Archives for posts with tag: The Witcher

witchban_editedIt says something about the The Witcher 2 that it’s one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played, despite the fact I’ve only experienced about half of it.

These days, many games offer choice to their players, yet how far-reaching these decisions are depends on the game; your choices in the Mass Effect series may dictate who lives and who dies for instance, but many decisions tend to be rather binary choices that descend into “if this, then that” scenarios that don’t tend to have a wider impact on the game world than who you take on a mission with you.

But The Witcher 2 goes a step further, one major choice effectively changing the entire course of the game. After a scene-setting prologue in which Geralt of Rivia (the titular Witcher) witnesses, and is subsequently framed for, the death of a king, he sets off with Vernon Roche, head of the deceased monarch’s special forces, to prove his innocence and hunt down the man responsible. His first lead takes him to the dreary riverside town of Flotsam, where he’s tracked down Iorveth, leader of a band of renegade elves that he suspects have helped the true kingslayer to flee.

Of course, this being a world made of numerous shades of grey, things aren’t quite that simple. Iorveth leads a group of Scoia’tael, bands of elven and dwarven guerrillas in a world where non-humans are persecuted, and to many he’s nothing more than a terrorist. As the saying goes: “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”, and so the man you initially set out to hunt down becomes a potential ally. By the end of the first chapter we’re forced to make a quick decision: do we stick with Roche and tend to matters in Flotsam, or do we set off with Iorveth on the trail of the assassin?

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This single choice leads to two wildly different outcomes. With Iorveth, we end up in the Dwarven town of Vergen, supporting a young warrior facing off an expansionist king’s army while she strives to establish a multi-racial state. If we decide to travel with Roche, we’re on the opposite side of that same conflict, in a completely separate area with different quests, objectives and new characters that you’d otherwise never come across.

Portioning off masses of content like this is great for replayability (I still need to run the Roche path in a second playthrough), but is also somewhat risky; there are plenty of people out there who will only play the game once through and not even know what they’re missing, after all. It shows great confidence in their fiction that CD Projekt RED would offer such differing paths through the storyline of The Witcher 2, and even better is the somewhat-delayed nature of the branching paths in the game. Often, you’ll make a decision and think it’s had very little effect on your adventure at all. It’s only hours later that you’ll see the full repercussions of your actions, and this forces you to own your choices; you can’t reload and try out the other path (unless you want to lose hours of progress), so you just have to accept the fallout and move on, knowing that next time you’ll stop to consider your actions, conscious of the path you want to take through the game’s narrative.

And what a story it is, tackling mature themes such as racism, terrorism and political maneuvering, all through a dark fantasy lens. Following on from the first game’s excellent final cinematic, Geralt finds himself in the employ of King Foltest of Temeria as he attempts to put down a revolt, and later carves a path through the Northern Kingdoms in an attempt to uncover the machinations of a lodge of magicians, the disappearance of his one-time lover and the memories he has lost since he apparently returned from death. It’s an epic tale that plays out in a somewhat-muted manner, lending the tale a very grounded, human feel despite the dragons, the sorceresses and the mythical creatures Geralt earns his coin by slaying. It’s the perfect tone for the game to take, eschewing the usual AAA Hollywood-style theatrics in favour of something that better serves the multi-layered, mature story.

Combat has been overhauled from the first game. Just as in The Witcher, Geralt carries two swords – a silver blade for use against monsters and a steel one for more earthly foes – but here you have either a fast or a heavy attack rather than the previous game’s three stances. Replacing Geralt’s spins and pirouettes is a handy dodge-roll for getting out of trouble, and the first game’s magical Signs make a reappearance here as well. Combat certainly feels more tactile and involving than the previous game’s mouse-clicks-and-die-rolls system, and you really need to know how and when to use each element of the system to your advantage; risk a slow, heavy strike at the wrong time and you could be in trouble. Similarly, you don’t want to allow yourself to get surrounded, as this will lead to Geralt being bounced around like a pinball as all of your enemies take their shot at you, knocking you out of your attack animation.

If this sounds punishing, well… it is. Or rather, it can be. The best thing to do in The Witcher 2 is to play defensively, sussing out the enemy’s weaknesses, finding an opening and then exploiting it mercilessly. It’s exhilarating when you work your way through a group of enemies by sheer skill and quick thinking, because if you just try to hack and slash, you won’t last long at all.

There are a couple of minor irritations in combat, however. I mentioned enemies knocking you out of attack animations, and that’s a symptom of probably the most potentially frustrating niggle in the game – when you make a move, take a swipe or prepare a sign, you have to commit to it. You can’t bail out part-way through the animation to dodge-roll or block, so you really need to know how and when to move. Secondly, you can only use potions (concoctions that confer buffs on Geralt) before you enter combat, meaning you generally have to know (or at least suspect) a battle is coming up ahead of time. This is a change from the first game, where you could down a potion if you could manage to create a bit of space in a fight.

These minor issues wouldn’t really matter if the combat wasn’t occasionally uneven – there are some brutal difficulty spikes in the game, though generally you can get through them by thinking about the situation and trying a different strategy. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised to see both these issues either tweaked or changed entirely in the upcoming sequel.

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Visually, The Witcher 2 is a beautiful game, even on 360 (the version I played, which seems to be roughly on-par with PC on medium). This is partly thanks to CD Projekt’s impressive tech and partly down to their excellent art direction. I mentioned Flotsam earlier, but it’s the surrounding forest that really steals the show in this early section of the game; dark, foreboding and densely multi-layered, it’s straight out of a Brothers Grimm folktale, with the canopies of huge trees blotting out the light, branches twisted into gnarled curlicues. It’s a fabulously atmospheric setting in a game that’s absolutely rammed with them – just wait until you first spy the quarry near Vergen.

And I haven’t even mentioned the characters, all of whom are well-defined and uniformly deliver excellent dialogue. It’s certainly a clear step up from the first game in that regard, even returning characters like Zoltan and Dandelion seemingly infused with more character. The absolute stand-out for me is the mysterious Letho, a man whose appearance belies his intelligence. In fact, I enjoyed his character so much that I made a decision near the game’s end that I wouldn’t have thought likely at the tale’s start. I really hope we see him again in The Witcher 3.

And speaking of The Witcher 3, it’s probably my most anticipated next-gen title on the horizon right now. All I need to do is play through Geralt’s first two adventures again beforehand, experiencing those paths less trodden along the way. CD Projekt have made it clear that the upcoming third game will bring Geralt’s tale to a close and, looking as impressive as it currently does, I think they’re going to leave us with one of the best trilogies in all of gaming.

Previous entries in Games of the Generation:
Dead Space 2
Tales of Vesperia
Halo 3
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
To the Moon

CD Projekt RED have torn the veil from a new trailer for upcoming dark fantasy epic The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. In it, we see Geralt of Rivia on horseback (along with a companion) collecting payment for a monster contract. His employers, Nilfgaardian soldiers, are a bit busy sentencing a young woman to death, and Geralt initially decides to take his coin and go on his way. But deciding that “evil is evil”, no matter to what degree, he intervenes.

Our white-haired hero also makes note of his famous neutrality (“If I’m to choose between one evil and another, I’d rather not choose at all”), suggesting we’ll again have some tough decisions to make in the third and final chapter of The Witcher saga.

It’s interesting to note that the Nilfgaardian soldier remarks to Geralt, “knew you witchers wouldn’t scorn Imperial gold”, suggesting that the other rider is also a witcher. Listening to him telling Geralt not to meddle, I think it might be Vesemir, and it’d be good to see he and some of the more minor characters from across the first two games return in Wild Hunt.

I recently finished The Witcher 2 (yep, I’m finally making some headway on my backlog), and I have to say it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played. Having reminded myself of some plot points from the first game and reading up on a little lore on the Witcher wiki, I feel confident I know what the main thrust of the third game’s plot will be. I can’t wait to get my hands on it, but seeing as it’s not due out until sometime next year I’ll have to content myself with reading Andrzej Sapkowski’s books – a couple of which I’ve just ordered from Amazon.

Who else is excited for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt? What do you make of the trailer?

It’s been a while since my last ‘Musical Mondays’ piece, and this one was prompted by doing something that I’ve previously covered in another of my irregular series’ – my backlog-baiting ‘My Stupid Backlog’ pieces. You see, over the weekend, I finally finished The Witcher, a game which, along with its sequel, was the focus of my second ‘MSB’ piece, and when I heard the end credits theme, Believe, I just knew I had to write a post about it.

It reminded me of when I first finished the original Mass Effect and M4 pt II by Faunts kicked it; it just felt so fitting, so right. This piece of music is wildly different from that which closed the first chapter of Commander Shepard’s story, but no less fitting for the game it brings to an end.

I love the mix of violin and electric guitar in this theme. It all melts together beautifully, the violin lending the music a bittersweet, melancholic edge, while in other places joining up with the guitar, soaring in triumph. It perfectly evokes Geralt’s travels and trials throughout the game, each victory coming with a price attached. It also perfectly encapsulates how I felt when I had completed the game – elated at finally seeing the tale through to its conclusion, yet a little sad to see it go.

As a bonus, here’s a track taken from the bonus CD The Witcher: Music Inspired by the game that came bundled with the Enhanced Edition. It’s a beautiful piece of harp-led electronica, and includes some samples that are taken straight from the game’s soundtrack.

It feels good to finally be seeing some movement on my ridiculous backlog of shame, and I’m really glad I played The Witcher. Though a little clunky in places, it’s an utterly fantastic game, and with the third title on the horizon, now is a perfect time to grab the first game and its sequel Assassins of Kings, which will be next on my list… after BioShock Infinite, of course.

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Game Informer magazine have shown off their March cover, and with it revealed a big new title in the works. That game is the third in Polish studio CD Projekt RED’s monster slaying, politically-minded fantasy RPG series The Witcher.

The third game in the series sounds as if it will be just as impressive as the previous two titles, but in different ways; The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will be an open world game in the vein of the Elder Scrolls series, and its world is said to be 30 times larger (!) than that of the previous game, 2011’s Assassins of Kings, and also larger than the realm of Skyrim from TESV.

There is also a short video introducing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt from developers at CDPR, which I have embedded below. In it, we can see some of the motion capture sessions for Geralt’s swordwork, and we hear that the story this time around will be more personal, less political, and that Geralt will have a “personal nemesis” who will be a threat to the Witcher and those he holds dear.

Now, I’m still only about halfway through the first game, but I’m not entirely sure how I feel about The Witcher as an open world game; it’s one of the main things I love about Skyrim (160 hours and still going strong!), but The Witcher is a rather more focused experience, and while the environments are quite large, I wonder how transposing the gameplay of a Witcher title to a full, expansive, streaming open world will affect the narrative flow. I’m hopeful that CDPR won’t really have to sacrifice too much (going by how much back-tracking I’ve had to do so far in the first game anyway), but I usually find myself returning to the main quest sooner rather than later, whereas in Skyrim I abandoned the main quest halfway through and eventually returned to it after about a hundred hours. What facilitates this is the ability to explore for hours and always come upon something new, something that catches your attention and leads to you crawling through a dark cave for half an hour to see what lurks inside.

I’m really interested to see how The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt handles similar instances, even with my handful of doubts – put me down as cautiously optimistic. I think it’s great to see that CD Projekt RED are willing to take risks in order to build up the scope of their already-impressive games, and I have faith that they will be able to do so while retaining the unique flavour expected from their work. That they are currently working on both this and Cyberpunk 2077 shows how far they have come since the days when they were all about localising games like Baldur’s Gate for the Polish market.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is due to launch in 2014 on PC and “all high-end platforms available”, so I think it’s safe to say that the expansive RPG will be a next-gen console title at this point. While we know very little of the new machines from Microsoft and Sony (and even less of what games we can look forward to), it’s comforting to know that we have a massive, involving RPG to get stuck into, hopefully fairly early in the new console cycle. Follow the link to see the full cover image at Game Informer.

Image and video courtesy of Game Informer:
http://www.gameinformer.com/b/news/archive/2013/02/04/march-cover-reveal-witcher-3-wild-hunt.aspx

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I haven’t been terribly active on here recently (thanks, build-up to Christmas!), so as I sit here, up early with nothing to do but await a UPS delivery, I decided I’d relate another tale of my epic (read: ridiculous) backlog. This one’s a two-for-one deal.

Like a good many gamers out there, I have a Steam account, and any Steam member knows what a dangerous proposition the Steam sales are. For the uninitiated, games frequently go for little more than £1 in these seasonal extravaganzas – I’ve previously bought games like Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, BioShock, and the subject of this piece, The Witcher, for between £1-£3 each. Unfortunately, and also rather stupidly, I don’t own a PC with even a half-decent GPU.

Now, before you double-facepalm, hear me out: about four years ago, I bought a Core2 Quad-based desktop with a cheap GPU, intending to replace the graphics card at a later date for something a bit beefier. Obviously, that didn’t happen, and the PC went mostly unused, save for loading music onto my trusty iPod Classic. More and more, I’ve not wanted to sit at a desk staring at a monitor for any length of time, and seeing as the desktop came with only a DVI output, I can’t simply link it to my living room TV without also needing to set up an array of speakers.

My main PC for the last 18 months has been an Asus EP121, a 12.1″ tablet PC running Win7, which is great for daily use, but awful for gaming, given its Intel HD Graphics solution. It’ll run Half Life 2 pretty well, as well as Portal at an acceptable frame rate, but Source Engine games tend to be fairly lightweight, and HL2 itself is now pretty old. Attempting to load up The Witcher on the EP121 (an exercise I fully expected to end in failure) resulted in a slide show at even the lowest settings. So I went temporarily insane and ordered a laptop.

Based on the work of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, The Witcher was released back in 2007 to positive reviews, and a sequel, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings followed on PC in 2011 and Xbox 360 earlier this year. As I’d wanted to play the original title for some years, I eagerly pre-ordered the 360 version of Assassins of Kings (getting a signed version into the bargain), intending to YouTube the major events of the first game. As so often happens, it ended up on ‘The Shelf’ and has not been touched since.

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So what makes me suddenly want to play these games? And badly enough to buy a new PC? Well, I’ve been reading George R.R. Martin’s ‘A Game of Thrones’, the first book in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. I’ve been meaning to watch the HBO adaptation, Game of Thrones, for a while, but decided I’d read ahead and then see how the television series fares. I’ve been wholly sucked in to its world of clouded morality, medieval intrigue, double-crossings and ruminations on honour, loyalty and the divine right of kings, and The Witcher series seems like a pretty good gaming companion piece to it – especially the sequel, which apparently revolves around the mysteries surrounding the murders of kings.

My new plan is to play through The Witcher on my new laptop before settling in to enjoy the sequel on my 360. I’ve almost knocked one game off of my backlog (Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, which I’ll be finishing up this morning), so by the time that UPS van arrives I should be about ready to dive headfirst into the adventures of Geralt of Rivia.

Are you a big fan of The Witcher? Or do you have an equally stupid backlog? Leave a comment below and let me know.