Backlog Slog – The Witcher 1 & 2

The Witcher is a series I’ve wanted to get into for a long time, and I’m doing a bit of a double on these games for a couple of reasons. The first being that I only played through a couple of hours or so of the first game because it is. Not good. I watched the rest on Youtube and it was also not good. So I don’t have enough to write an entire piece on it. The second is that I feel the first game is important into my understanding and enjoyment of the second game.

So, with that, let’s take a quick look at the first title in the series.

Released in 2008, this was CD Projekt Red’s first game based on an at the time fairly obscure series of Polish fantasy novels. The game sets up an alternate universe future where the hero, Geralt of Rivia, survives a fatal stab wound but loses his memory. Following this, his fellow Witchers are attacked by a mysterious terrorist organization, and thus he’s propelled into a story full of politics, underhanded scheming and monsters.

Which is great, because Witchers, by nature, are created specifically to kill monsters.

The game runs on a modified Neverwinter Nights engine which is impressive but also creates an odd style of gameplay. It’s half RPG and half action hack ‘n’ slash but combined in all the wrong ways, with combat being based on the rhythm of clicks and having to quickly alternate between combat styles, as well as spells and tools at your disposal. In theory this sounds pretty cool, but in practice it’s clunky to  choose options, and seems as though it would befit a slower style of game, not a fast paced action title.

The other huge issue is… Eeeevvveerrryyything else. The dialogue is awkwardly written, which is fair enough given it’s translates from Polish, but it’s just as awkwardly acted. Geralt is fine, and there are a few good performances here and there, but on the majority it sounds like folks were just kind of pulled from the street and asked to read a few lines for a free lunch.

The story is okay, sure, but the misogyny is a little over the top. That is, to say, every woman is there to be used by Geralt in some way. Usually sexually, and the player is then rewarded with a card with pinup art. Everyone and their grandma seems to just kind of throw themselves at him, sometimes for no reason at all?

It’s a kind of weird thing. Like I said, I had to finish it on Youtube because I just couldn’t tolerate the play style long enough.

So, finally, I could dive into The Witcher 2 and was immediately awash with relief.  It’s the start of a huge step up in pretty much every way, which shows what you can do with a bigger and better budget. The game is pretty good to look at, despite being released in 2011, and the acting has gone up a notch too. For the most part. Some of the NPC’s can still be a little weird.

The gameplay still feels a little too all over the place for me, choosing between tools, spells and swords is easier but using them still requires a lot of awkward button pressing. Maybe it feels more intuitive on a controller, I’m not sure. But combat can prove a little difficult when you’re surrounded and trying to pull out the best tools for the situation.

The game takes place shortly after the first, directly continuing the story with a kingslayer out and about… Slaying Kings, basically. Geralt has been accused and has to clear his name. It’s a good old detective mystery but with monsters and more politics. Again!

It’s another very linear game but I’m okay with that, because the environments are easy enough to navigate and the game looks good, but not great, with environments being a little dreary. But not as dull and bleak as the ones in the first game.

Also, I tried to approach an elf and she gave me a sly wink, lead me to a waterfall, and immediately set assassin’s upon me. So I think that’s a step in the right direction compared to the weird vibes of the first game.

The quests can be a little frustrating at times though, offering you very little clues, leaving you to wander around aimlessly until you find the right NPC. Which is why I’m glad the maps aren’t too big.

Still, I’m starting to see why people are so into this. Geralt is delightful, for the most part. So is most of the cast, and the world is a lot of fun, if extremely depressing and messed up in places.

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