The Witcher (video game)
|Developer(s)||CD Projekt RED|
The Witcher (Polish: Wiedźmin [ˈvʲjɛ̇ʥ̑mʲĩn]) is an action role-playing video game developed by CD Projekt RED and published by Atari. The game is based on the novel series of the same name by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. The Witcher takes place in a medieval fantasy world and follows the story of Geralt, one of a few remaining Witchers – traveling monster hunters for hire who have supernatural powers. The game's system of "moral choices" as part of the storyline was noted for its time-delayed consequences and lack of black-and-white morality.
The game utilizes BioWare's proprietary Aurora Engine. A console version using an entirely new engine and combat system, titled The Witcher: Rise of the White Wolf, was to be released in late 2009 but was suspended due to payment problems with the console developers, Widescreen Games. In September 2009, CD Projekt RED officially confirmed that they began working on a sequel, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, which was released in May 2011 for Windows and OS X and in April 2012 for Xbox 360.
There are three camera styles available in The Witcher: two top-down perspectives, where the mouse is used to control most functions, and an over-the-shoulder view, which brings the player closer to the in-game combat, but limits visibility. In all three views the controls can be changed to be primarily mouse focused or a combined keyboard and mouse approach.
The combat system in The Witcher represents a different gaming experience from most RPGs. Players can choose one of three fighting styles to use in different situations and against different foes. The fast style allows for faster, less-damaging attacks with a greater chance of hitting faster enemies; the strong style deals more damage in exchange for a slow attack speed, and a lower chance to hit faster enemies; and the group style features sweeping attacks best used if Geralt is surrounded. The player can switch between the styles at any point. Both of Geralt's main swords also have distinctively different combat styles from other weaponry, and serve specific purposes. The steel blade is used to fight humans and other flesh-and-blood beings, while the silver sword is more effective against supernatural monsters and beasts (against some of which steel may have no effect whatsoever). With precise timing, the player can link Geralt's attacks into combos to more effectively damage enemies.
Alchemy is a major part of gameplay. The player can create potions that increase health or endurance regeneration, allow Geralt to see in the dark, or provide other beneficial effects. The recipes for these potions can be learned through scrolls, or by experimentation. Once the player creates an unknown potion he can choose to drink it, but if the potion is a failure it will poison or have other harmful effects on Geralt. Each time Geralt drinks potions they increase the toxicity level of his body. This can be reduced by drinking a special potion or by meditating at an inn or fireplace. In addition to potions, the player can create oils used to augment the damage done by weapons. They can also create bombs for use as weapons in combat. Neither can be created until talent points have been allocated into the corresponding skills.
A time delayed decision-consequence system means that the repercussions of players' decisions will make themselves apparent in plot devices in later acts of the game. This prompts the players to put more critical thinking into making each decision, and circumvents a save-reload approach to decision making. It also allows the game to have a unique approach to replay value, as the consequences resulting from the player's decisions can lead to great difference in the events that take place later, and ultimately a very different gameplay experience than in prior play-throughs.
The nature of the options faced when playing the game rarely falls into the typical black-and-white morality present in most computer RPGs, and the players often find themselves choosing from the lesser of two evils rather than making a clear choice between good and evil, a situation more reflective of real life morality.
The game tells the story of Geralt of Rivia, who is a Witcher – a genetically enhanced human with special powers trained to slay monsters. The Witcher contains three different paths, which affect the game’s storyline. These paths are: alliance with the Scoia'tael (also called the Squirrels), a guerrilla freedom-fighting group of Elves and other non-humans; alliance with the Order of the Flaming Rose, whose knights protect the country of Temeria; or alliance with neither group to maintain 'Witcher neutrality.'
At the game’s opening cutscene, Geralt is tasked with curing the king’s daughter of a curse that transforms her into a feral monster. This device introduces the player to the nature of Witcher-work. The opening is based upon the short story, titled The Witcher, from the first book in the series, The Last Wish.
- Prologue – Kaer Morhen
A group of Witchers find Geralt unconscious in a field and take him to the Witcher stronghold of Kaer Morhen. Geralt remembers almost nothing of his life before that point. The castle is attacked by a gang of bandits named the Salamandra. The Witchers and sorceress Triss Merigold battle the invaders, but the mage Azar Javed and the assassin Professor escape with the mutagenic potions that genetically alter the Witchers. The Witchers head off in different directions to find information on the Salamandra.
- Chapter I – Outskirts of Vizima
Geralt heads south to Vizima, capital of Temeria and where King Foltest reigns. On the outskirts, he meets a magically gifted child called Alvin and an old friend, Shani, whom he does not remember. He finds out that Vizima is in quarantine, and learns about a conflict between the Order of the Flaming Rose and the Squirrels. After a number of quests and choices, Geralt gets a pass to enter Vizima but is arrested.
- Chapter II – the Temple Quarter
Geralt volunteers to kill a Cockatrice in the sewers in exchange for his freedom from jail. In the sewers he meets a knight of the Order named Siegfried, who not only helps him kill the monster but also directs him to a private investigator who can help Geralt defeat the Salamandra. Geralt spends the rest of Chapter II chasing the Salamandra and working on quests. In the final fight, Geralt is knocked unconscious as Javed and the Professor flee again.
- Chapter III – the Trade Quarter
Geralt awakes in Triss Merigold’s personal chamber in the rich quarter of Vizima. The rest of the chapter is spent uncovering the Salamandra’s bases in Vizima, and finding out more about Alvin's powers and visions. He also begins uncovering another conspiracy concerning forgeries of the royal seal. During a party of high-standing officials, Geralt meets Princess Adda, and then discovers she is connected to the Salamandra.
Geralt finally attacks the Salamandra’s base in Vizima with the help of either Siegfried and his Order or the Scoia'tael, and kills the Professor. After the battle, he finds himself surrounded by royal guards and Princess Adda, who declares that she must kill him to conceal her treachery. However, Triss teleports him out of the situation and to a village on the other side of Vizima Lake.
- Chapter IV – Lakeside
Geralt and his friend Dandelion find some unsteady peace while taking care of Alvin, helping with problems surrounding an ill-fated wedding, and negotiating between the village and the inhabitants of an aquatic city. Eventually, however, the conflict between the Order and the Squirrels threatens the village. The player can be neutral (leaving the inhabitants to their fate), or finally take the side of either the knights or the non-humans. The scared Alvin mysteriously disappears in a flash. Geralt and Dandelion decide to sail back to Vizima.
- Chapter V – Old Vizima
King Foltest has finally returned and retaken control of his castle, but at the same time civil war has broken out. The Squirrels have caused an uprising, and the Order of the Flaming Rose responds by killing non-humans with little discern. Depending on which side Geralt took in the previous battle, he can either be neutral and help the wounded get to hospitals with Shani, or help the knights or the elves in the battle. He also cures Adda once more from a relapse of the Striga Curse (or slays her), after which the grateful king discloses clues about Azar Javed's location. Storming a hidden base with his allies, Geralt finally kills the evil mage, but also learns that the Grand Master of the Order betrayed the king, since he is the real mind behind the Salamandra's mutation program.
With most Knights of the Order and their mutants now entering open rebellion, the king again turns to Geralt with a contract to kill the Grand Master, while also asking about what to do with the various factions. Depending on which side Geralt took in the first battle, he can convince the king that the Order, under Siegfried's rule, can still be loyal, convince him that the Squirrels are right, or convince him that they are both enemies. Consequently, he either takes Siegfried (Order), Yaevinn (Squirrels), or Triss Merigold (neutral) with him on the hunt for the Grand Master, encountering either Yaevinn, Siegfried, or both as enemies on his way through the war-torn city. Geralt enters the Order's citadel alone after leaving his wounded ally behind (or using a ruse to keep Triss out of danger). Inside, the Grand Master tries to persuade him of his "greater plan" to save humanity from prophecies of world-consuming ice. The skeptical Geralt is cast into an icy wasteland illusion by the Grand master, who happens to be wearing a medallion similar to the one Triss gave to Alvin. Geralt successfully defeats the Grand master and is then approached by the king of the Wild Hunt in specter form, to collect the Grand Master's soul. The specter warns Geralt of the impending events and fights him but disappears, upon which Geralt escapes the illusion.
In the ending cut scene, a man with a Witcher’s vertical pupils attempts an assassination on King Foltest, but is thwarted by Geralt, thereby setting the stage for The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.
The Witcher is powered by a heavily modified version of the Aurora Engine by BioWare, enhanced for single-player. A number of changes have been introduced to the original engine; some of them are described below.
One of the most important features of the Aurora Engine is that the world is designed exactly as the developers envisioned, rather than using a tile-based system. All the environments are developed in 3ds Max and then exported into the game engine. As a result, developers can create unique game worlds, rather than recycling the same tiled objects over and over again. CD Projekt's version of the engine supports lightmaps generated in 3ds Max. Shadows generated this way are reported to look more realistic, and provide better game performance.
The modified engine also includes texture paint, a special tool that allows the developer to paint the environment using custom textures. This enables the developer to make the game world truly unique. New realistic skyboxes and water effects designed specifically for The Witcher were added to the engine. The natural light during various phases of the day is realistically altered, and the day and night transitions serve to enrich the game's ambiance. The weather can dynamically change from a light drizzle to a dark, stormy downpour accompanied by thunder and lightning.
All the in-game and tool set rendering is done using DirectX 9, and the engine now supports many different shaders (water effect, bump mapping, environment mapping, etc.).
Other important changes include motion-captured animation, improved physics modelling, new mechanics and combat system. Additional modifications include the introduction of portals and the inclusion of additional graphical effects (glows, advanced dynamic shadows, blurs, etc.)
All the female portrait cards shown after Geralt's "sexual conquests" were censored ("retouched to a more modest standard") for the U.S. release version. The in-game Dryad was also reskinned so her hair covered more of her body in this release.
Some dialogue between characters is shortened in the non-Polish-language versions. Lead designer Michal Madej has disputed claims by fans that this was due to the sometimes crude language, but that the decision to edit down dialogue occurred because of production-related concerns in game development. Proofreader Martin Pagan noticed this shortened version during his work and writer Sande Chen confirmed that it was not due to censorship. Fans have theorised that it may have been done for voice acting cost savings, especially since much of the vulgar language has been retained. Such cost savings would normally occur during any shortening of dialogue, even in cases where no major profanity was involved.
On 29 November 2008 a video covering the console version of the game was uploaded on the Internet. On 2 December, CD Projekt RED officially confirmed that The Witcher will be ported to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles and released as The Witcher: Rise of the White Wolf. It had been built from the ground up for Widescreen Games' DaVinci Engine and featured a host of differences. According to CD Projekt RED senior designer Jakub Styliński, the game featured a new interface, redesigned boss battles, new music, "a smattering of new models", and a redesigned character development system, in addition to an entirely new action-oriented combat system with enhanced AI, additional motion-capture animations and the ability to directly control Geralt's defensive maneuvers. CD Projekt also confirmed that Rise of the White Wolf would have featured downloadable content.
On 29 April 2009 it was announced that the production of the game had been halted due to late payments from CD Projekt to the French developers of the console version, Widescreen Games. A release from CD Projekt's CEO Michał Kiciński stated that payments were delayed due to Widescreen games not meeting development deadlines, additionally stating that "technical incapability created a risk of missing planned quality" and that CD Projekt had ended their association with Widescreen games.
At Game Developers Conference 2008, CD Projekt RED announced an enhanced version of the game which was released on 16 September 2008. The significant changes featured in the enhanced version are over 200 new animations, additional NPC models and recoloring of generic NPC models as well as monsters, vastly expanded and corrected dialogues in translated versions, improved stability, redesigned inventory system and load times reduced by roughly 80%. In addition, all bugs are said to be fixed and the game manual completely overhauled. There are also two new adventures available to play through: Side Effects and The Price of Neutrality. A new option is to mix and match ten different languages of voice and subtitles. For instance, players can now choose to play the game with Polish voices and English subtitles. Other featured languages are Russian, Italian, French, Spanish, German, Czech, Hungarian and Chinese.
Aside from the game enhancements, The Witcher Enhanced Edition includes a "making of" DVD, a CD with 29 in-game soundtracks, another CD with "Inspired by" music, the short story The Witcher from the book The Last Wish, a map of Temeria printed on high quality paper, and the official strategy guide. In addition, a new and enhanced version of the D'jinni Adventure Editor is on the DVD with the two new Adventures. The game updates, as well as the box's extras, are available as a free download for owners of the original version who registered their game on the official forum. Furthermore, old savegames are compatible with the Enhanced Edition.
According to CD Projekt co-founder Michal Kicinski, the Enhanced Edition required a $1 million investment, and the company has shipped 300,000 copies of the retail version worldwide as of December 2008, and counting digital distribution and retail sales the original game and the Enhanced Edition sold around 2 million copies as of 2010.
CD Projekt released a Director's Cut version of the game in North America on 31 July 2009. It is equal to the Enhanced Edition available to the rest of the world, but without the censorship applied to the North American version. The company has since released an official uncensored patch that makes the North American version the same as the international for those who have purchased a boxed version of the game.
The game received mostly positive reviews. The game's cumulative score stands at 81 out of 100 on Metacritic. Michael Lafferty from GameZone gave the game 8.8 out of 10 describing it as deep, immersive game that will "ask you to think and make choices, not just hack and slash your way to glory". The Witcher's cinematic intro was nominated for the 2007 VES Awards in the category of Outstanding Pre-Rendered Visuals in a Video Game and the game's soundtrack was voted "Best Fantasy Game Soundtrack" in the 2007 Radio Rivendell Fantasy Awards.
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