Wow: (interjection) An exclamation of surprise, wonder, pleasure, or the like. (verb) To gain an enthusiastic response from. (noun) An extraordinary success. Excitement, interest, great pleasure, or the like. All of the above interpretations of the word ‘Wow’ are applicable to my view of The Witcher from newcomer developers CD Projekt. First of all I am absolutely flabbergasted by the amount of non-advertising that I have seen about this game. I mean sure, you’ve got your obligatory banner ads on various gaming sites, but for what the game is I was half expecting to see trumpets and red carpet laid out for it!
Secondly, I was left figuratively and literally speechless by the game from the outset. As soon as I had witnessed the lengthy intro in all its glory I knew I was in for a treat. The visuals are the very best that current games have to offer and of course it’s all high definition. More on the visuals later. And finally, the realisation set in that I am playing potentially one of the all time classic games…
The Witcher is at its core an action RPG game in the same vain as Baldur’s Gate or Neverwinter Nights; the game even uses Bioware’s new game engine and the team that developed this title have also worked on scripts for the Neverwinter series so they are no stranger to the genre. Based on the books of little-known Polish fantasy novelist Andrzej Sapkowski, The Witcher recalls the tale of a professional monster hunter called Geralt.
Geralt is what is known as a Witcher – an extraordinary human being that has undergone several tests or ‘trials’ in order to mutate into a supernaturally strong warrior and alchemist. Being overtly different from ordinary folk (the mutations can change the appearance of one’s eyes and in Geralt’s case also strip the hair of all pigment so that it is silver in colour) they are feared and often loathed as though they are the monsters they hunt. Being mercenaries by nature who require payment for ridding the world of unnatural evils doesn’t exactly help to give them an altruistic reputation!
Geralt it seems has lost his memory. Found unconscious and in a very bad way by his Witcher counterparts he cannot recall who he is or what had happened to him up until the point he awoke. Cue the (re)introduction of characters and learning how to fight. It’s not the most original way of easing the player into the game, but it manages to keep the story believable, especially when our protagonist learns his skills with ease when he levels up. The story itself seems like your average fantasy fare at face value with villainous bandits, scheming sorcerers, heroic Witchers and the expected uneasiness between the World’s differing races. But The Witcher doesn’t just stop there, oh no. It’s 18 certificate is certainly justified, believe you me!
For a start there is a heck of a lot of swearing in the game and I don’t just mean the usual curse that players might utter when they find themselves in trouble. The first time I heard a patron of a tavern tell me that my ‘mother sucks dwarf c**k!’ I say! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! The game’s developers haven’t included these insults just to titillate; they serve to hit home another underlying theme in the game that is far more disturbing. Racial hatred is very much a part of life in the game and even our hero is not immune. Being ‘less than human’ in the eyes of the general populace due to his mutation, Geralt is often on the receiving end of spiteful stares and comments. It is only down to his abilities of a Witcher that he is not overtly abused.
Elves, dwarves and humans are all strongly at odds with one another to the point of outright racial hatred. There are several instances in the game where you come across gangs of thugs intimidating a solitary dwarf or elf and it is up to you to intervene. Or not, if you are that way inclined. The difference in The Witcher is that the other races such as the dwarves and elves are not above dishing out the abuse either. An early encounter with an elf proves this by the way he refers to Geralt in a derogatory Elvish tone. At least in other games of the genre you are giving a firm sense on what is right and wrong, who is good and who is evil. In The Witcher there is no such luxury and it is up to your own judgement to decide how best to handle any situation that you find yourself in. Actions always have repercussions and you must learn to deal with the seeds that you sow.