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The Witcher:

By Shamus
on Friday Aug 1, 2008
Filed under:
Game Reviews


When Oblivion came out, my poor little computer couldn’t handle it. With the help of Oldblivion I eventually managed to stagger through to the end of the game. I later upgraded, and went through the game again with acceptable framerates, although only if I had the visuals turned down to “eye-gouging ugly”. Now here I am with a brand new graphics card that can handle Oblivion with a nice framerate and all the fancy visuals turned up. But of course I’m done with Oblivion. Time to find another RPG.

Brace yourself, because I’m about to be very mean to the game everyone seems to love so much. Mellow out, listen to some new age music. Do whatever you have to do to keep from freaking out. If you just can’t bear seeing The Witcher take a few roundhouse kicks to its pasty wrinkled face then you’d best look away. Maybe go read my comic instead. It’s about World of Warcraft, and nobody cares when I abuse that thing.

So I fire up The Witcher and it’s the same damn nightmare from Oblivion all over again. This game does not look appreciably better than Oblivion. Okay, the character models look better, but the Oblivion models were notoriously ugly. You didn’t need technology to improve on those. You just needed decent art direction.

But The Witcher runs like an inebriated John Madden trying to run in the Boston marathon while pulling a busload of other John Maddens. The game is unplayable at the default settings. If I turn everything down I can get the game to look very terrible and still stutter quite a bit. Let me make this clear: At these settings the game looks far worse than Oblivion and yet still somehow runs slower. Considering that Oblivion was an appalling glutton when it came to GPU cycles, that’s really saying something. What is the game doing with my processor? Building fractals? Trying to find the last digit of Pi?

I know I just had a huge rant on this the other day, but this is such a perfect illustration of the problem that I can’t resist. I’m within the system requirements (on the low side, but I’m still in) and I have to make the game look horrible just to make it quasi-playable, and even then it chokes and pukes all over itself when I get into a fight. (You know, when frame rate is most crucial.) The phrase “Minimum System Requirements” has morphed from its original meaning and has come to denote the minimum system on which you can install the game without it killing anybody or starting a fire. But even if I had the hardware to run the game, it doesn’t look that much better than the last generation of games. Which means we’re now spending hundreds of dollars to upgrade our machines so just to run in place, visually.

(An even more appropriate comparison is against Jade Empire. The areas are about the same size, except Jade Empire looks far better, runs silky smooth, and its loading screens are brief and rare.)

This is on top of other inexplicable slowdowns, like that fact that the entire game locks up for two seconds when you hit the map button. It takes so long you might be forgiven for impatiently hitting the button again while you’re waiting. In which case when the map does finally get around to making an appearance it will instantly turn off again. And no matter how often you bring the sucker up, the game never gets the idea that maybe it would be a good idea to keep the thing in memory. No, the game slams into a brick wall every time you want a glimpse. A simple static map. A 2D map. It doesn’t even fill the screen. I know it’s my job to find funny ways to point out things are stupid, but they’ve really bested me this time. I’ve got nothing that can do this justice.

But even without these performance shortcomings, the game is plagued by presentation issues. Every door knocks you in the face with a tedious loading screen. No matter how small the interior space, the game needs ten seconds or so to get it ready for you. This is really annoying when you’ve got a quest to talk to a couple of different people in different houses, which happens all the time. Interacting with NPCs becomes a sort of punishment in a setup like this.

Which brings me to the sometimes off-kilter rhythm of the dialog, which I’m assuming is an unfortunate artifact of the translation from Polish. You click on someone. Then the screen fades out as it enters “dialog” mode. Then it fades in on the person you’re talking to. Then there’s this pause of a half second while they stare at you blankly. Then they speak, “Hi there.” Then there’s another pause. Then they wave. Then the view cuts to Geralt. Pause. “Hello to you as well.” Pause. Change view back to the NPC. Pause. “What can I do for you?” Pause. Back to Geralt. Then the dialog menu appears. It’s like seeing a power point presentation of the conversation. Lots of people complain about the voice acting in the game, but I think the voice acting is probably fine, it’s just that the delivery is sometimes borked. You could have Ian McKellen and Judy Dench doing the vocals and they would still sound like a couple of retarded androids with their voices coming out of these blank-faced people and with little pauses added in to make it sound like they forgot their lines. It doesn’t always do this, but it happens often enough to hurt the storytelling.

And finally we have the interface. I’ll admit: I picked up this game specifically because Yahtzee lambasted the thing for being too complicated. As someone who has railed against the stupification of RPGs to make them playable on a gamepad I was instantly sold. Finally! A game with some depth!

But complexity is not depth and The Witcher has too much of the former and not enough of the latter. I really feel bad for picking on the game for this, since they’re obviously going for depth, and I want to encourage game developers when they do good things like this. But the interface is just too cluttered. It’s far denser than (say) World of Warcraft, but all that complexity doesn’t really translate into more gameplay activities. The Hero screen has fifteen sub-panels. The Journal screen has eight. There are some screens that only appear when you’re resting at a fire. (As opposed to them simply being disabled, they just don’t appear, which is really confusing at first.) The alchemy is kind of cool, but it’s also more obtuse than it needs to be. Alchemy and milkmaid-screwing seem to be the only two non-questing activities in the game, which is pretty shallow given the fact that the interface is about as complicated as piloting the space shuttle.

Yet despite the complexity I never felt like I had access to the information I needed. What the heck is Toxicity? There is a bar for it right under the health meter. The tooltip explains that “Excessive Toxicity adversely affects Geralt”, which I managed to deduce all by myself. But how does it affect him? What makes Toxicity go up and how do I decrease it? Rest? A potion? A tryst with a bored housewife? More questions come to mind: Do I earn XP for killing monsters? How much damage am I doing? How can I tell if I’m using the right fighting style for the given monster? Despite all the screens and tutorial messages in the game I never felt like I knew how things worked.

People keep telling me to keep playing, that the game gets better. Apparently if I can suffer through enough of the dreary busywork at the start I’ll reach the part that’s all rainbows and chocolate bars. But the game is racking up some serious “not fun” deficit in the meantime, and at this point the game needs to come up with something really spectacular to counterbalance the slow start. After this much drudgery, the game would have to let me relive the alleyway scene from Spider-Man, where Toby Mcguire beats up the thugs and then hangs upside down with his mask halfway off so I can kiss him.

I’ve seen some flashes of inspiration along the way, and I’ll probably cover those in an upcoming post, but right now they seem too few and far between. Occasionally the game presents you with an interesting bit of dialog or a thought-provoking situation, but then the moment ends and I’m back to being a greaseball adventuring philanderer on an epic quest to catch some dude who stole our little box of witching knickknacks. Or something.

Luckily for The Witcher, RPGs are nearly extinct on the PC. This game can suck as much as it wants, because there aren’t really any alternatives out there right now.

In anticipating the approaching angry comments from Witcher fans, let me just say that “your computer sucks” is not an adequate defense. I can think of no better punishment for misleading minimum requirements than to simply review the game on one of those machines. If publishers don’t like the beating they get, maybe they’ll actually playtest the thing and give us some realistic requirements in the future. In addition, they could try designing games to be fun instead of designing games to produce sexy screenshots. Either way, they asked for this.

Especially with that map business. What the hell. That’s just shameful.

Comments (165)

1 2 3

  1. Wood says:

    So are you looking forward to Dragon Age by Bioware (hoping for no securom)? It reminds me a lot of Baldur’s Gate and will fill our PC RPG needs, hopefully.

  2. Matt K says:

    The only thing I can say is that this was a first time developer (unlike Bethesdasoft) and they are apparently in the works to release a patch to take care of some of the optimization problems (load for example). That said, I never got past the intro level in the demo because I couldn’t figure out what I was doing and the game crashed frequently when I loaded it (or took forever to get past the intro screens).

  3. Shamus says:

    Mass Effect had online activation, so I imagine DA will as well.

    I’ll probably check out those games once I acquire an XBox 360.

  4. Shamus says:

    If they take care of the optimization problems it will GREATLY reduce my ire towards this game. I can put up with clunky interfaces and stiff dialog, but the load times and lurching gameplay are the real joy killers.

    I hope they do that.

  5. Patrick says:

    I have yet to play this game but it is one I have had an eye on. I am dissapointed to hear your descriptions of the slow load times and bad visuals. However, there is hope. To echo what another poster has said, CD Projekt will be releasing an enhanced edition of the game to attempt to resolve many of these concerns. From Wikipedia:

    At GDC 2008, CDProjekt announced an enhanced version of the game which is to be released on September 16, 2008. The significant changes expected to be featured in the enhanced version are new animations, additional NPC models, expanded and corrected dialogues in translated versions, improved stability, and load times reduced by roughly 80%. This update will be available as a free download for owners of the current version.

    I plan to wait for the enhanced edition to come out and then maybe give it a shot.

  6. Factoid says:

    Wood: Good luck hoping for no SecuROM…if SecuROM and online activation are a dealbreaker for you…I wouldn’t hold out hope for playing a lot of BioWare games in the future.

  7. DosFreak says:

    You can play Mass Effect just fine without having to deal with DRM. Just have to download the Mass Effect executable without the DRM. :)

    Unfortunately I don’t know if I the DLC will work without DRM so I haven’t risked it yet.

    Mass Effect doesn’t do much for me anyway so I doubt I’ll bother.

  8. dadrox says:

    There used to be a time when “minimum requirements” actually meant that the would actually work well and led to some really great gaming.

    Nowadays it’s toeing the line of damn-near-false-advertising. Frankly, many games of today have been huge letdowns for me, so my favorite hobby had moved toward the back burner. *sigh*

  9. Blackbird71 says:

    Hey Shamus,

    A tip from someone else who has frequently had to stretch his system to get some games to run semi-smoothly: What is your page file size set to? This is one of those little things that a lot of people overlook, and in my experience a properly set page file can really help things move along.

    Of course, it could be that The Witcher is just that graphic intensive and unforgiving of lower systems. I wouldn’t know, I haven’t tried it. Either way, this would at least help with other games.

  10. Kevin says:

    As a non-player of The Witcher I don’t care if you kick it… though it does seem like maybe “new game with high-end tech specs=bad review from Shamus.” Of course you have a lot of other legitimate gripes in addition to the obviously screwed up “minimum specs.”

    I am wondering if there is any consideration that a game company might provide a high-end gaming computer in order to avoid an auto-lashing about it being unplayable on a lesser machine? It seems a bit incongruous to be considered a game reviewer and yet unable to play most games as they were intended. (Perhaps better to include playability at minimum specs as PART of a review.)

    Of course, in the larger issue, I completely agree that playing to the bleeding edge is a flawed strategy for game designers overall. Lesser graphics combined with greater ingenuity (WoW, for example) seems to be the winning combo. I am sure this is the overriding point.

  11. Eric says:

    It sucks that DA isn’t going to be on the ps3, it looks really cool, but I’m not going to buy an xbox just for that game. I’m not surprised by your follow up on the game, to me it didn’t sound interesting, but I might check out the books.

  12. Juha says:

    I never really understood why some people find the interface to be complicated, dunno if it’s just me, but imo it’s pretty simple. The journal for one is excellent, there’s all kinds of information about the world, the characters and just about anything. The quests also have a pretty detailed section, and you can customize what quests it shows and how pretty much how you want.

    Toxicity isn’t really explained well until it’s high enough, then you get some kind of a tutorial screen. You get toxicity from drinking potions and it goes away when you rest, or drink a potion that’s made to lower tox levels. When the tox level reaches 100, you die.

    “More questions come to mind: Do I earn XP for killing monsters? How much damage am I doing? How can I tell if I'm using the right fighting style for the given monster?”

    Now that’s easily fixed, enable combat texts from options and you’ll get floating text messages about how much dmg you do and how much you get xp from killing monsters. You can also see how much you need xp for the next lvl in the top left corner, there’s this blue ring around the medallion that fills up.

    Imo the interface is pretty simple if you just take your time and try to understand it, but maybe that’s just me.

    Oh, and about styles, check your journal’s monster section, you collect information there about monsters from books and from talking to people, the descriptions usually tell what what styles and signs are effective against each monster.

  13. qrter says:

    Well, the load- and save times were my biggest gripe with the game. They took FOREVER. Seeing as there’s a loadscreen whenever you enter a new building or area, it gets excruciatingly irritating. And when you can take a short vacation while your quicksaving, it moves you close to the point of crying.

    As I understand it, those load and savetimes have been improved slightly since I played it but are still pretty awful. Supposedly the Enhanced Edition will be a lot better.

    You’re right about the engine too – they’re using the NWN 2 engine, which was already an unruly beast in its earlier version.

    I also see where you’re coming from with the information management, although I managed to figure out most of it while playing (you know, the idea that everytime you inbibe a potion, doesn’t matter which, your toxity goes up, which effectively makes it a limiter to how many effects you can have going at the same time) – that’s no excuse, btw, it should be easily available to the player, it just didn’t bother me that much, personally.

    The halted dialogue thing is something I come across in most games, really. Strange bits of silence between sentences, as if someone’s waiting for the other to finish, then thinks up a response and says it.

  14. Sigma says:

    And yet sometimes minimum requirements can be misleading in the other way. I bought Crysis, and it plays fine on normal settings, even though if the minimum setting requirements thing was correct my PC would be exploding.

  15. khorboth says:

    There’s really no excuse for loading screens. You’d think that these people could manage to get ONE MMORPG programmer onboard. Somehow games like Vanguard are able to deliver a huge world including many enemies, NPCs, buildings, etc. with no loading screens. There is the occasional skip as you move from one “chunk” to another, but they are rarely more than 2 seconds and frequently nonexistent. And they manage to deliver this with most of the data being pulled through the intertubes. It seems pretty darn clear to me that loading screens are an unnecessary dinosaur of eras past, yet they keep cropping up. Between this and the DRM issues, I’m debating on weather I really want to re-install NWN2 on my new rig.

  16. Sitte says:

    it does seem like maybe “new game with high-end tech specs=bad review from Shamus.”

    I’m pretty sure that’s true only if they lie about the minimum system requirements. Games that are made and advertised with truly high-end requirements are not purchased in the Young household.

    People can debate whether or not these minimum system requirements are actual ‘lies’ or not. Personally, I think the minimum requirements listed for The Witcher fall into the “blatant and intentional deception” category.

    …the same category that an unfaithful guy uses when his girl says “Are you sleeping with someone else?” and he says “No… (not at this very second. I’m talking with you).”

  17. James Pony says:

    It would seem to me that right after the link to the Zero Punctuation review, you got into Yahtzee mode. I heard his voice reading that text! And it reads almost exactly like the real thing! What the hell!

  18. Strangeite says:

    I love the idea that game reviewers should all start reviewing games that are played upon the minimum system requirements.

    If only handful of reviewers began doing this for every game, I think you would see a change very quickly.

  19. JKjoker says:

    i have a dual core2 duo and nvidia7600GT and i finished the game without any patch (the patch makes it run slightly better) running it at 1650×1080 with everything on except AA, and, with the exception of the opening, and 2 battles during the game that had some fog, the game is playable, and those bad parts became perfectly playable after i reduced just one option (sorry, i forgot which), the loading times were murder tho

    to qrter: they are using a heavily modified NWN1 engine (the script part) with a self made graphic engine

  20. Cthulhu says:

    Funny, my computer runs Witcher fine (except for the load times), yet I still have to run Oldblivion to get oblivion to not crash.
    Or I would, if I hadn’t ditched Oblivion and gone back to Morrowind, like a sensible person.
    I’m fine with you kicking the game for performance problems, even though I’m a fan. Whatever else may be good about it, they deserve a thrashing for not making it run properly.

  21. Derek K says:


    “It's about World of Warcraft, and nobody cares when I abuse that thing.”

    Um, I refer you to the WoW threads, which seem to have created Spicy Shamus. :p

    “After this much drudgery, the game would have to let me relive the alleyway scene from Spider-Man, where Toby Mcguire beats up the thugs and then hangs upside down with his mask halfway off so I can kiss him.”

    I *think* being on the Tobey Mcguire side might be better in this case. You get to beat stuff up, then still get the kiss, rather than just watching. Also, does anyone really want to kiss Tobey Mcguire? I’m not even sure Mrs. Tobey Mcguire wants to do that….

    Also, the very first thing imdb says about Tobey Mcguire is that his parents were unwed when he was born. Odd.


    “It seems a bit incongruous to be considered a game reviewer and yet unable to play most games as they were intended.”

    If you mean Shamus, he ain’t no reviewer. He’s a guy with a blog.

    If you mean in general, I think the fact that you have to consider sending a PC with your game indicates that UR DOIN IT RONG.

  22. qrter says:

    I love the idea that game reviewers should all start reviewing games that are played upon the minimum system requirements.

    If only handful of reviewers began doing this for every game, I think you would see a change very quickly.

    I really like that idea, too. If only if it would help stop the minimum requirements-scam as it’s operating today.

    to qrter: they are using a heavily modified NWN1 engine (the script part) with a self made graphic engine

    You’re right, my mistake. But that makes it even worse, really! ;)

    If you mean in general, I think the fact that you have to consider sending a PC with your game indicates that UR DOIN IT RONG.

    Yes, I think such a PC would be called a ‘console’, anyway.

  23. McNutcase says:

    I remember a time when “minimum requirements” were realistic. Heck, on my ancient Wintendo of a laptop (almost nine years old now, and never needed anything replaced – there have been replacements, but those have been upgrades of working parts, not replacements of broken parts), I have installed at least two games for which it is technically *below* minimum requirements, and both the ones I’m thinking of play perfectly happily. One of them, I’ve even got the “pretty” sliders turned up.

    Bah. Tabletop RPGs only specify numbers of faces on your dice, and players can surprise you a lot better than a computer can. Where’s that box lid, house rule is all dice get rolled in there, and any dice coming out means you re-roll the whole handful, no matter if the dice that stayed in were great…

  24. Duffy says:

    My biggest gripe with it was the horrible load times and occasionally buggy play. For some reason it would just arbitrarily crash for no reason that I could duplicate. Sometimes it would be fine, sometimes it would crash 5 mins in or 3 hours.

    The game was just not interesting enough to put up with it’s issues and I never finished it. Was kinda sad cause it was at least a novel approach to Hack/Slash RPGs.

  25. Danath says:

    That is why I made my suggestion for waiting for ENhanced edition, I kept having to put the game away and come back to it later because of the loading times and technical stutters… which were WORSE when I was playing it Shamus, theyve patched it some since then.

    I personally nver experienced the problems with the map and such on my old computer, but I think I was a bit above the min specs.

    Toxicity is explained in the manual, should always read the manual, lots dont because its “too thick” or “game should explain everything. If your toxicity goes too high you DIE.

    Also I dont think this is mentioned anywhere, Act 1 has a level cap… I dont remember the level, but after you kill enough baddies, youll just stop gaining xp.

    Comment sounds jolted, just woke up, groggy, but alot of your points are the same complaints most people had with the game.

  26. Fosse says:

    This game is the first time that I can’t even see where you’re coming from. Now, for the loading times and minimum requirements I’m entirely on board. I was lucky enough that my computer didn’t choke on the load times, but people with better than mine did. I experienced frequent crashes that plagued the Vista crowd before the patch.

    I had a system capable of running higher settings very smoothly, so our experience here differed. But my Oblivion experience was exactly like yours and I completely agree that it’s ridiculous that a “minimum specs” computer can’t run the game well enough to play.

    But then you went on to talk about the scarcity of information and the bad interface. Those would have been two features in the game I’d have praised if I were writing this.

    “The Hero screen has fifteen sub-panels. The Journal screen has eight.”

    I’m perplexed. I don’t have the game installed right now, as I’m waiting for the Enhanced Edition to give it another play through. But I’m looking at a shot of the Hero screen right now and, just as I recalled, there no sub panels.

    There are fifteen Attributes, arrayed down the left hand side of the screen. But they don’t lead to their own screens or anything. Surely you aren’t complaining that the interface includes the fifteen Attributes on the Hero Screen? I’d love if you could clarify that point for me.

    About the Journal:
    This is the best in-game journal I’ve ever used. Instead of just a place to list your quests, it gives detailed notes on all the players you meet that update throughout the game as you interact with and learn more about them. It keeps track of all the game lore you come upon, and provides a wealth of details about monsters.

    It has eight panels, yes, but I don’t see that as a problem since they are basically information filters. The panels are things like Quests, Characters, Locations, Glossary, etc. Each provides a wealth of information on its topic, and even keeps track of those entries you haven’t read yet since they were updated or added. The only thing it’s missing in my opinion is a Notes section so I can type my own notes into the thing.

    And the various questions you asked above (which fighting style against which monsters, where you get toxicity and how to beat it, etc) I recall being covered very well by the journal and tutorials. The effect of a high toxicity is not spelled out at any point, and I remember wanting it to be. But the first time I drank too many potions I saw the effects myself and that was that.

    This is also the first game I’ve played where I actually enjoyed Alchemy. It seems that at some point gamers and developers decided that if you can’t make your own potions it’s a substandard RPG. So everyone just throws a bunch of flowers and weeds at you and lets you make magic soft drinks, regardless of whether it makes sense to do so. And ignoring the fact that picking flowers really isn’t that much fun at all.

    In my experience it’s either boring (Oblivion) or painful (NWN2). And it never seems to add to gameplay.

    In The Witcher it makes sense according to the story and actually was compelling to me. So just by virtue of not sucking it’s the best system I have personally experienced. The fact that the potions are mostly unique and useful, and come with interesting pros and cons, made the system compelling to me. I spent a lot of time concocting various potions and oils (I never bothered with bombs too much). I also liked that you could get most of the benefits of Alchemy and not have to think about it too much by simply double clicking the potion recipe in the Alchemy screen and letting the game pick your ingredients. Or you could spend time adding secondary effects and considering your drinking orders and ingredient scarcity.

    All that aside, the interface was not — even in my opinion — perfect. The two things I can think of without installing the game are the Inventory screen and the Alchemy screen’s lack of a “Rebrew last potion” button. The second bit would be a huge hassle saver for people who are interested in secondary effects and so on. The first thing though is a big one.

    The Inventory screen though is pretty bad. The tooltips cover a large amount of the screen, which is fine, but they pop up in somewhat random locations according to where your mouse is. This means that if you’re trying to sort through your items a giant black box is constantly popping in and out and hiding whichever item you want to look at next. The tips are so big that they should all pop up in one place that doesn’t obscure your inventory. Also, you’ll be carrying lots of potions, ingredients, books, and doodads, and it would be extremely helpful to have either a filter to only see certain things at once, or a button to sort your items by category. Preferably both.

  27. Nick C says:

    Just to clarify some things, three patches have been released since the game came out last year, and many of the optimization issues have been greatly fixed. Also, the game does not run on the NWN2 engine. Both NWN2 and Witcher use the Aurora engine which is the NWN1 engine. Witcher was in the works since before NWN2 was announced.

    As far as toxicity, this is explained in the manual, though I can’t remember if the game exlained it tutorial-wise. Basically, the more potions you drink, the higher your toxicity and you need to camp to reduce it. There are certain ways to make potions that give you less toxicity, but that is getting deep into the alchemy system. It’s a way to prevent a person from drinking every potion in their inventory at one time, sort of like Oblivion’s arbitrary 4 potion at a time limit.

    As for the dialogue, I completely agree. I can sense that the game has a great story, but the stilted voice acting does leave something to be desired. Enhanced edition is supposed to fix this, and if you bought the original game, you get the upgrade for free.

    As for the system requirements thing, I have mixed feelings. I perfectly agree that minimum requirements should at least allow you to play the game with low graphics settings at a playable framerate; doesn’t seem too much to ask. On the other hand, I do have a nice system that I spent a decent amount of money on, and I prefer it when games push themselves so I am actually using my hardware.

  28. Danath says:

    Shamus misunderstands everyones disagreement with him on the first article, very few had anything to do with “fanboyishness”, although a few Shamus fanboys popped up (Can I call you Big S?).

    I didnt agree with everything either, but admittedly once you figure out what it all DOES it makes sense, first time you see those pages its a bit overwhelming.

    Usually you can tell what fighting style to use just based on how the monsters move, or if they take very little damage or avoid your attacks. I have to reinstall the game, but I think you can see health bars as well, so it wasnt a problem to tell if you were using the wrong fighting style (Heres a tip, use the wind knockdown and stab them while they are on the ground).

  29. Luke Maciak says:

    I really do hope more people wills start reviewing under lowest minimum requirements possible.

    Then they would have to start putting realistic requirements on the box and watch their sales plummet because of that.

  30. TehShrike says:

    Shamus, are you going to be spending some time with Space Siege when it comes out? It does seem to tend towards the Diablo/Dungeon Siege idea of an RPG, but I’m looking forward to it.

  31. Doug Brown says:

    So you don’t want to kiss Matt Damon on the mouth, but kissing Toby Maguire is your idea of a reward?

    You’re not just spicy, you’re . . . in heat?

  32. Fenix says:

    I found that the 1.2 patch greatly reduced loading times and fixed lots of the lagg (stuttering if you prefer). Also I don’t know how many people mentioned this but the enhanced edition will be coming out soon which is supposed to improve the dialogue, animations, load times (to like nothing from what they are saying, 1 second or so.), stability, 2 new campaigns, better combat, umm… etc. etc. etc…

    Also for people who already own the game all the improvements will be released in an albeit large patch. (free of course)

    I remember I had a good deal of fun with this game when it first came out but I also see your points. What are your system specs if you don’t mind me asking.

    nvidia geforce 256mb 7600gt, 3.2ghz p4 ht, 2gig ram (1gig when I was first playing), 7200rpm hd.

    Oh and toxicity is gained when you drink alchemical potions with the exception of potions that decrease said stat. Adverse affects being things like stat reductions. Also just to get this out Geralt isn’t all that old really, the old look was his side effect of mutation during the process of becoming a witcher (better than death if you ask me) as well as the reason women are will to get screwed by him is because he is impotent and wont get any of them pregnant. Think of the story as a folk tale before it became watered down by…….. who watered them down?

  33. Huckleberry says:

    I’am eagerly anticipating a new single player RPG called “Drakensang”. The rules are based on the (German) pen-and-paper RPG system “The Dark Eye”, and it comes with a very detailed fantasy world wiht a rich history. Combat will be round-based, and you’re leading a party.

    It has been released in Germany today; they’ve started translation into English, it’ll be just a few more months, from what I’ve heard.

    More here:

  34. Martin says:

    Thanks to this review I’ve made up my mind and am going out to pick up “Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm”.

    /am not

  35. Nevermind says:

    Re: slowness – well what did you expect from eastern european developers? Of course it would be slow as hell! OK, that was a joke, and seriousy the game is rather sluggish. And not that beatiful. Although my computer seem to handle it, and it’s not really top of the line.

    Re: Access to the information. I distincly recall seeing all the info you mention – on Toxicity, on monster XP, etc. It’s probably in the journal, there is a section there called “Learning” or somesuch.
    I heard recently that English translation of the game is really bad. And has things missing, that might explain the lack of information you describe. And I must agree that interface is really needlessly complicated. Or rather, the “informational” interface is complicated; the one that you see on screen most of the time is actually pretty decent.

    This game sure has a lot of issues. But I really can forgive ANYTHING for just one scene – the judgement scene just before you enter Vyzima. That’s probably the best example of moral choice in a game since Fallout. Screw that, it’s just the best ever.
    I hope there’s more of that later in the game – I’ve just started playing.

  36. Nillo says:

    It’s funny how you say that computer RPGs are extinct and that there’s no alternative, because I’m playing one right now and it came out just yesterday – The Spirit Engine 2. It doesn’t have fancy 3D, but it has incredible depth in gameplay, which is what you say you’re looking for. Do you keep an eye on the independent development scene?

  37. Arzar says:

    Shamus, I strongly recommend you to wait for the Enhanced Edition. Not really for the optimization or more diverse characters look, but for the updated English translation.

    Because, unfortunately CDProjekt screwed up somewhere in the translation process, and each script, except the polish one of course, were shortened by 30% ! They will correct the English translation and re-record about 5000 lines of dialog to address this issue in the Enhanced Edition.

    Source: An interview with Michal Medej, the game's Chief Designer.

    And: The Witcher Enhanced Edition ““ fact sheet

    From the interview :
    “What caused the significant, let's say “differences”, between the Polish and English dialogue in the original game?

    It was hard lesson to be learned for us ““ the localization process. At beginning of the development we had to make production estimates for the amount of English text to be recorded, and we based it on our experiences with Polish localizations. The assumption we made was that, as Polish text after translation from English is usually about 20% longer, the reverse translation would be shorter by a similar amount. We just didn't realize that we were using different measures ““ number of pages and number of words. Because of how the English language works out, the resulting translation was way too much for recording, which came into play at the very last stage of development. We had a really short time to edit all of the English dialogues, shortening them by 30%. So basically, the original translation was really good; it was just trimmed due to production.”

    I gave a quick sample of how bad these cuts are, sometimes, here.

  38. Duffy says:

    I’ve noticed a minor trend in the comments (here and in other articles) with people forgiving the bugs because they were patched later. One of Shamus’ major points in all his critiques is that this should be considered shoddy programming, and as a SoftE myself, I agree with him in this regard.

    These issues should not exist, not in the quantity that they currently do. There are no valid reasons; often the excuse is that the publisher is trying to push a product out on an arbitrary deadline.

    The problem is not that it happens, the problem is that it is accepted.

  39. Danath says:


    Yes, but his big complaint about Oblivion was they DID NOT finish patching it.

    These guys are relatively new, and are STILL fixing and patching this game, even so long after its released, fixing bugs, dialogue… and its all for free, you do not have to rebuy this game to get the better version. It is shoddy programming, but at least they are fixing it, and not just foisting it on us for a quick buck (Fable is really the best example I can think of). It isnt accepted, thus the fall of PC game sales, the people who SELL the games cant accept that DRM, bleeding edge graphics, and shoddy work are whats doing it, and making us overall more wary about purchasing garbage.

    I agree that it was shoddy program, I applaud that they are going the extra mile to get it all fixed.

    This is why people are saying “wait for the Enhanced Edition”, you dont have to, but youll run into a few technical problems, and the games #1 issue… loading screens.

  40. Gahaz says:

    Sup Danath,

    Thanks for mentioning me. I know, I must be a Shamus fanboy for making a joke(Big S indeed).

    Lord forbid I agree with him and say don’t let the Witcher fanboys get you down. That must instantly mean I’m a complete mindless person that follows everything Shamus says…

  41. Danath says:

    Yep, youll notice despite the last article nobody is lambasting Shamus for this part of his review, this does not point to fanboyism.

  42. Joerg Mosthaf says:

    Re. Drakensang:
    I installed Drakensang yesterday and played a bit with it – it looks very nice on my machine (c2d 2.6 GHz, Ati 4870). The art direction is nice – I don’t know how to describe it – it’s like if WoW is a cartoon and LotRO is a graphic novel then Drakensang looks to me like a watercolor. Very fairielike forests and outdoors and german “Altstadt” towns.
    The system is quite nice, but also very complex. I am not very familiar with the 4. ed DSA (Das schwarze Auge = the black eye) ruleset so it takes some getting used to. Alchemy, smithing, crafting … looks good – complex but simple to use. Magic is a bit strange – spells are just skills and the names of the spells are (typical for DSA) a bit heavy on the pseudo-latin(eg. “Fulminictus Donnerkeil (=thunderbolt)” as a lightning spell)
    Hope you’ll get a good translation, the german voice acting is quite good which is very refreshing after all those atrocious localizations (which I usually skip in favor of the original version).

  43. Dhruin says:

    There are *no* sub-panels on the Hero screen. None. Can you clarify, please?

    There is a section in the manual that clearly explains Toxicity. It’s a major heading under the Alchemy chapter, titled “Potion Side Effects”.

  44. Shamus says:

    Hero screen: Each and every attribute has its own screen (Str, Dex, Stam, etc)

    All the magic spells get a screen.

    Then you get a list of screens for your sword.

    Then the same list again, for the silver sword.

    If you’re trying to compare two skill trees to figure out which is the best one to sink points into, then you’ve gotta flip back and forth, reading tooltips.

    Spending points is needlessly counter-intuitive. At my first level up I kept clicking on the little circles and nothing was happening. Turns out there was only one skill I could but at that point, and it was at the very bottom and only a slightly different shade so it barely stood out from the others.

    The division of the sword into two different upgrade paths seems needless. Or at least, it doesn’t lead to INTERESTING decisions. It’s a coin-flip: Do I want to be better at fighting humans of monsters? Can I switch easily between the two at need? How many of each will I be facing? How much “better” is the silver over the steel at damaging monsters? 5% more damage? Double damage?

    The player doesn’t have the knowledge they need to spend the points wisely. When you DO spend points, it’s not “Oh boy! More power!” It’s “How am I supposed to tell if that’s even making any difference?”

    And level cap in act 1: Boo. :(

  45. Sharpie says:

    Good lord, the graphics slowdown. I can’t imagine why I needed to run at minimum settings to even get a decent frame rate. I had Oblivion at medium settings and it ran well, but the Witcher was just ridiculous.

    The loading screens were irritating as well, though I wasn’t bothered as much by the multiple sub-panels.

  46. Shamus says:

    And to people who keep saying “read the manual”:

    I played Galactic Civilizations without ever needing the manual. Is Geralt more complex that a Galactic Empire? Should he be?

    Which brings me back to my main point: For all this complexity I never feel like I’m making meaningful choices.

  47. Licaon_Kter says:

    why would you expect a complex interface to define complex choices?

    anyway, consequences will not be visible soon

    too bad that your system barely meets the Minimum spec, it ruins your gameplay :(

  48. Dhruin says:

    So, by “sub-panels” you mean the tool-tip -type displays?

  49. Licaon_Kter says:

    he means that each skill has a level tree when you click on the skill

  50. Danath says:

    My only comment on that point was about toxicity, but yeah Shamus, was a surprise for me too to hit the level cap. Ultimately these decisions actually arent as important as you might think, you can play the game with only one spec filled and the rest poorly maintained and still beat the game.

    Best just sink points based on your playstyle, one method is rarely any better than any others for any fight, this removes “meaningful” choices, but at the same time means theres no min-maxing.. you can play however you want and sink points into whatever you like. I personally took the “being drunk makes you immune to certain effects!” and carried booze around with me to drink anytime I encountered something I didnt recognize. This isnt required, but its how I played.

    And you never HAVE to refer to the manual… but the game doesnt tell you anything, how much this bugs you depends on the person, not me specifically, but it does for others.

    Silver wont matter much till later, but there is a noticable difference once you get it, by that point switching styles/weapons should come second nature anyways and you most likely wont notice… but right NOW, yes, its awkward.

    I really have nothing to do today.

  51. Anachronista says:

    A bad map can totally ruin a game for me, too.

  52. Gildan Bladeborn says:

    Ironically, considering the rant I just read about character customization being confusing, lots of people knocked the game for not really letting you design a unique character build. No really, at first it looks like you’re making these crucial decisions about which skill upgrades to buy, but as you keep leveling up you’ll find that you’ve exhausted all the bronze level skills you wanted and they keep giving you more bronze points.

    It works out that while individual players might very well have quite different selections in the higher tiers, pretty much all players will have the exact same selection of lower tier skills (pretty much all of them in other words).

    I always read manuals anyways, but I’d contend The Witcher gives you so many tutorial hints that you probably don’t need to. Also I can’t understand how having “too much information” that is also optional and interesting could possibly be something worth complaining about. Huzzah for information!

    My computer is only “decent” (Athlon 64 X2 4200 (which cost like 60 dollars), Ati x1950 pro, 3 gigs of PC 4200 DDR, first generation SATA hard drives), and I ran the game at 1152×864 with the textures on high and it didn’t stutter at all, and this was back before the 1.2 patch which massively improved the loading times and whatnot (I did scale back ansitropic filtering to 8x and turned off anti-aliasing though). I’m not going to argue that the whole “Minimum Requirements” thing can be deceptive (though I will point out that pretty much everyone just skips past that and reads the “Recommended Requirements” for a more realistic figure, not that this is justified or anything), but I am going to point out your computer apparently sucks. My condolences.

  53. Shamus says:

    Oh yeah – the Matt Damon vs. Toby McGuire joke: Wrote those weeks apart. (Today’s comic was done ages ago.) So it felt like it was a good time to use another “kissing boys” joke, only to have them both appear on the same day.

    This multi-threaded publishing is trickier than I thought. I keep wanting my reviews here to line up with my comics there, but the different paces makes this hard to pull off. And it exposes my penchant for recycling jokes.

    Ah well.

  54. Heph says:

    I’ll start off by saying I beat the entire game, without any patches, on a computer hat didn’t meet the recommended specs and was, in fact, below the minimum specs as far as CPU is concerned (but with a graphics card that’s better than recommended, I admit). I ran it easily at medium-to-high settings and it hardly ever stuttered or slowed (only at moment with lots happening at a time…). It looked a whole lot better than Oblivion imho.
    A. Loading screens: yes, these were a pest. One would think it’d be possible to at least keep the outside loaded into memory when you enter a house or something. Christ.

    B. Journal: lots of screens, yes…But also an incredible amount of story and background information. Do we need information about “the city folk” and “people of the village”? Of course not. Is it nice filler? Sure, at least as useful as all those books with stories in Oblivion (I’m a fan of Oblivion, but it’s an easy comparison). Having several tabs allows you to sift through information more readily and allows for quicker access to specific things. Imagine everything in just one big lump – it’d be confusing, hard to navigate, hard to read. It may be a bit clumsy, but it allows you to go to check up what weapon or sign will be most effective against each and every enemy, at the moment you encounter them, if you so wish. (as “A ghoul! Oh no! What will I use, silver or steel? Hmm, seems they’re particularly vulnerable to fire, I’ll use that”). It depends on personal preference, I guess ,but I found the tabs easy to navigate and easy to find what I was looking for, while still giving lots of information

    C. Levelling, map usage (it’s not just a flat 2D map!), experience earning: it’s in the manual. If you choose to paly a game without reading the manual, that’s your personal choice, but it’s there for a reason. You may be missing out on a bit here or there if you don’t read it. This game actually explains much/most in the prologue and Act I (which amount to one huge tutorial, pretty much), but hey.

    D. Inventory and hero screen: yup, the interface isn’t great. I got the hang of it after a while, but, yeah, it could’ve been handled better. It goes in the same style as the journal though: there’s a LOT of information there, and they wanted it easy to find by giving everything specific its own screen…And went overboard with that idea.

    E. (from your previous Witcher post, but since there’s this one now I’ll put it here): the personality. Gerald’s exactly the same amount of a blank character as the Nameless One in KotORII or Revan in KotOR. Yes, amnesia is a cheap trick, but it’s just a cliche way of having a “reknowned warrior” have to relearn silly skills and having to be re-introduced to old friends and allies. It’s either this, have a lot of exposition hammed into the dialogue, or have your character be a random peasant who “suddenly” becomes the greatest hero the world has ever known. There’s no good way to do it, just slightly better or worse. They chose this version for its compatibility with the books, so…Oh well.
    Still, it’s not quite true your character’s fixed. Much like KotOR, you can choose good/bad (with mostly shades of grey here), swords or magic, diplomatic or more hack’n’slashy. Your actions have consequences, and a LOT more than in the KotOR or NWN series. When they say your action have far-reaching consequences on the box, they mean it – one of the four main possible endings can be ruled out by the end of Act I.

    F. Though they’re not exactly incredibly interesting or time-filling, there’s barroom brawling, drinking contests and a cide game as sidegames, along with the milkmaid screwing and alchemy. It may not be the greatest selection, but it beats the options in both the KotOR games and Oblivion. (there’s also weapon upgrading and such, but that’s there in most games and isn’t all that big, anyway)

    G. The voice acting and translation isn’t too hot, agreed. Neither is it in a lot of Japanese games and anime, and it’s always incredibly annoying. let’s hope that gets fixed in the enhanced version.

    H. Sorry for the incredibly long post.

    Short version: I liked it, it wasn’t the greatest game ever, it certainly had flaws (and plenty of them), but it *was* a pretty solid game, and, in its category, I’m hard-pressed to find another game that didn’t have at least as many other flaws KotOR? NWN, Baldur’s Gate, Oblivion, Morrowind, they all came with heaps of bugs and flaws and inbalances). It’s one of the better RPGs to have come out since 2005, as far as I’m concerned.

  55. qrter says:

    I played Galactic Civilizations without ever needing the manual. Is Geralt more complex that a Galactic Empire? Should he be?

    Which brings me back to my main point: For all this complexity I never feel like I'm making meaningful choices.

    Sorry, Shamus, you lose me there.

    Saying you didn’t need to read the manual of another game won’t do it, even if you feel the other game is more “meaningful” in its complexity (I haven’t played Galactic Civilizations, so I might be completely in the wrong here, but from what I know you are comparing a 4X-like RTS to an RPG, which doesn’t seem fair – again, I might be wrong, if so, I apologise).

    If a game has a manual, you don’t read it and then you complain you don’t know what X does in a game – you are in the wrong, you should’ve read the manual. It really is as simple as that. It has nothing to do with complexity, there was a guide right there, you chose not to read it.

    You ask whether Geralt should be more complex than Galactic Civilizations.. well.. I figured the specific problem you point out on my own and I’m no genius! ;)

  56. Shamus says:

    No Qrter, the center of my point was that while the game was busy bulldozing metric tons of irrelevant nonsense and busywork into my face it couldn’t find the time to tell me what I really want to know.

    The gameplay here does NOT justify a manual the size of Microsoft Flight Simulator, and to dump the user into a morass of obscure buttons and unhelpful tootips and then tell them to read the manual is a joykiller. I’m here for a game, not a damn reading assignment.

    My point was that a properly designed interface would clearly communicate everything I needed to know. I got through KOTOR, Oblivion, and even FFX without needing to read a book.

    This game does not have more depth than those other games. It just has a horrible interface.

  57. Daemian Lucifer says:


    “I'm hard-pressed to find another game that didn't have at least as many other flaws KotOR? NWN, Baldur's Gate, Oblivion, Morrowind, they all came with heaps of bugs and flaws and inbalances).”

    Ok,thats laughable,to say the least.True,BG had its flaws and bugs,but as much as oblivion?Thats like saying youll get just as drunk from a glass of wine as from a barrel of beer.

    Also,I dont remember having bad optimisation(incredebly long loading times and scetchy system requirments)in:Fallout,baldurs gate,planescape torment,knights of the old republic,or even neverwinter nights(which Ive managed to play with all but memory below system requirments).Yet both oblivion and witcher seem to suffer from this.

  58. Daemian Lucifer says:


    Actually,you are in the wrong here.Fallout,heroes of might and magic(not number 5,but the ones before it),planescape and galactic civilizations all have excelent manuals,all of which Ive read AFTER getting some skill with those games.Sure,those manuals did offer some new and usefull information,and they wouldve saved me some time if Ive read them first,but that didnt stop me from enjoying the games,nor from learning how to play them,and well.

    Manuals are there for people that want to play well from the very begining,and dont want to waste time on experimenting with the game for a first few couple of times,but they are not a replacement for in game tutorials.Manuals are helpful,but shouldnt be a necessity.Thats what intuitive and easy to learn gameplay is all about.

  59. Danath says:

    The manual isnt REQUIRED, the games tutorials teach you most of what you need to know, im not really sure what the problem is, the “gameplay” and interface arent that complicated unless your getting into alchemy, you assign spells ala hotkey, then go out and play the click based combat.

    Im reinstalling the game, but I dont remember having problems with the different interface windows for stats like str and dex and such.

    Im honestly feeling Shamus is more playin Devil’s advocate atm more than a real review as some of this lambasting seems a little off the wall compared to other games, even Hellgate didnt get this level of vitriol.

    And sorry, rtfm, its there for a reason, much like some of the kings quest games, where reading it was required, witcher does not, but if you wanna know some of the more random details of the game that arent explained to you… well thats what its there for, or the in game journal covers most of it as well.

    For the most part I agree with the article, just a couple things seem overboard.

  60. Shamus says:

    There it is. “Not a real review”. I’ve been waiting for that one and I’m kind of impressed that it took this long.

    Look, you can flail away at your keyboard as much as you like, there is no force in your employ that can MAKE me enjoy the game. I wish there was, because I’d love to see what everyone else is so excited about. I’m just not having fun and I’ve pointed out why.

    You can say RTFM all you like but it will never hide the bad game design the REQUIRES you to say RTFM, as I covered above.

  61. Danath says:

    wow did you read 2 words of what I said for that comment?

    Im saying with how much vitriol youve put into this it feels more like your taking on a devils advocate role as opposed to your usual style of reviewing.

    Im not even disagreeing with most of what you said in the article, yeesh, im not even the first to make the comment about the manual.

    I was making a comparison to your other reviews, other than toxicity and the “rtfm” comment which was referring to one a few behind mine, I havnt really disagreed with anything in this article about why you hate this game.

  62. Blurr says:

    If one graphed your recent hostility level on this blog, at this point they’d be off the charts by a long shot. I understand that you’re not in very good health, but I’m just pointing out that you seem to be becoming exponentially more irate.

  63. Shamus says:

    When people argue with subjective opinions it really does rub me raw. I do seem to be worse at taking it in stride though, which is exacerbated by all the extra traffic lately. Sorry for the testyness then. Being sick isn’t really a good reason for being mean.


  64. Gahaz says:


    I think more than anything the ire that is rising is due to you continuing to keep saying the same thing after he has said “I disagree, this is why.” but you then come back to reply and say the same thing and then comment on his personal writing.

    Did you forget this is his blog? Perhaps you forgot that there is no magic set of requirements a game can achieve and that means everyone will and should love it?

    Millions of people dribbled at the mouth about Halo, and I found it very meh. A metric ton of PC RPG folks loved this game to death, but that does not equal everyone loving every part, or any part of it.

    Oops, sorry, I’m a Shamus fanboy. My thoughts must be completely passed over.

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