Although the PC role-playing genre has stagnated of late, every once in a while it sees one of those releases that reminds us it’s still home to some of the best story-telling to be found anywhere in gaming. The Witcher, the latest in a decidedly short line of famous games from Poland, is one such game, and if this dark, compelling and very adult RPG is anything to go by, the Polish games development scene is home to some serious talent.
It’s presented much like any other PC RPG, with the choice of an overhead or over-the-shoulder perspective and an interface crammed full of cryptic little icons to strain the eyes and the memory alike. The combat’s a clever twist on Diablo-style button-mashing, though isn’t remarkable in itself. But it’s far from a run-of-the-mill tale. The Witcher’s eponymous hero lives in a dark and seedy world packed with intrigue, plot twists and difficult moral choices that, for once, have a real effect on the game.
Many games have tried to do this and few have delivered, but The Witcher is one of them. Decisions you make early in the game will come back to haunt you, and not in the transparent light-side/dark-side format that you might have seen in Bioware games. In The Witcher, almost everybody is either corrupt, a crook, immoral, or downright insane, and you’ll often have to pick between sides that are all, at best, morally dubious. If you’re used to having your hand held through more conventional role-playing games, you’re in for a shock.
Speaking of shocks, The Witcher is chock full of gratuitous violence, bad language and sophomoric sex scenes. If you’ve ever wanted to play a game where you actually get to sleep with all the buxom barmaids you encounter, here’s your chance, although at times it makes the game feel a little too much like National Lampoon’s Middle-Earth Vacation.
Assuming you can leave the girls alone long enough to really sink your teeth into the game’s storyline, you’ll find it’s a real gem. Although it starts with a huge cliche – guess what, you’re an elite monster hunter who’s somehow lost his memory – The Witcher’s sinister plot spins itself into a tremendously compelling yarn.
It’s not all black roses in The Witcher’s world, though, and chief among its issues is the dialogue. Not only is it badly translated, with all the confusion, head-scratching and non sequiturs that entails, but it’s voiced by a cast that runs the gamut from decent to dire. It’s as if they ran out of money half-way through recording the English voices and had to rely on whomever they could scrounge up to fill out the numbers. The difficulty isn’t well balanced, either, and tends to swing from easy to near-impossible with little notice.
That’d be enough to sink a lesser game, but The Witcher’s superbly told story keeps the whole thing afloat. If you can look past the lack of polish, you’ll find one of the best PC role-playing games of recent years lurking within.