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12 Reviews

The Witcher

A grey-haired mercenary, shunned by society, but enough about Richie Shoemaker...

Fantasy games come in many shapes and sizes, but most of them strictly follow the code of featuring the great, the good and the virtuous fending off the bad, the corrupted and the green-skinned.

Sex is generally confined to a pretty elf wearing a chain mail bra, and political comment never strays much further than a Greenpeace quest in which raw magic has infected some wandering hedgehog creatures and not only rendered them mad, but also significantly upped their armour stats.

The Witcher, then, enters our midst as somewhat of a game of our times. The authorities in and around the plague-ridden city of Vizima perpetuate a culture of fear and suspicion - freedom fighters could just as easily be called terrorists and racial segregation is rife.

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Moral values aren't so much blurred as smudged about the place by a recently-licked thumb - even those who might openly oppose the oppressors are seeking some kind of capitol gain, the undead have a conscience, drug use is a major issue and individuals will use whatever means necessary to get their way - by telling porkies, by betrayal, or by allowing you pump them for information. And by that I mean with sex.

Characters doing the nasty are often hidden behind layered and blurred sequences, and you don't get to see much drug abuse (thankfully, since it appears the offending material must be applied to one's bell end) but with mention of rape, suicide and revenge, the world of The Witcher makes Azeroth et al look like Balamory.

The story focuses on you, Witcher 'White Wolf' Geralt, one of a roving band of mercenary monster hunters. The crumbling fortress of their once revered clan has been attacked and the secrets behind your mutation abilities are stolen.

It's your job to find a way to recover the secrets before they are put to nefarious use, all whilst finding out about your past and that of your dwindling clan. It's perhaps not the most exciting premise, but the presentation and pacing of the story is excellent throughout, from the lengthy opening cinematic even to the hand-drawn screens that guard the transitions as new areas load into memory.

Most noteworthy are the cutscenes, which have been storyboarded and edited with real cinematic flair and, together with the voiceovers and script, make The Witcher one of the best examples of interactive fiction I've enjoyed.

Those who like to spend hours rolling characters and selecting facial furniture might be upset to hear that you get what you're given. Geralt is square-jawed, with cat-like eyes, white hair and a face that's endured more stitches than a Bangladeshi T‑shirt factory.

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You can't even change his name. Customisation comes later, with experience points turned into coin, that can be spent on new and upgraded skills. There are no character classes to speak of.

The Witcher is a master swordsman, with disciplines that vary from heavy-hitting armour twattage (our term), to fast attack and dealing with groups. You spend your bronze, silver and gold experience coins on specialising in these, either using your normal Witcher's sword, or your silver one.

As you learn (or, rather, relearn, since you seem to be forever recovering from amnesia), spells in the form of 'signs' become available, which can be upgraded in the same way as your fighting and attribute skills. And as you find and read books and scrolls, your in-game info repository allows you new abilities and to take on new missions.

The game's structure is a series of chapters, with some quests spanning and evolving across a number of acts, and of course a fair number of side-quests that require you to go somewhere and slice up a specified number of monsters and bring back evidence of the massacre to secure a reward.

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