Version tested: PC
Not having read a film mag in years, I don't know if they still do this, but... I always despised the dual-mark DVD review section where they give separate marks for films and add-ons, with a similar sort of split shown in the actual reviews in terms of what they talk about. Because if a film is rubbish, who cares if it's got voiceover commentary by the entire cast's family? It's rubbish. You're reviewing. That's all that bloody matters.
The Witcher: Enhanced Edition has provided me with the latest in a long string of opportunities to be a dirty great hypocrite.
Because games are a cultural form I actually care about, the enormous bundle of stuff doesn't seem to be just extraneous guff. It's actually pretty neat. And since The Witcher has already been reviewed, and remains mostly the same game I can concentrate my attention on the new stuff - what's changed and why you may be interested, even if you weren't before.
A lot has changed for this single-character role-playing game, which is built around the popular (in Poland) Polish fantasy character of the title. When released it was in a somewhat twitchy state, and the patches have done much to sort that out. The biggest problem - long load times - has been dealt with to a significant degree. Only the first load in a session tends to leave you sighing, with the rest agreeably non-punishing. When the character has to bob in and out of hours on a quest, not caring that you have to do such a thing is a major boon for basic reasons of immersion.
The second problem to be tackled head-on is the issue of translation. For reasons unknown - though it's easy to speculate - the original Polish dialogue was much longer and more detailed than the English translation. And the voice-acting was uneven, and the characters did that Neverwinter Nights thing of standing still and reciting their lines sinisterly, which made some scenes pretty much unintelligible. It was so distracting that when I played the original Witcher, I actually installed the Polish voice files and used the unedited full English subtitles - treating it like a foreign film.
All that's been tweaked, thankfully. Apparently over 5000 lines have been re-recorded, plus there are extra character animations. The results are not exactly overwhelming. The character animations are far better, but it's a case them now being acceptable rather than impressive. The translation changes are subtle and welcome, and result in rather less foot-in-mouth moments. To give one example, there's a scene in the original where the Head Witcher tells the others they should treat Love Interest Number 1 with more respect, before calling her "babe". In the new version, they've use the word "child" - so the paternalism they were aiming for now comes across.
There are still problems, however. The timing of conversations is an issue - especially when you loop back to the main conversation menu after an exchange. Each character you're talking to has a set refrain before you get to choose, and it often bears no relation to what's previously been said. Also the game's creators have a tendency to not understand that while setting a game in a sexist world (as in, characters really are terrible bastards) is fine and actually worthy of praise, adding sexist mechanics (as in, whenever you sleep with a character you get a collectable card of them posing for you) undercuts any serious intentions you may have had.
Which is a shame - as a revisionist, nasty fantasy, the Witcher has a lot going for it. It's the only PC RPG of the last couple of years which has committed to a high level of production values (at its best, the game is genuinely beautiful) to a traditional design (heavy on the conversation) with enough twists to make it feel novel. The setting being so nasty is a prime one - after a mass of sanitised RPGs, playing one where characters happily call each other abusive names makes a welcome change.
Another good twist is to choose to delve into the titular Witcher deeply, rather than choosing to simulate many classes shallowly. While there's room to choose your style of Witcher, throwing all effort into trying to make the game respond to your unique nature as a genetic-mutant potion-brewing sword-swinging freak has paid dividends. It does make you wonder what an RPG could be like if they threw all their efforts into another, relatively unexplored class.
But we wander into speculation, and there's still much more to talk about in this big box. And it is a big box. Firstly, it's worth stressing that a lot of this material's actually available online - for example, the Enhanced Edition changes will be available in a large downloadable patch to anyone who owned the original. However, for a deluxe package like this, the 30 quid RRP is impressively reasonable. The assorted things in the box are so spread out across the room that I'm having trouble finding all the discs included to work out how many there actually are. Well, from memory - there's the game disc. There's the extended edition disc (including two extra missions and the Witcher creator-toolkit). There's the the DVD commentary disc. There's the CD soundtrack disc. There's the "music-inspired by The Witcher game" disc.
Let's repeat that: "Music inspired by The Witcher game". It's an odd whistlestop tour through the Polish music scene and sounds like a mixtape by your D&D obsessed mood-swinging best mate, bouncing from metal to faux-medieval folk. Particularly bewildering is Lady Arrp who plays a celtic-harp over something akin to elvish dubstep. This isn't your grandad's bard. There are also three small books - the manual, a game guide and a novella by the original author of The Witcher, Andrzej Sapkowski.
Crikey. There's even a map. Not a cloth map, but you can't have everything.
The most interesting element for Witcher veterans are the two new missions. The Price of Neutrality is set in a new location near the Witcher's castle, and is - as the title suggests - set around one of those hard decisions the game tends to throw at you. Where it differs is, due to its closed structure, is that the fallout from the call is thrown at you, so you know how it all turns out.
The second mission isn't as emotional, but perhaps a little more replayable - it's the simple task of trying to gain 2000 gold in a city to pay off a friend's debts. While constrained and re-using locations from the original game, it's actually a neat slice of the Witcher's world with some open-ended adventuring and coin-gaining - I played to completion without actually using some of the options for getting cash. They also show the potential in the game's toolkit to make further adventures in the game world, even if you have a limited lead - though it's likely to be a long time before the community realises something of a similar quality.
"Similar Quality" is nagging in my ears a bit. Last year was bad for the PC RPG. This year, at least so far, has been even worse. In such times it's easier to look kindly on The Witcher, even the original version. The new and improved package is increasingly attractive. There are still some rough edges, and moments of genuine drama are still undercut by how they're performed, but this is an agreeably driven RPG in an agreeably ornate package. I also believe the developers' continued support for the game and commitment to expensive improvements - which I stress you'll be able to download and patch into any existent version - should be applauded.
If you've been umming and ahhing over trying the Witcher, I think this is enough to push you into a straight Ah!
8 / 10