Thankfully, the game compensates with solid - if hardly new - RPG features elsewhere. Alchemical formulae and ingredients can be horded, goods can be traded or given as bribes, while a dice-based version of poker scratches the need for in-game gambling. Geralt can even get drunk and pissed up on booze, a state which can be made strangely beneficial if you choose the right levelling-up options. Non-player characters abound, all inhabiting a world that feels lived-in and rich in detail, while there's no shortage of quests to be found in the shape of witcher missions, culling the local monster population in return for money or information to advance the main storyline. There are moments of obvious padding, where vital quest characters won't speak to you until you perform another quest for them, but it's never a chore and when you stumble across conversations that lead to new quests, it rarely feels like you've been led to that moment - more like you happened to stumble on it yourself. An illusion, more often than not, but a fairly convincing one.
It is a shame the NPC dialogue is so rigid, however, since you can question them over and over until you find the right answers to yield your desired results. The game sometimes trips over its own narrative, with Geralt talking about characters he just met as if he doesn't know them, or asking questions to which you've already found the answer. These mood-breaking hiccups are all the more noticeable since the game does such a good job of creating an immersive milieu of windswept countryside, poverty-stricken towns and hedonistic cities. This is most noticeable in the seduction quests, where you try to talk comely maidens into bed. Shades of Groundhog Day soon emerge, as you outrage them with wrong answers only to ask again a few minutes later with no lasting reputation loss. Trial-and-error can earn you most notches on the bedpost, along with the already infamous "I shagged her!" soft porn collectors cards. They're unspeakably naff, of course, but as with the topless slave girls in Conan it's in-keeping with the bawdy tone of the game.
Your decisions do have subtle impacts though, often not becoming evident until much later in the game. For all the PR talk of grey moral areas, there's still some obvious "good choice, bad choice" stuff going on, but the elongated timeframe means you won't be able to cheat your way around them with quick-saves. Even the broad sweep of upgrade options is designed for the long haul, with far too many combinations to max out in one game. It's not a game you'll rush back to for another run through, but there's definitely replayability here for those who value such things.
Graphically, the emphasis is on consistency and tone rather than showboating. It looks nice - sometimes really, really nice - but if you're worried you'll be missing some state of the art visual trickery if you shunt a few sliders down to "medium" then, rest assured, it's all about effective mood rather than swanky lighting. You'll still need a fairly robust rig to cope with the strain of rendering the larger NPC crowds, but it's not the system hog many feared it would be. While we're on the presentation tip, the music is worthy of special note, with some haunting Celtic instrumentals, while the voice acting ranges from the effective to the, ahem, enthusiastic. Geralt himself talks in a rather off-putting Americanised snarl, a bit like Dirty Harry, while the villagers range from dim Mancunian to Dick Van Dyke cockerney sparras. Dwarves, somewhat inevitably, are Scottish.
Well-intentioned clickety combat aside, The Witcher doesn't offer much the dedicated role-player won't have already seen elsewhere, but that's not such a bad thing. CD Projekt has taken time-tested elements from across the fantasy-RPG spectrum and tied them to a solidly crafted story that includes elements of racial discord, religious fanaticism and sexual promiscuity in its adults-only mix. Admittedly, these elements are rather crudely introduced and are handled with a rather endearing "Look! Adult themes!" excitability, but there's certainly more to savour here than in most dungeon-crawlers. One for those who value story and character over technical innovation then, but definitely a game worth trying if the concept has tickled your fancy.