Morality is a very subjective concept. Often times it is dictated by religious or societal norms, but what remains consistent is that it molds and changes overtime, and that it invades pretty much everything in life. So it is reasonable to see when videogames try to emulate morality in the game itself. Particularly with Role-Playing Games ( RPGs ), the utility of morality as a tangible game mechanic is understandable and indeed should be expected. After all the genre claims to let gamers play the “role” of a character in a given environment. However, for a video game that is static, it is often hard, if not impossible to try and emulate as fluid a concept as morality. As a lawyer I often come across this shapeless morality, I mean take the case of murder, as some people will argue, the death sentence seems the right punishment, while others argue that more death will not resolve anything nor will it bring back the victim. Both these arguments are valid. Both are moral. But neither is moral from the perspective of the other group. The latter will accuse the former of breeding hatred and more death, and the former group will accuse the latter of trivializing the deaths of innocents and providing state protection to criminals. So how do you go about it? Who do you support? And can this complex concept be reduced down to a game?
Well no, but the game can be raised to such a level as to highlight this complexity. The Witcher is the first part in the 3-part video game series by CD Project Red that chronicles the adventures of the titular character. This is the story of Geralt of Rivia. By now an infamous character in the video game industry. He started of quite humbly, as an amnesiac monster slayer. The titular character, The Witcher Geralt of Rivia, seemed so cool. And the game looked nice, you get to slay monsters, bed beautiful women (although "beautiful" no longer applied, the graphics are pretty old now), get drunk and get into a pub brawl. It promised everything action lovers could want in a game. No one was prepared by what the game actually held. Looking back, CD Project Red never did say that “monsters” were only going to be literal monsters.
The games are based on the 7-part novel and short story series by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski. No the game does not adhere to the stories in the books. Rather the games start of after the novels end. Essentially these act as sequel. I however would implore all readers to purchase and read the book series (these are all translated) and witness the REAL Geralt of Rivia. Anyways back to the topic, the games act as sort of sequel. Graphically, yea it’s no good now. This game came in 2008 so even at maxed out settings it is very average, looks like Fallout 3 with its sharp bland facial expressions. I incidentally played the 2nd part before the first one (I’ll explain later on why) and that made it that much more hideous to look at, honestly I can’t take Geralt or anyone else seriously because of the expressionless expressions.
What makes the game playable however is the riveting story of the game. I mean once you do play this game, you can clearly see why people consider Witcher as one the greatest RPGs ever made. The story is long, it goes naturally, there is no nakama power BS, and its dark. So fair warning to anyone thinking to completely playing the Witcher trilogy, Witcher, the game about monster slayers, is pretty dark and violent. At the very start the game explains the moral fluidity I talked of earlier, it explains that there is no good or bad, just consequences. And it is difficult to understand these words till you reach the end of Chapter One, where you face your first actual decision making. Don’t get me wrong, other decision making moments do come before, but none weigh on you so much as the one at the end of this chapter. I wont go spoiling the story for the potential players by giving away too much, but what I will say is what the game already told you, that there are no good nor evil choices, there are just consequences.
And now we move on to the bad. Witcher is not a perfect game. I’d go on to say that had the story been not as engaging as it was, this would have been a pretty awful game, because the combat mechanics are one of worst I have ever seen, and I have played Superman Returns. The combat system is essentially a timed clicker mini game. On the screen will constantly appear a cursor like the one in most FPS, a barely visible dot. To fight, move the camera towards the enemy till the dot become a tiny sword and click to start the first part of the combo, and wait for the minuscule sword to be covered in flames before clicking again and chaining the second faster combo, and so on till the combo ends (they are maximum in sets of 5) before starting again. Yes, the combat system is literally a well timing mini-game, where it is harder to miss-time than to well time. Additionally, the entire combat is divided into 3 parts, Strong style, where you hit harder but slower and is for stronger/armored enemies, Fast style for nimble/non-armoured enemies and Group Style for groups of non-armoured enemies (the last two are inter-changeable). This combat system was the reason I did not even complete the first chapter and abandoned the game for its sequel. I only recently went back since I started reading the book series. The combat system remains incredibly lazy and unenjoyable, at least for me. There are people who found it better and more enjoyable than the one used in the sequels.
Of course the game also includes the heavy use of potions and preparation that carried over in its sequel. Honestly, most of my gameplay time was spent in earning money to buy books. Purchasing books allows greater ingredient extraction. You cannot really extract ingredients you don’t know exist. Plus the use of blade oils, and bombs make the game more challenging. There is also the use of magic, although I personally played more as a swordsman than a magician. The 5 types of magics can be useful, if used properly. If not, they can cause trouble.
Overall the game is pretty ok, there is tremendous amount of customization of character abilities and as you progress, you have to level up or you will simply be consumed by the sheer number of opponents you face. But while you can freely customize your character, have clear idea of what you want the character to be. The abilities or talents as the game calls them are of 3 types, bronze (Available since level 1), silver (available after level 15) and gold (available after level25 or about when the game is nearing its end). Bronze or low level abilities are easy to get, it is possible to get all of them. Silver or mid-level are harder and thus should be taken cautiously. And gold or elite level talents are VERY rare, so you must be 100% sure of obtaining it.
Finally, I would end this by saying that while this game is good, it does not match up to its sequels, even though story-wise, it is better than Witcher 2. If you look at it, Witcher 3 is really the fusion of Witcher 1’s long story and delayed consequences and Witcher 2’s gameplay mechanics. However, do not expect impressive or smooth gameplay in Witcher 1, it’s kind of like coffee, not everyone will like it.
One last piece of advice, if you do decide to get the game, do try to buy it, it is often on sale, dirt cheap (I got mine for free) and should you decide to try the game, be sure to install the “Enhanced Edition” as it comes with all the patches and is the most stable experience offered by CD Project Red.