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Late to the Game: The Witcher

Late to the Game: The Witcher

I bought this on a Steam sale a LONG, long time ago, as part of a bundle with all the The Witcher games. The Witcher 3 was getting a lot of praise at the time. And I think Wild Hunt had come out? I think that’s like a expansion or the name of the “special edition”. Whatever it is, I finally started it after finishing The Stanley Parable and Torchlight.

Well, first there’s the production logos. And then there’s a long cutscene (really a short cartoon) with The Witcher fighting this werewolf thing. It all seems very Van Helsing and Hansel & Gretel. Bunch of impossible jumps, collateral damage, and no innocents harmed. And this has nothing to do with what follows (which is another bunch of cutscenes). I feel like that previous action sequence was either some kind of bonus content for the Enhanced Edition or meant to draw the player in. Because what follows certainly doesn’t.

exciting boring street signs

All of the sudden he’s getting carried somewhere on a cart despite defeating the wolf thing. And I don’t know who these people are and they’re taking you to some castle. And there’s talking and there’s old men and there’s a singular woman and they’re still talking and some bandits are now attacking and there’s still talking and now there’s a tutorial and I’m wondering when the hell I’m going to get to play.

cutscene

I mean, I like a game with story. But there’s story and then there’s having a preface to the prologue to the introduction. (Plus all the time I spent getting my controls working the way I want and adjusting the graphics settings for frame rate/detail balance).

So now I’m getting used to my sword and the combat is apparently based on clicking. I guess it’s in the timing of the clicks–you don’t press combo buttons or anything like that. All you really change is your combat style–fast, strong, or wide. At first I liked it because it was simple, but then it felt too simple. Too dry. It’s boring when you’re fighting a guy and waiting on the click. I wanted to play The Witcher, not Guitar Hero.

witcher combat
Click, click, click, like Farmville

Then cutscene, cutscene, cutscene, more running around. I still don’t know who I am, who’s attacking, why they’re attacking, who the other people are, or why I should care about any of this. Nor do I have any real freedom to explore or get used to my controls, I got thrust into combat right away. I think that’s a big mistake. Video games need to give you a chance to get used to the world and how you move. It’s establishing the “normal” before getting all crazy. Especially with a new IP. Half-Life did this. Zelda games always do this. Super Metroid, Resident Evil, Final Fantasy VII, I could go on.

All right, this castle is the tutorial level. But they still give you sidequests, but before you know how to do them or how to finish them, it takes you to the first level/chapter.

And before we get to that, let’s talk about the menu for a bit. In order to level up your character, there’s a small skill tree for various stats and swording skills. But you have to meditate in front of a fire to commit your changes. Also, there’s a pharmacy-mixing portion, where you can gather ingredients to make buffs from potions. These, along with inventory items are all in tiny little boxes on your character. With drugs, I don’t know what the point in seeing them is, because I can see if the potion is enabled or disabled. And the items of the same type stack, but not unique types. So I can have 10 loaves of bread, but not a scarf if the grid is full.

witcher 1 menu
Hope you like tiny icons

My point is that this is needlessly complex. Why do I get medallions instead of EXP points? Why do these buffs take 5 ingredients plus a base? Can I mix things together without a recipe, like Breath of the Wild? No, you can’t. Someone needs to give you the recipe or you read it. Consequence of your laser-guided amnesia I guess. (BTW the books, that have a one-time use to gain knowledge, stay in your inventory). Even FFX made more sense, and at least it did the math for you.

So after some confusing conversations, you can start wandering around the world. If you’re smart enough to know to open doors, you can leave the little fort and explore the open world. Well, as open as it gets for a small village. There’s a few landmarks around, several characters to talk to for both main and side quests, items to fetch for them (the classic “light the five torches around town”). It’s like a text adventure.

witcher meditation
Witchers be meditatin’

Combat occurs only at night, but time moves very slowly in this world, not like Zelda. And the enemies aren’t much to speak of. They stand there and get hit. My only challenge came from getting the combat system down. I breezed through every fight and I was on normal. It’s just clicking, like a Facebook game.

The world is dingy and gray and foggy. You have to look at the map a lot because everything looks the same. You don’t walk quickly and there’s no fast travel (I even looked up a mod for it). I’d say I spent 90% of the game walking from one place to another. The characters stand stock still when they deliver their lines. Men are power-hungry nobles, fat and drunk. Women are hot wenches.

witcher 1 dingy landscape houses
Have I been here before? How would I know?

The breaker for me was the sex thing. I don’t want to have sex in a video game. I don’t want sex to be part of a video game. Whenever I encounter it, it turns me off from the game. There’s never been a time where it hasn’t. It’s icky and creepy. But this one took the cake. Basically any woman in the game is someone you can bed down. It’s part of the dialogue options, if you pick the correct one.

abigail witcher 1
All the women look like this, hot and plastic

And when you finally do the deed, it doesn’t show anything. It just kind of fades around in colors. But you get a trading card for that person. That’s gross in itself, like these are achievements to collect. But the card is pretty dirty. It’s not like an artful Renaissance nude or a 50’s Bettie Page pin-up. No it’s a sweaty, curvy redhead humping… something.

witcher romance card
This is one of the tame ones

This game reminds me a lot of Conan the Barbarian. Not the environment so much, but the idea there’s this invincible superhero laying waste to all the evil soldiers and bedding all the women. His only vulnerability is his loss of memory. And all that does is give the game a chance to infodump on you without looking like it is.

conan the barbarian movie sword arnold

So it didn’t surprise me when I found out it was a book first. Not one I’ve heard of, but I imagine it can be compared to Robert E. Howard. The covers certainly make it look like that. So all this turns out to be is male wish fufillment. One based in some pretty mundane fantasy trappings for boys, like Red Sonja and He-Man. Not sure why it’s so popular. Maybe Witcher II gets better.

Eric J. Juneau

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at http://www.ericjuneaubooks.com where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.


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