The Witcher: Enhanced Edition
The Witcher: Enhanced Edition follows the adventures of Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher, which is a sort of combination travelling problem solver and genetically-enhanced superhero. This is an update of the original Witcher, which was released in 2006 and is the exact same game minus a few nifty extras. If you already played The Witcher, there's no real reason to put out another forty bucks for the Enhanced Edition.
If, however, you have not already played The Witcher, the Enhanced Edition is a good buy. It plays like a considerably-evolved version of Neverwinter Nights (unsurprisingly, since it uses the considerably-evolved Bioware Aurora Engine, as seen in Neverwinter Nights), but without the slavish adherence to D&D rules that can make NWN seem clumsy and tedious at times. Instead, what we have is a game that was intended to be a video game from the very beginning, and shedding the tabletop RPG ruleset does wonders for its fluidity and playability. Combat is fought in real time, using a combat system somewhat like a cross between Neverwinter Nights and Diablo -- clicking on a mob will initiate an attack sequence, and further clicks with the proper timing will allow Geralt to perform advanced combat manoeuvres. Combat is made more interesting by virtue of the two swords; Geralt uses a steel sword on humans, and a silver sword for monsters, and using the wrong sword for the job will make your attacks less effective. This can become somewhat annoying when fighting mixed groups of mobs, however, since the length of time it takes to switch swords is reasonably long, leaving Geralt standing around doing not much but taking damage.
To enhance his abilities, Geralt relies on alchemy; collecting various ingredients from plants and animals and brewing them together into potions with a range of effects. The alchemy system is much more complex than is necessary, and it can be quite daunting to figure out which ingredients are good for what. Fortunately, pre-made formulae are not very hard to find, and will get you workable (though not optimised) potions with one click.
The game is divided into five "chapters," plus a prologue and an epilogue, for a total playing time in the 40 hour range. There are a lot of sidequests to perform along with the main quest, and a lot of interesting characters to meet. Frequently through the adventure, you'll be making choices that will have effects on future events; this is fairly well done, and certainly makes the NPC-interaction parts of the game more engaging, but is unfortunately much less meaningful in the long run than it wants you to think; almost all choices ultimately just have cosmetic effets, and the flow of events doesn't really change significantly, which means the replay value isn't anything like as high as one might expect at first glance. The plot is well-developed and rather interesting, and it's spiced up with numerous non-explicit sex scenes between Geralt and a fairly large range of females.
There is full voice acting here, and you know my opinion of that sort of thing, but it's really not that bad this time. There are some clunkers, and the direction is quite weak (the actors frequently are clearly unaware of the context their lines are in, and fail to match the tone of the scene or get the inflection on the right words), but overall it's good enough not to be annoying. The score is quite good, and the Enhanced Edition comes with a soundtrack if you're in to that sort of thing.
Two playable modules come with the Enhanced Edition in addition to the main game, and it's possible to download more from the web site, though, at the time of this writing, there are only two. Also you get the "Djinni Adventure Editor" which allows you to create your own modules; this is unfortunately rather difficult due to the editor not being the most user-friendly piece of technology I've ever seen in my life. This may contribute to there being only two user-created modules on the web site.
In all, at forty dollars, you can't really go wrong with The Witcher. It's an enjoyable action RPG, the combat is sophisticated enough that you don't end up getting the same-old same-old feeling that plagues so many action RPGs, and the story is entertaining and creates a good illusion of player participation. I'm not going to spoil the ending, but I do have to register a complaint against it -- the game doesn't seem to end so much as just stop, with a fair few side plots left completely unresolved.
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