When you look at the really good top quality RPG's out there, most do seem to come from the better known studios with plenty of experience in the genre. But they had to start somewhere, right? The thing is, the RPG gaming scene is so advanced these days and fan expectations so high it isn't quite as simple as, say, starting a developing studio on the basis of a FPS release. Nevertheless, Polish based game company CD Projekt are willing. These guys are not only new to the RPG development scene, but they
are new to the game development scene altogether, launching their CD Projekt Red Studio developing arm in 2002 after years of focusing entirely on distribution of world class games in their homeland. Since then, the team at Red Studio has been working on one title and one title alone - The Witcher. Based on polish fantasy author Andrzej Sapkowski's writings of the same name, The Witcher is a traditional style Action RPG that involves a heavily detailed and rich storyline with a lot
of sword and spell based action, and while Red Studio's freshman effort is not quite as sturdy as some of the more refined names in the genre, this game is right up there as one of the better PC RPG's on retail shelves.
For those not familiar with The Witcher from the books and other media - which unfortunately probably includes most English-only speaking readers due to their limited marketing outside of eastern Europe - the story revolves around the life of one Witcher known as Geralt. As you'll learn very early on in the game's impressive opening cinematic, a Witcher is a dying breed of warrior combining human and mutant elements to combat the many monsters and unsavory beasts that roam the lands. Geralt, however,
is caught in a changing world where his typical neutral and loner stance is tested. United and divided by common friends and enemies alike, Geralt finds himself amidst a brewing conflict between human and non-human beings and decisions need to be made - or, at least, destinies followed. The story's premise lends itself well to a non-linear approach to the gameplay however much of the storyline and events in The Witcher are in fact 'on rails' - at least the primary story and events anyway.
The game, like any good Action RPG, does feature a lot of side and secondary quests across its prologue, 5 chapters and epilogue that are not compulsory to complete and the outcome of these can vary from experience to experience, but most of the core primary events in the game are quite linear except for a few instances here and there, which admittedly are very significant despite being few and far between.
It's understandably hard these days for an Action RPG to really separate itself with unique gameplay mechanisms as the genre is so well developed, but even with this in mind, The Witcher does manage to impress with some rather unique and refined features. One of the first things you'll notice about The Witcher is the game can be controlled either via a traditional point and click mouse system, or by a WASD control system more akin to a FPS or third person action title. In fact, in many ways,
The Witcher could be seen as a third person action title as you can even select a camera option that brings the view right down to Geralt's level - handy for some of the close quarter moments in the game.
The combat system in the game is also quite unique. Being the warrior that he is, Geralt is naturally involved in his fair share of hand to hand combat over the course of the game and it was important that The Witcher did something to make fighting more than a dead boring hack and slash fest that relies totally on attributes and weapon strength to determine outcomes. These two still factor in of course - this is an RPG after all - but to expand the combat, a timing mechanism is included that
really makes or breaks your success during a fight. What the game does, once you've initiated an attack on an enemy, is offer you windows of opportunity to string attacks together by a change of icon. When the attack icon changes, another press of the attack button will string to a new level of attack, and depending on Geralt's current level, you can string together up to 5 attacks if your timing is right. Now, this technique doesn't introduce a whole lot of complexity to the combat system, but it does keep you
on your toes even deep into the game when you'd think you've got the timing down. Adding further to the combat system's depth, the game also features the ability to carry multiple weapons including a silver and steel sword (for beasts and humans respectively), and these swords can be used in three different styles - strong, quick, and group attack stances. Of course, there are certain magic spells that can be cast as well (wouldn't be an RPG without them right?) ranging from setting opponents on fire to mind
tricking them into siding with you, which you obtain by visiting certain shrines throughout the game, although these are executed in a more simplified traditional manner - just point, and click.