The Witcher

 By Shamus Jun 26, 2013 179 comments

Over the years a lot of people have asked me about this series, and so I’m putting this post here as a kind of catch-all. When these questions pop up again (like when Witcher 3 comes out) I can link back here and hopefully avoid repeating myself and having the same argument a dozen times.

I have a bit of a cultural bias in favor of the team behind the Witcher series. Being named Shamus Young, most people sensibly assume I’m quasi-Irish. Like a lot of Americans I’m a cultural mongrel, but if I can be said to have any cultural heritage at all it’s probably Polish.

If you’re curious: Mostly Polish, secondly German, a small dash of Irish, and a single Native American great-grandmother.

The family culture was much stronger when I was a child in the 1970′s and my grandparents (and even a great-grandparent) were still alive. These were first or second generation immigrants and still had some attitudes and habits from the old country. (Particularly when it came to food.) Those folks are mostly gone now and my generation is about as Polish as Doritos and Mario Kart. But I still have a soft spot for the Warsaw-based CD Projekt.

Aside from my pro-Polish bias, I have a lot of reasons to like The Witcher. It’s a rare book-to-videogame adaptation that doesn’t just use the setting as window dressing on shallow, derivative gameplay. (As in the case of the Harry Potter games, for example.) It’s a fantasy RPG that isn’t just trying to copy Tolkien.

witcher_cast.jpg

On top of all that, CD Projekt is one of the most consumer-friendly companies in the industry. They run the excellent Good Old Games. We sometimes praise Valve for doing such a good job of lubricating / sugarcoating their DRM, but CD Projekt actually stands against DRM. They have released huge content patches for free in situations where just about any other company would charge money. They support PC games. They’re good people.

Good company. Literary approach to worldbuilding. No DRM. Fantasy RPG. Diverse mechanics. Gorgeous visuals. I have every reason in the world to love the Witcher series and beg people to play it.

Every reason except for the fact that I hate these damn games.

No really. I hate the Witcher. It is not a fun game and I don’t want to play it.

I hate the combat. In the first game it was this mind-numbing and tedious thing where you timed mouse clicks. It was awful. They overhauled it in the second game to be basically tolerable and bland. The game never “felt” good. I never felt like I was hitting hard or doing well. (Or poorly.) It didn’t have visceral thrills and it didn’t have strategic depth. It was just something you did.

I hate Geralt. He’s better in Witcher 2 than in the original, but I still find him dreary and alienating. I hate his looks, I hate his flat delivery, and his backstory feels like someone else’s cheesy overwrought power fantasy.

witcher_huts.jpg

I find the visuals to be tiresome. Okay, the game looks great, but there are only so many smelly wood huts I can appreciate in a given game session. I never had that Morrowind / Mass Effect 1 feeling of, “Gosh! I can’t wait to see the next area!” It’s all impressively detailed, but it’s also depressingly filthy and lacking in wonder.

I hate the world. There’s this conflict in the RPG world where some people want gritty shades-of-grey and other people want vibrant and lighthearted. It’s the Obsidian vs. BioWare thing. Babylon 5 vs. Star Wars: A New Hope. One side is arguing for the “realism” of a world without good guys or bad guys and they find the BioWare stuff to be puerile and shallow. The other side wants fun and they find the “gritty” stuff to be dark, morose, and ugly.

I’m not sure where I fall on this spectrum (I like Obsidian games well enough when I can get them to run) but the Witcher goes way too far in the gritty direction for me. I played several hours into both The Witcher and The Witcher 2, and I have yet to meet a single named character I cared about. They’re either bland, irritating, or revolting. Some of the moral choices were interesting thought experiments (do you side with the superstitious morons or the malicious backstabber?) but ultimately I couldn’t get into it because I wasn’t invested in the conflict. It didn’t matter who won. I couldn’t roleplay in a “what would you do in this situation?” sense because if I was there, I’d leave.

witcher_triss.jpg

I find the super-macho tone to be off-putting. The second game opens up with Geralt in bed with a girl. She’s naked. He’s wearing pants. There are no covers. It’s a pretty transparent excuse to get some tits on the screen as soon as possible. This, combined with the romance cards in the first game makes the whole series seem a bit too adolescent for me.

I’m happy that The Witcher is seeing success. It has its fans and I wouldn’t demand that they change the game to be more to my liking. But just about every aspect of it gets on my nerves or bores me.

If you’re a fan, you’re going to be tempted to jump down to the comments and explain that the game is awesome and I’m just enjoying it wrong. I’ve given the games quite a few hours and you’re unlikely to persuade me to invest more. And if you did get me to play more, then this blog would probably be given over to endless Witcher complaints and Geralt tirades.

I’m doing the game a favor by skipping it. Let it go.


A Hundred!20202019Many comments. 179, if you're a stickler


  1. Mr Compassionate says:

    This is also my experience. I only played 2 but I somehow waded through the whole thing much to the ire of my friend who watched. He voiced everything I was thinking while playing, the combat is insufferably unsatisfying and dumb looking the story is a mess of people I could never like (except Iorveth) and the quests are as standard and boring as it gets. Collect 10 soul crystals? Find the three cure ingredients? Find whats making all the evil s**t in the mines and fight it? Fantastic.

    I can see why people like the Witcher series I just cant get over everything that isnt the core ideals of the story design as listed by Shamus. Its original, I just want that originality to be packaged with a good game.

  2. bloodsquirrel says:

    The first game had functional RPG combat. It wasn’t great, and it was more about your stats than about skill, but it worked.

    The second game had action-game combat. And it was awful. You couldn’t dodge or block as fast as you needed to be able to do in order to avoid damage. The system, like so many others, only even sort-of works when facing one opponent. Against multiple opponents it’s horribly broken. The entire interface also feels like it was designed for a controller, not a mouse and keyboard. I should be able to click on a chest and open it, not have to guess at what position I have to shit Geralt into so that the chest is “selected” for me.

    And about gritty vs. lighthearted- there’s a difference between gritty, realistic, dark, and just making everyone in your story an asshole. The real world has a lot of contrast. People are capable of some astonishingly evil things, but they’re capable of charity and compassion as well. Some things are very serious and some are pretty silly.

    You don’t want the tone of your setting to be all over the place, but you don’t want it to be flat either. The best fictional works know how to use humor and fun to get people invested enough so that when they want to make the story sad, they can really rip their audiences’ hearts out. They also know how to use darkness and despair to make a happy ending feel genuinely emotional, rather than taking it for granted.

    • Grenaid says:

      Interestingly, this was the main reason I went back to WoW after a break in warhammer. Warhammer was all grit all the time, with barely a laugh. Life has variety to it, color, interest.

      I very much agree that it’s hard to care for characters in games where everyone is miserable.

      • Michael says:

        Wait, was that the Warhammer MMO? Gah. Most of the Warhammer stuff I’ve read has a subversive sense of humor to it all… the idea that they went for pure bleakness is depressing as hell.

    • Daimbert says:

      I think a really good comparison is old Battlestar Galactica versus the remake. Sure, the original series is a bit light-hearted for “It’s the end of the world”, but it was generally entertaining and I liked the characters. The new BSG, on the other hand, is more serious, but far too serious for my liking, and I ended up hating almost all of the characters … which is bad for a show where I’m supposed to be rooting for them to survive all of these troubles.

      However, the new BSG has spawned one of the best board games of all time, which is the only thing that got me to watch and be able to watch that series.

      • Annikai says:

        I love that board game so much I just wish I had more people around to play it. There is just something about a game which has lying as one of it’s main elements that makes me love it so much. I remember one time I convinced my friend to throw his own sister in the brig just so I could reveal myself as a cylon the next turn.

        • Atle says:

          Great board game, absolutely agree.

          If you like lying, cheating and backstabbing in a board game, check out Junta too.

          • Daimbert says:

            I’ll assume you probably already know about this, but if you’re looking to play and are on boardgamegeek, it has probably the best supported PBF mechanism ever. It’s up to 360 games having been run, although it can take a while to get in a game because the waiting list for players is so long and a lot of moderators are doing more variants than regular games, although that will likely change once Daybreak comes out.

            I’ve never played a game live, just PBF.

    • Yes! It’s all about the interface and combat for me.

      I really enjoyed the first game (well, apart from the dull long middle section and possibly the ending). I liked that the interface was fairly decent, intuitive and mouse-based. The combat was serviceable, and I eventually got the hang of the rhythm required for it. This meant I could play through it for the part I wanted to see, the story and how my choices would affect it.

      The second game looks lovely, and apparently the choices you make have even larger consequences than the first game, but the interface and the combat system are so infuriating that I just can’t bring myself to bother with it.

      It saddens me, because I was so optimistic for it and even bought it day-one from GOG.com.

      • brunothepig says:

        I’m in the same boat as you. I really enjoyed the first. I even will stand up for the combat, but then I do the same for Morrowind so apparently I’m a monster. I WANT to play Witcher 2, I really do, but the combat makes me very very sad. Also not letting players take potions in battle, then ambushing them in a cutscene, is a stupid, stupid thing to do.

        However, there is hope for us yet. I’ve not gotten around to trying this myself, so I can’t vouch for it, but it’s certainly interesting.

  3. I think I’m of the same exact mind. So far the combat in TW2 (haven’t played the first one) feels like a dreary grind and I’m not convinced that I’m ready to push through it to advance the story. Maybe I’ll come back to it in a few months and fall head over heals in love with it like Alpha Protocol or Vampire the Masquerade, but I’m not holding out much hope.

  4. Disc says:

    The books could be more to your liking. The first game (didn’t play second yet) didn’t really do any favors by portraiting Geralt as such an annoying gigolo. While I’ve read only The Last Wish, which is a collection of short stories, the Geralt of those stories felt a lot more reasonable than the one you get in the first game.

  5. Dev Null says:

    It sounds like I played for a bit longer than you – perhaps I have a slightly higher grit-tolerance – but mostly I agree. So many reasons to like this game, and I even got caught up in the story for a bit, but the combat is very console, and I don’t like most of the characters.

    The “Show Us Yer Tits!” attitude was what finally killed it for me. In a game that genuinely tries to show consequences for your actions, I wanted to see at least one of Geralt’s ladies slap him when he slouches up with his lewd leer, and mention the fact that he’s a world-famous womaniser. Even when you play the game without jumping everything with a pulse, they spend a lot of conversation time pushing themselves at you.

  6. impassiveimperfect says:

    Interesting stuff, about the family background.

    I was also one of those who assumed maybe a more Irish-influenced upbringing (though not necessarily like, you’re all walking stereotypes, just…maybe kid Shamus had Irish-y food, and holidays, or whatever).

    So thinking about that as more ‘Polish Shamus’ is an interesting [reversal? change? some word I can't think of] of the whole affair.

    Just find it a cool little thing to know.

    • Daimbert says:

      Yeah, I never suspected that he had even a partial Polish background, mostly from the name. I actually have a Polish background on both sides going pretty much all the way back, and live in a strongly Polish area, but am pretty much Canadian myself.

      And ended up working with two people who were Polish from Poland, too …

  7. Irridium says:

    Fair enough. I like the games, despite the issues they have, but I can easily see why others wouldn’t like it.

    • Henson says:

      Pretty much agreed here. I have a major fondness for the series, but it’s not for everyone.

      And Polish Geralt kicks English Geralt’s bee-hind.

      • Fnord says:

        Yeah, the English voice actor is TERRIBLE; the Polish one is OK. There was no one thing that turned me off the game, it was an avalanche of small issues. One of which was that it kept resetting my language preferences back to English.

      • Naota says:

        To be fair, English everyone in the first game sounds like a confused robot trying to cram English dialogue from different places and times into a coherent sentence. I still have nightmares of the town mayor and his creepy repetition of “beastie bater”, whatever that was supposed to mean.

        The second game fixed pretty much all of this, but Geralt ended up with a pretty unremarkable voice and no standout character traits to carry it across as anything we haven’t heard a million times before.

  8. Ateius says:

    This more or less sums up my experience with the Witcher games as well. The promise of a reactive narrative that I can truly affect with key decisions is an attractive one, but everyone being a terrible person and especially the combat just repel me each time I try to get back into either TW or TW2.

  9. Kalil says:

    I had pretty much the same feelings, although I didn’t make it nearly as far into the game. I only played TW2, and I passionately hated what I saw of the combat in the tutorial. I hit the scene skip button on the sex scene at the very beginning, and as a result, skipped over the dialogue that explained what I was supposed to be doing. Annoyed at pretty much everything about the game, I wandered around the camp for five minutes, blundered into a plot-advancing point before I was finished exploring, and quit out, never to return.

    I was very disappointed – one friend was pushing this as “clearly designed for PC”, when it felt to me like yet another console port, and another had been talking at length about how good the combat was, where I felt it was overly hot-key intensive, punitive, and unintuitive, with a really bad camera. (I already kind of knew I wasn’t going to like the plot and main character…)

    I will say: I don’t /mind/ having sex scenes, but I kind of feel they should be skippable without missing out on plot-essential details. Also, using misogyny to prove how gritty your world is is a very tired trope…

  10. Lalaland says:

    I can see where you’re coming from and the combat systems are definitely wobbly as all hell (in TW2 I had to stun lock one boss battle to get past it) but I love the ambition and moral greyness. It can be pretty puerile but at least they acknowledge sexuality and it’s importance, the virgin/whore trope is I think less of a problem here than in Bioware titles.

    Overall though I love it for not telling me what my choices are or making them obvious false dichotomies like choke puppy/kiss puppy. I still remember the encounter at the end of the first act of the Witcher 1 with a raiding party. I took the choice that in a Bioware game would have resulted in ‘+20 Paragon’ but in this game simply encouraged worse behaviour by the group involved. Choices seem to have consequences beyond the immediate and I’m willing to put up with a lot of nonsense for that.

    Oh and they’ve just released another combat ‘mod’ for TW2 that changes up how combat works entirely to make it less of a roll-fest. There are some bugs right now but I fully intend to give it a look once it’s patched in as I’ve yet to try the ‘second path’ after Act 1

  11. Taellosse says:

    Yeah, I really wanted to like The Witcher. I slogged through a fair bit of it – something like 15-20 hours, I think. The combat is dull, the visuals kind of depressing, the English voice-acting is flat and unconvincing, and it is hard to like most of the characters. I liked the fact that the story was reactive, but Geralt, and the story being told, felt shallow to me.

    I wanted to give the second game a try – I’ve had it on Steam for ages – but I learned that you could import a save from the first game, and felt like I really should go back and finish that first. So I’ve basically never played it.

    • Explodian says:

      I think it’s worth giving the second game a shot, without bothering with the first.

      I hated, hated, hated the first game. All of your and Shamus’s complaints pretty much hold true in my opinion. Poor characterization, god-awful combat, trying too hard to be grim’n’gritty, unpleasant amounts of unnecessary T&A. Also, yeah, the voice acting was atrocious.

      That said, the Witcher 2 is one of my favorite RPGs ever. Characters are vastly improved–Geralt and Triss are still a bit flat, but Iorveth, Roche, Zoltan, the Blue Stripes and the dwarves make up for it. Combat is nothing to write home about, but functional and satisfying. The story is complex and doesn’t treat the audience like idiots, and there are bits of plot and character development hidden away everywhere. Also, it’s goddamn gorgeous, and has some of the best visual design I’ve ever seen in a video game.

      I never beat the first game, nor do I have any desire to, but the second is just amazing and stands very well on its own.

      • GM says:

        like any mods for Witcher 2?

      • Kavonde says:

        I’m with you. Though I wouldn’t necessarily call TW2 one of my favorite RPGs, I did enjoy it, and in comparison to the original, it was friggin’ Planescape: Torment. The combat got a bit repetitive by the end–I don’t know how many frickin’ meat zombie things I killed as I walked back and forth across that big battlefield, but I’m pretty sure it was more than should have existed–but it never got to the point of being an aggravating grind.

        Well… there was that mine, where you had to keep stopping to chug Cat’s Eye potions every few minutes to be able to see anything. That was pretty awful.

        • thebigJ_A says:

          You know the mine had big lanterns all over the walls for you to light, no? Made it easy to see, while being atmospheric, while letting you keep track of where you’ve been.

          The combat in TW2 is better towards the middle, once you’ve unlocked options, but maybe not great. The new “mod” (that’s more a quasi-official patch from one of the game’s devs) supposedly fixes it. IDK, I’m halfway through a new playthrough right now and don’t want to start over to see.

          And most of the characters are *great*. (How can you not find Iorveth fascinating? And him of all people has a crush on the human girl leading the army!) It just takes time, and effort to get to know them. You might not *like* many of them, but they’re realistic.

          Not for everyone, but I’m really sad for the people it isn’t for. :’(

      • Naota says:

        Did somebody say complaints about the first game?

        Okay, to be fair I liked about as much as I disliked, but this is one of those occasions like NWN 2′s plot-driven door where a single very dumb detail (flagrant misuse of teleporting) undercut practically the entire story.

  12. Infinitron says:

    I understand where you’re coming from, but I would say that somebody who cares so much about narrative and writing in RPGs needs to hold his nose and give the Witcher series more attention. They’re what Bioware wish they could be. They’re what Dragon Age should have been.

    Also, the second game is a very different game from the first, so I would recommend that people who dropped the first give it a look.

    • Infinitron says:

      By the way, this is doubly true for Mask of the Betrayer. You need to play that game, Shamus.

    • bloodsquirrel says:

      Having played all the way through the first game-

      The story really isn’t all that great. Maybe with a couple of rewrites it could have been. There are some interesting ideas it brings up. Some potential themes that could have been strong.

      But, in execution, the story fails to come together as a whole. The main villain is built up to, kind of, but he ultimately feels like he’s coming out of nowhere and we never learn much about him. There’s that kid with superpowers who just disappears at one point (literally, he uses his powers and vanishes) and we never see him again. I was thinking that maybe we’d find out that he went back in time and became the main villain, but, no.

      Things that should have been woven throughout the story just kind of come and go instead. One minute we’re dealing with the theme of the Witchers facing a new world where the old rules don’t apply, then it’s dropped. We encounter some Lady-of-the-Lake spirit or whatever and we hear some stuff about destiny.

      The game also has aspirations to setting a meaningful conflict with the scoia’tael and non-human hatred, but it’s a well-worn subject matter which the game doesn’t really have anything to say about.

      All in all, it isn’t worth sitting through an unfun game for.

      • Infinitron says:

        Uh, Alvin did indeed go back in time and become the main villain. You weren’t paying enough attention.

        Play the second game.

        • bloodsquirrel says:

          From the wiki:

          “These fan speculations have neither been confirmed nor denied by the developers”

          • Infinitron says:

            They aren’t speculations – the developers are obviously just being coy. The Grandmaster has the exact same amulet you gave Alvin earlier in the game! In addition to that, it’s mentioned in the game that magical “Sources” like Alvin have the power to travel through time. Finally, if you replay the game, it’s obvious that the Grandmaster recognizes you upon first meeting you, and in the endgame he repeats some of the exact same lines of advice you gave Alvin previously.

            Again, you weren’t paying enough attention. In any case, I would suggest playing the second game, as it’s a different kind of experience.

            • bloodsquirrel says:

              “Finally, if you replay the game, it’s obvious that the Grandmaster recognizes upon first meeting you, and in the endgame he repeats some of the exact same lines of advice you gave Alvin previously.”

              You shouldn’t really be putting pillar of your narrative in the “if you replay the game you’ll notice these things that kind of corroborate it” category. I clearly was paying enough attention to pick up on the possibility in the first place, but neither Alvin nor the Grandmaster are given enough focus and there’s no reveal to take advantage of the setup.

              And I’ve played the second game, or at least a few hours of it. It completely drained my desire to play any more.

              • Infinitron says:

                Just because you don’t like subtle narration doesn’t mean you can pretend it’s not there.

                • bloodsquirrel says:

                  There’s a time for subtly, and there’s a time to properly lay the foundations of your story. There’s also a difference between “subtle” and “underdeveloped”.

                  Just because someone didn’t like a story that you didn’t doesn’t mean that you have some kind of exquisite, refined tastes. I’ve read and enjoyed far, far more subtle and complex narratives than The Witcher.

                  • Infinitron says:

                    Fine, then say it’s underdeveloped, but don’t pretend you had no idea what the hell was going on, because it’s obvious that you’re smarter than that.

          • Nordicus says:

            Obviously the talisman, the final words from Wild Hunt wraith, villain’s lines that change depending on what you taught Alvin, him returning a favor, deliberate mentions of Alvin’s time travel abilities, the matching visions of the apocalypse, among other hints, ALL just red herrings put there and we need the developers’ final word to make the final decision. Obviously

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      “I understand where you’re coming from, but I would say that somebody who cares so much about narrative and writing in RPGs needs to hold his nose and give the Witcher series more attention.”

      But why,when there are games like that where you dont have to hold your nose for in order to enjoy them?Like fallout(s),or expansions for nwn(s),or alpha protocol,…

  13. Andrew says:

    I’ve only played the first game and I didn’t hate it as much as you, Shamus, but I didn’t like it enough to finish it (it’s a long game, by the way). I actually think Act 2 is significantly worse than Act 1, so you probably did well to stop.

    The combat is… OK, but like most people commenting here, I didn’t really get into it. It’s too complicated to just glaze over or feel action-y, but not really interesting enough to be truly tactical.

    Geralt himself doesn’t particularly bother me, nor do the boobies. But I did generally dislike the characters; even the nice ones are incredibly bland. The big bad villains are probably the best characters.

    It’s also very linear. It does kind of give you “choices with consequences”, but really not very many of them. Act 2 is full of irritating rail-roading.

    I did like the monsters, the alchemy, and the graphics.

    Out of curiosity, why did you play the second game if you hated the first so much?

    • MichaelGC says:

      I’d guess the first part of the post explains why he’d be minded to give the sequel a decent chance. (Doesn’t sound like he’ll be pre-ordering W3, though!)

  14. Otters34 says:

    I’ve not a drop of Polish blood that I know of, but I have been fascinated by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for several years and the legacy it has in Polish literature. Especially the historical fiction stuff by Henryk Sienkiewicz. Mr Young, if you haven’t already I’d strongly suggest you check out his Trilogy if you get the time. And at least fantasy medieval Poland has a very different atmosphere and feel than fantasy Ye Olde Great Britain.

    As for the game…yeah, I didn’t feel its greatness much either. It has a lot of the same problems all medieval fantasy gets when it tries to be gritty and serious, because so much of fantasy has such a hilariously arbitrary base(this coming from a guy who reads a lot of that stuff and enjoys it), that poking holes in it makes the entire thing collapse in a heap.
    With the Witcher, you’re in a gritty and realistic world, where things are different…and elves and dwarves are still the dying races, monsters are all over the place, and yet somehow humans have managed to be both the most plentiful people around and have small hamlets that don’t get obliterated when Witchers aren’t in the county.

    Let’s not even get into how Witcher 2′s teleport magic is so stupid it hurts.

    Also, about the super-macho tone of the game: it’s really telling how many of the women have really interesting and idiosyncratic faces…if they’re not love interests. Not like it’s unique or even the worst offender, but in a gritty realistic archaic world super-pretty airbrushed people like that really stick out. At least Geralt has the excuse of not being quite human.

    At least it’s not all brown and drab in places that make no sense to look brown and drab.

  15. Darren says:

    To piggyback on your final criticism, I hate the subtle homophobia they introduced in the second game (and maybe in the first, I never finished it). To my knowledge, there are three gay/bisexual characters in the game.

    The first is the madame in Flotsam, who is shown engaging in frankly weird, artificially girly sexual action with one of her subordinates before spying on another character.

    The second is a lesbian sorceress–encountered on Iorveth’s path–who is caught engaging in some implicitly rough activity with her apprentice. Besides raising the unpleasant specter of abusing one’s power over a younger subordinate (admittedly the age range and setting means that much of the creepiness is due to outside bias and not what the game actually presents), several male characters actually leer at the lesbians, with one proclaiming it to be “lesbomancy.” In a baffling move, neither of the women are upset by this gross invasion of their privacy! Finally, the elder sorceress is revealed to be a manipulative, deceptive, and self-serving individual who is imprisoned and tortured for the conspiracy she’s involved in.

    The final character is a male wizard–encountered on Roche’s path–named Dethmold, and he’s exactly what you’d expect from someone with that name: old, unsavory, and treacherous. Instead of even being given the dignity of an actual human relationship, he’s shown bitchily gossiping to a lover who claims to have been held against his will.

    You can replay the game as many times as you like, and you will always encounter a gay character who is cast in the most unsympathetic light the game has to offer.

    EDIT: Also, you’re spot on about the nudity. You will never see a naked man in these games, and I doubt the third game will change that. To be fair, this is a problem that’s found outside videogames. Count the number of naked women in Game of Thrones, then count the number of naked men.

    • Nordicus says:

      Unless you can prove that in both cases, the characters would have acted differently, were they heterosexual, you’re jumping to some conclusions.

      Philippa is a “manipulative, deceptive, and self-serving individual”, as you said. Do you expect her to carry this behaviour into her lovelife, or be in a healthy relationship? Which is the bigger possibility?

      Same goes for Dethmold. While intelligent, enthusiastic about his craft and really funny, he’s also absolutely insane and like he himself said in Roche’s path if you talk to him enough, can’t keep a single friend due to his passion for finding out others’ secrets, much to their great displeasure. A lover? At best he could possibly get a prostitute, unless his partner, whether male or female, was just as crazy as he is.

      Heck, how many good relationships have we seen in Witcher franchise in general when one of the partners possesses suspect morality?

      • Darren says:

        I think what really makes it stick in my craw is that the developers went out of their way to ensure that each story branch had its own unsavory homosexual. If the characters had been part of one single, immutable plot, or had been connected in some way (say two gay men in cahoots with one another, or two lesbians, etc.) rather than completely separate, I doubt that I would be particularly bothered.

        But when two completely different characters are equally unpleasant and antagonistic towards the protagonist and share only their sexual orientation, well, it starts to look like the beginnings of a theme.

        The real confirmation, for me at least, will be whether anything like this shows up in the Witcher 3. If we see this same pattern, it’s going to be harder to dismiss it as the imagination of an oversensitive player.

        EDIT: Also, it isn’t about proving that they would have behaved differently. That’s a nonsensical argument, as morality and sexuality are unrelated outside of specific cultural and religious interpretations. However, if every gay character in a work of fiction is presented negatively, well, it seems like the creator may be making a statement, perhaps unconsciously. Again, it’s important to look at the body of work. I’ll be less critical if the next game gives me reason.

      • LunaticFringe says:

        I’m always viewed the Witcher’s stance on morality to be more about the relationship between power and sexuality. Take Loredo and Henselt, both heterosexual men in positions of power. They use said power to exploit and rape women. Even Foltest finds that his voluntary sexual conquest results in threats to his power. The point the series seems to try to hammer in is power is an antithesis of sorts to stable personal/sexual relationships; either you simply can’t trust those you love (Foltest) or power actively turns sexual desire into simple domination (Loredo, Henselt, Dethmold, etc.) The Witcher series really doesn’t have a problem with sexuality per se; it just frames in within a really Machiavellian political hierarchy.

        • thearpox says:

          Also, while it is fair to accuse Wither developers of homophobia (and they’re Polish, which while a stereotype, does tie back in to homophobia), I would still like to congratulate them of having unsavory gay characters. In the modern world, not many would risk portraying gay characters negatively, with all the gay rights going around. So even if I personally would not like this homophobia in a different circumstance, I did enjoy it for the boldness of having unsavory gay characters without any attempts to pedal back and include a positive gay character.

    • Tizzy says:

      Naked women and excessively clothed men? Whaddya know, there is a trope for that!

    • BenD says:

      Game of Thrones: in the books, there is plenty of male junk out. In the series, there is way more than in most series, especially fantasy-realm ones.

      Part of the issue, here and elsewhere, is that we cry ‘sexploitation’ over female mammaries and not male ones; we consider an unshirted woman to represent nudity, and an unshirted man to represent… er… maybe warm weather. This allows artists and marketing gurus to exploit sexuality and sexiness unfairly. As a woman, I am not sure whether I want to critique society, biology, or media for this, but I do want to point out that if you want to mathematically compare female nudity to male nudity in any form, this matter complicates things.

      If you counted genitals only, I think GoT would be closer to even, especially on screen. The Witcher, clearly not so.

  16. Typo: “…I wan’t invested…”

    Never played the Witcher(s), it always seemed like “just one more fantasy game” without anything to really distinguish itself. Glad I wasn’t missing anything spectacular.

  17. kdansky says:

    I find your list of issues more weird than anything else.

    Sexism: TW1 had a problem with that. TW2 has like 30 seconds of naked breasts in a 40 hour game. Complaining about that is more prude than anything else.

    Combat: The combat is a strange beast. I really hated it when I started playing it, but it works quite well when you get used to the completely unusual style. You can’t block reactively, you have to predict enemy attacks. I found it quite okay. Now my issue here is: Mass Effect and Dragon Age have horrifically bad combat systems. Whack-a-Mole and Button-Mash. Compared to the rest of the genre, it’s quite good.
    There’s also a recent overhaul mod by one of the original developers. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m about to.

    Note that I didn’t complete TW1, because I didn’t think it was that good, but the second one was really quite a breath of fresh air in a super-stale genre.

    I will put it like this: TW2 tries very hard to not cater to the least common denominator. It has a different combat system, it has a different style of telling its plot (you actually need to pay attention to the different characters, kingdoms and names!) and it has rough spots in presentation (naked woman first scene, brown huts), but that gives it so much more charm than blandy-mc-bland WoW quest to save the planet.

    • Zekiel says:

      RE: sexism – problem is that even with a limited amount of female nudity, the sorceresses still dress in stripperiffic clothes for no reason, unlike the men. And I don’t think its prudish to complain when Triss’ first introduction is naked.

      But I entirely agree about TW2 being a breath of fresh air, and I thought the combat was fine really as long as you were prepared to stick it on Easy difficulty at the start (and then change to Normal difficulty later on!)

      • kdansky says:

        Women dress like strippers: They do? Low-cut corsets are suddenly “strippers”? They wear pretty normal ball-robes or dresses. If you compare to what celebrities wear in our prude age, then I don’t see the problem. True, it might be the wrong clothing for combat and exploration, but then they never have to walk through swamps either due to teleport-spells. And they do not show off crotch, thigh or even waist very much, just some cleavage. I see less clothed women when I go to work during summer!

        Now take a look at Lineage 2, or Aion, and tell me with a straight face that TW2 is going overboard in an industry where the average female character wears a thong and bikini combo made of mithril, plus a silly hat. Triss even wears actual leather armor!

        And note how many people you murder in the first thirty minutes, but that’s somehow more socially acceptable than a pair of naked tits. Because, MURICA, I suppose. We Europeans are not quite as prude. In fact our movies sometimes have nudity in them, and in the US, only HBO and porn shows actual penises.

        • Shamus says:

          Okay, you are really being obnoxious about this. You’re taking a single comment and twisting it around to criticize an entire nation with multiple cultures. I could do the same to you: “See! This shows that Europeans reflexively hate America because they suffer from nation envy.”

          See how easy that is? How unfair and unreasonable it is?

          In any case, sneering at “America” is silly. We have Hollywood, and NOBODY is accusing THEM of “prudish”.

          George Carlin had a quote that went something like, “Everyone who’s driving slower than you is an idiot. Everyone driving faster is a maniac.” I think this applies to dress as well. Everyone wearing more than you is a prude, and everyone wearing less is a hedonist.

          Clothing is shaped by fashion, religion, climate, and tradition. Saying we live in a “prude” age is pretty crazy when we wear less than ever before. We’re getting LESS prudish, but people with different sartorial expectations are bumping into each other more often.

          • lurkey says:

            Eh…sneering aside, methinks that generalization “USians make big deal out of gratuitous boobs and no big deal out of gratuitous violence and for continental Europe it’s the other way round” is more or less valid? …from anecdotal evidence point of view? Cultural/social differences do exist, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all.

            Also, Hollywood is TOTALLY prudish.

            • thearpox says:

              Seconded. When the Polish developers put that scene in the Witcher 2, they were just showing that Geralt and Triss had an ongoing and lasting romance.

              It was NOT just a way to sneak boobies into the game. It was a way to show that Geralt and Triss are in a relationship.

              The fact that it was perceived in this way by you absolutely has to do with the American perception of nakedness. Also, Hollywood totally is prudish.

              • Dasick says:

                I just want to point out, from my perspective Hollywood is not prudish. It’s very rare to see a film that doesn’t have some sort of a gratuitous sex scene (even though you rarely see boobs).

                Not that I care about the ‘sex’ part of the scene, but the thing that bothers me most is the ‘gratuitous’ part, for a couple of reasons. I don’t like things that are irrelevant and thrown in just ’cause. I also think that intimate relationships are special and wonderful and should be treated with more respect, and also because the way tit’s* used most of the time almost feels like some sort of horn-dog bait, that feels really insulting. (I would also say the same thing about gratuitous violence or gratuitous anything, despite myself being prudish and desensitized (:P) to violence)

                *this is a typo of “it’s”, but for some reason, I can’t bring myself to edit that one out :)

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                “When the Polish developers put that scene in the Witcher 2, they were just showing that Geralt and Triss had an ongoing and lasting romance.”

                Absolutely.Which is why both of them are completely naked.Oh,wait….

                • Mephane says:

                  This is my only gripe with this opening scene. It’s as if somewhere halfway through, their boldness left them and they faltered. Now the scene looks a bit too much like fan-service for the cliche male-adolescent audience instead of a natural, tame* mature scene.

            • Shamus says:

              The whole “you’re so sensitive about boobs!” goes back into what I was talking about: What’s normal for one culture is edgy in another, and everyone assumes their culture is “normal”. Yeah ,some people here make a big deal about boobs. Some people in another country make a big deal about bare arms. Another is scandalized by genitalia.

              I don’t know of any culture where you can walk around in public places naked without upsetting people. (If they exist, they’re very rare and probably limited to very hot climates.) Everyone has a line they draw.

              The violence / sex thing is tied to this. When somebody gets shot in a movie, nobody actually gets shot. But when a body is shown in a sexual context, it actually is sexual. (That is, you may become aroused if it’s the sort of body you like.) And we generally hit that arousal point when we see something we don’t usually see. If people keep their arms covered, then seeing bare arms might be enough to get those people excited.

              So yeah, Americans don’t normally see breasts. If they were on TV, then they would stop being a big deal and something ELSE would be. “Oh sure, you don’t blink when 10 people get shot but you make such a big deal when you see a vagina!”

              So when people accuse others of having “hang-ups” what they really mean is “Your standards differ slightly from mine and are therefore invalid!”

              • thearpox says:

                That’s true.

                Yet that doesn’t make any of the things said less true.
                Americans still have different, more… prudish (if you don’t like this work, find me a different one to use!) standards then Europeans.

                And it doesn’t make any less true the fact that that scene was intended differently then the way you understood it.

                I think the developers had an artistic license to have this scene, and unless you’re trying to accuse them of not appealing to American tastes, I don’t see what the problem is. I was just trying to give the developers (and mine) perspective on this.

                Update (read the first comment again): Well, the thing is that I get why you were upset at someone calling you a prude, but the point was actually valid. The time ratio really is vast. I would just recommend seeing it from the Polish perspective, and enjoy the values dissonance.

                • Shamus says:

                  It was intended to show that they’re in a relationship. And that Triss sleeps naked with no blankets and Geralt never, ever removes his pants.

                  “And it doesn’t make any less true the fact that that scene was intended differently then the way you understood it.”

                  This would be more plausible if this wasn’t the same team that gave us the collectible sex cards.

                  • Nimas says:

                    Though I don’t want to be seen defending the game (I am agnostic about it, though love the company), I do believe they initially intended to have Geralt be naked as well.

                    I can’t remember the exact reason it was stopped, but I have to admit that most likely it was either a business decision (guys won’t play this if we show Geralt naked) or they were worried about how it would be rated.

                    Honestly I disagree with these things (I would prefer to have a more solid story) but I can understand why they might have gone this option.

                  • Thearpox says:

                    The sex cards actually also were never intended to be understood as collectibles. If you read what the dev team said on that, they were supposed to give you… a memo… they were basically were supposed to fill in the role of the actual relationship.

                    Yes, it was stupid and moronic of them to think that, but it was their first game, so I’d cut them some slack.

                    Regarding Geralt’s pants, I would just like to mention the rating system. Was there any way to have Geralt with no pants on while keeping the 17+ rating? Actually, in a later cutscene (optional!) he IS shown without his pants. And besides the rating system, well, I suppose the Polish are also prudes in some instances.

                    And regarding Triss sleeping naked, well… you got me here. Maybe it’s warm outside? Or it’s just a plothole?

                    • Hydralysk says:

                      I think it’s pretty clear that Triss being naked is intended as fanservice. I don’t think I need to mention much more than the fact that she was featured in the polish Playboy magazine as a promotion around the launch of the game.

                      http://www.ripten.com/2011/05/05/the-witchers-triss-merigold-featured-in-polish-playboy-nsfw/

                    • Mephane says:

                      Regardless of the developers’ intentions, the scene is not so far off as some may think.

                      For example – real life spoiler, read at your own risk:
                      I just want to throw in that there are people/couples who never sleep with any clothes, because they simply prefer it that way. My mornings are not so unlike the scene in the game. Well, minus the pants and the bloody war outside.

                  • Scampi says:

                    It was intended to show that they’re in a relationship. And that Triss sleeps naked with no blankets and Geralt never, ever removes his pants.

                    No offense, but different people sleep differently, and when I considered myself dressed to sleep in my boxers, other people who shared the room with me at the same time asked me why I sleep naked. I admit it’s probably not necessary to show Triss naked and without sheets, but as for Geralt: why not have him sleep in his…medieval boxers? How do you even call those things?
                    I just don’t like to yell “fanservice”, if it’s not totally obvious to me. I like to see it as a scene like any other. I’m more at odds with the scene’s execution, which seems really strange and the knight’s apology is what really gives me an awkward feeling there, since I think it comes across like an apology from the studio to the female audience.
                    Anyway, if your first thought at seeing a pair of (I like to add: CGI) breasts is not “oooooh, hot!” you should also be able to see that not everybody who designs movies or cutscenes is necessarily a lecherous pervert for showing naked people. They might be, but I hope the people responsible were not.

                    Edit: I still have to admit Hydralysk has a good point there, especially when I add that awkward feeling about the knight’s apology.

                • Scampi says:

                  For one: I, as a fellow european, may possibly be as prudish as any American might be when it comes to sex inside my entertainment. At the same time, lots of Americans are absolutely not prudish. What’s allowed or prohibited in a country is up to the dominant cultural influences and sometimes, especially in democracies, to the most sensitive minority or demographic. So, if in the U.S. someone feels offended by tits in the witcher: let them. I, for different reasons, don’t like being bombarded with sexual overtones in my games, if the sex is not necessary for the plot the same goes for movies, books etc. If the sex IS necessary for the plot and the plot revolves around the sex, it’s pretty likely I will have no interest in the product in the first place as it appears to be bland and uninteresting to me (and I’m a guy who lately misread the plot of a japanese movie and, sitting in the cinema, found out it was just a very weird soft porn with undead and a few rape (!) scenes. I didn’t feel offended, understanding it was just the plot this movie was supposed to show, just really annoyed and bored, since the movie was way less interesting than it might have been elseways). I think sex just, for most instances, doesn’t provide good plot points and such and I don’t like my entertainment to be overly sensationalist.
                  And: no, I don’t act the same way in my personal life. I just don’t like being forced to look at other people’s private parts and their sex without my consent or knowing about it beforehand.
                  I can still enjoy games where sex is displayed (openly or hidden), but the sex plays no part in my joy. I tend to try ignoring it if possible (meaning I will not try to collect any sex cards on my next playthrough of TW, I may miss out on the remaining romances in DA1 etc)
                  W/e: my point was: I am european, prudish when it comes to my entertainment, maybe more than many americans who are just not visible in the media. Stop generalizing cultural stereotypes, please. With proper data I might try making statistics of it, but for the lack of it that won’t be possible, I’m afraid.

              • Scampi says:

                When somebody gets shot in a movie, nobody actually gets shot. But when a body is shown in a sexual context, it actually is sexual.

                I can’t allow this to stand without comment. I have seen lots of movies in my life, where violence was depicted in such a graphic intensity that I felt disturbed for extended periods of time after the fact. Yes, nobody actually gets shot, but the effect on the viewer, which you try to put forth as an argument, can nevertheless be comparable to witnessing an actual shooting.
                If someone watches boobs on screen, he may become aroused.
                If someone watches a (professionally directed) massacre on screen, he may suffer psychologically. The viewer is not the one being shot-he is someone watching someone else being shot-and in the mainstream media (movies etc.) violence is very toned down so it doesn’t look as violent and brutal as the same action might look in real life. I think part derives from the common disability to play pain convincingly.
                It all depends on what you’re susceptible to-and that might be a cultural thing, but it’s just not as easy as:
                “Graphical violence in movies and games is only imaginary, but the boobs are very real.”

          • kdansky says:

            I just want to address a few general things:

            - “We live in a less prude age.” The sixties, the seventies and even the eighties (call them the Hippie decades) were much more free in regards to clothing than the current times, especially for men. It’s quite obvious here, but even more important in the middle east like Afghanistan or Iran, where women walked around in Bikinis, and now they must wear a body-bag at all times. The USA has gone through a similar development.

            - “Hollywood is not prude.” Hollywood is sexist and chauvinist, but still super-prude. No actual sex scene, no gays, no lesbians, no genitalia, no female nipples (but male ones are totally fine, now that’s a sensible rule!), the thematic of “sex” just doesn’t show up at all in a grown-up fashion.

            I don’t know how to put this nicely: Your world-view is far different from reality in this regard. That might explain your over-reaction to a bit of boob.

            • Scampi says:

              I seriously doubt Hollywood is prude. I like to think Hollywood is not about being prude but about that stuff they make out of paper and electronic data these days…money they call it, I think.
              They make business decisions and if business says acting a bit prudish will pay their bills, they will do that. If everybody was only watching porn, they’d probably be making lots of that. And if Americans craved torture scenes and public impalements there would be directors making movies about that. You can’t just say they are prudes, when there is way more to be considered than just the producers’, actors, directors’ etc. opinion of sex. If they make movies that won’t pass censorship: no money. If they make movies that get past censorship but won’t receive good reviews: maybe no money. If they make movies that get past censorship and get good reviews but nevertheless fail to draw an audience due to people’s cultural preferences: no money. And since money is on what that business runs, they better serve their market or consider making smaller movies with a big chunk less revenue.
              Still, of course, it’s not impossible for them to be prudish, but it’s unfair to accuse them of it, as long as there are other valid explanations that don’t require making assumptions about their personal morality.

            • Asimech says:

              “…where women walked around in Bikinis”

              What’s your source for that? Because I find it hard to believe due to, you know, sunburn being a thing that has always existed.

            • Shamus says:

              ” Your world-view is far different from reality in this regard. ”

              And there it is. You really do think YOUR views on dress are more valid than others.

              I didn’t “over-react” to a “bit of boob”. I saw a naked woman contrived into the game at the very beginning and I pointed out that since she was naked and he wasn’t, it was clearly fanservice to heterosexual men. I stand by it. That’s what it is.

              • I’d add that I’m more put off by oversexing someone (even in, yes, fantasy settings) just because of the impracticality. It pulls me out of the suspension of disbelief if I’m confronted by someone who’s supposed to be the most bad-ass of all bad-asses, slayer of a thousand challengers, scourge of the Deepdark Forest… and she’s in a thong with stiletto heels.

                This goes for male costumes, too, especially in games/movies involving combat. Any time someone needs vast freedom of movement and/or protection from injury and they’ve got costumes that look more suited to burlesque than the battlefield, I find myself annoyed more than titillated.

              • kdansky says:

                My point was that you have a view of the history of the world that is highly inaccurate, and we wonder why your judgement seems weird. Of course I’m “more correct about” Afghanistan. A quick google search will prove it.

                • Shamus says:

                  Afghanistan? What? I never mentioned it. History? What on Earth are you on about?

                  We’re talking about the Witcher, and now you’re suddenly dragging Afghanistan into it. And your final point, “Oh of course I’m right about all arguments and you just need to Goggle to see how right I am.” You’re dragging politics into this (unless someone else brought them up and I missed it) and using my “wrongness” about politics to prove I’m “wrong” about this scene.

                  That’s crazy. And also incredibly rude.

        • Zekiel says:

          To be fair my comment about dressing like strippers was hyperbole. Triss, when she is clothed, is actually fairly decently covered up.

          I think the problem is double standards. When the women are provocatively clad and the men aren’t it seems pretty sexist. The fact that you’re killing lots of people is (in this context) less problematic because you’re (playing) a man, they’re a man.

          Maybe. I suspect that opens a big can of worms about our approach to sex vs violence.

          But the Witcher is definitely still being a bit sexist. (And I like the game in spite of that, not because of it.)

      • Scampi says:

        Not to tell something completely wrong, but wasn’t there an in-universe reason for the sorceresses dressing and generally behaving this way? I think I remember somewhere in the books was stated the sorceresses are actually amazingly old and ugly hags who use illusions of youthful attractiveness to delude unknowing people.

        I’m not sure and don’t have the book in question at hand, so I might be wrong about that. If I’m wrong, somebody please correct me about that. I don’t think the explanation will make it feel better to anyone who decides to dislike it as sexist and macho, but it’s not “for no reason”. The bad thing is: the reason is not stated in the game, plays no role there, is not elaborated on or in any other way presented to the player.

        • thearpox says:

          “the sorceresses are actually amazingly old and ugly hags who use illusions of youthful attractiveness to delude unknowing people.”

          Actually, real reason is that sorceresses mostly (but not in all cases) come from fairly unattractive girls, who didn’t really find a husband, and became sorceresses because they didn’t fit in the existing system where every girl must be married or she’s a ****. So them trying to portray themselves as attractive is just their way of dealing with their childhood problems. Also fashion.

          The fact that they’re old just means that even if they weren’t as concerned about their appearance, they would have to use restoration magic to not look horrendous. Same goes for sorcerers. And if you’re using magic anyway, why not make yourself attractive?

          • Scampi says:

            First: thanks for refreshing my memory on this matter. It’s been a few years since reading the last bit of what I remembered, so it was pretty dim.
            Second: My point, however, was that they decided they wanted to look hot and used their magic to specifically this goal. So, there is kind of an explanation in-universe why they dress like that.

            • ? says:

              Specifically it is not illusion or glamour, but plastic surgery like spells. Basically ,unlike temples and druids, Brotherhood of Sorcerers takes everyone with magic talent regardless of their looks and then, to put it in D&D terms, polymorphs them into someone attractive. Improves social and political influence of members of the guild, beauty bias and all of that. An longevity somehow comes from magic using. So they spend centuries in bodies at their peak of physical attractiveness, because they can.

              Problem with Triss dressing like that is she specifically mentions in the books that she will never wear low cut dress again because she was heavily wounded during the war. Plastic-surgery magic removed the scars, but emotional trauma was still there. Alas it does not matter, since all her character development from the books was dumped to make Yennefer expy. She even repeats her catchphrases…

              • Scampi says:

                Alas it does not matter, since all her character development from the books was dumped to make Yennefer expy. She even repeats her catchphrases…

                Thanks for clarifying this, since that would have been my answer to the rest of your post. I, also, don’t really consider the games to be in complete canon with the books (though I’m obviously prepared to excuse some of their shortcomings by using explanations from the latter).
                Also: I interrupted reading the books at a point and didn’t know Triss said that. I always assumed the games were supposed to play at an earlier point.

                • ? says:

                  Games take place several years after the books. First war with Nilfgaard happened off-screen between second to last and last short story (both not translated to English AFAIK), second war happened during the novels, and I hear there will be third one in The Witcher 3, so that might be confusing. For the record Triss got horribly burned during the last battle of first war.

                  And according to the author, nothing in the games is canon, since it’s his story and he does not care.

                  • Thearpox says:

                    “(both not translated to English AFAIK)”

                    It may be too late to say this, but they were. They really were.

                    Witcher Fan Translations Community Forum. Better then original ones.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      “TW1 had a problem with that. TW2 has like 30 seconds of naked breasts in a 40 hour game. Complaining about that is more prude than anything else.”

      Nope.Its shoved right at you,for no reason other than TEETEEEEAAS!!! in the very beginning.It doesnt matter how much it improves afterwards(“but it gets better after hour 10″),it remains tainted.

      And before you call me a prude,I am the one that defended the existence of the sex game in fahrenheit.You know why?Because it has lots of context thrown your way looong before it is even hinted.

      “The combat is a strange beast. I really hated it when I started playing it, but it works quite well when you get used to the completely unusual style.”

      It gets better after 10 hours isnt really a saving grace.

      “Compared to the rest of the genre, it’s quite good.”

      The thing is:It doesnt matter if something bad is not as bad as other things.It still is bad.

      Now,if it were only combat that is bad,that couldve been overlooked(thats why I endured the dumb intro in mass effect and played on).Its not each one of these complaints that ruins the game for Shamoose and those who think like him,its all of them together.

      “but that gives it so much more charm than blandy-mc-bland WoW quest to save the planet.”

      To you.Thats the most important qualifier here.To many others,the flaws arent charming,they are grating.

      • Abnaxis says:

        Nope. Its shoved right at you,for no reason other than TEETEEEEAAS!!! in the very beginning.

        This is what bugs me, both about Shamus’s sentiment and yours. Both of you are immediately jumping to “tits=fanservice” without considering any other motivation for including nudity in that scene. These include:

        1: establishing the relationship between the protagonist and the woman.
        2: establishing the tone of the narrative as one for mature audiences
        3: establishing the characters themselves

        I haven’t had a chance to play up to TW2 yet, but I’ve read The Last Wish (*grumble grumble* second book hasn’t been translated *grumble*) and while many people have described it as being less racy than the game…it’s still pretty racy in parts. There’s plenty of nudity and sexual overtones, and it’s all used in a manner to establish the tone of the setting and the nature of relationships between people of both genders.

        To me, opening up to this scene has many implications for the narrative and the theme, but you’re just just writing off as dudes trying to get boners. Your entire discussion is prefaced on this assumption, with Shamus talking about “tipping points” above without considering any of the other narrative purposes it might serve. It’s like a European writing off the opening to…hmmm…not sure what example to bring up here, let’s say Fallout: New Vegas…as violence porn, without paying any attention to the characterizations and motivations it establishes.

        I really wish the discussion hadn’t devolved into all this “prude” junk. In many ways, I can see the justification for the accusation, but it’s a very non-productive way to talk about what’s happening here. What’s more interesting to me, is to examine why the first gut reaction is to adopt a purely sexual interpretation, without any other considerations of the connotations the scene is trying to convey. As an American, I’m pretty sure I know what many of those reasons are (strong historical protestant influence, history of objctivation of women in the media, a Pavlovian sort of training where boobs are only shown if the intention is sexual arousal, internet porn, dialog dominated by polarizing movements advocating both extremes of sexual conservatism versus sexual liberalism, etc), but I think it would be an interesting discussion nonetheless. I know its different in other places, but I have no idea why.

        • Shamus says:

          “Both of you are immediately jumping to “tits=fanservice” without considering any other motivation for including nudity in that scene”

          The previous game had collectible cards with nudity on them, as a reward for bedding women in the game. Then this game opens with a scene where the woman is nonsensically naked. (Or Geralt is nonsensically wearing pants.)

          Yes, there COULD be justifications for this, but I think you’re giving the designers way too much credit in this context.

          And to be clear, I’m not saying that the game shouldn’t have nudity or that nudity is bad. It just struck me as juvenile in this scene. It didn’t ruin the game. It just made me roll my eyes. I do the same thing when guys in a buddy cop movie have to visit a strip club during the investigation. Yes, the characters are here to ask the guy about a thing, but this place happens to be a strip club because that’s an easy way to get some flesh on the screen.

          I’m not saying it’s evil, I’m just calling it out for the lowbrow pandering it is.

          • Abnaxis says:

            Unfortunately, I still haven’t played the damn game. It’s been sitting on my shelf for a while now, too dang busy to do anything with it…

            As far as pandering goes…I don’t know. To me, showing nudity where it doesn’t fit is pandering. Like the strip club scenes you described–that’s pandering, because it’s flesh for flesh’s sake (unless it really fits the cop character to be a frequenter of strip clubs). These other things you talk about sound like they fit the narrative the creators are trying to create as you’ve described it.

            In TW1 Geralt is a womanizing pick-up artist–I can’t think of any better way of driving that kind of character home than giving a reward for every woman he beds. To a pick-up artist, intercourse=conquest, and the cards (complete with achievement sort of structure, it’s like the XBox going “Ding! You banged Laura!”) make that conquest tangible to the player. Calling it pandering is like calling a movie about World War II pandering to male power fantasies because it has dudes shooting guns–dudes with guns are a part of the setting and subject matter for a war drama, just like sex is a part of the setting and subject matter for the Witcher.

            I’m not touching Geralt’s pants–I can think of a dozen reasons why it makes sense, but they’re all conjecture. Maybe they didn’t want to write a physics simulation specifically for his genitalia? I dunno.

            Sorry if it seems like I’m being obtuse, it just seems like there’s more than one way to look at this issue from what other people are saying.

            • Asimech says:

              The writers could easily have made the cop be a frequenter in strip-clubs precisely so they could have a scene inside one.

              What it requires to become justified is a wee bit more. Wider story relevance, being a vital part of the cop’s personality which in turn is relevant to the story etc. But even then you probably shouldn’t start the movie at a strip club, since without context it’s not really establishing anything but “the makers wanted t&a” because it’s such a common reason.

              And like I say below, works don’t exist in a vacuum. They’re seen through the lens of the surrounding culture and creators need to work with that or end up misinterpreted.

              I haven’t noticed Shamus or anyone else saying “there was nudity therefore it was fanservice” but rather “in-context it felt like pandering” and they’ve describes bits of the context.

              • Abnaxis says:

                The writers could easily have made the cop be a frequenter in strip-clubs precisely so they could have a scene inside one.

                There’s a big difference between making a character that makes sense as someone who goes to strip clubs, and adding “frequents strip clubs so we can have some boobies” as a footnote to the script. If your protaganist is a borderline crooked cop, with a marriage in shambles and a penchant for shunning the rules of the law as well as society, having a strip club scene fits with the tone of your narrative and the character you have created. If, on the other hand, your character is a straight arrow and he’s forced to go to a strip club because that’s where 99% of all shady characters do business in Hollywood…not so much. That’s pandering.

                As far as absolutely requiring a lead-up…that depends on what the purpose is. To extend my example above, if your character is that crooked cop, what’s the point of including the strip club scene after fully laying out why his character would be there? If it really is part of his character, just put the scene in there to show that it’s part of his character. In this way, it’s actually better to put it in the beginning, because it communicates reams of information about the character you’re trying to convey, and you can use all that time you’re proposing to spend justifying why the character would be in a strip club to establish more characters, or add more political intrigue, or cram more action scenes in.

                I haven’t noticed Shamus or anyone else saying “there was nudity therefore it was fanservice” but rather “in-context it felt like pandering” and they’ve describes bits of the context.

                The only bits of context I’ve seen described are “there was a naked lady” and “Geralt was wearing pants.” To me, part of the root of the issue is that context is being ignored by both sides: on the one hand, you have the people with the “prude” accusations on one side, who are ignoring the fact that Americans are looking at the scene from a very different cultural context–one where sex is used as a lowbrow device to get male butts in seat in movies and there is a constant fight between sexually liberal and sexually conservative sensibilities. On the other hand, people who write off TW as juvenile pandering are also ignoring the context, namely that the work is not actually of American origin, and as such in context there are connotations to the use of sexual material beyond getting immature male members of the consuming public excited.

                Ultimately, I think trying to contextualize all of this junk is a road that goes nowhere. Nobody is an authority even in their own context, let alone anyone else’s, and even if they were it doesn’t really inform the conversation to roll your eyes and say “those silly Americans” or shake your fist at “those horny Europeans.” To me, the best way to look at it is to look at the content in question, ask yourself “do I think this serves the ideas the authors want to communicate?” If the answer is yes, then your dislike of the content is a matter of taste, and you shouldn’t be decrying it as “pandering” in public. Descriptors like that belittle the authors that made the work and the people that like it, and should be reserved for the works that really deserve it.

                • Asimech says:

                  You need to lead-in the character at least a bit precisely for what Cybron says below: the writer needs to earn the audience’s trust and by front-loading with t&a they got the porridge on the table before the bowl. It’s far harder to build back from that than to just establish the character first.

                  While the scene itself can be used to establish that particular side, there’s all those other sides that need to be established before the scene. You build the framework for the character in the audience’s head where going to strip-club fits in and then have the scene.

                  I was mainly commenting on this: “Calling it pandering is like calling a movie about World War II pandering to male power fantasies because it has dudes shooting guns–dudes with guns are a part of the setting and subject matter for a war drama”
                  with the “I didn’t notice anyone saying it was bad just because it had nudity”.

                  The combination that you can establish all of the things the scene apparently establishes, according to fans who are here, can be done without any nudity combined with the fact that Geralt, who should also be nude, isn’t makes it quite reasonably a case of fanservice.

                  Reasoning that it wasn’t, because maybe they had technical problems with his jangly bits or whatever, only raises the question of why didn’t they then change the scene to fit with their limitations.

                  “do I think this serves the ideas the authors want to communicate?” Unless the authors wanted to communicate that they wanted to open up with fanservice, it didn’t. There are many ways to establish characters and they chose one that alienated some of their audience for no apparent benefit. Therefore they screwed up.

                  I don’t know what you’re trying to say after that. Are you trying to say we’re not allowed to say that something feels like what it feels like to us, unless we can prove it’s an objective statement?

                  • Abnaxis says:

                    What I’m getting at in the last paragraph is this: everyone is entitled to their opinion. I can understand not wanting to play a jerk in a game, and not wanting to see nudity on the screen. I can respect that you don’t like it and I don’t have a problem with it.

                    Where I get my feathers ruffled is when you start talking about “pandering.” That is a loaded word, that moves beyond expressing your personal opinion about the work and progresses to throw mud in the face of the people who made the game and the people who like the game. You aren’t simply expressing your personal reasons for disliking TW, you are explicitly saying that the authors deliberately included sexual tones in the game to attract the immature male demographic, and you are implying that anyone who likes that same is a juvenile horn-dog.

                    I’m not saying there needs to be irrefutable objective proof to support your opinion, but I am saying that you should have more than a set of conclusions that you jumped to before you start throwing insults out. The easiest litmus I can think of to do so in this particular case is: does the nudity make sense? Are the women dancing around a war zone in chainmail bikinis a la WoW, or is there a reasonable justification for the nudity? The former is pandering and the latter is not.

                    From everything I’ve heard–all your talk about establishing trust and providing context and lead up–the difference between you and the people arguing against you boils down to the set of assumptions you brought in when you started playing. They didn’t need so much “trust” to see a set of nipples without rolling their eyes. This is understandable, and I can see why that issue yanked you out of the narrative. But please try to keep your generalizations contained, and do not degrade others as “lowbrow” because they didn’t see it in the same light you did.

                    • Asimech says:

                      First you talk about the subjectivity of experience and then you start demanding objective proof. Which is it?

                      Is the experience measurable in objective ways, and so can be declared as objectively “good” or “bad”, in which case “it’s pandering” means “if you like this you suck” and needs to be justified well?

                      Or is it subjective, so saying “it’s pandering” means “I find this distasteful and base” and is therefore just an honest opinion?

                      Unless you mean to suggest that it’s the audience’s responsibility to give the author their fair shakes, but it isn’t. It’s the author’s responsibility to earn them.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      There is a difference between asking for objective proof and asking for justification of an assertion. You will virtually never see objective proof for any decision made in the (US) Supreme Court, but you will still have dozens, sometimes hundreds of pages worth of opinion justifying why they are subjectively interpreting the US Constitution the way they are.

                      What I mean to suggest is that you be careful in how you pick your words, and back them up if you are going to be inflammatory. Look up panderer in Webster’s–a panderer is a pimp, a hustler who takes advantage of other’s base weaknesses to make a buck. When you say the game is pandering you are directly insulting both the audience and the author.

                      This is not just blowback because you are expressing your personal opinion, it is an indignant response because you are explicitly degrading everyone who likes the game. If the only reason you are going to list for insulting people is “boobies are bad” without giving any consideration to how this assertion is informed by your preconceptions, or even trying to approach the issue from the other side’s perspective, is it really all that surprising to you when people want to fight back?

                    • Shamus says:

                      Pandering is more colloquially used in the sense of “doing something shallow and transparent done just to please a group of people”. A politician is “pandering” to his Detroit audience if he opens his speech with a bunch of shallow stuff about how wonderful American cars are. A comedian is pandering to the New York audience if he leads off with, “Is this the greatest city in the world, or what?”

                      I don’t know if Webster has that one on record, but I hear this usage of pander far more often than the pimp / hustler one. (Although its natural to see how one use emerged from the other.) In this sense, pandering just means, “Oh, they clumsily put this scene in the game for other people.” This difference of usage might be where some of this friction is coming from.

                      ALSO – and I really don’t know how many more times I need to point this out – it’s not that “boobies are bad”. If both Geralt and Triss had been naked it would have felt more mature and less pander-y. They wouldn’t even need to SHOW more. If you don’t want to model a penis (there’s an art asset you’re not going to be using very often) then just hide stuff with camera angles. As it is, its pretty reasonable for a returning player to assume this scene is just Sex Cards 2.0.

                      I’m actually surprised to hear this is the (only? rare?) scene like this in the game. Like I said, I quit a few hours in, but I figured you’d bump into more scenes of clothed Geralt and naked women as the game went on.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      But even colloquially, there is still a jab at the audience when you call something pandering. When you say someone is pandering, you are saying that they clumsily and shallowly put in a scene/comment/whatever in order to appeal to a specific group of people; aren’t you also saying, then, that anyone who enjoys that scene/comment/whatever is too shallow to realize they are being manipulated?

                      I think that you’re right, that the “pimp” definition is a little outdated and over-severe, but I still think the colloquial use of the word “pandering” still follows the rough definition “provide gratification for others’ base desires.” I have never seen the word “pandering” used in a context that did not negatively reflect on the object of the pandering, especially when you are talking about sexual pandering.

                      Honestly, I think you hit the issue on the nose when you said above that a lot of this is about people shooting barbs back and forth because they feel their own views are superior to others’. But I think you inadvertently started it when you described the scene as “transparent pandering”–the connotations of that word imply that the scene is included solely to appeal to the base desires of the audience, and that your own sensibilities are refined enough to see the crass manipulation for what it is. The conclusion of a fan reading that is going to be that if they enjoyed the scene, they must be one of those debased manipulated masses.

                      I don’t think that’s what you meant to imply, but I think that’s how it’s come across nonetheless.

                      You’re right, it is unfair to distill your objections to “boobies are bad,” but the more I think of it, the more I think that even with the other justifications for seeing the scene as pandering( which is really just specifying where you draw the line on sexual content, something we’ve already established disagreement over) it boils down to specifying the scope of what you mean when you describe it as pandering–whether you mean it to be a morally absolute statement or a reflection of your own personal context (which is another separate issue entirely). A few qualifiers probably would have avoided 80% of the flaming in this thread.

            • Dasick says:

              >>In TW1 Geralt is a womanizing pick-up artist–I can’t think of any better way of driving that kind of character home than giving a reward for every woman he beds.

              That’s also part of the problem Shamus (and other people) has with this kind of character. They don’t want to play this sleazy asshole, at least not without a good justification as to why it’s appropriate for the story. Sure you could make a deep and mature story about a kitten drowner, but if you open up with a bag of dead kitties, most people will not stick around, more people won’t like it for the right reasons, and only few will actually get it. Like Asimech demonstrated above, there are ways to avoid the problem of self sabotage.

              On the other hand, a pick-up artist makes a whole lot of sense for a conversation based game (like, actual strategy not CYOA). I’ve been considering ways to abstract human conversation and make a deep, strategic, replayable game out of it, and the pick-up-artist theme makes a whole lot of sense.

          • Stratigo says:

            Honestly the collectible card game in the first game is something that strikes me as the devs from trying to keep with the tone and characterization of Geralt in the books. Now I’ve only read the first two (which were translated), but Geralt casually jumps into bed with women almost constantly.

            I want to say that casual sex isn’t a big deal for the devs or the game though sometimes I find it silly, but I also approach sexuality from a very… liberal (in the original meaning of the word) as a conscious choice. I get way more uncomfortable when people start making a big deal of the sex in the game, for whatever reason (the angryjoe sex thing in his review made me squirm). I went “Is this how people really react to this stuff?”

            All that said, I am not a fan of the games for many of the other reasons you posted. I still buy them to show financial support to good business practices.

            • Scampi says:

              I get way more uncomfortable when people start making a big deal of the sex in the game, for whatever reason (the angryjoe sex thing in his review made me squirm). I went “Is this how people really react to this stuff?”

              hey, that’s exactly how I reacted, when I even read “sexy review”…yes, it was obnoxious, but nothing else would I have expected from Joe…his reviews (to me) usually feel like cheap pandering to
              a) a very specific audience and/or
              b) the producers of very specific and often already hyped games.

              I’d have liked if he hadn’t been this focused on the sex, since this is exactly the part of the game which, to me, is a bit annoying. Well…I don’t watch his reviews anymore, since I think he’s mostly concerned with cheap pandering.

          • kdansky says:

            It’s really unfair to go “the OTHER game had problems with this topic” and then claim the current game does too because of that. Forget the fucking cards! They are not in TW2!

            • Asimech says:

              Creative works don’t exist in a vacuum and this was created by the same company so it’s even more reasonable for it to colour expectations and reactions.

          • Cybron says:

            I completely agree with you.

            It’s like when you talk about trusting the writer – when you notice a discrepancy in a story, you either trust that the writers put it there intentionally or you don’t. That trust has to be earned.

            Here, you either trust that they put the boobs in because it’s necessary to the story, or you believe that they just wanted to do some pandering. This team has not at ALL earned my trust in this regard.

          • Jan says:

            I know I’m joining an old and tired discussion here, and I’m not a expert on Polish culture with regard to sex, but I’d like to point at that doing this kind of nudity in the first few minutes is an actually often used device in many (good, critically praised, serious) movies in my home country (not Poland, but nearby).

            Maybe they were just trying to be artistic by following these movies. What I’ve read is that there was more nudity at first (for example, at the end of the prologue you have to rescue one of two people from a dungeon, and one of them would half-naked being tortured), but they toned this down after complaints from, mostly American, journalist previewing it. This suggests to me that it really is a cultural problem in understanding what is considered sexist or not outside their home country, and that while some things were pointed out to them and adjusted (the torture scene), some were not pointed out.

        • Thearpox says:

          All of the books have been translated. They’re fan translations, but are actually of higher quality then the official ones.

          Find them on Witcher Forum Community Fan Translations.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          “What’s more interesting to me, is to examine why the first gut reaction is to adopt a purely sexual interpretation, without any other considerations of the connotations the scene is trying to convey”

          Well if you read the next paragraph,youd get the answer to that.

  18. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Move over in that boat of yours Shamoose,I need to climb aboard.

  19. The Other Matt K says:

    I avoided this series for quite a while, largely because of Shamus’s condemnation of the original, and when I eventually played it, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Of course, I was playing the patched version that apparently fixed many of the original problems, so that likely helped.

    I can definitely see how the moral dilemma aspect of the game can turn people off. There are many, many situations where none of the solutions really feel like a good one, and quite often, doing the right thing involves having to make personal sacrifices. And depending on what decisions you make, later portions of the game can be completely different – which is great for replayability, but can also be frustrating when you have a mindset where you want to experience all the content in one go. (Which is certainly in my own completionist gamer nature, if no one else’s).

    I think the biggest problem with the series is that it has so much depth as to be very inaccessible. There is this abundance of backstory, and all of these countries and kings and power players. You have this combat system and levelling system that sounds great in theory – you can focus on swordplay or magic or alchemy and traps, and you win battles not by brute force but by drawing on all of these clever devices and the appropriate potions and so on and so forth… but figuring out the best way to go about it all requires potentially hours of research.

    I mean, literally – I quite the second game a few hours in, because I was having such a hard time of it. Later, I finally went back to the game, spent a few hours reading through Gamefaqs and figuring out how the crafting system and mutagens and reagents and everything else worked, and then I got back to playing and finally was able to enjoy the game.

    After the disappointments of Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect 2 and 3, the Witcher series really was a surprise in how well it delivered a a fully realized story and setting without completely depriving you of relevant choices and agency. It is, yes, a very brutal and gritty setting, and I definitely can understand not everyone liking that.

    Still, this is one area where I avoided the game at first specifically because of Shamus’s advice, and later discovered it to be among my favorite games of the last few years. (Whereas I more recently tried out System Shock 2 and discovered it to have the worst gameplay and levelling system I’ve ever experienced in any game ever.)

    It was an interesting reminder that no matter how much I might respect a blogger’s opinion and work, it is a mistake to blindly follow everything they say. Just to be clear, I’m not saying the lesson here is that Shamus is always wrong or has bad taste in games – not by any means! But rather, it was a reminder that every gamer has a different taste in games, and there really is no substitute for trying a game out for one’s self.

  20. Thomas says:

    Scale of RPG light and happy to dark and gritty?

    KotoR 1
    Jade Empire
    Mass Effect 1
    Alpha Protocol
    KotoR 2
    Planescape Torment
    Mass Effect 2
    Mass Effect 3
    Fallout 3/NV(unsure about this one. Silly tone, but also cannibalism etc)
    Vampires the Masquerade
    Dragon Age
    Witcher
    ———————————

    Not completely sure about some of those. Thinking about it, KotoR 2 and Alpha Protocol are surprisingly light for all their complexity and moral ambiguity. An ethical dilemma in KotoR2 was ‘Is it better to help some but in so doing so remove challenging experiences from their life that would strengthen them?’ In the more gritty games it’s ‘Should I help the rapist or the child killer?’ (okay slightly strawman =D)

    Feel free to tell me I’ve got the order wrong or suggest where other RPGs should go

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Theres this thing known as dark humor.Without it,your dark and gritty world is just depressing and bland.Original fallout(drink)knew that.Old world blues knows that pretty well.Thats why I really liked the darkness presented there,while the one presented to me in witcher left me uninterested.

      As for that list,Id put planescape way,way lower than that.Yes there are lots of fun times,but keep in mind that this is a game where all of your companions have been brutally tortured and usually driven insane by you,at one point or another.Thats dark as hell.And thats not even touching on the rest of the things in there.Hence the paragraph before about dark humor,and how it impacts the story.

      • Thomas says:

        To me, when I was thinking about it Planescape Torment is oddly optimistic in it’s subject matter. Someone gets locked into an eternal hell of living burning but at the same time, sexual harassment or paedophilia to a large extent would be surprisingly out of place. It probably does deserve to be lower than the Mass Effects and I’ve already said I’m terrible at judging the fallouts position, but VtM would stay as darker in my books

        • Tizzy says:

          I just don’t buy a linear ordering of games like this, especially because part of it is in the eye of the beholder. Kotor 1 for example, had some dark themes that you could really get into if you were in the mood to dwell on them (you have to play sith apprentice, there is slavery, a whole underclass of citizenry on the first planet, crimes against humanity). You don’t HAVE to dwell on those, and they are easy to ignore, especially with the happy art direction.

          OTOH, VTM Bloodlines (which BTW I really liked and is the game I’ve replayed the most in your list) is full of blood and gore and grit, but I could never take those themes all that seriously, even thou sometimes you feel like the game is trying really hard. (It’s pretty hard to take a house made of human remains or a zombie crackhouse too seriously.) In particular, I felt like the game really missed a good incentive to play a low-humanity vampire.

          • I like that the game absolutely underplayed low-Humanity and low-Masquerade vampires. It’s very much in line with the themes of the P&P.

            I loved Bloodlines precisely BECAUSE it combined some horror elements (which can actually be really effective, like some of the transitions in the Giovanni mansion and especially the lost hotel – in my opinion one of the greatest horror scenes in any media) with a nice tongue-in-cheek. And it showed that you can have a strong, powerful character for the player to occupy without cutting back on fear.

            On another issue: What about the JRPGs? You start thinking about those, and you have a range from:

            Terranigma (you suffer and suffer just to vaguely get a decent ending)
            Vagrant Story (everything is pretty well screwed)
            Final Fantasy Tactics (you’re playing through the events that transition Ivalice from nice happy Moogle land into dystopia)
            Seiken Densetsu 3 (cities are invaded, people killed, and ultimately you still have to see mana be sealed due to your failures)
            Breath of Fire 2 (a Church is actually a con by a demon god to revive, the protagonists routinely have to consider stopping the problem with self-sacrifice and the “best” ending still has your father sacrifice himself to ram a town over the entrance to Infinity, not to mention the fates of Tiga, Mina, Rand’s mother, Ray, and many others)
            Secret of Mana (so much destruction happens and ultimately Mana still leaves)
            Final Fantasy VI (the world is ruined but humanity will still survive bleakly)
            Final Fantasy II (yes, the Emperor’s been beaten, but numerous people died and whole countries were occupied and destroyed, and the gates of Hell opened)
            Final Fantasy VII (everything turns out sort of okay in the end, but Midgar is destroyed, there’s corruption everywhere, etc.)
            Final Fantasy V (the Void was released and many people died but ultimately the worlds were restored and not much lasting damage was done)
            Golden Sun (there’s a ton of damage done and a major decision had to be made from the perspective
            Final Fantasy IV (many of the kingdoms end up with better leadership, but a lot of people do die or get corrupted)
            Final Fantasy I (while a lot of the world did suffer from the Crystals being drained, they’re restored and Chaos’ defeat only robs the heroes of their glory not their lives)
            Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (ultimately almost nothing of consequence happens and most of the characters learn a valuable lesson)
            Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2 (even more so except there’s not even the themes of reality versus fantasy and addiction)

            There’s a range in JRPGs, but yeah, they tend not to hit the bleak parts as much. Then again, I find it actually bleaker when a fantasy world like Ivalice is ground down to something like Phantasy Star. You start higher, so ultimately the contrast is more extreme.

        • bucaneer says:

          Planescape has no shortage of dark subject matter if you look into it. If sexual themes are such an important factor, look no further than the opening of the game in the Mortuary where your talking skull companion starts flirting with female animated corpses. Then you have the streets of Sigil full of harlots offering their services for pocket change. Most of the sexual commentary in the game is provided by Morte and as such is largely done in jest, but the player is always given the option to join in. The game doesn’t dwell much on these matters, and I don’t personally consider them a big deal, but it’s there, and there’s room for extrapolation.

          The start of the game introduces a whole bunch of twisted concepts, actually. The Mortuary itself, run by the Dustmen faction and inhabited by the shambling reanimated corpses of people who had agreed to this for a handful of coin when they were still alive. Closely linked to it is the business of corpse collectors who collect (and, sometimes, produce) corpses to be sold to the Dustmen. You also learn of the endless and entirely pointless Blood War waged between different flavors of evil fiends but often spilling out and affecting other planes. Sigil is filled with cut-throat thugs, thieves, con artists, rival gangs, and overseen by somebody called the Lady of Pain – all in all, the game makes it abundantly clear that the world you live in is not a nice place by any stretch.

          Then there’s the main quest. For most of the time, you follow a trail of clues set by your previous self – products of cynicism, lies, manipulations and murders. And the incarnation that set those clues is called the Practical one – not Evil or anything like that. There’s an implicit agreement of his actions – even if you play the game with all the virtue that the game lets you have, you still have at least one utter bastard to thank for making it possible for you to reach the conclusion. And the conclusion itself is, at the most generous, bittersweet: you are freed form the torment of immortality and, possibly, gain absolution from whatever compelled the Nameless One to seek immortality in the first place, but you’re still stuck in the Blood War for the rest of forever.

          I agree with Daemian Lucifer here – it is the humor, and the understanding of when and how to use it, that lets the setting of Planescape be something other than bleak and depressing.

          • That’s a really good point. When you construct something for people, you need to consider what percentage of a population you’re going to be alienating. Again, if there’s some really artistic reason you need to have titties or a sex scene, fine. I found the sex scenes in the 300 and Watchmen, as silly as they were in some respects, to also be very beautiful, and they absolutely fit into broader themes of the story. 300 in particular would have been even more bleak without it.

            When coming to sex, which isn’t just a cultural thing but is also a personal thing (some people are just not comfortable with sexuality and there’s nothing wrong with that necessarily), you need to make sure that you have the issues be mostly optional. ESPECIALLY if you start dealing with abuse, rape, prostitution, etc. all of which are obviously really live real-world issues. Jack, for example, is a broken person because of horrific abuse. But you don’t have to engage with that plot-line much (at least not romantically), which is good if you’re a person for whom that sort of stuff really makes the stomach turn. And Mass Effect 2 has so much more going on that Jack’s story is just one of many.

            It might be with The Witcher that the Game of Thrones-type sexuality is just so up-front and so dominant in the setting that it’s not just that people don’t like the scenes but feel that the context is nearly being forced on them. After all, this huge comment section demonstrates that people have an array of opinions about sex in games and all sorts of perspectives. Me, as a feminist, I tend to be very suspicious when I see sexualized representations in media. I know full well who’s consuming the media and for what. I’m far from prudish or repressed, but motive and context matter in representation, and calling other people prudes isn’t actually an effective response to the idea that the media’s just pandering. Pandering takes many forms, as Shamus notes, and it’s just as problematic in any of them.

          • Disc says:

            “Most of the sexual commentary in the game is provided by Morte and as such is largely done in jest, but the player is always given the option to join in.”

            There’s one major exception in Fall-From-Grace’s backstory about her past as a slave to the Baatezu, which carries some nasty implications, considering especially how it all made her the person she is today: A chaste succubus (of all things) and one of the nicest people in the whole game. Her kind are chaotic evil by default in the setting.

        • Disc says:

          I don’t know about you, but alone just the things the Practical Incarnation did in his lifetime are enough for me to put Torment at the bottom of the list. Even more so when you add up all the potential evil you can commit as the PC. There’s just so many levels of (mostly mental) existential horror to be witnessed that no other game I’ve ever played has really come even close to exploring.

          The setting is also a far cry from any form of jolly optimism. Sigil being the focal point, it makes most everything greyer than Gandalf’s beard just from the outset.

    • Weimer says:

      I think the correct name for that scale would be “from less gritty to more gritty”. I don’t think western developers would ever create a truly light and happy RPG unless it is meant specifically for the smallest of consumers (kids, not dwarves).

      Anyways.

      Dragon Age 2 was a mixture of exaggerated, almost animesque visual presentation and quite dark events and subject matters. I have no idea where it would go on that scale though.

      I don’t remember much about the Baldur’s Gate games to scale them properly. Also same for the Icewind Dale games. All I remember about those old classics is that the Infinity engine was pretty, but it was a bitch to play with.

      Neverwinter Nights? None of the NWN games were that gritty, that much I remember.

      • Tizzy says:

        I would put both BG games on the grittier end of the scale. BG1 opens with a terrifying murder, and has weird plots and assassinations throughout. BG2 starts with torture and loss of a companion, and goes on to arbitrary arrest and soul stealing, a ghastly serial killer subplot, and adoption of the drow lifestyle. Overall, suffering is not downplayed, both for characters and the civilian population.

        At the same time, I can’t say It felt like they were trying too hard. And it wasn’t an overly oppressive atmosphere. (But it didn’t have the Fallout humor.)

        NOW I remember why I liked those games so much!

    • StashAugustine says:

      I’d put Fallout (especially other than the original) and Dragon Age higher. Fallout 2 and 3 are too goofy to really be dark, and while NV was very serious, it was also the most hopeful- civilization is rebuilt, and the question is no longer “Am I going to get murdered by a radscorpion while scratching crops out of the dirt before the raiders take it all” and has become “Whose vision for the future is best?” No vision is perfect, but all have some upsides (except arguably Legion.) And while Dragon Age (Origins, that is) is pretty dark, it’s at its core a pretty standard fantasy story.

    • lurkey says:

      /Set adult = death and taxes ;as opposed to adult = tits & ass

      Dragon Age has to move waaaaay up, because it’s just standard fare heroic fantasy masquerading as “dark and gritty” one. Somewhere next to Jade Empire. Also, ME2 and ME3 are more cartoonish than 1 and thus deserves the place above.

      Also², what is Fallout 3 doing in this list?

      • Thomas says:

        Totally disagreed, I’m the one who started a ‘The Witcher 1 is juvenile’ flame war on the Escapist because of the way they handle sex and the rest of it, I most definitely wasn’t judging the list to tits=mature standards. Dragon Age is in it’s place because of the (identical to the Witcher) initiation rights and the way blood magic works and the number of times they pull a ‘but actually he sold his soul and is consumed by revenge’ twist on you. Each main quest suggested you probably had to kill someone to get your ‘happy’ ending and Orzammar which was the second most optimistic resolves with ‘and the good king was too powerless to achieve anything and his reign fell apart’

        Grittyness isn’t a commentary on good (as above I hugely dislike the Witcher) nor necessarily on how cohesively the intended affect is. ME1 plays bad guys lose good guys win much more straight then ME2 and ME3. The ending of ME1 was a Disney death to rousing music. The ending of ME2 was Shepard looking at the coffins of his fallen comrades and the ending of ME3 involved the death of most of the galaxy and puts you through a whole hour of ‘everything sucks’ to get you there. ME1 is definitely the lightest one of the franchise, no matter if ME2 or 3 weren’t very good/successful or not.

        The list is actually skewed fairly positive though. I don’t feel that very many of those games are very dark at all

        • lurkey says:

          I didn’t mean to imply your understanding of maturity = tits or anything like that. Those were just set up for my own definition of mature; sorry for coming out unclear. :-)

          To expand on the subj. — my main criteria for perceiving maturity is sum of these parts:
          black & white — gray & grey scale;
          questions asked by the story (“nature of the man” > “lets save the world”);
          verisimilitude (as in, things that happen for a logical within setting’s universe reason > things than happen because it looks cool > things that happen because. Might be abbreviated as ME > ME2 > ME3 :-P);
          specifically for games — how much a wish fulfillment vessel the PC is.

          Also, I don’t take deaths into account at all. Mook’s life is cheap in a video game, and all those Call of Dudebros would be shining beacons of maturity this way.

          First Mass Effect made a lot of sense and introduced morally ambiguous Genophage and the Rachni. Commander Shepard was an incredibly competent yet still believably real soldier.

          Enter ME2. “Geth are not all Chaotic Evil” (mature thing) is offset by Shepard transforming into one-liner spouting Badarse McActionhero (immature thing). “Mordin and the Genophage” (mature thing) is trounced by concentrated idiocy named Cerberus (stupid and dumb thing). ME3 tries to get some maturity back my making Shepard show fatigue (would have worked on ME1′s Shep, on ME2′s superbadassman Shep doesn’t look convincing at all) and adding the atmosphere of oncoming doom which mostly works (there are little gems scattered around, such as Elcor diplomat remarking how nobody rushes to save his world because Elcor are largely unimportant in Galactic scheme species) – and again, all good things are drowned out by Cerberus suddenly becoming bad guys again because? and “take Earth back!” because fuck yeah.

          Dragon Age: Origins had one seriously good ambiguous dilemma, that is progressive tyrant vs stagnant good guy in Orzammar, the whole “mages get locked up just for being potentially dangerous” thing was interesting too if undeveloped, there were some other interesting bits scattered around, still — essentially it was typical heroic fantasy with bad guys, good guys, epic final battle and a protagonist fairly up in the wish fulfillment scale.

      • Aldowyn says:

        I’d point out that Dragon Age 2 is NOT standard heroic fantasy, and deals with some relatively mature themes in more depth than Origins, regardless of whether it did it well. It does LOOK a lot less serious, and Varric’s narrative style is fairly light, but there was a lot of dark stuff in that game.

  21. TSi says:

    I also had some issues with the first Witcher.
    I tried the demo when it came out and hated the combat system with all my heart. It felt dumb and repetitive and i quit after an hour or so.

    A few months later i hear about the enhanced edition and i read some tests and comments about people who liked the game for x reasons. I decide to give it a new try and go further than the tutorial level. In fact, i finished the game after spending hours on sidequests and stuff and quite frankly enjoyed it. Sure it had some flaws but i managed to get over them and appreciate the game and it’s weirdness for what it is.

    I got The Witcher 2 collector for my girlfriend who loves the character of Geralt and we both enjoyed it despite it’s flaws and the combat mechanics that forced us to play on easy the first time … gosh

    Anyway, I understand you didn’t like the game and I know you’re not the only one.

    About the sex stuff, i feel there is an evolution of the character. In the first game, you could flirt with any girl you met, in the second, Geralt sticks with Triss and develops their relationship even through he regains some memories from the past (no spoilers but it’s about pre-witcher 1 stuff).

    Funny fact : One of the developers just put out a patch for The Witcher 2 a day or two ago that makes combat more engaging and corrects a few bugs.

  22. Zekiel says:

    Thanks for posting this Shamus. I almost always enjoy it when you post about games I like, even if you dislike them. Quite understand the dislike that you (and many others) have for the Witcher and am not going to try to change your mind. But I do like having my say nonetheless :-)

    I really like the second game. It’s far from perfect – it has so-so combat (though easily better than Mass Effect 1 or KOTOR in my opinion), it has a certain amount of sexism which is upsetting, has a reverse difficulty curve and peters out a bit by the end.

    But on the other hand I think it has some awesome visuals. The forest in Act 1 is just amazing – the first time I’ve seen a forest in a 3D game that feels bright and vibrant. It’s not a dark gloomy Alan Wake-esque forest – its drenched with sun, it feels alive and I found it a joy to explore. I really can’t speak highly enough of it.

    The characters are another high point for me. Roche is a horrible son-of-a-bitch, but he’s also very well written. Foltest (the first king) also feels very believable. He’s not nice, but neither is he evil. I felt like this was one of the few RPGs I’d played with interesting characters who weren’t party members.

    And then there’s Geralt. I can *really* understand not playing the game because of him. I don’t really like him, but I tolerate him. His sarcasm is quite endearing. His womanizing is less so, but it is toned down significantly in the second game.

    One of the things I appreciated most about the Witcher 2 (and, indeed, the first game) is that it breaks from the usual save-the-world pattern. You’re not trying to save the world, you’re on an overarching personal quest. Too few RPGs give you that sense of personal involvement – too often you’re trying to save the world from Malak/Reapers/dragons/elder gods/whatever.

  23. Warrax says:

    I don’t usually post just to say “I agree”, but you summed up my feelings nicely. I think I got to the end of act 2 and then just stopped playing. Didn’t ragequit, just closed the game and never opened it again because it didn’t give me anything to care about.

    It took me a while to figure out why I didn’t like Geralt, but I did finally figure it out: He’s a gritty-grimdark 90′s comic book anti-hero; the kind of thing I might have thought was cool for a brief time when I was a teenager, but that I find completely boring and unengaging now. Basically a medieval Cable, complete with pouches.

  24. Scampi says:

    Great…by telling me CDP runs GOG you got me interested in supporting CDP, especially thinking that maybe there may be Cyberpunk 2077 in the future without DRM if they realize the no DRM-policy pays off…just got myself copies of both TW 1 and 2 to revisit 1 and find out about 2…

    I may be back later, but before, I have a lot to catch up to^^
    BTW: the general world is probably what I like about it. The characters are generally not annoying but nobody is a goody two shoes and that makes the dilemmata interesting to me. There is never a simple “ah, whatever, both is good” or a “ah, that guy is nice. I should side with him”, but always a “which of those 2 factions, which both consist of insufferably horrible people, deserves my help more?”
    I like the idea, studying politics and being mostly a cynical misanthropist (some people might prefer calling me an asshole douche or a stupid pessimist, I guess that’s what comes with it) myself. I make exceptions, though.

  25. Mormegil says:

    I love both games. But I can see where you’re coming from – if the setting and the main character don’t do it for you then you’re never going to get into it.

    I think the biggest flaw with the first game was inadequately exploring an element that was introduced but never properly settled – Triss versus Shani. Why did these two powerful and intelligent women fall in love with a wandering monster hunter and why would Geralt choose one over the other? I would happily swap all the barmaid bonking for a better story here. Of course then you’d have to follow it up properly in the second game (as opposed to – you chose Triss: good. You chose Shani: things didn’t work out and you got Triss).

  26. Dasick says:

    I was always gonna try out Witcher, despite your negative reviews of it… who knows I might find the fabled strategical depth hidden behind the horrible interface and inappropriate dexterity challenges. But then I kinda came to the conclusion that for someone who likes stories and likes strategical depth, there’s something about RPGs that makes them a really bad idea… I mean, there are so many RPGs that showed great potential, both in terms of storytelling and mechanical depth, but they all fell short one way or another, and I’m starting to think that over the years, at least one or two great RPGs would make through the red tape, short financing and executive incompetence… great strategy games and great stories have been getting through if not frequently, then regularly, but where are the truly great RPGs?

    I find it funny that Geralt’s world is too full of jerks for you, but you fell in love with TWD despite the MAGICAL NINJA PLOT ZOMBIES and almost everyone being a jerk (Larry and his daughter, the cannibals, the super-survivalist society, Kenny on (and off really) the train, etc etc).

    Personally, I don’t care if a story/setting is light-hearted or gritty (I am generally an optimistic and happy person but I recognize that tragedy and hardship can make for really enlightening stories, and the contrast of two (optimism in the face of hardship, tragedy amidst happiness) can be used really effectively), my problem with gritty approach is that so many people just do gritty because it somehow automagically makes the work all mature and stuff (hello Game of Thrones). Grit it just used for it’s own sake. I watched a movie recently, Dogville, and while it was certainly gritty, all that grit served to illustrate a point, and made the conclusion all the more stronger.

  27. Aaron says:

    that was my experience with the games as well, they seem really well put together but i couldn’t find the motivation to actually play them through.

    though to be fair to the first one, the loading screens originally put me in such a negative frame of mind on the game that finding motivation to play it was harder than needed (never played the enhanced edition)

  28. TightByte says:

    I’m sure I’m much too late to chime in and be heard on this topic, but I’ll just stand up and claim that the Witcher series of games (both installments) are my favourites in the whole world, and the reason is that they aim higher in terms of maturity than most contemporary mass-marketed computer entertainment media I can name.

    I claim absolutely no other authoritative references than my own memory, my bias and my gut feeling, so your opinions may differ, and that’d be great because then, maybe, we’d find it rewarding to talk about this. Or then, you know, go our separate ways. But it’d hopefully be an amicable process, any which way.

    I can’t play StarCraft 2, let alone watch streams of people who play it competently. There’s probably room for some interesting mechanics to be used in interesting ways, but I could say the same about how I get to work every day driving my motorbike and yet I can’t argue convincingly about how that would be captivating to anyone but me, the person at the centre of the action.

    The Witcher is certainly different from a lot of games you might pick up. As opposed to Gordon Freeman (“all hail the voiceless protagonist”) you’re not really playing your own story which thus frees you to imbue the main character with your own projections of whatsit. This is a well (pre!)defined character who is navigating undefined — uncharted, you might say — territory, but the story nevertheless grants you the ability to lend a certain slant, and the execution thereof is superb. Geralt acts like Geralt throughout, but small choices made early on have the potential to cascade out to the point that you may see very different outcomes and yet still feel as though you’re a worthy incarnation of the White Wolf.

    To sum up: Fair enough. Respectfully agree to disagree. You’ve made your point. I’d like to stand tall and firm as evidence of a counterpoint, and in a civilised society, that’s frequently seen as a good thing. But whether it is or isn’t, such is how I’ve written this contribution to the discussion, and to anyone who reads this; whilst you probably shouldn’t bother Shamus with suggestions that he play the Witcher games, I’d like to suggest that you instead accost me with your enthusiasm. The Witcher may not be for everyone, but if you’re even a little bit disposed to like it, you may very well come away thinking the game was made just for you.

    • Dasick says:

      >>I could say the same about how I get to work every day driving my motorbike and yet I can’t argue convincingly about how that would be captivating to anyone but me, the person at the centre of the action.

      As someone who likes searching youtube for clips of people doing amazing things (with motorbikes as well), I’m going to have to respectfully disagree :D

      Also, this was posted today, so I’m pretty sure the discussion is still going on? I know that blog-based discussions tend to die out far too quickly (sadface.jpg) but it’s not that quick is it??

      • TightByte says:

        It would appear not!

        I should probably point out that I don’t really do amazing things with my motorbike per se, as compared to the displays of skill readily available on YouTube. I do however cruise around with the entire triple-hardshell-box kit mounted on, not for the obvious reason of lugging around cargo but instead to afford the wife some comfort when we ride. I may have more than once referred to the whole setup as her throne, though never once without reaping punishment for it. At any rate, I’m sure it makes the bike look and feel unwieldy to the unaccustomed rider, but I can weave through traffic riding that fat rig as though it were a waspish Vespa.

        As for getting here too late to meaningfully contribute to the talk about the Witcher and how the games were received … well, I wasn’t really hoping to generate discussion so much as to bear witness to the existence of an alternative point of view. I greatly value Shamus’ opinion and I admire his ability to list the points he does in favour of why he ought to have liked the games (and yet didn’t.) I still found that I felt strongly enough about both of the games that I wanted to shout to the heavens how they’re worth giving a try even though certain individuals of some reckoning didn’t find them to their liking.

        I tried typing out a great long analogy concerning sushi and how some people like it while other people hate it, but it became overly cumbersome and I decided instead to hope I’d managed to succinctly made my point without resorting to seafood! :-)

  29. muelnet says:

    It’s kind of a relief to find other people who love RPGs but hate that series. I forced myself to play through the entire first game, and hated it the entire time. I didn’t even find the world all that interesting.

    On top of many of the complaints other people have mentioned, my immersion was constantly broken by the fact that they knew what a ‘mutant’ was. Talking to some of the characters made it abundantly clear that they didn’t know much about how their bodies worked, so the idea that they could understand a ‘mutant’ versus just a product of sorcery or some other magic seemed insane to me.

    And the sexism. Don’t even get me started on the sexism. Everyone points out the cards from the first game as problematic, but there are far more sexist things. For instance if you buy The Witcher 2 on GoG it comes with a set of sexily posed nude pictures of the in game nude Triss model (to make sure you know these are supposed to be sexual they were originally shown in Playboy). They created a Witcher calendar with a naked actress as Triss and a clothed actor as Geralt. According the the Witcher Wiki, in the books Toruviel, a female elf, was of a higher rank in the Scoia’tel than Yaevinn, a male elf. In the video game the opposite is true.

    Of course there are also the problems other people have mentioned (poor combat, bland characters, dumb story that made no sense, uninteresting world).

  30. Humanoid says:

    What does it say when I agree with the criticisms raised yet still feel that W2 is still the best CRPG I’ve played since the 90s? I can forgive a lot when a game scratches some fundamental itch.

  31. ENC says:

    “On top of all that, CD Projekt is one of the most consumer-friendly companies in the industry. They run the excellent Good Old Games. We sometimes praise Valve for doing such a good job of lubricating / sugarcoating their DRM, but CD Projekt actually stands against DRM.”

    So we’re all forgetting the time where they tried to extort $2k out of anyone who pirated their game, and only stopped because the collective community pretty much said “Are you actually serious?”

    Going to have to take a lot more to make them appear to be consumer-friendly; Valve are still doing very dodgy things and are gamifying a lot, but CDPR pushed it way too far with extorting game pirates for cash.

    • bloodsquirrel says:

      Don’t forget how they actually released The Witcher 2 retail version with DRM because “We had to, man!”. Yes, they patched it out later, but needing a patch from them to remove online activation is basically just a more annoying version of online activation.

      On the other hand, it saved me $40 since it meant that I didn’t buy it until they released the Enhanced Edition.

  32. Artur CalDazar says:

    I liked the Witcher 2, and I’m currently not finishing a playthrough of the first. I can see why people like it, I kinda like it. But its got some serious flaws, I’m not surprised to hear anybody say they won’t be playing the game.

    I am mildly annoyed to see people hold the games up as everything an RPG should be though, we’ve got room for things to be different.

  33. Hydralysk says:

    I agree with pretty much every point you made except for the combat in TW2 (TW1 sucked, not going to defend it), but oddly enough I still love the game.

    It’s definitely flawed, but despite that I have so much fun when playing it that most of the time I can forgive any particularly cringe worthy scenes.

    I think my biggest problem with it was that the game was too dark all the time like you said. Sure it helps the story to not have an obvious good side, but a story where almost everyone is a monumental jerk is no more morally gray than a world where everyone’s a saint.

    Now I want to rewatch Babylon 5 again, thanks for that Shamus…

  34. Smejki says:

    Hah! Just finished Witcher 2 today and I can say I ejoyed it. A lot, especially as the end was nearing and bunch of shady politics stuff came into the story (always love this when it makes sense). There is also so much cruelty at the end that one once again relizes this is not a fairytale. This is middle ages magical fantasy setting with real people in it. But I see your points Shamus, and I respect them. Many of them are a matter of taste and noone can fight them.

    I would oppose the sex thing a bit though. Yes W1 was juvenile as hell in this regard. But in the second installment there almost always is a context. Yes I agree that naked Triss in the beginning is there for the very sake but there also is the context (they kinda love each other they enjoy having sex – keep in mind that witchers are sterile – and and they both work for the king who is now preparing for battle). It has a meaning, it enriches the story. It paints their reůationship. They behave like adult beings. There is no middle-standing silent story teller throwing middleages Playboy covers at you. It is far more better than “hey, you killed the rats in my cellar, bring a wine to the mill at the midnight and we might have a fuck” -> sex card! Yay!. And in fact I don’t see any problem in it nor even in the timing. Because you are practically saying here that sex is one of/a sole theme which is forbidden to appear at the beggining of a story and works which do so are juvenile. Yep, there is plenty of sex in the game. Sometimes pushed a bit hard, but always with a context (that’s also why the sex at the begining makes sense – it is not an exception). Sometimes even serves as a humourous element (yeah in a Witcher game). But I never felt like I was treated as a horny/naive/uneducated/whatever 15 years old boy the mass gameing market constantly aims for for some stupid reason. What I do mind and what I did not like was the marketing campaign prior to realese which was heavily centered on naked Triss (she did make to Playboy cover I think and there are some posters where she is literaly posing for the photographer) and which was, well, primitive.

    I agree the characters are almost all unlikable, or better said unrelatable and it is very hard if not impossible to create some relationship to any (except for Triss who you are basically told to care for – and this relationship is not supported too well). Maybe it has something to do with the proclaimedneutrality of witchers, I am not sure. maybe that is why you are always put in complicated situations with too many people involved who are already in middle of something. It feels strange when you are forced to decide in situations where you would most likely go “Give me a break, you bastards! I go home.”

  35. Cody says:

    To each their own. I personally love the games but I don’t recommend them to people very often because of it’s polarizing nature.

    I really loved the gray on gray morality and how the overarching themes where rather well flushed out, as well as most the main characters being well done and not just “Dwarf/Elf Trope 1-4.” But as you said, the game has plenty of downsides and there are a lot of people who could take a rather large amount of offense to it.

  36. I couldn’t roleplay in a “what would you do in this situation?” sense because if I was there, I’d leave.

    In other words you wish there was a 3rd choice where you could flip the finger and walk away from both of them. (sounds like a thing Geralt would do actually).

    But the point that you made is very valid. Next to bad story telling (or no story to speak at all in some games these days), the “stupid choices only” that you personally would never make is something that irks me too.

    Especially in RPGs this stand out more (as you normally are supposed to be the character). In Mass Effect I called this effect “Derpard”.
    Moments where you go “woa wait, THOSE are my only choices? Sheesh!”

    I can’t really think of any game (right now) that has ever gotten this right. *scratches head*

  37. Dreadjaws says:

    I don’t have much experience with the games. I only played the first one for a couple of hours, didn’t care much for the combat and then my hard drive crashed and burned for unrelated reasons and I never tried to install the game again.

    I can’t say I was turned off by the game, I just wasn’t wowed by it enough for me to consider an inmediate reinstall upon new hard drive readiness, like I did with other games.

    I really can’t remember much about the game except that I took me a while to understand the combat and the generic settings I have in my memory might or might not belong to that game or others set on castles and villages.

  38. Karthik says:

    Two things:

    1. I found The Witcher 2 gorgeous. Everything was so colorful and atmospheric–from the clothes people wear to the fabric of the tents, and from the gloomy marshes in Act 1 to the windswept crags in Act 3. It was a joy to stand in the middle of the forest (or the marsh) in Act 1 and soak it in. It looks much better in motion, but here is an album of screenshots for anyone who wants to know what The Witcher 2 looks like. There were hovels, but there’s so much variety in the environments and color on the characters that I don’t understand how it’s tiresome. I’d apply that word to a game like Dragon Age 2, with its terrible (and independent of that, muted) aesthetic.

    2. The combat was indeed frustratingly sluggish. There is now a combat rebalance mod that tweaks everything, from Geralt’s response time to the leveling, loot and magic system, that supposedly simplifies and speeds things up. To anyone looking to try The Witcher 2, here’s a link. It’s probably best to wait for a week or two, though, because it’s fresh and bugs in the mod are still being sorted out.

    The rest of the complaints–Geralt, the tone, the fanservice–I more or less agree with.

  39. The Rocketeer says:

    I’ve often found that when a work is criticized, the defense of the work can be as- or more- informative to an opinion than the original criticism.

    So let me thank all of you very much for convincing me to never, ever play these games.

  40. My favourite aspect of Witcher 2 is the combat.

    I really love its hit-and-run feel. I love knowing that if I get surrounded I’ll probably die, so I must keep mobile at all times, and plan on the run to avoid dead-ends and corners. The game loses a bit of this edge when you start acquiring skills, specially when you upgrade Quen (the protective shield sign) and remove the huge penalty from flank attacks.

    I’ve started it again, on hard, but I’ve put it on hold, because one of the devs just released the Complete Combat Rebalance 2 mod, which will (hopefully) provide a more balanced combat experience (easier at the start, harder as the game progresses). I’m waiting for all the bugs in the mod to be solved, and I’ll give it a go.

    Some of the early boss fights can be a bit frustrating (the Kayran and Letho come to mind), given the unbalance in the early part of the game. Still, having the option to change the game difficulty at will helps if you’re getting stuck in these tough spots.

    I consider it the best combat system I’ve come across, ex-aequo with Amalur, which also allows you to be equally mobile (although Amalur’s use of stealth and critical-hit ranged spells create a different experience).

    The main complaint I have (in a lot of games, not just in these two) regards the “Sacrosanctity of the Holy Animation”. If I initiate an attack, and that attack has an involved animation, I can’t interrupt it. Worse, there can be a bit of lag between the end of the animation and the reaction to your input, so you just stand there, damn proud at what you just did (you can almost hear Geralt going “Who da man? Who da man?”), and taking a hit or two just to celebrate it (nope, your processor-controlled opponent(s) don’t have to put up with lag).

    It’s funny when you realize you’re supposed to be playing a world-class badass, only to realize you’re Atlas, the snail (who hasn’t yet learned how to shrug) moving though a field of molasses, when compared to a large number of non-world-class non-badasses you encounter.

    Still, I’m hopeful for the future of Mankind. Someday we will populate Mars, cure cancer, and create properly dynamic combat in video games. What’s that you said? World Peace? Sure, when the cockroaches rule, I guess.

    • Aldowyn says:

      I really want to play Amalur, actually. I played the demo at least 3 times before I really got bored of it. There’s some hints to an over-MMO like structure, but that might not be SO bad.. I’ll get it sometime.

      • Jeff says:

        Amalur feels like a single-player MMO with a better than average quest structure, which isn’t a big surprise given its development history.

        The sheer scope of the game makes me feel it’s a good investment. I reached a point where I thought I was done, simply because of how much I’ve gotten used to shorter games. Then the main quest kept going. When I first looked at the world map I thought all the other landmasses were just for appearance – filler so the world wasn’t tiny. Then I realized that the location of one of my quest objectives was smack in the middle of that “filler” area, and it astounded me.

        It’d be like playing Oblivion or Skyrim and looking at the world map, which shows other provinces that exist in lore, but not in the game. Then realizing that the map actually scrolls, the next objective is halfway to Vvardenfell, and the final destination is at the temple in Vivec. I was blown away.

  41. Wintermood says:

    Hey Shamus,
    One or more of the people of CD Project Red did a complete combat rebalance mod (around 1 GB or 2 GB in size) and released it. That at least take care of the “I hate the combat”.

    DL under: http://redkit.cdprojektred.com/index.php?c=mod&m=show&p=77

    Regarding Geralt: Have you read the Geralt-Saga books by Sapkowsky? The game depicts him rather well, I think, though it concentrates a little on one side of the character.

    Regards

  42. Aldowyn says:

    How many of the people recommending that unofficial patch that just came out have actually USED it yet? I’ll probably start playing the witcher 2 again (I stopped the first time right when it started opening up)in the next month or so, and I’m wondering if I should try vanilla first or just get the mod.

    • X2-Eliah says:

      Keep in mind that that combat mod (which really is *not* an unofficial patch) introduces a ton of bugs too. (such as Amelia Earheart (sp?) without a head model, literally impassable tutorial due to differet block/riposte, problems with quen sign, and Geralt freezing into a T-pose after throwing a bomb/trap in combat – there’s more, afaik, and some reports of crashing).

      When I heard about it in game journo sites, I thought “awesome, yay”. Reading up on it in its actual mod-thread on redkit site, well… it’s really not ready and not fit for ‘playing as a released game’.

      • Zekiel says:

        This ^^

        Was so excited when I heard about this mod. Then it got released, I started reading comments and thought “ah – this is why it’s a mod and not a patch”

        One of the things that makes me nervous – apart from all the bugs – is that it changes how experience works so you no longer get exp for killing monsters, only for completing quests. This sounds brilliant. However if its all the work of one guy it’s difficult to see how he could possibly have tested it enough to ensure the experience works out OK over the course of a 30-hour game with massive differences in the middle and lots and lots of optional sidequests.

        I’ve since remembered that I didn’t actually find TW2 combat that annoying in the regular Enhanced version, so I’ll just play that again I think.

  43. Vipermagi says:

    I keep buying these games and I keep not playing them. Money well spent, I guess, because at least it’s going to CDP.

  44. Jeff says:

    “…his backstory feels like someone else’s cheesy overwrought power fantasy.”

    I played Dragon Age: Origins before I played The Witcher (and I only ever played Witcher 2). Geralt just feels like a veteran Grey Warden to me.

    It’s a shame you never got into the series, Witcher 2′s narrative is astounding, in the sense that you have a choice of Act 2s, which allows you to experience both sides of a conflict. Except that your presence changes things, so this “alternative timeline” (ie. second save) isn’t identical. Then we have Act 3, which brings it back together – but almost everything is subtly different depending on which Act 2 you did.

    It’s an excellent variation on the Bioware/Obsidian format, where you start from one common point, have choices in the middle, and ultimately brings you to an identical endgame. The fact that the endgame in Witcher 2 is different amazed me (especially since I was fresh out of Dragon Age).

    • Jokerman says:

      When shamus sees dreary, alienating and hating his flat delivery i see someone who is calm, stoic and full of a quiet confidence not many games can pull off.

      When you are as good and capable as Geralt there is not much need to puff your chest out and get angry… Commander Shepard style. Geralt felt really refreshing to me.

  45. X2-Eliah says:

    I love(d) the Witcher & Witcher 2. Until I tried to replay W2 a few days ago, and was confronted with the most bs, unresponsive, laggy, floaty, incorrect mouse+keyboard control (in UI and in game world) ever. Seriously, I don’t know of any other game that does mouse control that bad. So, yeah, I can’t really recommend W2 anymore to anyone who hasn’t played it, because frankly if I was given W2 to play right now, going in blind, I’d throw it away after an hour or so because of the horrible controls.

    Oh, and the new tutorial they added is, imo, even WORSE for introducing players! The UI features are randomly switched off so I have no clue why something isn’t working, there’s a ton of bugs (nonregenerating stamina, or throwing knives not hitting the target, etc. etc.). I had way less trouble just starting to play the game properly, than trying to go through the tutorial…

  46. Jaroslaw says:

    Shamus I guess you never read the book? Witcher games are very good in terms of making books world alive on other media.

    Cheers

  47. Thanatos Crows says:

    So that explains the lack of beard…I think.

  48. Jokerman says:

    It makes me sad that you hate them so much Shamus :( Its really the only game i can think of where my opinion stands at a polar opposite to yours.

  49. MadTinkerer says:

    “I’m doing the game a favor by skipping it. Let it go.”

    Yeah, seriously, guys: I was so desperate for Shamus to not completely hate Bioshock that I bought it for him and look what happened. ;)

    (I didn’t need him to love it, I just wanted my favorite blogger to not-hate one of my favorite games. Bioshock is one of very, very few shooters that allows you to do violence in your own way, such as doing a zero-direct-damage “Technically Manslaughter” playthrough and killing everything with traps (anyone who steps in water is fair game for electrocution, but you have to load your game if you hit a splicer with a direct bolt, bolting/freezing machinery directly is fair game because it’s explicitly expected of players who do a lot of hacking). I never was disappointed by Bioshock because I was mad at System Shock 2 for not being Ultima Underworld 4 for too long*. Then they got rid of the DRM on Bioshock and dropped the price to five dollars for a Steam daily sale. The rest is Spoiler Warning history.)

    *IS IT REALLY THAT HARD TO HAVE FRIENDLY TALKING NPCS IN YOUR FIRST-PERSON ACTION ADVENTURE SURVIVAL GAME OH LOOK THEY DID IT SEVEN YEARS AGO. FUCK SS2… (…is what I thought in 1999. ;))

  50. MadTinkerer says:

    Oh, hey, by the way, since some people are confusing Shamus’s objections for prudity, let me point folks to this slightly NSFW, but censoring the naughty bits, Bennet The Sage’s review of New Cutey Honey.

    Bennet does indeed like him some pr0n, and he definitely has no problem playing up his own horniness for laughs. This is what he thinks of The Witcher 2, but I wanted to link the Cutey Honey review first because that review is focused on making some interesting points about fanservice, and indeed specifically Sexy Fanservice.

    Bennet makes the case that there is such a thing as Bad Sexy Fanservice, because Good Sexy Fanservice is well thought out, and Bad Sexy Fanservice is thrown in for no good reason. (You can skip to 12:59 “Okay, there’s no tactful way of saying this, so I’m just going to go right out and say it.” for his main argument.)

    Regardless of your stance on Sexy Fanservice in general, Shamus dislikes the Sexy Fanservice in The Witcher for, at least in part, exactly the same reason Bennet hates the sexy fanservice in some of his reviews. Have another look at what Shamus wrote: “I played several hours into both The Witcher and The Witcher 2, and I have yet to meet a single named character I cared about. They’re either bland, irritating, or revolting.”

    Sound familiar? It should if you just watched Bennet’s New Cutey Honey review. “We don’t need tits and ass shots all the time, or even any at all! We just need a cute, fun character to latch onto.” In other words, characterization ALWAYS comes first, even in a show with lots and lots of Sexy Fanservice, and if the characters don’t appeal to the audience on personality alone, the Sexy Fanservice can become extremely UNsexy.

    Now, if you still want to argue the fanservice point with Shamus, allow me to humbly make a suggestion: if the Sexy Fanservice in The Witcher were any good then surely Bennet would have mentioned it in his Witcher 2 review.

    Disclaimer: I own The Witcher 1 and 2 on PC. I haven’t played either yet because my PC’s graphics card was just slightly behind the curve when I bought it four years ago. There are so many games I can play (including Portal 2 on just-slightly-less-than-maximum-settings), but some AAA games require a major hardware upgrade I’m still saving for. Nevertheless, I was annoyed by some people’s objection to Shamus’ objection about the sexy fanservice in the game.

    By any definition, from light fanservice to explicit porn, enjoying sexiness requires the audience to first be comfortable. If the rest of the game makes Shamus uncomfortable to start with, then the fanservice is unenjoyable by definition. It may possibly be enjoyable by those who don’t mind the other parts of the game that Shamus didn’t like, but just because you liked the setting and characters and storyline and gameplay and evidently even the fanservice, that doesn’t mean Shamus shouldn’t object to the fanservice for reasons you are assuming as opposed to what Shamus wrote. If you disagree for reasons which Shamus did write, then fine: that is a valid argument for your perspective. If you don’t like what Shamus didn’t write and are still arguing as if he did, that’s just trolling.

  51. Abnaxis says:

    I realize this is way past the point where anyone is reading the comments any more, but I always have these thoughts about ideas weeks after they are in discussions and I know Shamus will at least read it.

    I wanted to start the point off with a question: what is your opinion of unsympathetic protagonists in other media? They’re all the rage in TV these days, with Mad Men and Breaking Bad being two top current examples of shows with them off the top of my head. If you have seen any of these, were you put off in the same way as you were with The Witcher–namely, that all of the characters are unsympathetic characters that you can’t root for, so you lose interest?

    I’ve actually had an opportunity to work my way partway through TW1 now, and I am enjoying myself. While I’ve been playing, I have been paying careful attention to how I play, and I’ve noticed that I don’t approach problems from the same angle you do. You said “It didn’t matter who won. I couldn’t role-play in a “what would you do in this situation?” sense because if I was there, I’d leave.” For my part, it wasn’t a question of “what would I do?” it was a question of “what do I want Geralt to do?”

    This, along with some of your other entries, lead to an epiphany of sorts. I think we role-play very differently from one another. When I play a character in a video game or in pen and paper, I don’t try put put myself in their shoes, I try to walk around in their skin. It’s like method acting versus classical acting. I’m not trying to put myself in their place and act like I would act, I’m trying to get a feel for their character and act like I think they would act or act in the way that gets me the most natural narrative. It is a very slight difference, but I think the consequences are profound.

    Having a flawed, believable character in a well-developed world is much more important to me than having a reasonable character in a riveting narrative; consequently, I don’t get as hung up as you if the dialog choices offered to me by a game are all stupid, if they fit the character. I don’t get put off by playing an asshole, because I don’t see that asshole as a reflection of myself, and I know plenty of people who resemble him. In games with silent protagonists, you talk about inserting your own personality to fill in the voice of the protagonist–for my part, Chell and Gordon are still completely blank slates by the end of their respective titles, and I envision their interactions with the other characters around them as stock responses (though I still thoroughly enjoy the story happening around them).

    The funny thing is, from what I have seen most people subscribe to one of these approaches and implicitly assume it is the same as everyone else. I am continually baffled when people describe video games as fundamentally being “power fantasy.” The separation between my own persona and the one I am playing is such that I don’t get the “power” vibe from it. Intellectually, games fit somewhere between interesting thought experiments and coordination-testing diversions for me. I have never fantasized (at least, in a gratifying sense) about being my avatar. I don’t want to be Geralt, I want to see his world from his eyes.

    With all the books abound about game design, I’m sure this subject has been explored in literature already. Still, I think it’s an interesting subject. It would make for an interesting survey (even if it’s an off-the-cuff, non-scientific sort of thing). I don’t even know where to begin looking for such material though.

    • Violetta says:

      From the perspective of a fledgeling indie game designer and/or visual novel writer, that is most certainly an interesting subject. I often feel torn when the integrity of the narrative requires the viewpoint character to do or experience something undesirable to normal members of the hypothetical audience.

      One reference point I could bring in is my brief experience with collaborative online roleplaying, which involved a mixed approach. My character walked the line between naiive and a gibbering lunatic, but I personally found her endearing and fun to play–most likely because I remained in control and could endow her with as many or as few of my own traits as the situation required. But translating that balance over to a fixed narrative is another task entirely. I presume audience expectations are directly proportional to the interactivity of the medium, so a game creator may ideally be expected to transfer that level of meaningful causal authority to the players themselves. That’s a lot of flowharts! Yet even the most linear game might suffer from heightened demand in character design simply because the player must spend most of their time with those characters, seeing what they see and feeling approximately what they feel. Or is this just me and a handful of other people? I’m not a TV watcher, but for webcomics, my reaction to the main cast is the biggest factor in whether I read past the first page/chapter/year. I don’t apply that standard to Tetris, of course, yet it has the virtue of containing no characters I want to punch in the face, so…

      So I guess what I’m saying is I know nothing at all on this matter and would really appreciate hearing other people’s perspectives. This could be important to my, er, career-thingy.

  52. IronCore says:

    I don’t know why I’m posting this now. There’s a feeling, but I can’t quite put a word to it. I found this posting for some reason when I was doing a search to find the old pixel city screensaver in reference to the newest post about the tunnel screensaver.

    At the time of this posting about The Witcher I very much wanted to engage Shamus in a conversation about it, but it’s hard to do that in a comments section with many other people around. I wasn’t about to assume I could take up Shamus’ time exclusively in a one on one conversation. So I left well enough alone. Shamus already had enough on his plate responding to comments. To this day I would’ve loved a more reasoned discussion.

    I skimmed through this post again as well as the comment section. Two things strike me today.

    The first is that in the seven plus years I’ve been reading this blog I’ve agreed with Shamus on many things, and I’ve disagreed with Shamus on many things. In all those years I have never so thoroughly disagreed with Shamus on a topic as his reasons for disliking The Witcher. It surprises me how much that brings up a desire to talk about it. I suppose there are several reasons for that. How much I love The Witcher series and the strong language Shamus used in expressing his dislike for the game being the main reasons. Words like love and hate have a tendency to cause a reaction.

    The second things that strikes me is how thoroughly Shamus got pulled into “arguments” about this post in the comments section. Especially considering his parting words in the main post about leaving well enough alone. Again I suppose the reason for that is the strong language being used. One thing that can be said for The Witcher is that it causes strong feelings one way or the other.

    I’m now wondering if my post here will ever actually be read by anybody. In all my years here I’ve never been a prolific poster.

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