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I'm in two minds about 'open-ended' RPGs. While I enjoy and thoroughly abuse the laissez-faire feel they try to incorporate, I also get pretty worked up about the consequences of all my decisions. “Maybe it was a bad move to kill those guards back in Chapter 1 instead of paying the bridge toll,” the rogue mused as the executioner's axe swung down. That kind of thing. I know it's part of the whole open-ended experience, but the uncertainty can get a little annoying, especially since these games are huge time-sinks, and that makes it all the more infuriating when you discover you've painted yourself into an undesirable corner after 20 hours or so.
On to this particular game – The Witcher is based on a series of fantasy novels by this Polish dude, Andrzej Sapkowski, and brought to life by his compatriots CD Projekt. It follows a chapter in the life of a famous witcher (genetically mutated badass who kills a lot of creepy-crawlies that most others are too terrified to go near) called Geralt. Normally, this'd be a problem – the golden rule of RPGs is that characters start off as n00bodies and through their adventures, work their way up to being legends. When you've got a guy who's already the subject of several heroic poems, that messes up the formula a bit. However, the game neatly sidesteps this hurdle, as Geralt begins the game with amnesia, so he has to relearn everything. Clever little tabula rasa move there, you scoundrels!
I haven't read any of the source material, but the game does suggest that the experience would be more special if you have. There are several points while playing, where you meet important characters for the first time and there's a slight feeling that the game is telling you, “Look who just wandered in! Awesome, eh?! Eh?!” But just like your amnesiac character, all you can muster is a “Who the hell is this wanker?!” Shame.
Anyway, Geralt starts the game unconscious and conveniently near the witcher stronghold, where he's found by some witchers on patrol, and brought back there for rejuvenation. It's a skeleton crew outfit, with only a handful of members remaining. Anyway, after a bit of 'get your bearings' dialog, it's a full-on baptism by fire as the stronghold is attacked by an unknown bandit troop, led by a mysterious mage and his assassin sidekick, and you're called into action right away. So you can see early on that the combat system here is pretty unique as RPGs go, and a lot of fun when you get into the swing of things. You can equip up to four weapons, one steel blade for taking care of humans and regular beasties, a silver sword for dealing with the paranormal kind, a hip-mounted weapon of choice and a small sidearm. There are also different styles of fighting that you can switch between on the fly that are suited for different kinds of enemies. So, a fight basically involves picking the right weapon, the right style and then chaining attacks together into combos. As you unlock higher level combos, Geralt's acrobatics become quite impressive – it's hard to beat the feeling of slashing an arc and watching three heads simultaneously disengage from their owners' bodies and start rolling. You can pick up a variety of weapons as the game progresses and can custom fit a lot of them by forging them with special runes and meteorite shards at the blacksmith's. Unless, of course, you've managed to piss him off. I once inexplicably found myself on bad terms with both the blacksmiths in town (who were of opposing factions), which basically meant I had to wait till the next chapter before I could pimp my blade. Bah. You also have 5 spells that grant you effects like Knockback, Fire Damage, Pain Amplifier, Damage Shield and one more that I forgot. All in all, you're a pretty well rounded slayer.
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Aug 02 2008 17:47:50
STALKER is crazy difficult. I must have died some 5 times on the FIRST fucking mission. But for 299/- I guess it's worth it even as bookshelf decoration. I guess I could suck it up and be a man or whatever. Plus, now that I've seen the movie, I guess there'll be extra immersion for me. I'll let you know if the same deal is on in this town, or whether they screwed up over there like they did for Bloodlines.
Aug 04 2008 12:41:58
Then lower the difficulty. I played on Novice and didn't die at all on the first mission. I think the ballistics system doesn't work on this difficulty because I was getting long-range shots with the pistol and all.
Aug 04 2008 13:53:10
Eesh! Haven't played a shooter on the lowest difficulty setting since...well, AvP2. Let's see if pride will allow it.
Aug 07 2008 13:46:07
Ho, awesomely written review. Frankly Chacko, you're one of the most entertaining game reviewers I've read anywhere. AND you can draw wicked. It's a privilege to know you.
Aug 08 2008 03:36:34
Oh noes! Save that stuff for the eulogy! :P