short and since witcher is story and character driven it makes sense to have a character with a background.
      He has to be male to fit the father for Ciri, since the mother role is occupied by Yennefer. Gay romance would have been a choice, but Geralt has been established in the novels as heterosexual, I guess they didn’t want to mess with that canon.
      Soundtrack is indeed pretty solid, but I did not touch Gwent, hunting monsters was much more fun.

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  2. Pingback: Back on the Path | Critical Teatime

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