Convulsive Witching

The Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, The White Wolf. You mean Elric? No, this is a different White Wolf you fucker! Hunter of monsters, reluctant hero, plougher of saucy wenches, protagonist of the best-selling fantasy series by Polish novelist Andrzej Sapkowski and (more pertinently for this post) protagonist of a series of computer role-playing games based on the same character and world as the novels.

My first encounter with The Witcher was back when the first game released. It was getting some good buzz and I acquired it from a passing pirate galleon (ah the errors of youth). Sadly I didn’t get very far with it, the initial release was a buggy mess but what really stopped me playing it was the absolutely fucking ridiculous animation for Geralt’s heavy sword fighting style (you can see a few seconds of it here). It was incredibly comic looking.

A few years later The Witcher 2 was announced and looked amazing on more or less all fronts. However my near obsessive need to get the full story compelled me to play the original game first. So I banged through The Witcher: Enhanced Edition the week before The Witcher 2 came out. It was ok, the story or really the world and tone were the highpoint. But it didn’t hold up well and mechanically it had a lot of problems. I honestly wouldn’t recommend playing through it. It’s certainly not much addition for The Witcher 2 as its story is largely self-contained.

Still, I was all witched up and The Witcher 2 certainly delivered. After playing it I considered it the epitome of narrative heavy western computer role-playing games. It was also one of the most technically accomplished CRPG’s, it looked absolutely amazing and the world was pretty big. I played a lot of games since then and while the specifics of the experience faded it retained a place of prestige in my mind.

Needless to say I was excited when The Witcher 3 was announced and all the previews only added to that excitement. Unfortunately, and this seems to be happening more and more these days as preview news cycles reach ridiculous lengths, the delay largely killed my interest in the game. Well, that’s not entirely correct. The delay did dampen my ardour. But it was the fact that the game was now releasing in the same window as other games I’d been looking forward to that really put the brakes on. Even with that I was a big fan of the franchise and would likely have played it soon enough after release.

Then reports of its length started coming in. Now usually I’m a big fan of really long CRPG’s, it’s a common element of the genre and it does help me feel like I’ve got my moneys worth. Still, the figures being bandied around for The Witcher 3 were intimidating. While it doesn’t make a lot of sense it’s not the playtime but knowing it up front that’s off-putting. The final nail in the coffin of my interest was the fact that I couldn’t bring myself to play The Witcher 3 without re-playing The Witcher 2.

The reason for that was two-fold, the first is that I wanted to refresh myself on the storyline and the world as The Witcher 3 ties up some lingering elements from The Witcher 2. The second and more pressing reason has to do with how The Witcher 2 was designed. It’s a game in three acts but depending on your decision at the end of Act 1 there are two entirely different Act 2’s (different locations, quests and characters). Only one of which I’d seen. I knew that I’d never go back to The Witcher 2 after playing 3 so I felt compelled to re-play 2 first.

All of those impediments, along with some (ugh) real life distractions meant that I didn’t play The Witcher 3 at release. In the months that followed the near universal praise and accolades for The Witcher 3 flowed in from everywhere, online and off. The expansions were announced and the first one is out in two or three weeks. Patrick and Sean both started playing The Witcher 3 and raving about it. My interest was re-ignited.

Since I’d played the original The Witcher 2 had got a make-over and was now The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition. Backup in hand I was ready to return to the world of Geralt of Rivia.

Only, I wasnt, firstly I had to spend twenty minutes watching a summary of the story from the first game. Then I was ready!

The new intro for the game is great, it looks lovely and its nice to see one of the most important events for that time period actually covered. The new tutorial was fine, honestly I’d never got the complaints about the initial games toughness but the tutorial was short and effective so no problems there. Once I’d finished the tutorial I spent the traditional half an hour fiddling with graphics options and tweaking this and that while trying to maintain the sacred 60 FPS. So two hours later I actually started the game proper.

After playing for a bit I was glad to see my glasses hadn’t been entirely rose-tinted. The story was interesting and the characters and dialogue were top-notch. Even in the relatively short prelude it does a masterful job of making you care about the fate of characters who are more or less objectively assholes. Graphically it also remains a handsome game, some elements didn’t age as well as others and the engine itself could be oddly choppy. But by and large it’s nice to look at.

In engine screenshot
In engine screenshot

Sadly other elements didn’t hold up as well. The game has several mechanical issues which I clearly forgot about. Perhaps the most annoying is the overly precise nature of the context sensitive prompts. If you aren’t in exactly the right spot you can’t climb ladders, open doors, etc. As you do that a lot it proves the largest annoyance. In a similar vein some form of fast travel would have been handy as traipsing back and forth across the same stretch of wood over and over again grows tiresome. The inventory system is terrible. The weapon and armour upgrade system is equally poor. Both are far too fiddly for their shallow depth. Crafting is ok, the interface is poor but at least the gear is solid. Combat is ok, it’s not terrible but it’s also not great. It feels too “floaty” and is too easy even on harder difficulties.

This may seem like I’m down on the game. But honestly the positives really outweigh the negatives, to a ver large degree. Sadly my troubles didnt end with the game itself. I’d played for an hour or two when I began to wonder where the nice looking armour I recalled using in my initial play through was. A bit of googling later and it turned out it was available only from an imported Witcher save. Which I had (and had used). Turns out you have to be wearing the armour in your save. I wasnt too enthused about starting over and I really really wasnt looking forward to downloading The Witcher just to switch out some armour. Luckily I found a save online I could use and just bit the bullet on re-starting.

However while looking around online I’d come across several mods and I figured this was a good time to change the game to try and eliminate the mechanics I found annoying. The first thing to go was encumbrance. The Witcher 2 has shit loot and tons of it, but you can carry fuck all. Which results in serious anti-fun. So I modded the weight of all items to zero. As mentioned above crafting and the inventory system are bollocks. So I used cheat engine to give myself one million oren. I could just buy whatever gear was available and largely avoid having to use my inventory or craft. I thought I’d used a third mod but apparently not.

So game modded and the all important Raven Armour available I started over with The Witcher 2. I’m mid-way through Act 2 at the moment and I’m really enjoying it. My first time through I sided with Roche because Iorveth is a complete bell-end. This time I’ve sided with Iorveth (who I actually find less annoying this time through), so far the Iorveth version of Act 2 is really fun. Not least because Iorveth really isn’t in it at all, they should have advertised it as “The awesome Dwarf Act 2”, because that’s largely what it is. The Dwarf’s dialogue is top notch. Also on the Roche route you can only sex boring old humans while you can risk your Witcher bit’s by banging a succubus on the Iorveth route. Which is ultimately the only reason people play these games, right?

I’m looking forward to hopefully finishing off The Witcher 2 this week (the enhanced edition expands the anemic Act 3 which is good) and being deep into The Witcher 3 in time for it’s expansions release.

Vent your spleen

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