Owen Sound Sun Times (On)
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Last October a little known Polish developer, CD Projekt released The Witcher. The role playing game earned quite favourable reviews and IGN named it 2007 RPG of the year, but many critics cited numerous problems with the game that, if fixed, would have made it better.
CD Projekt took this criticism very seriously and spent a year addressing it all. The recently released The Witcher: Enhanced Edition fixes almost all the complaints against the game as well as adding new content — an art book, a CD soundtrack and a short story set in the game’s world. It’s one of the most compelling RPGs I have ever played. Not only that, but the Enhanced Edition overhaul is free for anyone who originally purchased the game as well as being available for purchase to newcomers. It’s great to see a developer who cares so much about their audience.
In The Witcher you play Geralt, one of the last remaining “Witchers” (roughly the same as a warlock, a male witch). The game begins with a battle in the Witcher stronghold where bandits steal some of their secret mutagens.
This forces Geralt to search the fictional world for answers and revenge.
The game plays similarly to many RPGs, but there are some interesting differences. Gameplay consists of wandering around, talking to locals to get quests and fighting monsters. Fighting experience allows you to level up and become more powerful. This is all standard RPG fare, but the combat itself is unique.
To attack a monster you click on it with the mouse, which initiates the attack, but unlike many RPGs where you click many times as fast as you can to attack, The Witcher is all about timing. After one click Geralt begins to attack, part way through his attack the mouse cursor will change to a flaming sword; clicking at that point continues the attack into a combo, while clicking when the mouse cursor isn’t flaming ends the attack without hitting the enemy.
On top of that you have three unique combat styles: one is effective against large strong enemies, one against small fast enemies and one against large groups of weak enemies. If you use the right combat style, your attacks are very effective, but picking the wrong one will severely weaken them.
These two parts to the combat make it very fun and engaging to fight the game’s enemies. You always have to pay attention to the combat so it keeps you the game fresh and fun.
The game’s fictional world really draws you in. The setting is much less a stereotypical fantasy world and more like a historical medieval world; buildings are in disrepair, people are hungry and poor, there is prejudice against non-humans and no character in the game is strictly good or evil, they all have somewhat murky personalities.
The world comes from a series of Polish fantasy novels, so it’s not surprising that it’s very well presented, but CD Projekt did an excellent job of working the mythos into the game.
Numerous times in the game you are forced to make decisions to further the plot, but the gritty
realism of the world makes these decisions difficult. Furthermore decisions have real effects on the story. For example, early in the game you encounter a trader who trades with a group of non-human rebels. You have to decide whether what the rebels are doing is wrong and whether to allow them to have supplies.
There are still some problems with the game. While the story is very good, it’s sometimes disjointed. There are times when it jumps forward in time without really explaining why Geralt has ended up where he has, but once he’s gotten there the story is great.
I also had the game crash a couple of times one of which was after a character’s face inexplicably turned charcoal black.
The Witcher is great. Despite its problems it’s one of the best PC RPGs out there and certainly the best this year. It’s a relatively unknown game by an unknown developer, but it’s got a great story, fun combat and a very interesting world. If CD Projekt keeps up the good work and the excellent fanbase support, they’re sure to become well known and fast.
But be warned, while The Witcher is an excellent game, it is a mature game.
The world and the story lend themselves very well to the mature nature and I think the game is better for it, but it contains violence, bad language, substance use and sexual themes. So if you’re over 17 and can buy the game, I highly recommend it — but it’s not one to share with the kids.
If you are looking for games for the kids, I recommend the
two new DS releases — LEGO Batman and Kirby Superstar Ultra.
LEGO Batman is from the creators of LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Indiana Jones and it doesn’t stray much from the LEGO formula: pick a couple Batman characters, blow through the levels building things, destroying things, fighting bad guys, then unlock more characters and do it again. Despite rehashing the mechanics of previous LEGO games, it’s got great graphics and is really fun. Any kid who likes Batman (and I sure do) will love it.
Kirby Superstar Ultra is a remake of the Super Nintendo game Kirby Superstar and it’s great. It’s got bright cartoony graphics, great tutorials and tons of mini games and with two copies of the game you can play almost all of it with a friend.
It’s the same generally idea as other Kirby games: You’re a pink puffball nd you can eat the bad guys to gain their powers. It sounds kind of weird, but it’s really fun and an especially good choice for kids.
I would recommend Kirby over LEGO Batman in terms of overall quality, but they’re both great games for kids of any age.
Calen Henry is a graduate of Japanese studies and multimedia at McMaster University. He grew up in Owen Sound and has been a gamer since childhood. He is currently on an internship in Geneva, Switzerland.
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