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The Witcher Review
Welcome to the world of The Witcher. It's not a pretty world. It's dark and gritty and perfectly medieval. And, although The Witcher exists in a world of fantasy, it addresses real life problems faced in today's society.
You are Geralt, one of the last witchers left. You are one of a near extinct species of mercenary monster hunters. You were born human, but were mutated to have powerful combat skills, enhanced reflexes, use basic magic, brew potions, and were trained to kill. Due to this mutation, witchers sacrifice the ability to reproduce. In the end, you are a carefully crafted killer, who becomes even more skillful at night. However, you've lost your memory.
To assist you in relearning who you are, you are taken to a fortress, Kaer Morhen, where you once again learn the combat system. Five companions meet you there: Vesemir, the teacher; Triss, a gorgeous witch who is in love with you; Leo, a young apprentice; and fellow witchers Lambert and Eskel. However, before you can fully regain your memories, the fortress is under seige by bandits, led by The Professor, an assassin, and Azar Javed, a powerful mage. As you battle Azar Javed's monster, Azar Javed and The Professor work to steal witcher secrets. Young Leo is killed in the ensuing battle and Azar Javed and The Professor escape, via a portal, before you can catch them. Your primary quest is to recover the stolen secrets and avenge Leo's death. With the only clue available to you being the sign of the salamandra, your first travel is to a village that is being terrorized by an evil hound. You must aid the village, defeat the hound, and hopefully this will lead you further on the path to finding the secrets, as well as The Professor and Azar Javed.
Released in late 2007, this is a beautifully written, intricately intertwined story line, based on a Polish tale, that guarantees hundreds of hours of play. Geralt's world is surprisingly realistic, for a fantasy game. Much like true medieval times, disease and religious fanaticism, exacerbated by fear and political machinations, have the general populations constantly on edge. Yet, the themes are not simply limited to Earth's previous history, but can be correlated to current social and political issues as well. This social commentary is neatly packaged inside a wonderfully vivid and exciting fantasy adventure.
As is typical in fantasy games, the human and non-human races are at odds. In The Witcher, this results in all out racism. You, as Geralt, have the unique advantage of being on both sides of this equation. As mentioned, Geralt was born human, but now in his mutated witcher form, he too is subjected to racism, from the humans. In addition, this loss of humanity in witchers often results in an apathetic concern for others. Geralt not only finds humans often fearful of him, or even hostile, but also non-humans are wary of him as well, due to his being part human. For this reason, Geralt is often the catalyst for igniting building societal tensions.
This is a fantasy game full of shades of moral grays. In the beginning, the choices Geralt must make are more black and white. However, as the story progresses, the answers to his moral dilemmas become less and less clear. The waters are murky, and the line between right and wrong is very thin. Weighing the choices often results in six of one thing, a half dozen of another.
As an example, are the elves you assist freedom fighters, or are they simply terrorists with a vendetta against humans? Does the protection of humanity really outweigh the killing you do and the lives lost? From the beginning, you find yourself in the middle of a dispute between a religious leader and nobles versus a village witch. You soon learn, though, that no one is innocent, in this feud. Who will you side with and are the costs worth it, in the end? These moral questions echo real life moral questions faced in today's world, and help elevate The Witcher beyond just being another great fantasy game.
This isn't a game of rainbows and roses, where gallivanting around, making friends is commonplace. The tale is bleak and grimy. But, the characters are so realistic, due to the grays of morality, and the story line is so irresistible, given the moral conundrums. As only the best games can provide, it becomes easy to lose oneself in the play.
One of the best features, in the game, is that the player does get to see how his decisions affected not only himself, but others around him. These consequences, both good and bad, offer the gamer the chance to replay the title to see how different decisions would have changed the outcome. This was a well thought out replay motivator.
However, there is an issue with some disconnected pieces of the story line. In a few places the story jumps without much explanation, leaving the player momentarily confused. However, after a few minutes of play, the context of the current action helps alleviate the confusion and re-centers the player.
In the end, The Witcher offers the player a brilliantly written tale, with intriguing and realistic characters, that offers hundreds of hours of game play. Current social and political issues are craftily embedded into the fantastical adventure story line, with moral dilemmas where, in many cases, there are truly no right or wrong answers. Forget about the stereotypes of good and evil, The Witcher exists in the real world grays of between.