I’ve stated before that I do not like the Witcher series. I played the first act of the first Witcher game and quit when I got sick of the dreary visuals, agonizing loading times, awful combat, cumbersome interface, and skeezy protagonist.
I played several hours of the Witcher 2. I liked Geralt more, the visuals were better, and the loading screens were fixed, but I still hated the combat. Worse, the world was so relentlessly dark that I didn’t care about it. “Which group of ugly, undeserving assholes do you choose to help at the expense of the other?” is not a choice I enjoy, and that was the only kind of choice I ever seemed to make. The combat felt like fighting a linebacker with a foam sword. It was time consuming and fiddly and more work than I was willing to put in.
But people keep telling me this series is amazing and fans keep being amazed that I don’t like it. So I’m back for the third installment. Will Geralt and I click this time?
I suppose I should say something about the graphics before fans jump down my throat: No, these screenshots are not representative of what the game is “supposed” to look like. This is what the game looks like with the visuals turned to rock bottom. At normal settings, the game runs at about 10fps on my machine. Even with everything turned all the way down, it still struggles to hit 30fps.
Yes, I know I’m long overdue for a graphics card updateGeforce GTX 650, if you’re curious.. But I find shopping for graphics hardware to be stressful, time-consuming, expensive, and irritating. I’ll get around to it one of these days, but it’s really hard to find time to put into a task like that when it’s such a tax on my productivity. So upgrades continue to not happen. But if you don’t harangue me about the state of these screenshots then I won’t harangue Witcher 3 for its system requirements. Deal? Deal. Let’s do this…
It took three games, but I think we’ve finally sorted out our differences. Witcher 3 is – judging by the first few hours – solid, interesting, fun, and (despite the low graphics settings) gorgeous. But there are lots of reviews out there that will tell you what they like about the game, so let me come at it from the other side and list all the stuff they fixed.
Geralt is more interesting. Yeah, the “chiseled white dude with a gravel voice” is as played out as they come. But he’s got a beard this time, which gives him a kind of “wise old man” motif that I don’t see much these days. He’s also got a really horrible sense of humor and a fondness for puns, which I find kind of endearing. I’d still prefer a game where I can just design my own WitchermanOr since we’re making wishes: Witcherlady., but if we have to be stuck with a prefab character I guess I can live with this version of Geralt.
The world is more empathetic. In Witcher 2 you spent a lot of time with nobility and leaders. And they are all assholes. The commoners were mostly anonymous generic peasants, which didn’t leave me with anyone to care about. This time around I’m spending most of my time working for commoners, who are flawed but empathetic. In the last game, you begin the story by participating in a battle. This time around you’re following in the wake of a battle and seeing how the conflict impacted the locals: What it did to the townsfolk, their cattle, their water supply, their morale, and their relationships with each other. You aren’t superman and you can’t make it all better, but I did feel like I was able to stem the tide of misery instead of making things worse in exchange for money.
The fan service feels less juvenile. I know this was a sore spot in the previous games, and frankly I’ve read enough screeds charging games with sexism, or defending them from charges of sexism. I’d love if we could take a few months off from that fight. Anyway, I hated the fan service in the first game, was annoyed by it in the second game, and here in Witcher 3 I’m basically fine with it. It seems to have a Game of Thrones approach to nudity, and I’m not going to complain about that. Your mileage may vary, of course.
The combat is more action-y. The first Witcher was a timing game where you had to click the mouse button in the right rhythm. The second one was… I have no idea what the second one was trying to do. I never felt like I had a handle on it and I had no idea what I was doing wrong. Combat was hard and I felt like there wasn’t a lot of feedback on when I was making mistakes. The tutorial was ghastly. It seemed to take forever, yet the learning parts felt rushed and didn’t give the player a chance to establish competence.
This time around the game did a pretty good job of teaching me to play. It’s a complex fighting system with multiple weapons, magical shields, offensive spells, parrying, dodging, different attack types, and rollingwhich is somehow different from dodging. For some reason.. The game introduces each concept, waits for you to get it, and then lets you fight a sparring partner for as long as you like. It’s still a lot to take in at once, but I don’t know how you could fix that without drawing it out into a multi-stage tutorial that would be agonizing for returning fans.
I still feel like I’m in the dark sometimes. One example of a dozen: In the tutorial it teaches you to “parry” – you hit a button just as your foe winds up their attack and you’ll knock them off balance. I tried it several times on corpse feeder monsters and nothing happened. From there, I wasn’t sure what was wrong:
- Are monsters immune to parry? After all, they’re not using swords. Is “parry” explicitly a swordfighting concept, or is it just what the devs are calling “interrupt someone before they hit you”?
- Are monsters parry-able, but the timing is different?
- Are monsters parry-able, but I was botching the timing?
- Are SOME monsters parry-able, and even though it didn’t work here I should keep trying in the future?
But since this ambiguity isn’t getting me killedHello Dark Souls., I’m willing to roll with it and figure this stuff out through trial-and-error. In any case, this time I felt like there is more for me to do than wait for someone’s health bar to run empty. I’m not in love with the Witcher 3 combat or anything, but it’s better than anything BioWare did before Mass Effect 2, and I enjoyed those games well enough.
We’re in an open world this time. The previous games felt like they wanted to lock me in a playpen. If that’s true in Witcher 3, I haven’t found the walls yet. I’ve been able to run around, take quests at random, ignore the main quest, and stumble into the den of things that are way over my level. Understand that in my book, these are good things.
There’s a groovy day / night cycle, and a lot of the creatures change their behavior at night.
There’s also a brilliant fast travel system. You can jump from the signpost of any town to the signpost of any other town you’ve visited. This gives you a big expansive world without all the tedious hiking of Morrowind and without the lame instant-teleport of Skyrim. It’s enough help to let you skip meaningless trips between cities but not so much that the world feels trivial.
So yeah. It took three games, but The Witcher and I finally connected. I’m going to hit publish on this post and go right back to playing the game. Even if you didn’t like previous installments, this one might be worth a look.
 Geforce GTX 650, if you’re curious.
 Or since we’re making wishes: Witcherlady.
 which is somehow different from dodging. For some reason.
 Hello Dark Souls.
Do It Again, Stupid
One of the highest-rated games of all time has some of the least interesting gameplay.
The Witch Watch
My first REAL published book, about a guy who comes back from the dead due to a misunderstanding.
Artless in Alderaan
People were so worried about the boring gameplay of The Old Republic they overlooked just how boring and amateur the art is.
A game I love. It has a solid main story and a couple of really obnoxious, cringy, incoherent side-plots in it. What happened here?
The Best of 2011
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2011.