The Witcher: Enhanced Edition Reader Review
You know, it's hard to try and criticise a game like this; pure Role-Playing Games with depth and longevity are somewhat rare on the PC these days. With the likes of Bethesda and Bio-Ware now arguably more focused on consoles, the task of keeping the great tradition of PC RPGs is left to likes of relative unknowns such as CD Projekt.
Their initial attempt to woo PC gamers was with the original Witcher game in 2007, which garnered enough attention to allow CD Projekt to re-visit the game. With updated animations, new voices, bug fixes and two whole new quests, this Enhanced Edition seeks to be the ultimate and best way to experience one of 2007's most promising RPGs.
What becomes immediately clear after the superb opening FMV is that The Witcher is an RPG designed by RPG fans. CD Projekt have clearly played and used inspiration from many other RPG games, which is great news since it essentially means that you're in good hands once you decide to lose yourself in the game. But even so, the game comes with a very helpful manual and game guide, along with an in-game presence that seeks to help you quickly get on the way to slaying monsters for bags of orens (gold).
Even though the game initially appears not too dissimilar from your usual 'Lord of the Rings as a game' affair, the character you play (Geralt) and the mature tone will make sure that there's still something worth following here for veteran RPG players. While it's fair to say that you'll occasionally have no clue what is going on due to poor story pacing and characterisation, and will often roll your eyes at the poor execution of bedding most young ladies you meet, the overall plot and progress of Geralt offers enough amusement to make the 40+ hours of content feel mostly satisfying.
Of course, the current trend in RPGs now is to offer the player moral choices and dilemmas that will ultimately affect the course of the game, and The Witcher is no different. However, what is different is the manner in which your choices are made since - unlike other games - the decision you make will not come into fruition until much later on, and thus the old save and re-load trick isn't available on the short-term. It would be over-enthusiastic to say the choices offered boost the game to an emotional level seen in something like, say, Knights of the Old Republic, but a new spin on the concept certainly adds more flavour to the game.
Speaking of Knights of the Old Republic, it is highlighted on The Witcher's case that the game utilises Bio-Ware's own graphics engine (Aurora), which would explain why it looks similar to KotOR and Neverwinter Nights in the screenshots/videos, if you were wondering. For the most part, the Aurora engine gets the job done, but there are some areas where The Witcher: Enhanced Edition is still having troubles; mainly in the loading and animation department.
The game can load interior and exteriors quickly enough when moving between small environments (such as a hut), but once you start making frequent transitions between entire areas (which you will) the loading can be frustrating. It's much more improved and tolerable than it was in the original Witcher by all accounts, but having events where you can save the game, die and then click to load game on the same spot, only to be greeted with a lengthy loading time is unimpressive. And as for the animations, if the atrocious voice acting of most of the NPCs wasn't bad enough, the utter staleness and unconvincing flow of characters during conversions does nothing but hurt the authenticity the game would have otherwise displayed. The attempts made to clean up these flaws are noticeable and definitely welcome in the Enhanced Edition, but it's still not enough to overlook these issues.
Item management is another area where CD Projekt have tried to improve things, but it's another unfortunate scenario. See, there is a separate bag slot for herbs, general items and an infinite space for quest items, but even so I still found myself getting bogged down with stuff. I was having to constantly run to and from the inn to utilise my bank (which, in turn, increased the amount of loading experienced) and make annoying decisions on which items, potions and herbs I would need for future. Instead of playing and enjoying the game I was having to take part in an occasional chore which greatly hampered my enjoyment of the game.
It would be tempting to just completely ignore the use of alchemy in the game just to avoid the issues of bag space, but in doing that you would be missing out on a deep and interesting element of gameplay. The game offers a wide range of plant types along with various combinations used to make potions. Playing the game on the highest difficulty places a heavy reliance on potions and so enriches the experience overall, while also highlighting the good use of the in-game journal which offers plenty of insight and knowledge on not only alchemy, but all things in the world of The Witcher.
But gathering ingredients for alchemy isn't strictly a flower picking activity, since the many monsters and beasts you'll encounter will shed alchemy ingredients of their own, with some extra nasty foes leaving behind one-time-only ingredients for powerful potions.
Slaying these nasties is how you'll earn experience and eventually level up Geralt. The combat itself is interesting enough, offering you the opportunity to manipulate the main combat outcome, while relying on a typical dice-roll system for defence, dodge and parrying. Once a physical attack is made Geralt will begin a string of attacks and finish off with a yellow-highlighted wave of his sword; if you click the attack button again during this period you will successfully chain together a combo, and can continue until the enemy is dead. It's a simple but enjoyable tint on the combat, with the expected inclusion of new abilities and skills gained through levelling offering more depth as the game continues on. There's three different sword styles available to switch through at any time (Strong for one-on-one; Fast for agile opponents; and Group for several enemies) along with five Sign (magic) abilities to learn. Like physical combat, you can also input use of Signs yourself, and can, for example, set a pack of bandits on fire with the Igni Sign, or stun a wyvern leaving it open to instant death with the Aard Sign. The ability tree available when levelling up offers enough scope for individual set-ups, and so Geralt's combat style is entirely customisable, which is a greatly appreciated feature of the game.
There are three camera types to choose from which will alter the combat experience somewhat: one being an over-the-shoulder perspective, while the other being a more top-down affair. I opted for the OTS view-point since it seemed more relevant for the game, and made me feel more involved in the action, although the top-down camera should be just as effective if you prefer it. But no matter what view you choose, the amount of possibilities offered through Geralt's ability tree means that the combat can stay fresh and enjoyable.
Since there's quite a lot to do in The Witcher, it's just as well that the combat can stay enjoyable for so long, since the game's content can tend to drag sometimes. The main quest spans over 7 acts, but unfortunately makes use of the fetch mechanic (go there, talk to him, come back, talk to her, go back etc... ) a bit too frequently, while also lacking in the way of variation (even within the confines of an RPG). The dice-poker mini-game helps spice things up though, and there are plenty of side-quests that usually come attached with a back-story and characters of amusement/interest.
The locations and general atmosphere of the game serve well too, with the sound-track being something I would definitely highlight as something that brings the game to life. I felt that the Outskirts area of Act 1 and Murky Waters of Act 4 were when the game was at its very best, offering plenty of freedom in regard to quests and progression, while also allowing you to fully appreciate the splendour of the art style and music.
The Witcher: Enhanced Edition attempts to resolve the issues that prevented the original game from attaining the highest praise it deserves. Much like the original, it takes the bread-and-butter PC RPG concept and makes it as engrossing and enjoyable as all the other greats, with its emphasis on being a pure PC game that makes it more appealing than it would have been around 5-10 years ago. Unfortunately, the alterations made to Enhanced Edition are still too minor to allow The Witcher its wishful place as a modern benchmark of PC Role-Playing Games. The additional quests, bug fixes, new animations and other things are nice, but subsequently the flaws and issues that festered the main game are still too numerous for Enhanced Edition to truly shine.
What is promising, though, is that if the best key elements are carried over, CD Projekt has the means to create a very recommendable RPG in the future, perhaps as a sequel to this very game. The bad news is that PC players will have to wait while the developers push forward with the inevitable console version of The Witcher, and then endure the anxious period when CD Projekt will decide whether it's worth keeping the potential game series deep in its PC roots, or severely altered for console success in the future. I'm hoping for the former.
7 / 10