Hey there! As mentioned in my previous post, I’ve just started playing through the three The Witcher games from CD Projekt Red, beginning with The Witcher: Enhanced Edition. Before I talk more about that, a bit of context. I’ve previously played a few hours of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on PlayStation 4, but that was a long time ago, before I’d had much other interaction with this universe. Actually, it was GWENT: The Witcher Card Game which pulled me in, and I gradually became more intrigued in the lore as the numerous hours went by.
This led to me reading through the eight The Witcher books that started it all, written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. Whilst there are definitely areas of the books you can criticize, on the whole I loved the experience. The story of Ciri and Geralt (plus a vast and well-developed supporting cast) drew me in, and have actually gotten me back into reading in general! The natural progression from that was to catch up on the recent Netflix TV adaptation of the books, and whilst I have a few issues with how they’re changing the source material, it’s a very well-cast show and I’ve enjoyed it overall.
So, with the books, TV show, and GWENT covered, I felt it was time to go back to the popular games, which are a significant reason for the success of the franchise. Instead of returning to my previous PS4 save of The Witcher 3, I thought it best to start fresh from the first game CD Projekt released. The setting of these games is interesting; they’re staged a long time after the story told in the novels, which chronologically ended in The Lady of the Lake. However, Sapkowski himself does not treat the games as canon, and therefore neither does the wider fanbase. So the games are essentially official fanfiction, showing a potential future for this world and the characters within it. Whilst this could be seen as a disadvantage, I do not mind too much, as if there’re any questionable character and story decisions, it can be explained away as not being canon.
The purpose of this post, and potentially more in the future, is to briefly document my time with these games so far. I’ll give a quick overview of the main events that play out, and my personal thoughts from the perspective of someone familiar with the books but not the games (yet). Hopefully these will be interesting to follow along with! I’ve given them the preliminary name of “The Witcher Journals”, and this first post will cover the Prologue of The Witcher: Enhanced Edition, a PC-only release which came out in 2008 as an updated version of original 2007 game The Witcher.
-SPOILERS FOR THE WITCHER: ENHANCED EDITION AHEAD-
Prologue – Kaer Morhen
At the start of the first game, the Witchers remaining at stronghold Kaer Morhen discover Geralt injured and suffering amnesia, and then take him back to their castle home. This conveniently means Geralt has forgotten most of his skills and knowledge, and has to rediscover his relationships to all the other characters in this world. This works to make the player feel more in control of Geralt – and also stop you from having a full-power Geralt at the start (this reminds me of the way Mass Effect and Metroid sequels find a reason to take away all the abilities of the previous entries).
You meet a bunch of the Witchers, including recognisable series mainstays such as Vesemir and Lambert. Fan-favourite sorceress Triss Merigold is also present; I was happy to immediately meet some known names from the book. Triss is a bit-player in the books relative to the likes of Geralt and Yennefer, but I get the impression she’s given more time in the games – and am looking forward to seeing where her story goes. This is one of the exciting aspects of playing these games; characters who only pop up intermittently in the books can take the spotlight here.
Geralt and the player barely have time to get their bearings before Kaer Morhen is under attack by a group of bandits, led by a mysterious and powerful sorcerer. The defence of Kaer Morhan acts as a tutorial for the game, explaining the main game mechanics as you go. Geralt is controlled through an over-the-shoulder perspective (though you can change to an isometric camera), and the control scheme I selected has the WSAD keys move Geralt, whilst the mouse moves the camera. I was aware that the combat in this first game had a reputation of being unrefined, and that’s accurate.
Upon confronting an enemy, you have to move the mouse over their body until a sword icon appears, and then click rhythmically to chain attacks together. Click at the wrong moment (when the sword icon is not lit up yellow/orange), and you’ll lose momentum and give the opponent an opening. I appreciate how it reflects the dance-like descriptions of Geralt in battle in the books (so many pirouettes!), but it’s a little repetitive against weaker enemies, and also quite clunky in practice. The main differentiating factor is which combat style you choose; there are three types of attack patterns, which correspond to whether you are fighting a strong enemy, a fast enemy, or a group of enemies. Sometimes it feels like Geralt isn’t responding fast enough, especially at the start of battles, when your animations seem to take an age to get started.
However, once they get going, the combat animations are satisfyingly fluid, and Geralt has an athleticism of movement that ties into the way the books describe his swordplay. An extra wrinkle are the Signs Geralt can use; these are small magical abilities that Witchers can learn, though they pale in comparison to fully-trained magic-users. Of course, the amnesia means Geralt has forgotten how to do any of them! During the Kaer Morhen defence, Geralt re-learns Aard, which is effectively a push attack that can clear obstacles or slow down enemies. The Signs provide some much-needed variety in amongst all the melee fighting.
Another key part of the arsenal a Witcher has at their disposal are their potions and elixirs, and I like how they’re integrated into the game here. Gathering materials allows you to brew potions with various timed effects; for example, Swallow speeds up your health regeneration, whilst Cat improves dark vision. You prepare these during meditation, which is a process where you can pass time and also upgrade your skill trees with any points earned through level-ups. Having such an in-depth potion system is a differentiator from a lot of other RPGs, and I also appreciate how it ties into the specific lore of Witchers. There appears to be a lot of depth to the system, and I’m looking forward to learning those intricacies.
Furthermore, the Kaer Morhen quest shows off early, rudimentary player choice options. There are in-conversation dialogue options for the player to choose from, and there’s also a point in which you must choose who Geralt assists during the siege – in my mind, it was a no-brainer to go and support Triss. For one, I like that character a lot, but it also makes sense to ensure your main magic user has reinforcements! Events culminated in a dramatic confrontation where Geralt and the young Witcher-in-training Leo confront the enemy mage leading the onslaught, with Leo being killed during the encounter as the mage escapes with important artifacts. It’s a gut-punch of an opening, as Leo is a likeable character, and it establishes an ongoing mystery for the game.
The aforementioned potion making is taught through crafting a healing potion for Triss after she’s injured during the Kaer Morhen battle. At this point, there’s the option for Triss and Geralt to have a romantic scene together, which is a curious idea because of their history in the books – which Triss knows, but Geralt has forgotten. It’s a dynamic that might not end well, but I was intrigued to see how the game handled the situation, so I went with it. This is where the more problematic side of the game really starts to show itself, sadly.
I knew that the first two The Witcher games had a reputation for poor representation of women, and I can see why. There isn’t an explicitly over-the-top cutscene, in fact you see very little, but you get “rewarded” with a pin-up-style art card with an illustration of Triss naked. This isn’t the end of the world necessarily, but it’s a sign of what’s to come in the early chapters of the game that I’ve played so far. Now, the world of The Witcher has always been gritty and dirty in multiple senses of the words, but it’s the whole collection motif going on here that literally objectifies the female characters. Hopefully this is improved on as I go through the games, as The Witcher is a franchise full of interesting female characters who should be treated better than this.
After everything, Vesemir, Geralt, and the rest of the survivors decide to split up and head out from Kaer Morhen in different directions, hoping to find the escaped mage. This is the basis for Geralt leaving alone, opening up the worldfor the player to explore. Intrigue, danger, and revelations lie ahead…
Whilst I’m not that far in yet (I’ve now finished Chapter 1 and hope to write that up soon), I’ve had a largely enjoyable time with The Witcher: Enhanced Edition so far! In my next entry, I’ll run through how that chapter unfolded, as well as my developing opinion on the game. There’s a lot good here, but also a fair bit of bad, so we’ll see how it balances out as I keep playing. Have an amazing day!