The Witcher
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-01-15 PC Action/RPG M (Mature) CD Projekt Red / Atari

Need some help with the game? Check out our featured guide!

Learn a little more about Geralt in our special character interview feature and check out the book that started it all.

Back in December when I asked for a review copy of The Witcher, I was really upset that I couldn't play it (and I really, really wanted to) because of my gigantic review queue at the time, so I had it sent to Dawn. As it turns out, Dawn had some technical issues with her system, and ended up sending it to me sometime before Christmas. And I couldn't be happier. When I finally installed the game and sat down to play, I didn't get up for hours. No, not even to pee. It was just that good, and I only realized nearly 7 hours had gone by when my husband arrived home from work.

I was instantly taken in by the intro scene. It was the theme that really appealed to me, I am a sucker for ghosts, monsters, curses and all kinds of supernatural things after all, so this was right up my alley. In it, you are introduced to Geralt, what he does as a Witcher, and get a good look at how one would battle a creature called striga - who is actually a princess under a curse. And it's one hell of a fight.

So the game begins as Kaer Morhen (basically, the Witchers' HQ) is under attack. The initial moments serve as a tutorial to get you acquainted with everything, especially the unusual combat mechanics.

Don't expect to be pressing a button to auto-attack or furiously click on an enemy to do damage. The game uses an interesting timed click system that reminds me of Summoner. The attacks are timed with the sword movements, so you can only begin the next attack once the previous is nearly finished. The cursor will change to tell you when to click (looks like a little flaming sword) but if you watch Geralt's movements closely, you can tell when the time is right too.

You can carry around four weapons at any given time and switch between them in combat, but the ones worth mentioning are the Witcher Swords. Using these lets you access three modes of combat, strong, fast and group, so you can customize your fighting style depending on what and how many of those "whats" you are fighting. You also change sword for maximizing effectiveness, since one is suited for monsters and the other works better on humans.

Of course, there is the usual kill things, gain experience and level up involved. But leveling up is quite interesting, since you can customize Geralt in whatever way you prefer. To level up, you must meditate by the fire and distribute your skill points among the traits you want to improve. The stats screen may seem confusing and overwhelming at first, but it really isn't.

There are four categories: Attributes (strength, dexterity, stamina, intelligence), Signs (your magic spells), Steel Sword and Silver Sword. Each stat in each category has a "skill tree" with several traits that you redeem for bronze, silver and gold tokens. The tokens you get depend on your level, and you obtain them automatically from leveling up, or in special cases, from creating certain potions.

Alchemy is a really interesting and time-consuming portion of the game - or maybe I just spent way too much time fiddling with it. You can create healing potions, potions to see in the dark or to give you infrared vision, bombs and a series of blade greases to give your swords damage boosters against certain creatures.

You obtain ingredients from harvesting plants or killing monsters, but some you can buy from Alchemists and Herbalists as well. But before you can obtain those ingredients from monsters, you must learn about them first. I actually like this concept a lot but I kept forgetting I needed it for certain quest items too. You can't get a cockatrice feather until you learn about cockatrices. You can't pick herbs until you learn about Herbalism, and you can't pick all plants right away until you read about the types of plants growing in certain areas. You can't do an autopsy without reading about medicine first, and you won't have all potions recipes available until you know their formulas.

Every book you read adds one or several entries to your journal. Talking to key people, getting to know them better and doing quests always add something more. You can access your journal through the menu on the top right corner.

So, plenty of sword fighting and a lot of alchemy, but that's not all. Geralt isn't exactly your typical hero, so we can call the rest fun and games: gambling, drinking and sex. That's right. You heard me. They're all optional, but completist as I am, I had to go and do it all.

Gambling is pretty cool. Dice poker isn't essential nor does it affect the main storyline, but it's a side quest worth doing, even if just for earning some money. You will be able to play more experienced poker players as you win rounds against certain people (though you have to find them first). You can also bet on fist fights, and I must say, I love the animations on those. Nothing like a little bit of punching and kicking with some shady characters to lift the spirits.

Speaking of spirits, you can challenge some people to a drinking contest. I actually find this pretty hilarious, since I can't hold my liquor in real life anyway, at least I can do it virtually. You can use drinking as a means to get some characters to tell you something interesting, but what I really liked was the double vision and the staggering animation when Geralt has a few too many. Even in the cutscenes you will be seeing everything fuzzy. Depending on how drunk you get, you will also pass out on occasion.

Sex is optional too. No, not every girl is willing, and those who are make you work for it. They want gifts, be it flowers, perfume, jewelry or a piece of clothing. And no, you don't get to see anything specific either. And yes, I did go around doing as many chicks as I could. Your only reward is a little cutscene where everything is reddish and you can just make out Geralt in the background leaning over... something. Then you get the girl's respective card and file it in your journal under the respective character profile. I do find the artwork on them quite beautiful. But the girls you can bed also depend on your choices, which is a major feature in the game.

Choices. Your path is full of them, but it's never clear on what exactly is good or evil. All you know is that you're a mutant, a monster slayer, and little else. It's up to you to kill the werewolf who feeds on rapists and murderers, or you can choose to find him a cure. It's up to you to side with the Scoia'tel or the Order. Your actions affect how certain key people will react, and picking sides will be inevitable at times.

It's through these choices that you create Geralt's personality, to an extent. Since he's suffering from amnesia after being brought back from the dead, he's not only trying to find his missing Witcher buddy Berengar, but he's also trying to find himself. So you really don't have to help certain people - after all, your job is to kill monsters. If you do help someone, you charge for it, with a few exceptions. There are points in the main storyline where a friendly character will ask you about your identity, and your answers will update your quest journal accordingly. It's only a matter of personal choice.

As far as the look and feel of the game, I really enjoyed even the simplest things like stopping in the swamp to see three tiny froggies hopping around, or walking around in towns just listening to the people. The game is very much alive and the environments really pull you in, to the point you can almost feel you're in there yourself. I jumped in my seat a few times thanks to these bug-like things called kikimores, that sneak up on you from under the water in the swamp (and just you wait until you find their queen), which is already packed with plenty of creepy sounds at night. And the nasty scum floating in the sewer water looks so real you can pretty much smell it.

But the atmosphere carries out outside the fights and dangerous areas. The music, the loud chatter and the brawling at the inn, guards patrolling the cities, sick people complaining in their hospital beds. I was pretty surprised the first time it started pouring rain and NPCs on the streets ran for cover. And then the spooky cemeteries where things creep out of the ground as you walk past the graves, the dark crypts where you can't see a thing without a torch (I was lost for about half an hour in one after my cat potion effect ran out), the beautiful fields that seem so harmless... but then these giant centipedes pop out of nowhere and lunge at you.

If you stop to listen, you will also come across some of the most curious lines ever. To begin with, people really don't like Geralt (or Witchers altogether), so there are a lot of random hate comments wherever you go. Townsfolk are pretty disgruntled too, and you will hear everything from general complaints ("I'm dying, I know it!") to racist comments about elves and dwarves, even insults to yourself... and your mother. I'm not kidding. The first time I heard "My balls itch!" I nearly died laughing. That was until someone blurted out "Your mother sucks dwarf c**k!"

Yeah, people really hate Witchers around these parts, and there are no language barriers in this game, so even in the dialog options you will come across some pretty colorful expressions. My favorite is probably this one Geralt tells the princess: "Sex, power. Power, sex. They both revolve around the same thing: f***ing people." He's so right.

What else can I say, I love this game, everything from the music to the artwork, the conversations and even the sometimes cheesy voice acting, the combat mechanics and the depth of the story. Even Geralt, who is not exactly a friendly character and who I've turned into a drunken poker-addict male slut... he's just great. And it's exactly because in part, he is what you make of him.

Aside from a few random crashes and not being able to name my saved game files, I have nothing to complain about. The Witcher has climbed to the top of my favorite games list, and I'm now anxiously awaiting for my copy of The Last Wish to arrive. It's not exactly easy on the system requirements, but if you have a computer that can run it, get it. Action/RPG fans will be more than pleased with the experience. I know I am.

Special thanks to Tom Ohle and Atari for providing a copy of this title.