A Different Monster Hunter: The Witcher Review

A Different Monster Hunter: The Witcher Review

I haven’t covered a game with exorbitant amounts of content lately. I’ve stuck to smaller adventure games with few side quests and branching paths. This is my first large RPG since Dying Light, so I’m going to take a more structured approach instead of an anecdotal one.

Story

CDProjekt Red based the Witcher series on Polish novels from the nineties about a mutated monster hunter, or witcher, named Geralt. Though he dies at the end of the books, the first game picks up at his resurrection with–AMNESIA:

downloadNot long after Geralt’s miraculous recovery, members  from the rebel group Salamandra attack Kaer Morhan, the headquarters and training grounds for other witchers. These rogues steal the mutagens and potions used to give the witchers their, for lack of a better word, superpowers. Until now these were protected secrets, and Geralt must hunt down Salamandra and figure out their plans. On your journey, you meet the residents of Vizima and the surrounding areas. You find priests, warriors, witches, merchants, and average townspeople. Soon you’ll also find that these sleepy towns are a façade that covers up a racial and political power struggle. Nonhuman races–elves and dwarves–are the lower class, and those fighting for the church are quickest to believe this. On the flip side, elves and dwarves formed the Scoia’tael, a vigilante group whose actions feed into the public’s belief that nonhumans are savage. This complicated societal structure plays well into the choice mechanics.

Like many modern Western RPGs, the Witcher series employs choices, some meaningless and some monumental. During the Prologue, you’re forced to choose which of two battles to fight–go with Triss to defend the lab or stay and fight a large monster called a frightener. Your decision affects the events that follow, and at the end, Vesemir asks Geralt if he thinks he made the right choice. If the player hasn’t caught on yet. This lets you know subtly to make your decisions carefully from here on out, even if they seem innocuous at the moment.

Unlike my experiences with Dragon Age: Origins, the Witcher series’ morality system weaves a complicated web instead of remaining on two separate poles. Geralt can to constantly switch sides of the current fight with a single choice and even stay out of political matters entirely. Witchers traditionally go where the money does, not where the passions do.

Not spoiling anything, the people you choose to support or let live out of indifference are there to help you in the end in a way that isn’t contrived like many others who attempt this format.

And that long ramble brings me to–

Gameplay

Now if the goal of a witcher like Geralt is to hunt beats, how is the combat? In a word: easy. Using your sword is a matter of aiming the camera at the enemy and clicking the mouse in counts of three. That is the only combo. Any upgrades to the attacks doled out are applied automatically without any additional button presses needed. The only decisions lie in which fighting style you choose and which sword. Geralt has two different swords, one for humans and one for monsters. Each sword then has three fighting styles–fast, strong, and group. Which you use depends on the number of enemies and their speed and accuracy.  At no point is there an increase in the difficulty of execution, only an increase in the opponent’s strength. This imbalance keeps there from ever being a true challenge. The only times I ever lost were when I was either unprepared or impatient.

The strategy instead lies in the use of items and magic. Geralt uses potions to increase his attack, defense, health and vitality regeneration, and other statistics. The trick is you can’t use them all at once because of toxicity and other ill effects. Using too many potions lowers your ability to fight well, so you must prioritize. Other potions give you advantages at a cost, e.g. increased accuracy for decreased defense. Then after deciding on what concoctions to swallow, you then must think about blade oils. While JRPGs depend on elemental relationships (ice and fire, water and electricity), Witcher uses the enemy’s species to dictate weaknesses. You have oils you can apply to each sword specific to necrophages, insects, specters, etc. These are essential when encountering hoards of the same enemy type. Otherwise you may get overwhelmed quickly.

Now how do you get all these potions and oils? This game has an alchemy system you can access while meditating, also known as how to pass time quickly. You use herbs you pick and monster parts you carve off of enemies to create everything you need. Each potion requires a certain quality alcohol base, and each oil needs a type of animal fat. Before you make anything or collect any ingredients, you have to find or buy the recipes and encyclopedic entries. This style creates a certain collection mechanic to make sure Geralt is the most well-informed hunter in the land. You also only have limited inventory space for these supplies, so must either constantly make potions, or prioritize which ingredients you want to collect.

Now the most integral part of any large-scale RPG is the quest system, and that is where Witcher shines. A few of the story quests continue throughout entire game with updates to your journal with each piece of new information. Then each chapter has its own main quest, whether it is exploring the bumps in the night on the outskirts of town or figuring out if there is a mole in the monarchy. AND THEN the chapter has its own contained side quests such as contracts to fight certain monsters or killing large game for trophies. AAAAND THEN you have side quests that continue throughout the entire game such as perfecting your dice poker skills or climbing the ranks as a fist fighter in local pubs. There is so much content and such a variety, but the structure keeps you from getting overwhelmed by possibility. You only obtain a certain number of quests in each chapter and must complete them immediately, helping you figure out the order in which you need to finish tasks and letting you know when you are ready to progress through the story.

And lastly that takes us to–

Performance

For a game released in 2008 for the PC, it still ran poorly on my 2014-era desktop. It constantly dropped frames and only ever hovered around 45 FPS. It crashed at least once every other time I booted it up. Whenever the game would start to lag, I would get that same heart-in-throat feeling I would from playing the Sims on my MacBook after not saving for a while (Seriously, if there was ever an example of compatibility not equaling functionality, but that’s for an other time). I also encountered certain bugs that have been around since launch. I would go looking on CDProjekt Red message boards to find a solution to what felt like a very unlikely problem only to find it had been around since the game’s inception. Once I was supposed to escape from the sewers with a ladder, but for some reason, the cutscene where the soldiers bring in the ladder just never happened. I wasted two hours running around underground thinking I hadn’t done something to trigger it only to figure out all I needed to do was load a previous save and cross my fingers.

Despite some of Witcher‘s lack of reliability, the graphics still looked great. Though the scenery and animations are dated, they are not distracting. While not the best, they still look realistic and don’t hinder a new player’s experience. It’s on par with Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origin which was released around roughly the same time.

And with that we have–

Verdict

Even with its quirks and low level of difficulty, I can’t recommend it enough. To finish all the side quests, I put in over sixty hours and never got sick of it. The only thing I would do differently looking back is play on a higher difficulty. It is incredibly cheap now, and if you are looking to play through the series, start here. I got this game on sale for $1.50. No joke. Keep an eye out, and play it ASAP.

Stay tuned.

 

I Feel Like Falling: Mirror’s Edge Review

I Feel Like Falling: Mirror’s Edge Review

There are many reasons first-person platformers are not commonplace–depth perception, mobility, and, most importantly, controls. Mirror’s Edge does everything it can to make the formula work.

Mirror’s Edge tells a story of a world where runners–basically professional parkour enthusiasts–fight against monster-like capitalists. At least that’s what I got from the story. The game was on the shorter side for its big world, so what shone instead of the details were the characters’ relationships. At the center, yo have Faith, a runner, whose only family is her sister Kate, a cop. Without spoiling anything, this dynamic–each other’s everything  on opposite sides of a polarized world–is the meat of the sandwich…Eh, not my best metaphor, but it works.

As for the landscape of the city, I only understand that the Big Bad was the Big Bad because the game said the people in blue were bad. I’m excited for the sequel so that I can learn more about this world. The little information I was given piqued my interest in a way this title never satisfied. I want to feel and understand the political and moral motivation as clearly as I did the familial ones.

Now this game’s mechanics were solid for such an experimental IP. If you play can play with keyboard and mouse, do. The only limitation is the constant need for precise controls of both Faith and the camera. Not only do your jumps need great timing, but so does the direction in which you’re looking. “Runner vision” highlights usable objects and ledges, helping you always know your intended path in this fast-paced game. Sometimes you must run and think about where you’re going later. When leaping towards the side of a building, you have to make sure you point the camera above your intended landing spot, or you will fall short and be treated to the sound of your legs breaking against asphalt below.

In case you haven’t kept up over the months, I obviously loved this gameplay. I wish I could fly across buildings like a cross between a spy and a superhero. Though the controls take some adjusting, the tutorial explains everything and provides the perfect playground on which to practice. You don’t have to leave until you want to, letting you hone your skills before starting the campaign.

As for the graphics, they are still gorgeous years later. The stark colors are still novel with the lands of gray and brown EA normally deal in (ignoring Plants vs. Zombies and Peggle, of course), and it could easily have been made today. One hint though–don’t bother with the PhysX settings. Its incompatibility with my graphics card caused the game to drop to a record low one FPS.

Overall, I adore this title and can’t wait for Catalyst. This too short for its own good title left me unprepared for the credits. Maybe it was too short, or maybe I’m just selfish. Either way, this long awaited –and even longer only rumored–can’t come quick enough.

Not Enough Cthulu: Awakened Remastered Review

Not Enough Cthulu: Awakened Remastered Review

Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened Remastered is the series’ first entry to resemble the games’ now standard formula. Sadly I’m still waiting on a story I don’t lose interest in halfway through.

This game has a darker start than its predecessors from the get go. After noticing blood spatters in town, Holmes ends up in a dark cave full of Cthulu carvings and a mutilated body stuffed with snakes. Yes, everybody, we’ve got some H.P. Lovecraft up in here!

2015-06-11_00002
Cthulu
Cthulu,
Cthulu,
and even more Cthulu.
and even more Cthulu.

Someone in town is performing some dark rituals, and Sherlock Holmes must stop the sacrifices. Exciting, right? While the narrative starts and ends strongly, the middle is muddled and only benefits from its gameplay.

Fro the first time in the series, the great detective is a travelling man, letting the player visit not only nineteenth century London, but New Orleans and Scotland as well. With the obvious exception of Baker Street, Awakened has no backtracking or retracing your steps. Each chapter leads you to a new historic location.

The user interface and controls are even clearer. The icons finally change when hovering over an interactive item. The inventory system isn’t clunky with all the collected items a right-click away. But most exciting of all is that Awakened introduces the series’ WASD controls, something most adventure games don’t dare do. I love the flexibility this allows. It ups the difficulty it takes to find what you’re looking for, but it isn’t the same pixel hunt as past games in the series.

Now I have yet to mention the puzzles, and there is good reason for that–there really weren’t that many. All the puzzles consist of following the culprit’s trail of breadcrumbs across the Atlantic instead of…lots of Sudoku (Can you tell I’m still bitter?).

If you want to get into the series and play them in any sort of order, I would start here. While not the best, it’s far ahead of the previous ones. It is accessible to a new audience while not setting your expectations too high. Just don’t boot it up if you have an issue with reptiles or tentacles.

Stay tuned.

Mighty Girl Sleuth the Third

Mighty Girl Sleuth the Third

Another season, another Nancy Drew mystery. If you haven’t seen my past reviews from my favorite adventure game series, click here and here. Having discussed the general details of these games before, this review will focus solely on the specifics of the most current one, Sea of Darkness.

Ten years after playing my first one from the series, and I am still buying them twice a year. Though always a different theme, location, and story, the basic gameplay stays the same. While I’ve been able to plot the evolution of the Sherlock Holmes’ titles from the same genre, the Nancy Drew formula is left untouched. Though iterative, I–once again–couldn’t get enough.

This time around, Nancy travels to Iceland to look into how a treasure hunter disappeared while renovating the historic ship “Heerlijkheid” in Her Interactive’s latest game Nancy Drew: Sea of Darkness. After you arrive, you do what you normally would: talk to people, pick up stray objects that you might use later, and solve many a puzzle.

Also like usual, the characters have one-note personalities. You have loud and burly ex-sailor Gunnar, the overly polite Cultural Center worker Soren, the slippery and sneaky treasure hunter who isn’t missing Dansky, and the stiff and distant town legacy Elizabet. Everyone has the one or two necessary characteristics for a passable NPC, but they come off as caricatures. Any other adventure game with flat characters would invoke wrath, but, call it bias, I’ve never played the Nancy Drew games for the characters–I play for the puzzles.

Sea of Darkness had more intuitive environmental puzzles while the logic puzzles lacked variety. For once the abundance of hidden passageways and secret locks aren’t impossible to find. Between the books and documents you find around town and the conversations you have with the locals, you can logic out the steps needed to progress through the game without resorting to a walkthrough or a wiki. For example a mid-game trek through a set of ice caves felt straightforward and easy to navigate instead of the equivalent of sifting through a city leveled by an earthquake.

Despite this improvement, the logic puzzles are a step back. With a few exceptions, most of them are variations of Sudoku–also known as the bane of my existence. As a frequent shopper for puzzle books, I get frustrated with how Sudoku has saturated the market. I find it boring and repetitive with no departure from the formula in sight. This made the developer’s choice to replace all my favorite Nancy Drew brain teasers with ten Sudoku puzzles is a waking nightmare.

Even with my frustration, my surprise at the game’s easy-to-follow narrative and environment outshone my disappointment, making this a strong addition to this long-running series.

Stay tuned.