I almost forgot how much everyone raved about The Witcher 2. RPS founder-turned-fugitive Jim Rossignol said in his The Witcher 2 review that “This is one of the most significant games of 2011. Right now it looks like most significant PC-only game of 2011”. It’s a series that has since become a juggernat, helped made a billionaire, and even overcome the traditionally murderous adaptation to film media.
So I went and played the first one, and never got round to the rest. I really should though.
For all its faults (which many acknowledged even at the time, so lord knows what 13 years have done to it), The Witcher was intriguing and showed the series’s potential early. It’s the decisions that distinguished it to me. Even today, RPGs are prone to offering Big Decisions that come down to being Jesus’s less aggressive brother vs Captain Genocide For Kicks. That or they go for “there are no wrong answers”, so you’re basically just choosing what colour hat to wear.
Mass Effect particularly vexed me here, as its most infamous late game decision is about whether to kill off your racist sidekick or your softboy one. What actually happens is one of them is leading an attack whose success is critical to the survival of all life in the galaxy, and the other is leading a diversion. What kind of drongo would struggle with this?
In The Witcher, the first Big Decision is sort of similar. The Extremely Important Thing That We Must All Save No Matter What is under threat, so do you go to protect it, or do you hang around fighting some random monster even though there are people already fighting it to buy you time to go and save the thing?
There is a stupid decision and a smart decision, and The Witcher acknowledges this. I respected that immensely. It meant that when later decisions happened, I genuinely pondered them on their own terms, not as game design moments. Especially as some were genuinely ambiguous. Should I grass on these shady guys who I’m pretty sure are very dangerous? I genuinely didn’t know. It might be smart. But they’re kind of oppressed, and if they want to fight back, good for them. But then… hmm.
Then there was a sewer level and I immediately quit and uninstalled the game. Some decisions are easier than others.