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Final thoughts: The Witcher

Some time ago, I finally finished The Witcher. The “finally” there is relevant, since I’ve been playing this game on and off (mostly off) for years and years. I started it before the current “Enhanced Edition” existed, quite enjoyed it despite the poor English translation (from the Polish original) and other woes. Left it for a bit, and started again when the (awesome!) Enhanced Edition was introduced. Played until midgame, where the endless swamp and its deadly denizens tired me out… and it’s been sitting on my hard drive ever since. Until a short time ago, when I got a twinge to finish the thing. Glad I did, it was a great story and a very good game as a whole.

It’s also a huge game, and the fact that it’s very uneven doesn’t help. There are lots of great sequences and characters, but especially the quite freeform midgame portion has some problems. You get tons of side quests, most of which are boring Fed Ex ones, but you’re never quite sure of what’s relevant and what’s not. At some point the main plot kicks in again, and things start moving. The game interface is, frankly, a bit weird and takes some getting used to, but it’s fine after a while. The combat is a bit tricky and can be somewhat frustrating, especially since some of the fights are quite difficult.

The best thing here is the “shades of grey” plot and the general Slavic fantasy tone, quite welcome after your generic D&D-inspired typical fantasy game world. Sure, there are elves and dwarves here, but neither are quite what they tend to be in other games. Elves are especially interesting, since here they are at the brunt of racial discrimination and have by and large turned to terrorist tactics. In many rpg games, you do get choices, but the choices are of the stupidly black/white “help old lady cross the road” vs “kill her, take her stuff, and set the corpse on fire” type. Not so here, the game specializes in choices with no really good options available. You can choose to help the elves… but in this case you are specifically helping terrorists, the sort that thinks killing civilians to support their cause is fine (especially if said civilians are lowly humans). You can choose to help a knightly order trying to fight the elves… but then you’re helping a bunch of self-righteous bigots, whose attitudes are the root of many of the problems. And of course, you can try to stay neutral, in which case everyone will hate you (and potentially try to kill you).

The main plot is fun pile of political maneuvering, with lots of false fronts and wheels-behind-wheels.

Much has been made of the sex in this game. I mostly thought it ok… sure, it can be viewed as somewhat sexist (why are so many of the women in skimpy dress and why do pretty much all of them want to jump in the sack with Geralt?) and the “cards” you get after each sexual encounter arequite juvenile. On the other hand, the main character is both sterile and immune to sexual diseases, so it’s more in the “safe sex” department than most fantasy rpgs – and also, there are quite a few strong female roles here. In the end, I found the sex content here mostly entertaining, if a bit juvenile in places.

My final score on this one is very positive. It’s a huge, complex game based on Slavic mythology, with many interesting and personable NPCs and a good plot. The action is fun once you figure it out, and the same can be said for the character advancement mechanic. Some minus points for a very uneven game experience and an over-abundance of semi-useless side quests, and also for a UI which really takes a bit of getting used to.

One of the better fantasy roleplaying games I’ve played.

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