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Thread: Fynn's Guide to All Things Witcher

  1. #1
    Radical Dreamer Fynn's Avatar
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    Default Fynn's Guide to All Things Witcher


    Chances are you've seen or at least been made aware of a little fantasy Netflix original series that came out exactly a month ago. Chances are you've heard of this little 2015 open world RPG by some weird European game studio that's been lauded as the best GOAT all throughout the latter half of this past decade. Chances are you've read one of the books or at least heard some very polarizing opinions on the other. Or maybe you've just been around our Discord channel, where me rambling incoherently about this series has become a meme all its own.

    But it's time to get a bit more coherent. Following in the footsteps of my betters, I now bring to my fellow EoFFers a retrospective on a transmedia franchise that's near and dear to my heart. I'll be doing some explaining on the history behind these works, as well as some convincing, because God damn, even though this got huge still more people need to know about this. Finally, I'll be giving some tips on where to start depending on what you want out of this series, if any of what I talk about sounds good to you.

    WARNING! I'll be keeping spoilers to a minimum, though I will be giving some minor unmarked details that will probably mean nothing to you without context but make it easier to make this whole write-up just make more sense. Unmarked minor spoilers ahead, then in case you're hyper sensitive to spoilers.



    So what even is a Witcher?

    So before I move on to any specific posts on any of the entries, the Witcher (knwon in its native, oh-so-exotic land as Wiedźmin) is currently a transmedia franchise spanning books, games, TV shows (yes, that is a plural, sadly), comics, etc. On the surface, it's your edgy dark fantasy about a brooding anti-hero who kills monsters. That surface is very soon stripped away, since after about two dark deconstructions of classicl fairy tales something new begins to surface. Something postmodern, avant-garde even. Something very... human.

    A Witcher is a genetically modified monster hunter for hire, with the one we follow in particular being Geralt of Rivia. Despite that, there's very little actual witchering happening in the books themselves, with themes of humanity, the true meaning of good and evil, destiny, and family being much more at the forefront. Conceived in the late 1980s, during which Poland was still under the communist regime, the Witcher is a brainchild of Andrzej Sapkowski, an economist who spent his free time writing columns for a fishing magazine. A lover of all kinds of literature, and the fantasy and horror genres in particular, Sapkowski is not really preoccupied with things like drawing maps and hard magic systems. Instead, The Witcher is a fantasy story that's much more concerned with what makes us tick as human beings. And it's actually pretty damn funny most of the time (not that you can tell from the artwork for any of its incarnations).


    So let me take you down this exciting, surprising rabbithole. I'll be covering all of the books in the next post, then the games in one post each, and then move on to a post about the Netflix series. At the end, I'll leave a post about various other works (game spin-offs, comics, etc.), finishing off with my final recommendations on how to best digest all this. Hope you stick around and have as much fun reading this as I have had experiencing this series.


    Part one: "The Sword of Destiny has two edges. You are one of them. The other is death." - The books
    Part two: "Evil is evil, Stregobor. Lesser, greater, middling - it's all the same." - The games: The Witcher

  2. #2
    Huh? Flower?! What the hell?! Administrator Psychotic's Avatar
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    I look forward to it! I have just, this very weekend, beaten the Witcher 3 (in as much as it can be beaten!) and I'm now in the home straight for Blood and Wine. So this is very timely!

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    This'll be interesting to follow~ looking forward to it.

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    The year is 1986. Poland is four years away from getting out of the communist regime. The internet is definitely not a thing yet. Conventions aren’t exactly a mainstream phenomenon either. Still, fandom finds a way. Fantasy and sci fi nerds - my mother included - would end up collecting issue upon issue of a monthly magazine called Fantastyka (which literally translates to “fantasy”). It’s actually still active, though it’s been renamed to Nowa Fantastyka (“new fantasy) and has actually spread to the internet, but I’m starting to digress here.

    Aside from being about fantasy in general and containing articles about new releases that are coming out both in the world and in this forgotten Central European country, Fantastyka was pretty much the best place for debuting fantasy, sci fi and horror authors to publish their stories. This was mostly achieved through contests.

    There’s never a second chance to make a first impression.


    And so we’re back here, in the year 1986, where a certain economist with a penchant for writing articles for a fishing magazine enters a story into a contest. It’s about a certain monster hunter that isn’t particularly liked by the people who hire him, though they do begrudgingly acknowledge they need him. He’s used to it, though, and even though no one really believes it’s going to work, he goes above and beyond the call of duty. Instead of slaying the monster, he uses his incredible power to lift the curse it’s under. It’s a story that’s dark and gory, with the author clearly being disillusioned with a lot of the tropes that had even at that point been overdone within the genre.

    The story came in second place, though that still gave it a spot in the magazine itself. And this is where something really interesting happened - though the editors didn’t believe that the story deserved the main prize, the readers were absolutely taken by Andrzej Sapkowski’s vision. Demand for more Witcher was born - a demand that would very much be satiated.


    Over the years, Sapkowski wrote story after story, each of which was published in Fantastyka in chunks. As expected, they were all wildly popular. Sapkowski had enough love for the pulp fantasy of the time to charm his readers with his gritty retellings of classic fairy tales - you have a reinterpretation of the red riding hood, beauty and the beast, and Aladdin, for example - while also being incredibly intelligent in how he approached them. His language is beautiful, but not in a forced, medieval fantasy, flowery way - it’s more down-to-earth and poetic in its mundanity. Of note are the sex scenes (of which there are not as many as the games would lead you to believe) that are written in an incredibly tasteful way, especially considering we’re still talking about an old white dude writing about the incredibly alluring yet sterile dude having sex with beautiful women.

    I could talk at length about the language in the Witcher, and how the English translation tragically failed to grasp it. I could talk about how poetic and nuanced it is, how it embodies a uniquely Polish tone - cynical yet comical at the same time - how it eschews fantasy convention by being purposefully anachronistic. You’ve got a seemingly medieval setting, but characters talk about genetics, cognitive dissonance, and various other things that fans have often confronted Sapkowski about during conventions over the years. “How do characters know about recessive genes in the middle ages?” To which he always responds: “But this is not a historical novel. There is no Catholic Church, there is magic - this is a fantasy world.” On that note, Sapkowski has always rejected the idea that The Witcher is “the Polish/Slavic fantasy” and I’d say it’s pretty clear that his main inspiration are myths and legends from around the world. Interestingly enough, Arthurian myth seems to be a big one. You’ve got an entire book called “Lady of the Lake”, and the name Yennefer is literally a variant of Guinevere. As the books progress and get more metatextual it become much more clear that The Witcher transcends both temporal and national borders and is just a damn good melting pot fantasy. I’ll be talking more about this cross-cultural spirit later as I discuss the games and the show.

    Sapkowski was never preoccupied with dense worldbuilding. He never drew maps, and he pretty much just wrote the story as he went along. Instead, he achieves a level of organic worldbuilding that I struggle to find in other works of fiction. Sure, the fact that we get some nice quotes from in-universe texts is nice, but I feel that the core of what makes the world of the Witcher feel believable and real to me is just the characters that inhabit it. People behave in a uniquely human way, society is both a result of the actions of people, as well as a thing that impacts everyone within the society on a profound level. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

    For what is true masculinity, if not class and madness mixed together in the right proportions?



    At the heart of all this is Geralt of Rivia. A Witcher who isn’t actually from Rivia, and who probably wasn’t even originally named Geralt. Though the focus of the books shifts away from him as they go along, he is still the central character. The books very quickly become less about hunting monsters, and much more about who Geralt is as a person. A person who isn’t considered human enough by most humans, and too like other humans by other races. Those who first experienced him through the games or the show might be surprised that he never really shuts up in the books. This is another level at which Sapkowski really subverts tropes, as Geralt is a brooding, grumpy antihero on a surface level, but what lies underneath is a truly complex human being that’s honestly one of the most interesting fantasy heroes I’ve ever read about.


    I suppose this is as good a time as any to come back to how the books were published. With the short stories being as successful as they were, Sapkowski seemed fated to get a book deal. The stories found in the magazine were all compiled into one volume called The Last Wish, with an added story split into several sections acting as a framing device. Though it’s interesting to note that this book wasn’t to be released until another Witcher book came out. Though The Last Wish compiles the stories that come the earliest and should be read first, it didn’t see the light of day as a complete collection until another book came out. This one was also a collection of short stories. And yet, it was somehow something else entirely.

    The Sword of Destiny has two edges. You are one of them. The other is death.


    Sword of Destiny is the first actual book released, but back in the late 80s/early 90s everyone already knew what they were getting into - at least they thought. And yes, I mean everybody. Though The Witcher III marks the first time The Witcher actually became mainstream in the English-speaking world, Sapkowski’s stories actually pretty mnuch took all of Europe by storm during that period. The Witcher has been extremely popular in Spain, Germany, Hungary, Czechia, and tons of other countries, receiving translations into a bunch of languages before ever seeing the light of day in the UK and US. The Witcher was an international fantasy bestseller before the games, and it was the primary reason the first game did well enough to warrant a sequel in the first place. But I digress again (and I thought this was going to be more coherent).

    So everybody was eager to read Sword of Destiny, but I’d argue they weren’t actually ready for it. Or at least, I know I wasn’t. I expected this book to be more of the same - a pulpy if smartly written fantasy adventure that makes me feel all nice with how campy it is. However, at this point it’s clear what the Witcher is really about. It’s not actually about killing monsters for coin - that really is just a pretext to get Geralt into certain situations, and these situations become increasingly personal for Geralt himself. Sword of Destiny is where Ciri is introduced and turns Geralt’s world on its head, showing him there are powers at play that he has no control over, despite never wanting to have anything to do with them. It’s also where Jaskier (called Dandelion in the English translation of the books as well as the games, but not the show, for some reason), the wacky bard whose friendship with Geralt seems to make no sense at first until you see they’re perfect for each other, shows his more serious and worldly side and gives us some much needed exposition on the main conflict of the Witcher cycle, which is to come in later books. It’s also the book where we truly get a glimpse into Geralt and Yennefer’s tumultuous relationship and boy, is it heartbreaking.


    In his mission to subvert fantasy tropes, Sapkowski decided that, though he agreed the hero needs a heroine to truly grow, he couldn’t stomach writing another doe-eyed damsel in distress. And so, Yennefer was born, and she is as complicated as Geralt, if not more so, with their relationship being a glorious mess that divides fans to this day (especially with some of the decisions made by the creators of the games - more on that later). We get introduced to Yennefer at the end of The Last Wish, and you can tell how headstrong and driven she is from the start. But it’s only in Sword of Destiny that you get to see her more vulnerable side, her true flaws of character, and the real tragedy behind her relationship with Geralt. Later in the books this relationship between them - and between the both of them and Ciri - gets developed still further, turning the focus away from monster hunting,and even away from Geralt’s incessant navel-gazing, and starts becoming about the difficulties of having a family.

    And that’s the true mastery behind Sword of Destiny, in my opinion, and why it’s probably my favorite book in the entire series. It’s still incredibly fun to read, but it’s strong because it really doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to showing the ugly side of the characters, making them incredibly human in the process. And with those bases covered, Sapkowski had just enough buildup to give up on the short story format and turn the Witcher into proper novels.

    Everything has already been, everything has already happened, and everything has already been described


    The Witcher cycle proper consists of five books: Blood of Elves, Time of Contempt, Baptism of Fire, Tower of the Swallow, and Lady of the Lake. I do have to mention that the transition period is rather rough, as Blood of Elves introduces multiple viewpoints and feels like it moves very slowly, but this is forgivable considering that this was Sapkowski’s first proper novel. Though things get muddled further with politics and more and more intertextuality, every subsequent novel is better than the last, ending in something that is truly poignant and satisfying on a lot of levels. I won’t go into much detail on those anymore, as I promised I won’t be spoiling anything significant, and it’s really hard to touch the novels without doing that, but I will say that even though there are some initial growing pains, it’s still worth pushing through, because the farther in you go, the better things get. You even get payoff for some of the little insignificant things that happened in the short stories that you’d never expect. Sapkowski wastes no opportunity in showing you how smart of a writer he is as he weaves an incredibly dense narrative that’s still ultimately simply about the human condition. And that’s something that I always look for in fantasy stories now because of it.

    So as I’m nearing the end of the write-up on the books, I feel I need to address the issue of reading order. I’ve already noted the confusion that might arise from the fact that the second book was published first, but what makes matters even more complicated is that, in English, Blood of Elves was the first book to be published. Thankfully, now everything is out in English, so you should not have any trouble getting ahold of them all if you’re interested (or in other languages, if you speak them, since I heard most of them are miles better than the English version - especially the German one). The general rule of thumb is: DO NOT skip the short story collections, as not only are they excellent, but they also just set up everything for the events in the novels proper. The proper order is thus:
    • The Last Wish
    • Sword of Destiny
    • Blood of Elves
    • Time of Contempt
    • Baptism of Fire
    • Tower of the Swallow
    • Lady of the Lake
    • Season of Storms


    That last book, Season of Storms, is a curious case, as it was written years after all the other books, but is actually a mid-quel that takes place between the short stories in the first two books. It’s pretty much a separate adventure Geralt and Jaskier go on that has nothing to do with the overarching Witcher Cycle narrative, making it a Witcher short story in long form, so to say. It’s still pretty excellent, as it’s also kind of a detective story, so I say you shouldn’t skip it. Just make sure you read it last.

    And with that, we’ve covered the main Witcher book canon. It’s still one of my favorite fantasy series to this day and I can’t recommend it enough, if only because it’s a story that really doesn’t go where you expect it to go. Sapkowski’s big strength is subverting expectations in the best way possible - you don’t get what you expected, but what you get actually enhances the entire experience, instead of being done for the sake of it. If you’re a fan of fantasy books in any capacity, you really owe it to yourself to read them. And no, I’m not saying this because I’m some Polish fantasy literature shill.


  5. #5
    Huh? Flower?! What the hell?! Administrator Psychotic's Avatar
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    I had no idea that the series had such humble origins. It's incredible to think of how a simple contest entry has become an international multimedia franchise. When you say "the last book", does that mean Sapkowski is no longer writing them? Do forgive my ignorance!

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    Radical Dreamer Fynn's Avatar
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    Well, as of now, Season of Storms is the last book released. Sapkowski has said that heís working on another Witcher book that will be a midquel like Season of Storms once again (since the main plot of the books that ended with Lady of the Lake is kind of closed for good), but since then weíve heard nothing. His son has also sadly passed away in the meantime, so whoís to know if that hasnít halted his writing in any way.

    In any case, I should have the Witcher 1 entry posted today or tomorrow, so stay tuned!

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    Trial by Wombat Bubba's Avatar
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    Sapkowskiís reaction to the success of the show is awesome. These interview answers well... I already love the guy!

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    So weíre in the 1990s now. Communism is now long gone and weíre kind of in the middle of really taking in everything Western pop culture has to offer. We have Spice Girls, tie dye, denim jackets, and a whole lot of other 90s staples now. Between cinema releases of classics like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King and the Disney shorts that would run on public TV on Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings, even the kids were easily indoctrinated into the Western way of things.

    This of course included all new sorts of media. First came the walkman, then the discman and then, of course, home computers. Little old me was actually a proud owner of an Amiga back when I was five or six-ish, so I had a pretty early start with computers. Then PCs with Windows started spreading and more and more kids on the block were actually starting to play video games. Yes, that era had begun.


    But this series is about The Witcher, so I feel itís important to point out that at this time the books were steadily going with regular releases. Because unlike certain other fantasy authors who shall remain nameless, Andrzej Sapkowski actually kept on writing the thing until he was finished. And by the time he was finished with The Lady of the Lake in 1999, its ending was greeted not without controversy. It was certainly surprising and deeply moving - deeply upsetting to some - but thatís just how it goes with art. Whatever certain voices were saying, however, it did little to diminish the local - and international - enthusiasm people had for The Witcher.

    And so people started talking about an adaptation. While a movie or TV show were pretty much a given (donít worry, weíll get to those later), it was this new medium that would actually turn out to be the Witcherís gateway to the Anglosphere. Though the journey wasnít that clear-cut. It was the late 90s when Sapkowski was first approached by a game studio - Metropolis Software - with a proposal of adapting the plot of the books into a video game. Though Sapkowski himself doesnít come from a generation that generally enjoys video games and to this day he doesnít really care for the medium himself, he agreed to their terms. Unfortunately, the project never saw the light of day, as it proved too challenging for the small studio, leading to its cancellation, with Sapkowski not seeing a penny out of the whole deal.


    It wasnít until the 2000s that Sapkowski was approached once again by a different studio. This time, it was CD Projekt. At the time, they were known exclusively as a video game publisher. Having localized many popular games at the time and having the reputation of one of the most competent publishers in the country, they were ready to develop a game of their own. Having been burned by a video game adaptation once already, Sapkowski agreed to give CD Projekt the license but only on condition that he be paid a flat rate from the get-go, rather than earning commissions from the brand. In his eyes, there was no reason why this would succeed when the previous endeavor failed. The sum he got was nice, of course, but we now know that it wasnít the best choice in his lifetime. But weíll talk more about that once we reach the third game.

    Itís hard for me to discuss what exactly was happening in the early development stages of the Witcher 1, since there is a lot of conflicting information going around, most likely due to the fact that we had two attempted Witcher projects. Because of this, I canít with 100% certainty say whether what Iím about to tell you applies to CD Projektís early attempts, or the scrapped Metropolis Software project. However, it does seem like the game was meant to be completely different at the beginning. The story would be completely separate from that of the books, and youíd get to create your own Witcher, with character customization and everything.


    In the end, however, that idea was scrapped, in favor of making the game a sequel to the books. So once again, we follow Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher on a completely new adventure after a miraculous recovery. In an incredibly smart move, however, he has amnesia this time. Clichť though it may be, itís actually the perfect device here. CD Projekt actually had no idea if theyíd be able to make a sequel, but they still wanted to make this game as accessible as possible, so they set it after the books and crammed in some cool references and some arguably less cool expies of book plot points and characters, but made it so that no book knowledge was required to fully enjoy the plot, nor would the game actually spoil the books for those that would like to later come back to them after playing the game. Itís to this day the only game in the series that gets this distinction, and I think CD Projekt Red should be commended for doing such a good job at it.

    But thatís far from the only good thing about the game, so let me just start talking about it properly. The Witcher is a profoundly weird game. Itís a weird frankensteinian mesh of all these different elements that are so barely stitched together that, for all intents and purposes, should not work - but they do. To this day, The Witcher 1 is quite simply one of the most unique RPGs Iíve ever played, and even though it is very much overshadowed by its successors, along with just being plain archaic in this day and age, I still think itís fantastic.


    Iíve already mentioned how this is a sequel to the books and weíve got an amnesiac Geralt hunting monsters. Storywise, however, this game is definitely in the spirit of the books in more ways than one, and it wants you to know it through its opening cinematic. Created by Tomasz Bagiński, who even back then was known for being an Oscar-nominee for his short CG-animated film The Cathedral and who remains closely tied to the Witcher franchise in all its incarnations to this day, it carefully recreates one of the most iconic moments from the Witcher shorts - that being the battle with the Striga. The scene has aged remarkably well, though you can clearly tell the technology has advanced a lot since 2007, but itís really mostly carried by Bagińskiís incredible direction and attention to detail. See for yourself, if youíre interested.


    We soon get transported to Kaer Morhen, where we meet other Witchers and, surprisingly enough, Triss Merigold - and not Yennefer! More characters from the book show up later, but theyíre introduced in a way that makes sense to newcomers. Combine that with the very detailed journal entries, and the game actually does a really good job of standing on its own. Readers of the books will find a lot of familiar stuff here, and I donít just mean in place and character names. The way the story unfolds, the quests are structured, the dark yet funny atmosphere - all of this is incredibly faithful to the source material. Though game writing was still in its infancy back in the day and the writers definitely lack Sapkowskiís level of sheer writing prowess (to the point that at some times it does feel like weak fanfiction), the story still makes the game feel like a Witcher game. Combine that with an alignment system and factions that at once remind me of SMT and make me feel very much like Iím in the Witcher world, and youíve got yourself a pretty compelling narrative all throughout.

    My personal favorite is chapter four - out of five - simply because Iíve never actually seen anything like it in a video game. Itís an Archadian Interlude - the action culminates in chapter three, only for Geralt to be whisked away somewhere completely different for what is essentially a breather episode. Like most things in this game, it sounds like it shouldnít work - but then it really does. The chapter actually gives you the time to really contemplate on what just happened, while also enhancing both it and the world through a magical story that combines a Polish literary classic, Arthurian myth, and something Lovecraftian. Itís really something to be experienced first hand, and itís actually the perfect way to combat that third act lull that usually happens in role-playing games.


    One thing I will never live down, however, is a very specific writing decision that I consider kinda abhorrent, and whose consequences turned out to be much more long-lasting than I feel the writers anticipated. Iíve already mentioned how Triss Merigold is in the game. In the books, she was an important character, but not really more than the dozen other secondary characters that move that complex plot forward. She was notable for being Geraltís one-night stand - which was induced by her using a love potion - that never amounted to anything, other than her increased obsession with Geralt. In this game, she is one of Geraltís two potential romance optionÖ while the other is another one-night stand Geralt had in the books. For some reason, the writers saw it fit not to bring back Yennefer, who was Geraltís entire motivating factor for anything in the books. And by for some reason, I mean a very specific, insidious reason. Apparently, the writers decided that they didnít get why Geralt would ever decide to be with such a terrible, domineering nag as Yennefer when there was a perfectly willing, young Triss right there that was ready to jump on Geralt whenever he would want it. Considering how out of his way Sapkowski went to subvert typical fantasy love interest tropes with Yennefer, and how much she felt like a fully realized character, and how much her and Geraltís relationship felt real, it makes me feel that a lot of what made the books great in my mind just went over their heads - and letís be honest, itís just plain sexist. As a result of this, and the fact that Yennefer doesnít show up in the game until Wild Hunt, we now have one of the most violent shipping wars ever - and itís one that shouldnít even exist in the first place. Thankfully, the Netflix show seems to have tipped the scale a bit, so it should all calm down now.

    And speaking of sexism! Oh boy. This is the game with the infamous sex cards. If youíre unfamiliar with this, basically every woman in this game is DTF, always. Like, itís a literal warzone outside and weíre two nurses tending to the wounded and the sick and youíre going to the final battle, but letís have sex right now - but be quiet so the medic lady who is also your potential romance option doesnít find out. And then if you say yes, since they couldnít animate the scenes well, you get a card with a softcore image on it that you can look at at your leisure. Itís actually encouraged that you collect them all, since thereís a separate catalog for them in the journal, but itís thankfully completely skippable - I myself have made it a point to play a chaste Geralt. To say this is incredibly jarring at worst and stupidly hilarious at best is an understatement. I get that Geralt has sex in the books - with more than one women over the course of the books at that. I get that heís actually supposed to be more attractive to women due to Witcher pheromones or whatever. I really get that. But this is really kinda terrible. Whether itís just tasteless or crossing the line twice and straight into hilarity is up to you to decide, however. But yeah, remember that itís totally skippable.


    I guess this is as good a segue as Iíll get for the gameplay part. The first thing you need to know is that The Witcher runs on the Aurora engine, making it a de facto Neverwinter Nights. You can definitely play it in an overhead view like those games, but they actually added the function of a rear-view camera, which is much more preferable, if you ask me. The active pause system is left intact, but there is a twist. If you hold your cursor over the enemy, it will flash red at times, giving you the signal that you can click again in order to chain attacks together. This actually kind of reminded me of Vagrant Story, and even though itís not as developed, I liked how it worked here. Other than that, youíve got three combat styles to choose from, that being strong, fast and group, which are all pretty self-explanatory. Youíve also got access to some basic magic through Geraltís signs, and then there are the potions. Gathering ingredients, brewing potions, and then taking them ahead of time in specific situations is actually really important in this games and is very in-line with what was described in the books and Iím honestly a big fan of that. You actually feel like a professional who has to follow all the steps in the correct order, and then adjust your strategy on the fly based on your knowledge in order to come out on top.

    A lot of what I mentioned shows up in the later games, but I feel that in certain ways, the first game did it the best. You could actually rest and make potions only at bonfires, meaning youíd really have to be prepared for dungeons and bigger monster hunts. Another thing you can only do at a bonfire is level up, which I also feel was handled best in the first games. While the skill trees in the later games are bigger,in this one itís divided into several sections, each of which has a separate point currency that you need to use for, and the amount of each currency you get depends on your level. It made you really think about how you develop the character above the simple planning a build and then implementing it as you progress as is the case in most RPGs.


    I could talk more about the gameplay - how the large areas and multitude of items to pick up is very Elder Scrollsy or how you can play dice poker pretty much wherever you go - but weíd be here all day, so Iíll just move on to the presentation. Now, here is things get a little bit more mixed. Iíve mentioned before that this game is based on the Aurora engine, so itís actually pretty ugly. That may be too strong a word, though - parts of it are ugly. The characters look terrible and the dungeons are very drab - but a lot of the areas are incredibly pretty even today, not to mention they just feel incredibly Polish to me - more so than any other game in the series- and let me tell you, thereís something very visceral in chasing down a wyvern in a wheat feel that looks like a place youíve actually physically visited. In that regard, I think The Witcher 1 has a lot in common with Xenoblade Chronicles - they definitely had a concept artist and a lot of care and attention to detail was put into the environments, but then I donít really feel there was a character artist involvedÖ or even an art director, for that matter.

    Where people certainly were involved, however, is the music. The Witcher 1 has some incredibly pretty music. Though itís less focused on strong themes than those of us who are accustomed to JRPG music may like, Adam Skorupa and Paweł Błaszczak have done an incredible job bringing the world of the Witcher to life through music that feels not only inspired by its Polish setting but true to the spirit of the books as well. A standout is the main theme of the game, which is so memorable that it even returned to the third game in full force. Iíve listed it last here, after two other tracks that I really liked.






    One final thing Iíd like to touch on is pretty shameful, however. This is the first time anything Witcher-related has reached English-speaking countries. The guys at CD Projekt put in a lot of effort to create a game that would be appreciated by people from all around the world. Though by todayís standards it was moderate, it still brought a lot of new attention to the Witcher, and its sales were definitely boosted by the number of fans it already had around Europe. Stateside, it also did quite well for its scope, but it was not in any way helped by the downright abysmal localization. Sure, Doug Cockle is cool and everyone likes him (though Iím personally much more taken by Rozenekís Polish Geralt), but itís clear the budget for the English localization was nearly non-existent. Most of the other voice actors are poor, and the translation itself is justÖ bad. Not old JRPG bad - you donít really see as many grammatical errors or anything. Itís bad in the sense that only about half of the dialogue was translated. I donít know if itís because there are so few Polish to English translators in the US, but it feels like only the gist of the lines was translated, with all the other content and flavor just being cut out for no reason other than ďwe couldnít bother to translate itĒ. It was a downright travesty but, thankfully, it was fixed later on. CD Projekt re-released the game a year later with the subtitle ďEnhanced EditionĒ with some minor updates to the gameplay and UI - and a now complete English translation.

    I know The Witcher is not for everyone. Itís an old obtuse game, with a tutorial section thatís utterly mind-boggling and a first chapter that will really test your patience. Still, I kept playing it, and as soon as I finished chapter one, something clicked and I was hooked. How much you like this game will probably depend on how much of a tolerance you have nowadays for games from this era, as well as how immersed you were in the world of the Witcher before this. That said, Iím really glad this game exists, and not only because it led to other games or that it continues the story from the source materials. The first game is one that has some incredible charm thatís unique to it because of the exact time it came out in, because of how much the creators were excited to adapt the source material they so loved, and because of how much fun they were having just going wild and creating their first video game. There truly is something special about the first Witcher game.


  9. #9
    Witch of Theatergoing Karifean's Avatar
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    Honestly, from the way you describe it, this game actually sounds really damn cool. Do you think it succeeds at being a compelling story you'd recommend on its own to people who aren't fans of the novel series though, or is it more than you applaud the effort and the success at reaching a wider audience but think it's not really that great as a standalone tale narratively?

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    Radical Dreamer Fynn's Avatar
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    Iíd say both the Witcher 1 and 3 can be enjoyed on a narrative level as standalone titles, though both are significantly enriched by reading the novels prior. The Witcher 1 does have the advantage over 3 in that regard as it spoils next to nothing from the books, as opposed to 3 which pretty much spoils the biggest twist from the end of the books in its opening. So if you decide you like this stuff enough to go back and read the books after 1, youll start more or less fresh.

  11. #11
    Radical Dreamer Fynn's Avatar
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    Just a quick bump to let people know that this is alive. The fact that I've recently started a new job combined with my personal feelings on the Witcher 2 is making this entry take a bit longer than expected.

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