Based on Andrzej Sapkowski's character and world, The Witcher is a finely crafted Dark (with a capital D) fantasy adventure that any fan of RPG's should play. Be aware though that this game is very mature and should not be played by kids. Sure there's the sex scenes but more importantly, it deals with mature themes that require a little world experience to fully comprehend and thus, I only recommend this game for adults.
The game features a Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, who travels to the city of Vizima to investigate an attack on The Witcher's home castle. Witchers are a dying race of humans subjected to experiments and magic in order to make them into the perfect monster hunters. Despite being necessary in their monster-infested world, Witchers are treated with disdain by most people and tolerated only by those requiring their services.
Geralt of Rivia has had many adventures already throughout Sapkowski's five novels and numerous short stories featuring the character. Unfortunately for us foreigners, the books were never translated until after this game was released. Because of this, the game utilizes an amensia story that, while never fully realized, is a huge help to those of us who are just now being introduced to the character. There are some references to the stories that are undoubtedly more meaningful to those who've read them but I never felt lost despite having no prior knowledge of the series.
While the combat is fun and requires a unique sense of timing and preperation to master, the storyline is really the biggest draw to this game. Many previous games have attempted to capture the meaningful sense of choice and impact upon the storyline but few are as successful as The Witcher, primarily because it isn't about good versus evil. Some choices will clearly have a moral facet to them but even those aren't clear cut, even if you usually play games a certain way. A decision that you will need to make throughout the game involves the conflict between the Scoia'tel and the humans in charge. It's clear from the beginning that non-humans are consistently abused and oppressed by the human-dominated society and the Scoia'tel want to change this through violence not always targeting their direct aggressors. Most players will sympathise with the non-human's plight but it is hard to get behind the murders they commonly commit. While their tactics may be reprehensible, are you really willing to side with the religious extremists who want to wipe the non-humans out completely?
Choices like this permeate the game and your decisions will always come back to you later. At the time, almost all are about choosing the lesser of two evils. Sometimes, these choices can come back to help you later but most don't ever allow you the satisfaction of knowing you made the right choice. Instead, it's simply about making choices and living with the consequences. In the dark world of The Witcher, these choices make for some memorable experiences.
The gameplay is based on a heavily edited version of the Aurora engine used by BioWare so RPG elements should be readily familiar to most fans. The combat is rather unique though in that success is based on preparation and proper timing. Geralt is equipped with two blades, the silver blade and the steel blade. Silver is for monsters, steel is for humans. Each blade has three fighting stances: strong, fast and group. Fighting enemies means being able to switch, on the fly, to adapt to whatever situation you find yourself in. If you are fighting a group of wraiths, you should use Silver Group, but some situations involve you fighting more ambiguous groups of enemies, such as humans aided by mutant dogs. Figuring out the best option is key but you must always keep your cool. Attacks are done by simply clicking the left mouse button but to keep a combo going, you must click in rhythm with Geralts attacks. Clicking too soon or too late will leave you open to attack.
You also have several magic abilities to assist you but they are not your typical options. More often than not, your magic will be supplementary, requiring strategy to actually help you in any way. For example, you can stick with Igni, your fire spells, to cause some direct damage to your enemies but it may be better to Hex a strong foe and have them fight on your behalf against the rest of the enemies, wiping out the party completely without you needing to get your hands dirty. This strategy plays into the preperation aspect of the game as well. If you play on easy, you won't need to worry about potions and oils but if you plan on playing at a higher level, mastering alchemy and predicting what enemies you will be facing off against is key to your success. Potions will help boost your abilities and oils will help you target specific types of enemies and can make the difference between death and success, even against basic encounters. This focus on strategy may turn off gamers more interested in fast paced hacking and slashing but for those of you looking for a more strategic level in your RPG's, look no further.
The game isn't perfect, however, as glitches often muddy your experience. While I never had the game crash completely on me, graphical glitches were common and sometimes NPC's did some very strange things. At one point, I had a cow that would appear by my side whenever I traveled to a new area or meditated at a camp. Otherwise, it would stay perfectly still. While it was exciting to see my cow companion backing me up in conversations, it didn't do much for the atmosphere. The game can get bogged down by filler quests too. Act II is a problem offender and will likely be where most players quit playing the game. I urge you to power through this section of the game as the rest of the game sets a much higher bar.
For those of us who haven't been introduced to the world of Geralt of Rivia yet, The Witcher is a masterpiece of dark fantasy fiction. While it's not as outwardly gory as, say, Game of Thrones, it deals with many of the same mature themes. If you appreciate a little philosophical soul-searching in your RPG's, The Witcher is one of the best games you'll find.