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The Witcher Pokémon Go-like game is out, but is it any good?

An afternoon fighting hags in parks.

I had a fight with a hag in a park yesterday afternoon and no one seemed to notice. I had a fight with a griffin the size of a bus stop too, coincidentally right next to a bus stop. Did the people on the bus care? No they didn't. I fought ghouls and wyverns and there was even a horse's head on the pavement for a while. Somewhat amusingly, none of this looked particularly out of place in Brighton.

I'm playing the brand new Witcher mobile game, The Witcher - Monster Slayer. It's the game that's a bit like Pokémon Go and uses real-world map data to populate your local area with monsters for you to fight. You are a witcher after all (I'm actually a trained witcher but that's another story entirely).

It's not bad. A lot of effort has clearly gone in. Characters are voiced and there are illustrated cut-scenes. There are a few dialogue choices, there's limited character creation and customisation through skill trees. There's crafting and equipment to upgrade. The hallmarks of a witcher RPG are here. And seeing the monsters of that universe standing right in front of you, using the game's augmented reality mode, is endlessly cool. You get a real sense of their size.

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It's not the most comfortable way to fight them, though, because you have to hold your phone up towards where they would be stood in real-life, and sometimes they're so big they obscure their own health bar, which signals when they're about to attack - something you have to pay close attention to in order to parry perfectly and negate their damage. You also look a bit stupid holding your phone up when people walk by.

In non-AR mode, you see the monsters in a Witcher world, and are able to fight with the phone in a more natural tilted-down position, and - anecdotally - the game seems to run smoother. But it's not as fun.

Combat is quite involved. You swipe to hit, either quickly to perform a fast attack (which you can upgrade via the skill tree) or with a bit of a pause for a strong attack (which you can also upgrade). Some enemies are weak to one type, some enemies another. And the more you hit, the more you build a critical gauge, until it triggers an icon which passes across the screen and that you need to press at the right moment to perform a powerful critical hit.

I risked my life to take these screenshots!

You can also throw bombs and cast Signs (which you can upgrade too). Bombs only require pressing a bomb icon, but Signs require pressing a Sign icon and then tracing the shape of the Sign on the screen. The Igni fire spell I have requires a V shape, for instance. And these are powerful abilities you will want to use a lot, because enemies in the game are tough. Without them, you will struggle to win.

Don't do what I do and walk 20 minutes across town stalking a griffin for my main quest - a cool idea for a feature, I must admit - only to get there and not be able to kill it. I figured that as my first real quest it would be easily attainable, but after several tries, and much hot afternoon sun later, I gave up.

Maybe it was because I had used all my useful oils and bombs and potions beforehand. These you use before a battle to give you an upper-hand (potions and oils are used automatically when the battle begins). Maybe I needed to level up more. (I tried to find more enemies to fight but they were scattered inefficiently around. I should have made better use of the initial pack of enemies that surrounded my starting area: my flat.) Maybe I shouldn't have been trying to take screenshots at the same time as fighting (I'm an idiot.) Maybe I should get a better phone (I am actually quite surprised it runs at all on a Pixel 1).

There are some nice nods to Witcher investigations when appraising the horse's head, and when following tracks. Nice touches.

As it is, I'm a bit stuck. I've hit an impasse. Devoid of many nearby creatures to fight, and devoid of potions and oils and bombs to use, there isn't much I can do. I can craft, but only one potion or oil at a time, which takes real-world time - anywhere between 10 minutes and an hour. I tried adding a friend in the hope they'd be able to help me with the griffin, but all they can do is send me packs of herbs now and then. Do I really need to grind so soon?

Or do I need to spend? I am reminded about the store almost every battle, which I don't like, but then it is a free-to-play game so what did I expect? I do earn money in the game I can spend there, but it's never, of course, enough.

It all leaves me in two-minds about The Witcher - Monster Slayer. For me, it got slow quickly. I'm also not sure where the social aspect of the game comes in. I don't see things like Pokémon Gyms or reasons for people to gather in places and meet. I did see a strange tree planted on the map at one point, which apparently attracts creatures, but I had to be level 10 (I am level three) to interact with it. And no one else was there. Possibly I'll dabble with it a bit more, then, but I'm not sure.

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