Description: A refreshingly unique CRPG.
Conveniences: Very thorough log that records every step of every quest; numerous auto-save slots.
Annoyances: Occasional crashes.
Standouts: A fantastic sense of verisimilitude.
- The universe of The Witcher borrows heavily from Slavic mythology incorporating such entities as Drowners, Strzygas, and The Wild Hunt.
- Player choices eschew morality quandaries in favour of focusing on actual actions and their consequences.The first dilemma forces the player to pick between helping a sorceress chase down a mage trying to steal the Witchers’ alchemical secrets, or aid a group of Witchers fighting off an invading monstrosity. Neither side is slaughtered if the player lets them fend for themselves, but the decision dictates what loot is received and what kind of enemies are encountered later in the game.
- NPCs follow a day-night cycle and some even have unique schedules, e.g., the shady fence sleeps during the day but is out and about at nighttime.
- People speak in varied dialects and focus on different topics: young children pretend-play to be monsters, the elderly ponder where they’ll be buried, lowly peasants espouse the church, criminals flaunt their sexual conquests, nobles discuss the flow of politics, etc.
- Geese, rats, chickens, and other wildlife populate the world and scatter as Geralt approaches. Some even rest in bushes and only appear as herbs are gathered.
- Human NPCs can perform some vicinity-triggered actions in addition to the general barks, e.g., the Hierophant automatically heals Geralt.
- Casting spells in dungeons can temporarily dim the lights, a nice effect that seems to hint at magic draining power from its surroundings.
- Whenever it rains, people run for cover and congregate under eaves and various other safe havens.
- The visual ambiance is accompanied by a Celtic-themed soundtrack and a plethora of sound effects: soft footsteps, hooting owls, scraping metal, crackling fires, chirping crickets, splashing water, croaking frogs, growling monsters, etc.
- Signet rings are one of the special icons that appear during conversations (such as sleep or shop or gamble), and work to prove Geralt’s affiliation with certain factions or characters.Some NPCs won’t initiate quests or even sell items to Geralt if he’s not aligned with their views and beliefs.
- There’s a real sense of progression as the areas Geralt visits change over time: Kikimore monsters invade the swamp, an eccentric Dwarven dentist moves into a killed NPC’s home, the brickmakers return to their clay pits once the drowners are banished, etc.
- The game world avoids feeling static with numerous types of interactive elements:
- Chests, baskets, corpses, and miscellaneous furniture can be looted.
- Individual pieces of food can be snatched from tables.
- Bodies of defeated creatures can be skinned.
- Plants can be gathered for potion ingredients.
- Places of power allow various restorative rituals to be performed.
- Magic shrines can teach new spells and power up old ones.
- Bulletin boards provide contracts for optional fetch-quests.
- Obelisks and other receptacles are activated by placing specific items inside them.
- Collapsible terrain can be destroyed with the Ard spell.
- Occasional teleporters facilitate fast travel.
- Wayfarer stones respond to magic and provide optional puzzles.
- Monsters often clash with regular townspeople, especially at night and on the edges of habitation.
- In addition to generic weapons, Geralt can use steel and silver swords in three different stances: “strong” for bulky enemies, “fast” for agile opponents, and “group” for any combination of mobs. The steel sword is effective against humans, while silver against monsters, and attacks with these weapons can be chained together via a timing mechanic.
A lot of the leveling-up progression is also tied into the specific swords increasing their power and duration of their combos.
- Specific information on monsters, minerals, recipes, and plants can be learned from scrolls and books. This in turn works really well at making Geralt feel like a badass bounty hunter. An area and its enemies are researched; the proper weapons, potions, and spells are prepared; and following the combat, more resources are gathered to continue the loop.
- When ingested, potions increase Geralt’s toxicity level, naturally limiting the amount of simultaneous buffs. Interestingly, the toxicity takes longer to wear off than the potion’s boosting effects, although sleeping, ingesting cleansing potions, and performing a ritual at a place of power can remove the handicap.
- All potion ingredients have a base component, but some also contain a secondary element. If the secondary elements of all the ingredients match up, extra bonuses can be obtained from the brewed potion, e.g., longer duration or lessened toxicity.
- Body parts of bosses can be used to brew one-time potions that provide permanent boosts.
- The Witcher’s medallion is an ever-present HUD element that can be “attuned” to detect either monsters or magic. Although this has very little impact on gameplay, it does a great job of foreshadowing certain events by vibrating around NPCs that are not quite what they appear to be.
- A substantial amount of the game’s quests revolve around unique events that are much more interesting than typical monster-slaying. For example, Geralt must join forces with a private detective to investigate an underground syndicate, setup an autopsy, hobnob with Vizima’s elite at a posh banquet, and help perform a ballad to soothe a distraught noonwraith.
- Alcohol plays a very big part in the game. Aside from serving as a base for all potions and being used to outdrink various NPCs (many of which only accept their preferred brews!), it’s also the focus of a few optional quests, e.g., retrieving a specific cask of wine or loosening the lips of a knight who has taken a vow of silence.
Alcohol is also outlawed in some districts of Vizima, and Geralt even has one specific option on his talent-tree that boosts his fighting prowess while intoxicated!