Experienced Points:
That Game I Should Have Liked

By Shamus Posted Friday Dec 10, 2010

Filed under: Column 106 comments

In which I express regret over a game I just couldn’t love.

Guess which one.


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106 thoughts on “Experienced Points:
That Game I Should Have Liked

  1. Jabor says:

    The link goes to the comment thread instead of the article, FYI.

    EDIT: That’s a pretty nifty banner you’ve got up there.

    1. Dev Null says:

      Is it procedurally generated?

      1. X2-Eliah says:

        It better be.

      2. Samkathran says:

        Everything on Shamus’ site is procedurally generated- even the comments!

        What, you thought it was us doing the posting? That’s what the program wants you to think! ;)

  2. Samkathran says:

    I was always on the fence about The Witcher, personally. I never ended up buying it because I didn’t hear too many good things about it, even though it was pretty well received overall (at least according to Metacritic).

    In the end, what really pushed me away from it was when I learned that it used the Electron Engine. I remember thinking to myself, “wait a sec, that sounds familiar… wasn’t that from- oh no, Neverwinter Nights 2? PASS!”

    I know, I know, that’s a pretty weak reason to turn down a game. The engine wasn’t even NWN2’s weak point. I was just so disappointed by that game that I couldn’t bring myself to play something so potentially similar so soon.

    I am excited for The Witcher 2 though. I’ve read that they used a new engine of their own making for it, which sounds very promising. If they managed to keep doing whatever made the first game successful, I’m sure it will be quite popular.

    1. Ringwraith says:

      I think it uses a heavily modified Aurora engine actually. You wouldn’t be able to tell by playing it though.
      It doesn’t even play out similarly, it’s closer to Diablo than Neverwinter Nights during combat (i.e. involves a fair amount of clicking).
      The games is good though, it’s notable for having everything more or less similar shades of grey, and nothing is clear-cut.

      1. Irridium says:

        Yeah, its the Aurora engine. The logo is in the startup-credits.

        Perhaps the origional version used the Electron Engine though.

        1. Samkathran says:

          Well shoot, upon further examination, it was indeed a variation of the Aurora Engine. I suppose I wasn’t too far off though, since as far as I know Electron is basically Obsidian’s upgraded version of Aurora… so that probably made it half as stable and twice as buggy, if they’re consistent.

          I just picked the wrong modified Aurora Engine, is all!

          1. Michael says:

            As I recall, Electron was the equally buggy and stable version of the Aurora engine that never got to benefit from the tweaking and stabilizing that went into the Aurora engine after it split off. But, that’s neither here nor there.

      2. Christopher M says:

        The loading times are still there, though. That’s the thing I remember most from NWN2, and it seems to have transferred with the Aurora engine.

        1. Klay F. says:

          If I remember right (I haven’t played the game myself), the “Super-Ultra-Mega-Hyper-Definitely-The-Last” Version fixed the long loading times and the majority of bugs. I remember a lot of people making fun of the advertised 80-hour long main quest and talking about how almost all of that 80-hours are loading screens.

        2. X2-Eliah says:

          Enhanced Edition fixed those.

          1. Rosseloh says:

            They’re still long. But yes, the “on the order of minutes” load screens were fixed.

      3. Raygereio says:

        ” think it uses a heavily modified Aurora engine actually. You wouldn't be able to tell by playing it though.”

        Funny, as someone who played NWN2 a lot I immediatly recognized the engine. I can’t really explain it, but it just felt similar.

  3. I’m right there with you on the Witcher.

    If a game forces me (GRRRRR!) to play a male character, the designers had better make him likable and someone in which I can identify.

    Geralt was neither.


    1. Meredith says:

      I don’t mind playing a male character, but what’s with RPGs that force a set character on you? I can’t role play someone I didn’t at least get to personalize a bit.

      1. Stellar Duck says:

        I would argue that the core of role playing is… role playing.
        Haven’t a GM ever handed you a character sheet with the person you have to role play as? I think creating your own character takes a lot away from the role playing aspect. Being given a char forces you to try to think like that person, not just create an extension of yourself.

        Or perhaps my friends and I just play in a strange manner.

        1. Veloxyll says:

          Geralt isn’t the greatest character to play doesn’t help though. I mean, he has his moments, but they’re just that, moments. A lot of the time he’s not that fun. It’s the biggest thing that’s held me back from playing through it again now I have the extended edition.

          That said I’ll still possibly get Witcher 2

        2. Klay F. says:

          as always so many people confuse “role-playing game” with “game where you play a role”.

          Things like that get on my nerves. Just please for the love of God don’t call Final Fantasy games “role-playing games”. *shudder*

          1. Zukhramm says:

            But they are.

            And where is someone confusing RPGs for “game where you play a role” here?

            1. Primogenitor says:


              Game where you play a role: Final Fantasy, Duke Nukem, Monkey Island

              Role-playing game: Mount and Blade, X3, Evil Genius.

              One you are given a character fully-formed by the designer and have no impact on how the plot resolves. The other you are given freedom to decide what to do and how to do it.

              Most cRPGs fall somewhere between those extremes.

    2. Kalil says:

      Just reading about the misogynistic underpinnings of Geralt made me cringe. I’m too much of a completionist not to pursue romance plotlines, but get too annoyed by them to complete a game. I quite Dragon Age shortly after witnessing the Morrigan romance scene, and never played again. …I was even rather squicked by the Zehvran romance, even though that should have been more up my alley. >.<

      I've seen the Witcher on sale several times, and I've always debated purchasing it. In the end, I've decided against it every time.

      EDIT: I should also note that I got really steamed by the EA DRM on the Impulse version of Dragon Age. It took me about an hour to install the game and unlock all the DLC, not counting the initial download time. Then, one of the patches corrupted something, and I was forced to completely uninstall, re-download, and reinstall it.

      1. Raygereio says:

        Erm, what was so bad about the DA sexscenes? The fact that they did with their underwear still on?

        Also the EA DRM thing is on all versions of the game and it is indeed terrible. I both laughed and cried a little when I reinstalled Dragon Age when I got Awakening and then downloaded the DLC through that stupid ingame download manager. After it was done the game promptly forgot I had Awakening installed. Awesome work EA/BioWare!

        1. Kalil says:

          I’m easily squicked by animated/video porn (even softcore). It’s a personal failing.
          I also really don’t like the Bioware relationship-as-psychoanalysis approach to romance, although it’s certainly better than the Lionware model (romance via fart jokes).

      2. decius says:

        Heh. I never got the EA DRM program to work. After spending over a week waiting for tech support to acknowledge my problem, I got a version of the .exe that didn’t require the DRM program to be running.

  4. Meredith says:

    Unpopular opinion in 3…2…1: This is how I feel about Fallout. I should love it, but I just couldn’t get into it at all. The open world part ruined the RPG part for me.

    1. Audacity says:

      Which Fallout? If you mean Fallout 3 then I actually agree with you. But if you mean one of the first two then… BURN HERETIC! ;)

      1. Meredith says:

        The original, classic, much-beloved Fallout. *ducks*

        1. Michael says:

          *Munches on Meredith*

          Okay, in all fairness, I do get that. The first two Fallout titles aren’t the most accessible. And as much as I love it the first one actually starts off pretty bland for the first couple hours, until you start running into really weird s___.

        2. Audacity says:

          *Gasp* I, I am speechless. How dare you malign my favorite campy post-apocalyptic adventure. Now I must take it upon myself to prove your moral degeneracy and lack of humanity so that your tastes may be rendered meaningless. Clearly you are some form of alien infiltrator who must be destroyed, for no decent human being could hold such despicable views!

          Now then, where did I leave that pitchfork…

  5. Christopher M says:

    Repost from the Escapist.

    Maybe… maybe when people have amnesia, they come back as jerks?

    I guess it depends a bit on whether you’re interacting with the game as a game, or as a movie. Are you watching the characters (and just picking which direction they take)? Or do you inhabit the characters, and therefore feel an extra level of attachment to the courses they take? That might make all the difference.

    In other words, Maybe it would be easier for you, Shamus, to watch the game being played than it is for you to play it?

    1. Michael says:

      Geralt is actually less of a jerk in the game than he is in the novels.

    2. Zukhramm says:

      But with movies too, if I can’t like the main character I probably will have a hard time enjoying the movie.

  6. Integer Man says:

    Hm. My guess was Dragon Age. El Wrongo.

    I’m with you on the DRM thing. I used to not mind copy protection that much.

    Back in the early days, I could tolerate puzzles that could only be solved using the game manual, pattern matching copy protection or other such thing (the Maniac Mansion copy protection was awesome – the mansion nukes itself if you fail it).

    I could tolerate the product key or detection of a CD in the CD bay as copy protection, though it was annoying and definitely contributed to me getting secondary CD trays in my PCs.

    Steam was okay when it was new since not everything used it and I had a better internet connection than I do now.

    Last week I got a new PC and the first night did not have an internet connection. Because of this, I couldn’t install any one of 8 games I wanted to play on the thing. Even afterward, when I established an internet connection, it was spotty and ranged from 20 kb/s to 300 kb/s. This is not sufficient enough to download updates to games or even to steam and is an exercise in frustration.

    I’m not a pirate. I’ve never installed a crack, even to remove the inconvenience of having to put the correct CD in the tray.

    At some point we crossed a line where it’s okay to treat the consumer like a thief unless proven otherwise. If I have an offline game I’ve installed from a CD, I should not be required to have an active, stable, and non-molasses slow internet connection in order to run software that I have purchased and is sitting on my computer.

    If Steam has a bug and won’t start, it should still let me play things in offline mode (admittedly, it’s supposed to do this, but steam starting has been glitchy lately and this doesn’t seem to work the way it should).

    This is a long rant on someone else’s nice post, but I now understand that not all people who hate DRM and Steam are pirates. Sorry; I feel your pain now.

    1. Irridium says:

      I, and many others, have been shouting about this for ages. And nobody listens or cares until its too late…

      1. Integer Man says:

        Yep. I know it. I guess I’ll stop assuming the rest of the world is full of filthy pirates. Sorry about that.

      2. Blanko2 says:

        seconded. i am fully with you.
        if i was a pirate, i would love steam, its been cracked for ages, if i recall correctly. so releasing a game on steam just makes it easier for them, really.

        the ubisoft drm is the one that lasted longest, i think, cept the whole PS3 console.

    2. krellen says:

      I actually guessed New Vegas. I lose!

      1. Michael says:

        You guys got to guess? :( It was right there in the article tease for the Escapist. Now I feel like I missed out on something. :(

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Really?Shamus had much more negative to say about witcher,and almost nothing positive.I thought it was an easy guess.

      3. krellen says:

        Suspecting no one but Shamus will see this: a giant bug-fix patch for New Vegas came out last week. Maybe it’s time to give it another try?

    3. Simon Buchan says:

      Maybe I’m missing something, but I’m not sure I get your internet speed thing… Steam doesn’t change the story on that other than it’s overeager patching – you just install from “backup” if it’s a store disk. (If you’re psychic, you can turn the patching off, I hear)

      Also, I’m typing this as Amnesia is at 99%, when I started downloading it yesterday – slow internet does indeed suck.

      1. Integer Man says:

        Yeah. Tried to install it but needed an internet connection to install steam the first time, later got the internet connection and couldn’t start anything until it updated fully.

        Oh well. Things worked out in the end, but it’s disturbing to realize where the industry has gone.

  7. rofltehcat says:

    If my machine wasn’t too old for it, I’d probably buy it, too.

    But it is already on my “awesome games to buy for 10 € when I have a new pc” list.

    1. Integer Man says:

      I think my new PC is too new for it.

  8. Jan says:

    Well, I only played the extended edition director’s cut XP ++ (or something like that, got it in a steam sale a year ago).

    – the tutorial setting (that castle just nails it).
    – the choices and consequences (you can switch sides, up until a certain pivotal moment in chapter 3 out of 5).
    – the shades of grey world (do I support the naively good knight fighting for a powerlusting racist maniac, or do I support the terrorists killing innocent people for a hopeless but good cause. Als my resolution of a side quest in chapter 2 ended up killing an important person in chapter 3).
    – the world and the story in general.
    – the plot twist at the end. Did not see that coming at all.

    – the main character (though you can direct his actions somewhat more after a while’.
    – the combat. It’s basically button mashing on the right time, with some potion chogging. There’s some choice in combat style, but out of 6 options, only 2 at a time are any good, and those are immediately obvious.
    – the juvenile approach to sex ( the infamous cards….)

    All in all, I liked it, but I can see why people, even people who like story based RPG’s, dislike it.

    1. Galad says:

      I tried to say that in Shamus’ two or three year old review on the Witcher, I’ll say it again. It’s first and foremost a game based on a series of novels and in these novels Geralt is portrayed, among other things, as very attractive to most women, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why. He can’t have children = no complications from sex, he’s a monster slayer = he can protect a woman from say, thugs easily, in fact there’s a certain side quest in act 2 about that. Hence the, at first glance, juvenile, but otherwise pretty much appropriate approach to sex in the game.

      About combat, if that’s what you were expecting you’d be disappointed indeed, I try to think of it as “combat not getting in the way of the story” and I’m fine. Though I’d have still liked more challenge in the way of combat and I’m not the only one. There was a thread about this on the old Witcher forum and unless I’m mistaken, someone ended up making a mod that ramps up the difficulty.

      And about the main character, care to expand on that?

      1. Jan says:

        Well, it’s basically the problem with a game based on books. He didn’t say the things I would have wanted to have said, not even close.
        This probably isn’t that big of a problem to most people, but I could not even play Mass Effect 1/2 doing only the renegade part, it revolted me. I know it’s just a game, but when I’m really playing it, I tend to identify with the protagonist. I tend to have the same with books and films, and cannot enjoy them if the protagonist is a jerk, but in games that offer some choice in the matter, the lack of actual choice drives me really off.

        The protagonist in The Witcher seems to be a jerk (and you cannot do anything about it) in the beginning. After that it does get better. You can do some meaningful stuff helping people (though, and that is a major plus for me, you cannot fix all problems or make everybody happy), and you learn some of the reasons for his actions. I even did what I’d consider bad in most contexts, and felt remorse for it, but still thought it was the right decision.
        I think the main problem many people have with it, is that if you didn’t read the books, the game doesn’t do enough to fill you in in the beginning.

        I fear (though for me that won’t be a problem anymore), that the next game will have the same problem for people who didn’t play the first game.

        edit:spoiler fail

        1. HeroOfHyla says:

          “when I'm really playing it, I tend to identify with the protagonist. I tend to have the same with books and films, and cannot enjoy them if the protagonist is a jerk, but in games that offer some choice in the matter, the lack of actual choice drives me really off.”

          I agree with you so much. I couldn’t bring myself to play Saints Row 2 at first, because very early in the game the protagonist smashes a glass bottle on someone’s head with almost no provocation. I wasn’t able to make the character I wanted, which was very jarring when compared to what the ads were touting. Sure, I could choose what he looked like, but he was still essentially the same person no matter what I chose.

        2. Blanko2 says:

          the difference is geralt is just the right type of jerk that it doesnt bother me, whereas renegade shep in ME1 is just a dumbass, excuse the language

  9. Lalaland says:

    I actually think forcing a character on the player allows designers to make dialogue more specific and pointed. Unfortunately Geralt is a jerk but at least everyone reacts to him as such rather than the consistently bland reactions to my character that characterise the Fallout games. It was interesting to have morally bad choices seem like an in character choice. Like the majority of players I tend to choose ‘good’ options (if Mass Effect 2 stats are to believed anyway) at least on my first play through. The first moral choice in the Witcher the food and the starving rebels one, I gave them the food so they wouldn’t starve and they went on a killing rampage I took what I thought to be the right choice but the later ending card highlighted that I hadn’t really thought it through. No other game in years has forced me to think beyond the immediate needs of the NPC I’m talking to.

    1. Michael says:

      I do really like that the other option there results in a crackdown by the xenophobic human government, which gets an NPC you need later arrested. So there is no right and moral choice, just a very gray selection between bad and worse.

      EDIT: Again, I literally cannot use tags. :( I encode them properly and the site strips them out of my post. What gives?

      1. wtrmute says:

        When I first tried to put in a spoiler, I used <s> to enclose them, and the tags were scrubbed. I edited it and put <strike> and it worked, so it appears that unlike what is advertised, <s> doesn’t work, but <strike> does. Maybe that’s what you were doing?

        1. Michael says:

          That is what I was doing this time, but in my experience and get scrubbed as well… and yet, today they work again. *pounds head into desk*

          Thank you.

  10. peter says:

    the main problem i had with the witcher was the introduction.
    geralt didn’t get introduced properly it started with a “this guy is awesome, look” cutscene, and it pretty much ran from there.
    i think with proper introduction, and more info on the person rather than mr toughasnails would’ve done wonders.
    i seem to recall the witcher as mostly made for fans of the books though, and said fans of course already know the guy.

    geralt was easily the least interesting bit of the witcher, bland at best. the setting and people as a whole are interesting though, and the game is a lot more stable than its engine lead me to think before i played.

  11. thebigJ_A says:

    What do you mean Tom Chick isn’t known for being iconoclastic? I read Fidgit all the time. I love it, even though I don’t often agree with his reviews. And the reason is BECAUSE he often dislikes popular games and likes unpopular ones. (Yes, I know that isn’t quite iconoclastic, in that he doesn’t necessarily attack, but you get what I mean.)

    I was taught at a young age to expose myself to views opposed to my own, and that has broadened my horizens. Reading sites like Fidgit (Chick’s) is how I do that with games. It’s got me to play some things I never would have otherwise. Sometimes I actually even liked them.

    1. Shamus says:

      Disclosure: I didn’t actually know about his work. I googled the guy and the things people said about him did not lead me to believe he was far out of the norm. Pretty subjective, I admit. If I miss-characterized him, that’s why.

      1. LintMan says:

        Tom Chick can sometimes be “contrarian”, especially in his articles on Fidgit, but having read his reviews over the years, I think he plays those straight and says what he thinks. He just isn’t afraid to go against the popular sentiment.

        As far as his Deus Ex review, IIRC his criticisms are mostly valid. It’s just that he didn’t appreciate the game’s groundbreaking aspects for what they were – and that’s the stuff that makes many people willing to overlook DX’s flaws.

  12. Rosseloh says:

    I remember reading the comments on your review series a while back. Sure opens your eyes to what “difference in opinion” means.

    That said, I liked the Witcher. For all the same reasons as you wanted to, Shamus. I didn’t run into problems with the main character, probably because his cynical worldview matches mine, somewhat. And the depth of the world and story made up for any shortcomings. I will say that the Witcher is one of the few games I’ve completed 100%, and done so without turning to cheat codes or trainers.

    I agree with the previous poster who mentioned that the combat here was rather in the vein of “combat not interfering with storytelling”. It wasn’t nonexistent, and there were some “grindy” parts, but it was easy enough that I didn’t lose interest.

  13. krellen says:

    So, this sort of ties back to your comments on reviews and the different ends to which different players want to take them. I just realised something (right before I started this comment, in fact) while I was skipping things in a series I was otherwise interested in (because I wasn’t interested in that particular episode): I don’t care what developers think about their product. And this, I think, may be some of the best proof that video games are art I have ever encountered – I know what art is and I know it’s out there, but like with video games, I don’t really care what the artist thinks.

    I care what the viewer thinks.

    It’s why I’m interested in reviews. It’s why I’m interested in the comment threads on your reviews, Shamus. It’s why I bother with any of this stuff. I don’t care what the developer of a video game intended, what design choices or influences shaped their vision, just like I don’t care what a painter was looking at or thinking about when he made the painting. I do care, quite a lot, however, about what gamers think of the games, what the gamers think the message and themes are, just like I care what consumers of art think about the art and its roots.

    That’s why reviews are so interesting, even for games I’ve already played or already judged. They’re our conversation, our topic. The review is what kicks off the discussion and supports the social network it creates. For me, the end goal of a review is to start a conversation.

    And that, I think, is the essence of art: to get people talking.

    1. eri says:

      The downside, of course, is that if you have tastes that conflict with those of most gamers, finding opinions that are relevant to your own can be a little difficult. I find that even among Shamus’ readers, most tend to be BioWare and Bethesda fans, which I have grown to disagree with over the last couple of years. And they’re better than most out there.

      1. krellen says:

        I’m long used to having conversations with people I disagree with. I try (not always successfully) to keep them fairly constructive and entertaining despite the disagreement.

  14. eri says:

    I’m not going to lie: it seems a bit petty to write off a game simply because you don’t like the protagonist. It is true that Geralt is a bit lacking in personality and charisma, but at least there’s actually a lore explanation for that (Witchers are both social outcasts and tend to have their mental state affected by the rituals they undergo in upbringing). I could understand the complaint if Geralt were some smarmy, arrogant jerk no matter what you had to say about it, but he’s not in the least. I don’t know, maybe he’s too boring?

    When it comes down to it, I would rather a game with a fixed character give me something of a neutral or blank slate which I can later shape… which is exactly what The Witcher does in letting you decide Geralt’s political orientation, choice of relationships with others, love interest(s), and so on. By and large, Geralt’s story is the player’s story, and while The Witcher isn’t exactly an open-world game, it does give you a lot of leeway in terms of how you want to solve situations and who you want to ally with. Perhaps the biggest problem is that all this choice and consequence only makes itself apparent near the middle section of the game; up to that it’s fairly linear and the choices are largely “have sex with wench/don’t have sex”.

    In fact, if there’s one major complaint I have with The Witcher, it’s the pretty damned immature take it has on sexuality. The female characters you get to have conjugal relations with are often actually quite defined and, even if sometimes one-dimensional, are usually at least interesting, but ultimately, doing the deed feels more like a collection quest than anything else. I don’t expect BioWare-style relations, but getting “sex cards” with risque pin-up photos really cheapens what could have been a genuinely open-ended take on sexuality in games.

    1. krellen says:

      I actually think “I hate the protagonist” is an excellent reason to write off a game, or any other media for that matter. It’s very difficult to connect with any media when you utterly fail to connect with the character from whose viewpoint you experience it.

    2. Shamus says:

      You think it’s petty to not like the one thing that is on screen for 100% of the game, the person who is in every cutscene, part of every conversation, and who is the most active participant in the story?

      And it wasn’t that I “didn’t like” him. I couldn’t stand him. I actively disliked him.

      1. Wolverine says:

        At least you knew how the NPCs felt about him… :)

      2. eri says:

        I understand the reasoning, but I guess I’m able to distance myself from the player character, especially in situations where character has a strong personality (Bully, Deus Ex, Gears of War, etc.). For me, Geralt was enough of a blank slate for me to put myself in his shoes in the same way I might put myself in the shoes of, say, the player character of STALKER, or Dragon Age.

        The reason why it seemed a bit petty, I suppose, is because whenever I don’t like the player character, I stop thinking of him/her as “myself” and more as just another actor in the game that I simply happen to be controlling, and instead choose to focus on other things I do like about the game – the world, the other party members, the mechanics, etc. For a game like The Witcher, there really is a lot I find compelling, and I’d imagine it’s probably the same for most other fans of fantasy RPGs. It’s hard for me to picture disliking one single part of a game so much that I just don’t touch it at all.. but then, I also have a history of learning to like games that I’m initially opposed to.

        In any case, the relationship between the protagonist and player character is never cut and dry. It’s interesting for me to look at other perspectives on the matter.

      3. LintMan says:

        I had the benefit of buying the re-released extended edition which fixed all sorts of game issues and also came with a short story by the Polish author. The story was good enough for me to pick up The Last Wish by the author which I read before I played the game.

        So I can say Geralt is not meant to come across as a sleazy jerk, and to me while playing, he didn’t. In the stories, there’s something of a tragic vibe, with him being one of the last of his kind and being feared, mistrusted and even hated by many of the people he’s protecting and saving. It’s a shame that’s not as clear for people who aren’t familiar with the backstory.

    3. Talson says:

      Just kinda want to point out that the protagonist in most story based games is the focal point of the story. If you usually play games for story reasons, and you don’t like the protagonist, the entire story can fall apart. Then what reason do you have for playing the game?

  15. Danath says:

    I understand you hated it, and I believe I was incredulous for the same reasons you mention in your article… it seemed to have everything you ever wanted in a game. And while I understand you hated it, I wonder how much of the hate had to do with you being ill at the time (from what I remember anyways).

    Not saying you WOULDN’T have hated it, but I’m wondering if it increased your dislike for Geralt even further by having a shorter temper or whatnot.

    Alas, perhaps Witcher 2 might fix some of Geralt’s faults and make it more enjoyable for you.

  16. Fosse says:

    I correctly guessed The Witcher. Back when Shamus was first writing about it, he deleted a comment of mine. It is the only time something I’ve written has been censored on the internet! It has all of the ingredients of a Shamus classic, but there you go.

    It’s not perfect, but I love the game, and the (free) updates have improved it massively. Updates to eye candy, improved UI elements, add on content and extra quests and mini-expansions. And, most importantly, it runs way, way better. The load times aren’t any sort of issue at all anymore. They annoyed me during my first play-through, but barely register now on the exact same computer.

    The game had some really cool elements that I would love to see other developers adopt. Aside from the branching story, exclusive factions, moral dilemmas with gray areas, and so on — which lots of people at least pay lip service to these days — there was:

    An alchemy system that was easy to use, had depth, wasn’t annoying, and was actually fun as a minor puzzle game if you wanted to squeeze extra bonuses out of it.

    Great lore. Being based on a series of novels helps, I’m sure. But the world is outstanding. I particularly loved the way that monsters fit into the environment. They aren’t just random threats for the PC to grind XP out of (well, the Drowners are, maybe), but each monster type has its own root cause that is somehow rooted in human folly or excess.

    A well realized city. Doing this in 3d CRPGs is kind of tough. Cities in games tend to inhabit the worst parts of the uncanny valley. But Vizima manages to feel like a big city while being easy to navigate quickly. No small feat.

    Interesting quests. Here’s two:
    1. An admirable stab at fashioning a huge quest (almost an entire chapter, actually) out of an investigation. It doesn’t work as well on repeated play-throughs, of course. And there were some kinks in the mechanical side that held the whole thing back… but it was exciting and fun to unravel a little mystery, and pretty great of CDProjeckt to make it work even if you didn’t solve it correctly.

    2. A “quest” to help a friend throw a party at her house. It sounds silly, but it was really well done and compelling.

    Lastly, it had a great journal. Everyone should play The Witcher to completion just to get a good look at an in-game journal done right. It is the best example I’ve seen in any game, of any genre.

  17. Zaxares says:

    Well, sometimes a game just doesn’t resonate with somebody. For example, I hated the original Fallout. HATED it. I LOATHE timed quests with a burning passion and the fact that the initial quest of the game put me into one was an instant turn-off. It didn’t help that I wasn’t too big a fan of the combat system either.

    So, I got about 30 mins into it, then put it down and never looked at it again. And that bad taste in my mouth has stayed with me ever since then and as a result I’ve never touched any of the Fallout series, and I probably never will.

    The same deal goes for the Elder Scrolls series. Most other RPG fans I know love the game for its huge world and sandbox adventuring. I HATED it for those exact reasons. It was TOO big, TOO open. For a completionist gamer like me, it was overloading me with choice and things to do. I could have played Daggerfall for YEARS and probably never finished it.

    But, I appreciate that others do enjoy those games for the same things I hated in them. What does it matter if somebody liked a game I hated? As long as you’re having fun with it, what difference does it make to me or my life?

    1. eri says:

      The second half of Fallout is no longer timed after complaints were made about the 500 day limit, and there are probably mods out there to remove the time limit from the first half as well. However, the time limit is actually very generous and unless you go wandering off in a totally different direction than the game suggests, you shouldn’t have any trouble with the limit. Simply head to Shady Sands, Vault 15, Junktown, the Hub, and Necropolis, in that order, completing the quests along the way and picking up the locations by talking with important people. Time in Fallout only really passes in any significant form when you travel on the world map, read books, or rest.

      I do agree that the original Fallouts actually don’t have very good plots. They’re much more about the world and characters inhabiting it, as well as reactivity in that world to the choices you make. I’d say go straight to Fallout 2, as it has no time limits in it, and is much more along the lines of Baldur’s Gate in terms of letting you go anywhere/do anything, but the story and lore in Fallout 1 is also pretty interesting.

  18. jdaubenb says:

    I can totally get where you are coming from, when it comes to Twitcher.
    To be honest, I personally found Agent Thorton of Alpha Protocol fame much more annoying, but diff’rent strokes and all that.
    For me, the combat was much more of a dealbreaker than Geralt – it was eerily reminiscent of Summoner – and had no flow whatsoever. I never truly felt in control during the fights, because I was mainly staring at my pointer waiting for it to turn red.
    The game’s treatment of sex was tacky, but thankfully you can refuse the advances of the unwashed peasant women. If there was any gameplay reward attached to the dirty baseball-cards, I might have stopped playing even earlier.
    Right now, I am struggling through the game again – in half hour intervals – to make up my mind about pre-ordering the sequel from gog. There are so many good ideas in there, but sadly they get dragged down by some genuinly juvenile design choices.

    1. eri says:

      To qualify that a bit… The Witcher was their first game, ever. Most people who made it had no experience creating games at all, and the entire team pretty much learned as they went. The Witcher 2 in comparison drips more quality than even the finest works of developers who have been in the industry for a decade or more. Either CD Projekt have tapped some incredible talent, or there’s just something about their company culture that is conducive to making awesome games. Probably more the latter, if only because they strike me as a bunch of people who genuinely care about what they do.

      Also Europe is just better.

      1. jdaubenb says:

        Hey, don’t get me wrong – TWitcher is still leagues ahead of some of the other dross that has been passed off as an RPG in recent years. Just because I like it in principle, doesn’t mean that I can’t bitch and moan about its flaws. ;) [see also: every other game I have ever played. Ever.]

        This is why the descicion to throw my 50 behind the game is so hard. Many great ideas, but just as many bad executions.

  19. X2-Eliah says:

    Poor Shamus.

    I like Geralt as a non-archetypical lead character (cough male shepard cough), and I absolutely love the bricks out of the first Witcher game.

    So – yeah – I guess it’s just a matter of culture and so on – I can see how Geralt wouldn’t appeal to Americans as easily – he is a bit of an ‘eastern european’ character (Don’t dare to mention Niko of gta4 here >.> What a parody that was) – which makes sense given the developers and storywriters.

    Anyways, If you don’t like the witcher, oh well – I feel sorry for you. Because if the main character is not a problem, the game is amazing.

    1. krellen says:

      I’ve always suspected that The Witcher was probably a slightly better game in its native Polish.

      1. X2-Eliah says:

        Can’t say much to that, myself. But the architecture style is really noticeably different ;)

    2. acronix says:

      That´s the problem of non-archetypical main characters: They don´t have the same “degree” of acceptanse as their archetypical and personality-empty brothers, who are liked (or just shrugged on) because the firsts are archetypes and the seconds because they are so devoid of any meaningful personality that the player/reader can extrapolate theirselves into them easily.

  20. Varewulf says:

    I understand how you feel, Shamus. I didn’t have a problem with the Witcher personally, but I have run into the problem elsewhere. Like in that show Surface. I thought it was a pretty interesting show; my main problem with it was that all 3 big protagonists seemed to be dumb as bricks and utterly devoid of sense, common or otherwise. I might finish watching the show at some point, but it’s not very high on my list. Maybe get someone to watch it with me so we could do a bit of side commentary on all the stupid decisions they make.

  21. Sem says:

    Well, I’m in the same boat but for KOTOR. I recognize it’s a great game, especially with the twist at the ending.

    However, it annoyed the hell out of me that whenever you get a quest the choices were usually rather obvious (light side, dark side and sometimes in between).

    Also, I tried playing the dark side for some time. Although I went evil my party characters didn’t do anything about it. They sometimes complained but never tried leaving me or preventing me to do something (Admittedly, I didn’t play the dark side for very long so it’s possible there are consequences later in the game). This made me feel that my choices in the game didn’t really matter.

    All this hurted immersion so in the end I just didn’t care about the characters & the story.

    Now, lately I started playing some JRPGs. And as expected, I’m being railroaded all the way. There’s usually no or very little possibility to influence the story (except on the end with the usual choices for different endings). OTOH, because you are being railroaded the story can be much complexer. I’m giving up choice for a richer story. However, you’re more of an observer then a player. You’re just the guy/girl who does all the action bits in between the story cut scenes.

    (Disclaimer : I know that JRPGs have their own problems. For the moment, I’m enjoying them but I fully expect that their flaws will get grating over time. For now, they’re still fresh.)

    I also tried a visual novel (Tsukihime) and with visual novels you do have complex storylines and very different multiple endings. I enjoyed it immensely but you completely give up gameplay. All the game is, is essentially making choices and reading what the consequences are. Calling visual novels ‘games’ is misusing the word in my opinion.

    As a programmer who never programmed games myself, I have some inkling how difficult it would be to make a game that would have all 3 elements i.e. a complex story, different consequences for all your actions and good gameplay. I think it would essentially come down to making a different game for each direction the gamer could take the story to. The combinatorial explosion of possibilities would make it insanely complex I expect.

    EDIT : I edited this post about 6 times for grammar, spelling and sentence structure in the last 2 minutes (including this EDIT itself). I’m still not entirely happy about it *sigh*. It’s a good thing for a programmer to be a perfectionist but sometimes it’s really getting in my way.

    1. jdaubenb says:

      @Kotor: If you stick with being Darth Cocksicle through the endgame the good and neutral characters turn on you, while the droids and evil characters stay.
      You can force Zalbaar to kill Mission during the conflict with your party. Sums up the game’s dark-light-dichotomy quite nicely, I think.

      @jRPG: You might want to try Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. Your choices influence the story, who lives and who dies and what ending you can get. Though there are apparently “right” and “wrong” choices and better and worse outcomes. Not that I figured this out during my first playthrough.

    2. Tizzy says:

      I sorta second your Kotor assessment. I did find it enjoyable, I played it all the way through twice after all. The locations are nice and there are a couple of interesting character moments, but overall I found most of my companions whiny and needy; talking to them to develop their story lines felt like a chore, and their lack of interest in my personal path was puzzling, to say the least (especially since it tended to be very extreme, light or dark, and the game mechanics do encourage you in that direction).

      It doesn’t help that many plot elements feel like cheap derivation from the original trilogy (the dark sith who’s more machine than man, the empire redux, Yoda 2 — or rather, Yoda Sr., the slaughter of a whole peaceful planet, the millenium hawk, yadda yadda yadda…)

  22. Raygereio says:

    I hated the Witcher for another reason. I was okay with Geralt; he was bland, but not terrible to me.
    No it was the gameplay and quests that did it for me. The combat is dreadfully boring; it’s just rhythmic clicking. Nothing more. The quests were poorly constructed and needlessly confusing. I also loved the end boss of Act 1 that was impossible to beat without using potions to buff yourself ““ something the game never tells you.

    People told me how good this game was with it's grey-vs-grey morality thing and that the game picked up steam after Act 1. But then Act 2 started with yet another goddamn fetch quest, so I quit the game and never looked back.

    As for a game that I should have liked but didn't. Planescape Torment. It has everything I want in a game: a good story, interesting characters and compelling dialogue. It's just… well… I can't stand second edition D&D for some reason. Don’t really know why, it just an awkward system to me.

    1. Tizzy says:

      It’s funny, because I never thought that the D&D system was really all that important in PS:T. You had so little control over the NPCs and there were so many exotic planar stuff that I never had the chance to wonder about the unfamiliar 2nd ed stuff, I just took it in stride. (Of course, that’s coming from 1st ed for me, so not necessarily that different.)

      1. Raygereio says:

        It indeed isn’t that important; it’s just something fairly insignificant to the game as a whole that bugs me.
        I just can’t wrap my head around THACO.

        1. Tizzy says:

          I see what you mean. In retrospect, it’s hard to believe we put up with THACO for so long.

  23. porschecm2 says:

    I’m curious, Shamus, if you’re willing to share just a little bit more about why you didn’t like him?
    Personally, I love The Witcher, as a game, for all the reasons you named. Geralt is thoroughly “meh” to me; he’d never show up anywhere near a list of my favorite video game characters. But obviously I didn’t dislike him as much as you.
    In fact, to some degree, I enjoyed playing a main character that was so far out of the norm of the characters I usually like playing (who usually end up looking a lot like Atton/Alistair/Kaiden.) And Geralt is so much more cold and menacing than that. But really, I guess, the world and all the gameplay mechanics I enjoyed overshadowed the flaws of Geralt to such an extent that it became minimal. I still hold up The Witcher as being the most immersive RPG I’ve ever played (which I will note is not the same as having the best story.)
    I must admit, though, that I’ve always far more enjoyed RPG worlds/atmospheres than the characters that inhabit them. I was one of what seems like 3 people who actually, honestly, thoroughly enjoyed Two Worlds, hilariously bad voice acting and script-writing and all.
    And, having said all that, I totally understand not liking a game because of not liking the main character, and I think it’s quite valid.

    1. Rosseloh says:

      Two Worlds’ multiplayer was great. We need more “RPGs” that have the option of playing with your friends. :)

      1. Irridium says:

        I actually remember reading a comment somewhere about a neat way to incorporate multi-player into the Elderscrolls games.

        Have each tavern/inn be an online “hub” if you will, where you can see others online, party up, and go into either your or their world, depending on what you choose. Everywhere else would still be single-player only with nobody else(unless you partied with someone in a previous tavern/inn).

        Think Fable 2’s online orbs, only confined to taverns/inns. You can turn the option on/off/friends only so you can pick who you want to see. And the players are bit more aesthetically pleasing then a floating orb.

        I found it interesting at least.

      2. X2-Eliah says:

        On this note.

        Two worlds 2 (out in europe for a while) is good, but remember that the first act is ~50% of the game, second – 30%, third – 15% and last is just a 3hr linear dungeon.

        So when the reviewers will start the hype-train for it, remember that they hadn’t gotten to the bad parts.

        1. porschecm2 says:

          After reading nearly unanimous scathing reviews of the first Two Worlds, I wasn’t even planning on reading any reviews for Two Worlds II, and instead just playing the game when it releases, regardless of what anyone else thinks of it. I spent ~70-100 hours in the first game, so if the second one is anything like it at all, I figure it’ll be worth my money.

          As for multiplayer in Two Worlds; interesting–I tried it out once with a friend, and it seemed really exceptionally poorly implemented. Consequently, I never tried it again. I got all my fun from the single player, messing around and *not* playing the campaign.
          As for the above comment about Elder Scrolls multiplayer via taverns: that sounds brilliant. I’d play it.

          1. Rosseloh says:

            The tech was horrible, there was only like one North American server and it was down 3 days out of the week for some random thing (and you couldn’t play over a LAN, either). But the gameplay was fun in multiplayer.

  24. Irridium says:

    Actually, I’d like to add something. There’s this game I played a while ago on the 360 that I should have hated. This game had quicktime events as its main feature. It was even advertised on the box! The story wasn’t too great either and the voice acting was incredibly bland. And yet, I loved it. I loved playing it, I love beating it, its just a blast.

    This game is Ninja Blade. A game I should hate, yet I love.

  25. Hal says:

    My game that I should have loved? Left 4 Dead.

    I’ve no aversion to FPS games. I’ve loved pretty much everything Valve has done. It has an incredible sense of atmosphere and pace. And yet . . . the game just doesn’t do anything for me.

    Partly it’s the multiplayer nature of the game. I prefer single player games, and L4D doesn’t give you that. Yes, you can play “alone,” but not really.

    I think the other part is that I’m just too desperate for story, given the nature of the atmosphere. I’m left feeling, well, unsatisfied by the wall scribblings and the bits of conversation between the characters. So why does this game leave me unhappy due to a lack of story, but Portal gets by? I don’t know.

    1. Danath says:

      Loved L4D1 myself, hated L4D2, even though it was supposedly the first, but improved in every way (it really isn’t).

  26. Avilan says:

    I never finished Witcher, but it wasn’t horrible in any way. Other games just kept getting in the way.

    But yes, we all have games that we feel we *ought* to love but don’t – In my case it’s the original Fallouts as well as Mass Effect.
    I am playing through ME right now with four different characters (to finally get imported games of my own to ME2, 2 females, 2 males, all different on the renegade / paragon scales) and I cant wait until I don’t have to put up with the incredible unplayableness that is ME (horrible combat, bad interface, a vehicle from hell, loading at the strangest situations… and great character and story, which makes me not turn the game off in rage everytime I try to actually fight something).

    1. krellen says:

      Well, ME1 isn’t a shooter, so I’m not sure why you “ought” to love it.

      1. Avilan says:

        Well since I am an RPG player maybe?

        I don’t do shooters, not since Quake 3: Arena, so that was some time ago. To assume that I prefer shooters because I think ME2 combat is better than ME1 combat is a little arrogant, to say the least. It reeks of NMO-ism.
        My favorite games include: BG1 and 2, Planescap: Torment, The Sims series, Rollercoaster Tycoon, Civ series, Sim City Series, DA:O… Not a single shooter. Heck, I pre-ordered Dragon Age 2 *last month*.

        My problem with ME1 combat is that they did not go far enough. Either go all out shooter, like ME2, or use “Standard Bioware Combat” like DA:O. (I would love to play ME with the Dragon Age Engine).
        Basically, making half-assed attempts at real-time does not work. Go all the way, *or not at all*. Plus, the Mako ruins all attempts of Suspension of Disbelief because it is obvious you drive a helium-filled stage prop and not a tank.

        Anyway, ME3 has just been announced, for Christmas 2011.

        1. krellen says:

          Meh. Who cares about ME3? It’s going to be like ME2 – crap.

  27. Corylea says:

    Shamus, I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t like The Witcher. I usually agree with your opinions and usually at least respect the ones I don’t agree with, but you’ve just missed the boat on The Witcher. It’s a truly fabulous RPG, and Geralt’s personality is part of the reason for its success.

    In many RPG’s, the player character is rather a cipher, and the memorable characters are all NPC’s. I mean, think of Dragon Age. The memorable characters are people like Alistair, Morrigan, and Wynne, not your own character. Part of the genius of The Witcher is that you get to PLAY the most interesting character in the game.

    Much of your objection to Geralt is based on a misunderstanding; you’ve painted him as a dirty old man, and you seem to believe that he’s old because he has white hair. Nope, that’s not why his hair is white. Boys are turned into witchers through a multi-step process of mutation, and Geralt’s hair turned white during this process. His hair turned white when he was a teenager. He’s pale for the same reason.

    No, the other witchers don’t have white hair, but that’s because 1) the mutations take different boys differently, and 2) Geralt was subjected to some new, experimental mutations that the other witchers weren’t subjected to. Geralt was the only one of his cohort to survive the new, experimental mutations.

    Also it isn’t true that Geralt can’t have a relationship with any of the women. In Chapter 3, Geralt can choose to have a relationship with either Triss or Shani. He can make it an ongoing but relatively casual relationship — a FWB sort of thing — or he can give his chosen woman a ring, with the promise that implies. If he chooses this more serious relationship, it continues until the end of the game.

    So really, you’re objecting to things about The Witcher that are in your head, not in the game.

    1. Tizzy says:

      Doesn’t matter. Shamus is free not to like the game, if he wants to! The point of the post is that our likes and dislikes are simply not based on rationality, and that we cannot help liking what we like and disliking what we dislike.

      Even when the dislike is based on a misunderstanding, there is nothing you can do about it. In that case, maybe it’s The Witcher that missed the Shamus boat…

      1. Patrick says:

        That’s true, Tizzy, but he left us with the distinct impression that he completely misunderstood every aspect of the character, when it’s not even hidden. He doesn’t have to explain, but he can’t expect those of us who did pay attention to agree.

        Note that every aspect of Geralt that he doesn’t liek was something he (Shamus) put in there against the story and characterization or controlled through his own actions. He decided geralt was a dirty old man. He can be dirty only if Shamus chooses for him to be. He isn’t an old man at all. And while he’s not known for his fidelity or chastity, he lives a life of great loneliness (even by Witcher standards) where most of his friends have died. Note that Geralt never disrespects his female lovers; they may be together briefly or for some time, but he never deceives them and retains many as friends.

        Is he cold-hearted? Not really. He does care, but he’s very even-tempered and refuses to be riled or distracted. And the game puts you in thsoe shoes, where you are quickly disillusioned about the nature of the world. Geralt is distant because people keep trying to use him for their own ends (selfish, mad, and/or cruel), not because he’s apathetic about their fates. He defends the weak, often for a nominal payment, and note that really none of your responses are evil. You can judge people as you choose.

        Corylea is right. Geralt is the most interesting character in The Witcher, and the entire story is about defining his character. He he shapes and responds to events, how and why he judges, kills, or accepts others, and ultimately finding a purpose in life again. He is always Geralt, but beyond that he’s what you make of him in a fashion better than I’ve ever seen in an RPG since Planescape: Torment.

        Remember that the Nameless One was a distinct character as well, and when you chose an evil option, it was evil as the Nameless One did it – not evil as you might have done it.

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