Review: The Witcher: Enhanced Edition (PC)

The Witcher: Enhanced Edition
Developer: CD Projekt Red Studios
Publisher: Atari
Genre: Action Role Playing
Release Date: 09/17/08


Close to a year ago, Polish developer CD Projekt impressed more than a few of us with its dark and foreboding role playing game, The Witcher. Based off of a popular fantasy novel by Andrzej Sapkowski, The Witcher intentionally laughed in the face of your standard swords and sorcery affairs by not only breaking many tired clichés associated with the genre for decades, but also by effectively immersing the player in a dark, grimy, and unmerciful medieval world that rarely let up. You’ll find no unicorns or tacky winged boots in the fantasy wasteland of Temeria, but you will find yourself amidst the most trying of moral situations, all meticulously associated with a myriad of consequences.

At the time of its initial release, unfortunately, the incredible game was bogged down by a handful of glitches, punishing load times, and a confusing translation. This “enhanced” version of The Witcher promises to alleviate the glitches and excessively long load times found in the original release, as well as new voice acting, improved graphics, and even additional content.

Story:

The Witcher is heavily influenced by a 1990 Polish fantasy novel called “The Last Wish” by author Andrzej Sapkowski. The game follows the endeavors of The Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, who spends his days in the menacing realm of Temeria acting as a freelance mercenary. Though you’ll begin Geralt’s exploits with a traditional RPG hero’s intentions, you’ll soon find that your initial task will run parallel with the situations of a variety of Temeria’s more interesting characters.

It’s in much of this exposition that I personally found The Witcher to shine as a product a year ago. Even under the slight veil of censorship covering the American release, there was no mistaking The Witcher, at any point in time, to be your little brother’s RPG. The enhanced edition features a fully rewritten script that strengthens the already fantastic characters, story, and setting found in the standard US edition. With the translation issues corrected, and much of the key elements and situations expanded upon, you will have no problem fully understanding the incredibly intricate and well written story The Witcher has to offer.

Much of the interesting dialogue to be had in the original release suffered considerably from the loose translation problems, and while one could still easily become immersed in the unrelenting gray area of good and evil that Geralt always walked, much was left to individual interpretation, as it seems the translation team involved in the original product believed a certain amount of script could be omitted and still remain effective in English. I am as pleased as can be to see these issues were addressed with much care and passion for the product in this enhanced edition. Very competent voice actors have realized the script to an amazing extent, and the expertly written plot and associated conversations and dialogue pieces are now fully, 100% fleshed out for the English audience.

The work done by these individuals alone makes playing through The Witcher again a fantastic experience. Quite a few times this year I found myself telling friends that they were missing out by not playing last year’s edition of this game. With the script and dialogue enhancements alone, I could not do anything less than demand they check the game out now.

Story: Unparalleled

Graphics:

Though I was impressed with the visuals in the original release of The Witcher, a good amount of work has been done to tweak this attribute of the product as well. As the game’s package points out, the facial expressions of the characters have been improved, and this is noticeable in the game. The effectively dark and gothic colors of the world of Temaria have also been adjusted in certain areas to give the game a more realistically vibrant feel that admirably accompanies the dark atmosphere instead of suppressing it. Spell effects have been reworked, and look even better than before, and it seems the game features an even stronger attention to detail than the original offering.

Graphics: Great

Sound:

The wonderfully mood setting orchestral score for The Witcher has made its way back to this enhanced edition, and as a bonus, the game’s soundtrack comes supplied with this re-release on CD! Most notable in the sound department for this edition is the earlier mentioned redone English voice work, which is of the most amazing quality. Along with the reworked script, the voice talent is among the best I’ve personally experienced in interactive media in quite a long while. While the original wasn’t too shabby, it was a bit flat in my opinion, and coupled with the at times confusing translation, the whole of the audio presentation just fell to the wayside. It is again worth mentioning how grand it is to see what I believe to be the finest points of The Witcher get the quality and attention they deserve in this edition.

Sound: Unparalleled

Gameplay:

The gameplay in the enhanced edition of The Witcher strays little from the excellent formula in place in the original release. As the freelance monster hunter/mercenary Geralt, you’ll start your dark adventures in Temeria, on the trail of the mysterious Salamander cult. What follows is a vast, open-ended fantasy experience that can branch out into several potential paths and outcomes. There is plenty to see and do in the dank land of Temeria, and the game’s adult nature and tones make the process fresh and innovative on an incredible level.

The combat is controlled solely with the left mouse button, which is similar to many a dungeon hack and Diablo clone to be found on the PC. The difference in the mechanics in The Witcher is the ability to chain attacks together, to effectively build a combination that will start with you simply slashing at an enemy, to completely rending the foe limb from bloody limb. In their awesome quest to pretty much deviate from the traditional formula in every way, the development team’s inclusion of this simple element adds a surprisingly large amount of depth to the overall fighting in the game, and also does well in eliminating the inherent monotony of the “click click battles” that so many games of this type adopt as their combat engine of choice. The various weapons that Geralt can equip can be brandished in one of three ways; fast, heavy, and a fighting style that is effective when a group of enemies engage you at once. With the right button, Geralt can cast an array of various magic spells that he has learned throughout the course of his adventures.

The skill tree is handled in the same fashion as the previous release, by way of granting points to distribute into various areas to increase Geralt’s ability to deal damage, cast magic, and other miscellaneous talents when enough experience points are gained. Like many games of this ilk, the system allows you to customize the character’s abilities in line with your desired method of play. I noticed in this edition that the combat generally works more smoothly and feels more intuitive in comparison, which is probably thanks to the general tweaking of the games as a whole. Once again, this is yet another reason to recommend this stellar piece of software with even higher regard to anyone who missed the initial release.

Gameplay: Great

Replayability:

Given the vast amount of different choices you can make during Geralt’s exploits, a reasonable amount of replay value is obvious when you look at The Witcher. It’s certain that you won’t see all there is to see in the first playthrough, leaving you with plenty of reason to come back to the game again. Accompanied by the astounding script and voice work, playing through consecutive times will almost be mandatory in this version of the game.

Replayability: Great

Balance:

The Witcher‘s intuitive combat system will reward players who can master it, but doesn’t ever truly punish you while you’re learning the ropes. Non-rhythmic attacks will see you survive an encounter with a single or few enemies, but when certain situations put you up against a group of adversaries, you can find yourself staring up at the ceiling quickly if you can’t string those attacks together, even with the assistance of learned magical attacks. It’s through this that I consider both versions of The Witcher to be a finely balance product, as it actually capitalizes on its own innovations, and puts them to use effectively. Skills can be developed overtime giving you a total edge over weaker foes, and allowing you to stand firm against stronger ones. Little grinding is ever required when tougher enemies make their appearances later in the game, giving the experience a more fluid, less stuttering feel that’s admirable.

Balance: Great

Originality:

Besides some general fantasy framework, the plot and narrative elements of The Witcher restrain themselves from following any previously visited stereotypes of the RPG genre, instead content to go in their own direction, with solid results. The macabre and generally unsettling atmosphere of the game is thick and tremendously effective from a visual standpoint, and is further fortified by the bleak and desperate nature of the majority of situations Geralt will find himself in. With the exception of the timed combat system, however, most of what The Witcher offers on a gameplay level has been done elsewhere. I can honestly state, however, that I have never experienced an RPG as dark and brutal as The Witcher, and through this direction I found the product to be amazingly fresh and astoundingly interesting on a concept level. Though you may have “played” The Witcher before, I can guarantee you’ve never experienced a game quite like it.

Originality: Great

Addictiveness:

With the original release, I was pretty much glued to my monitor until its completion.
I found myself totally immersed in the brutal land of Temeria only a few hours in, and the interest hardly ever waned after that. I admit the shoddy translation prevented me from playing through the original release of The Witcher a second time, but such is no longer the case with the enhanced edition. I personally look forward to seeing Geralt through his tasks in as many different ways as I can, and if this game grabs you the way it did me, I can assure you that you’ll want to do the same.

Addictiveness: Great

Appeal Factor:

If you bought last year’s release like I did, you might be put off by the idea of purchasing this enhanced edition. While it’s true that this effectively is the version of the game we should have originally received, the amount of work put into the voice acting and various other tweaks alone are worth the additional investment. There are also a lot of attractive extras to be had with this enhanced version as well, including a fully functional adventure editor.

If you’ve never played the original release, the enhanced version of The Witcher should be in your list of games to check out soon. If you’ve purchased and enjoyed the original release, check out this version as well. Once you experience the incredible reworked script and voice acting, you’ll have absolutely no regrets about buying this game twice.

Appeal Factor: Great

Miscellaneous:

With all the praise I have dished out for this re-release, it’s important to mention that the game can potentially have an issue that results in a crash bug for Windows XP users when you go to boot it up for the first time, which was a major killjoy for me. It seems that audio drivers on the disc will need to be replaced prior to starting the game. It’s not the end of the world by any means, and it’s a simple enough problem to circumvent once you know how, but this extremely worthy re-release got off to a disappointing start because of this issue.

Miscellaneous: Mediocre

The Scores:
Story: Unparalleled
Graphics: Great
Sound: Unparalleled
Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Great
Balance: Great
Originality: Great
Addictivness: Great
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Mediocre

Final Score: Great Game!

Short Attention Span Summary:

Even if you bought the first release of The Witcher, this enhanced edition is worth every penny just for the script and voice work enhancements. The fabulously original and twisted take on the RPG genre is lifted to great heights with improved load times, visual tweaks, extra content, and an included adventure editor. There are still some glitches and bugs here and there, but this version is quite an improvement in the technical department when compared to last year’s initial release. The Witcher is one of the most interesting, unique, and well executed RPG’s to come out in years, and if you’re a fan of the genre, you would do yourself a great disservice by not checking out this incredible piece of software.

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