My apologies for neglecting my blog for a month. I blame a combination of over-exhaustion after the election (It’s over…? Thank God, I can sit back and breathe for a while!), exceptional stress at work, and a smaller amount of free time than usual. What little I have had I have spent playing The Witcher: Enhanced Edition. I believe I have mentioned it, briefly, in a previous blog post. It deserves a more detailed mention, however, and since I have a couple of hours to spare before the rest of the family wakes up–yay for jetlag!–I might as well write about my new favorite PC game.
The Witcher is, first and foremost, an M-rated game that not only flaunts its rating with more pride than I have seen any game do since Fallout 2, it gives the rating a new definition. Yes, there is a large amount of gratuitous sex, but there is a lot more to Mature content than a few naked bodies rubbing against each other. Or at least there should be, andin this game there is. There is swearing and drinking, there is raw and detailed violence. There is occultism and there is corruption. There is also poverty, selling of children to slavers, there is drug addiction but more importantly: There is, by a combination of all these things, a grim and dark realism that is hard to come by in the gaming word today.
As Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher himself, you travel to the city of Vizima to search for various things (I will say no more, to avoid spoilers), and you soon find yourself in the bad part of town. The poor neighborhood, where the criminals and the ones who live off of them make their home. Here, there are prostitutes in the street corners, there are drunks that will walk up and pee in a corner without any regard for whether you’re standing there or not. If you get into a fight in the bar around that corner, you are insulted and taunted with a creativity and crudeness that I thought had died out outside of college campus bars.
The Witcher takes place in a dark and grim world, and by not shying away from the way people living in such a world would behave, CD Project Red successfully brings the world of Temeria to life. This is not the kind of people who say “shucks” when they spill their beer, and it is almost a relief to see that there is at least one game developer in this world who is willing to admit that and aloow the namless NPC in the bar to curse openly when you bump into him and tip his drink to the floor.
Despite how vivid and vibrant the bleak and hard world of witchers is however, where the game really shines is in its role-playing element. Playing as Geralt you are often faced with moral choices as a part of the story line, some of them big, some of them seemingly insignificant, but all of them in the end important. Not only that, but this game also manages to avoid falling into the large trap of presenting clear-cut and obvious moral choices of black and white, with nothing in between. The Witcher is a game of gray scales. There are seemingly good and seemingly bad people, but you don’t know them well enough to tell them apart. The game has claimed, since its inception, that there is no good or bad in the world of Temeria, only choices and consequences, and rightly so. When you are a witcher, the consequences of your choices follow you.
The Witcher was originally released roughly a year ago, and CD Project Red recently released what they call “The Enhanced Edition”, a shining beauty of an upgrade that raises the bar for what an expansion pack should be like. In addition to addressing the vast majority of technical flaws mentioned in reviews of the game, such as long loading times, choppy framerates, and various glaring gameplay bugs, CD Project Red has re-translated large amounts of the dialogue and recorded it anew, of course using the same voice cast. They have also added two full adventures, that can be played independently of the main game. As an expansion goes that is pretty standard though, so no need to get excited, right? Wrong, and here is what makes the Enhanced Edition such an outstanding thing: It is a free patch.
Yes, you read that right. It’s free to all owners of the original game. All you have to do is to go to the game’s official website and register your copy of the game, using the CD key printed in the manual, and you will be able to download the patch. If you have a 64bit operating system, run the patch in compatibility mode for Windows 95, to avoid corruption during installation, and if you are in Vista, make sure you are logged in as Administrator every step of the installation process. (More details in the official FAQ.)
This patch is such an upgrade that it will be well worth your time to go back and replay the game, if you haven’t already. Once you have, you’ll understand why I’ve been a bit lost in this wonderful world of Strigas, fist fights, forests and swamp lands, boisterous dwarves and bitter elves, complex story lines and even more complex characters that gradually grow as they learn more and as I learn more about them, and of course, Geralt himself.
To begin with, the voice acting is spot on. The deep and slightly raspy voice, with just the right bite when he needs to, is perfectly cast and in addition to the perfect voice, facial expressions and body language are very well done and complement the spoken dialogue well–even more so after the patch. Add in swift and impressively agile movements during sword fights and the image of a smoothly effective professional killer is perfect. Add to this a tendency to philosophize around friends, a fondness for good beer and friendly women, a dark sense of humor and a mild addiction to gambling, and you have a complicated character it is well worth your time to get to know. If nothing else, you’ll be more understanding of why I’ve been preferring his company to my blog in the past few weeks…
Here he is, by the way, in the over seven minutes long intro sequce to the game: