In defense of the first Witcher game
Like many, my first Witcher the game was The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in 2015. I sunk countless hours into it as I fell madly in love with the characters, but after I finished it, I knew I had to go back and play the first one. It is not unusual for the first Witcher games that should be quickly disregarded when discussing the trilogy. The 2007 title is often seen as an ugly, obtuse, clumsy hack of Bioware’s Aurora Engine that you can skip over in favor of the shinier, more recent sequels. But so much of it does The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt the work is established in The Witcher— it then crawled Game hunting could run.
Yes, the animations are weird, character models are repetitive, and the dialogue is ridiculously stilted at times. But The Witcher is an inspired early effort with characters we know and love, as well as all the components that were better executed and celebrated for in the sequels. The strengths and charm for later Witcher the games are present in the original, you can enjoy if you are willing to try.
The Witcher is Metallica’s Ride The Lightning for Puppet Master. It is Pitch black for The Chronicles of Riddick. It is Bound for The matrix. It’s season one of The expansion before season three. The Witcher is a product of the time, talent and resources it had available to it. And if you can look past the rust, especially with it Improved edition which is available on Steam and GOG, it’s actually a delightful role-playing game.
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Let’s address the age-old leshy in the room: the fight. The Witcher‘s combat is unlikely to be in most players’ top ten lists of RPG combat systems. But think about the game’s narrative and how the combat actually works: Much of the world is talking The Witcher (and its sequels) about the ways witches fight is about discipline and training. It is part of the “path” witches walk. If the games are going to take this material seriously, there should be a clear resonance between the narrative importance of fighting as a witch and the need to use appropriate stances, strike at the right time, have the right potions ready and know when to use the correct signs to cast spells in the game. To fight well The Witcher is to master this system, and the game provides a means to live out that fantasy of discipline through combat.
The combat is definitely unique, but it’s by no means bad or difficult to understand – it’s all based on timing. You basically queue up an attack by clicking the mouse when the icon shows the correct symbol, which becomes a kind of metronomic beat that guides you through the fight. The result is an interesting mix of the limitations of turn-based combat and the chaos of real-time combat. Honestly, the timing element of it is kind of funny. When you chain your attacks together, Geralt speeds up, performing faster punches and spins. It is a rewarding and fun path to follow. You just need to get into the groove of it.
After a few rounds of letting the combat dictate a rhythm for me to follow, I found it to be a pleasant and gentle departure from the usual walking and talking you do in the game, as opposed to a hard left turn into a violent combat sim. While I enjoy the changes to the match i The Witcher 2 and 3it requires far more real-time response, lacks the natural rhythm of the first, and sometimes feels like a less desirable pivot from storytelling and dialogue. The Witcherits combat feels less stressful once you get the hang of it, so much so that I wish this system would have returned in the later games to be improved.
And as the beloved characters and their voice actors mature and mature in the later games, The Witcher already know how to bring them to life. This starts with environmental design: it is a dynamic time of day and the weather changes with it. NPCs wake up in the morning to go about their daily tasks, bringing a sense of life to these environments. When it rains, they seek shelter and comment on the weather. These feel like towns where people can and seem to live out their everyday lives. The world design helps create a vivid backdrop for these personalities, which is so important since so much of the narrative is about the main characters existing as distinctly separate individuals from this fictional society.
As we enter the lives of the main characters, we get to see them really come to life in a way not always common in medieval fantasy. Much of that character depth is found in the game’s quirky side quests, which expand on the serious, somber personalities so often seen in the narrative’s more mature moments. The best example of this is with “Old Friend of Mine”, a mission where the goal is not to kill a monster, but to organize a fun party for a group of friends. It is a symbol of the beauty and tragedy at play The Witcher: beauty because you love to see these characters happy and enjoying life; tragedy because you know that this is an exception to the draconian rule of their daily lives.
In an “Old Friend of Mine,” Geralt, Shani, Zoltan, and Dandelion face a quest for a nobler cause than any hike to throw a stupid ring into a volcano: It’s late, everyone’s drunk, and people are in in the mood for some grub. How will you possibly save the day and kill the beast that is full of hunger? By stumbling down to Shani’s landlord’s kitchen and stealing some pickles and lard, of course. You have to take down Geralt, who is completely hammered, to save the day. If you are caught, you will be scolded. But if you succeed, you are a true hero.
If a fantasy game can’t make you laugh and smile, nothing is worth saving for the darker moments. The Witcher’s bits of humor are important because they both prove and preserve the humanity in Geralt that this society is constantly trying to erase (either violently, or through subtle ways of reminding him that he’s different from everyone else). It’s no secret that Geralt is an outsider. That he has to carry around two swords is symbolic of the sad truth: he has to defend himself against monsters and humans alike, and the lines between the two are often blurred.
Early in The Witcher, Geralt meets an alchemist who asks to examine his body. The mere sight of a witch, whose body bears bold scars and signs of chemically induced changes, arouses an invasive curiosity in this man. When Geralt asks if this scientist is that accommodating with everyone’s body, he says no. Witchers, says the alchemist, are of incredible scientific curiosity; they are aberrations among normal people, so for him it is perfectly acceptable to ask such invasive questions. Witchers, when not feared or employed for work, are spectacles to the common folk.
I have also had similar experiences. The sharing of my pronouns, even the sight of me, the sound of my voice, also leads to invasive trickery. Questions about hormones, surgery, my childhood, all this subject to a curiosity some people feel no shame to express openly. If I, like Geralt, wonder if such a person asks such questions to anyone, the answers mirror each other. Trans people, when not feared or hired for work, are often spectacles for cis people.
The Witcher tells the story of characters who are marginalized by society and must find a way to accept it, challenge it and thrive within it – despite society wishing they wouldn’t. The analogies to our world are not always perfect, and there is plenty of room for criticism (especially when it comes to the “sex cards” you can “earn”). But at the core The Witcher, starting with the very first game, resonates with me not because it’s an escape from my existing world, but because it’s an acknowledgment of how shitty things can be, and why moments of joy and laughter are worth celebrating or fighting for. That’s what memes are about Geralt as a supporter of queer and trans rights feel so accurate.
As a game, it’s a lovable artifact from another time and place, filled with early prototypes of what I grew to love Assassin of Kings and Game hunting. There is nobody Witcher 3 without The Witcherand playing it enriches the narrative experience of the entire trilogy. The Witcher knew back then that Geralt’s story couldn’t just be told with a set of mindless monster-killing missions, it had to give us the role of Geralt to take on, whether wielding a set of knives or stealing a jar of pickles – but always when he exists on the margins.