This week, Polish developer CDProjekt announced, boastfully, that their 2007 role-playing fantasy game The Witcher had cracked the top 100 of the all-time best-selling PC games, having sold around 1.2 million copies. A reworked version of the game, called The Witcher: Rise of the White Wolf, is on its way to consoles this Fall as well.
I had actually intended to do a review for The Witcher long ago when I first bought the game shortly after its release in October of '07. Unfortunately, after spending many, many hours with the game, I re-installed my operating system and accidentally deleted all my save games. I shelved the game for a long time, as it's tough to find the motivation to re-start such a deep and complex game, but CDProjekt's release of the "Enhanced Edition" content—which was a free download for all owners and is now the de facto version of the game—provided a nice incentive to do just that. But unfortunately, by that time I was quite backlogged with numerous other totally new games that I wanted to play. I've plowed through most of that now, and have been re-playing The Witcher with the new enhanced content. I may still do a comprehensive review one of these days, but for now this humble little blog will have to suffice.
For those who haven't treated themselves to this little gem of a game, it's the story of a "witcher" (duh) named Geralt (pronounced with a hard "G", as in "Garfunkle"), who is a monster hunter in your typical olde tyme fantasy kingdom. The story is far too complex to recount here, but the game's unique twist is that, in addition to being simply a well-rounded and entertaining RPG, it forces players to make morally ambiguous decisions that often have significant ramifications considerably later in the game. The consequence's of one's actions are never as readily apparent as they are in games like Mass Effect where there is always a clear-cut "good guy" and "bad guy" path. In The Witcher, all the characters have their own plights, and while shady characters are in no short supply, Geralt often has to make difficult decisions about who to trust, and the game can play out dramatically differently from seemingly inconsequential actions.
Normally, a video game selling well isn't anything to throw a parade over, but The Witcher is a bit of a special case. It's the first big project from a mostly unknown European developer, and while the game is based on a series of short stories, it's relatively unknown and a totally new IP for video games. Its commercial and critical success is cause for optimism at a time when we are being inundated with sequels and generic, formulaic games with monstrous budgets. The Witcher was an ambitious and risky undertaking for CDProjekt, and it's nice to see them pull it off well and find enough success to become a multi-platform developer. CDProjekt has also done a fantastic job supporting the game, not only through a series of patches but through their excellent Enhanced Edition patch, which reworked significant portions of the game and added some new content, all free of charge.
It's also nice to see that there are PC developers out there who are still interested in evolving the single-player RPG rather than jumping on the MMO train that seems so du rigeur these days. Personally, I'm not a big multiplayer fan at all, and I really enjoy immersing myself in a big, complex game like this. For those PC gamers who haven't taken the time to check out The Witcher, this Spring's somewhat dry release schedule is a great opportunity to do just that. Console gamers, meanwhile, should definitely keep their eyes peeled for the reworked version of the game hitting PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 this Fall. I only hope that "consolized" doesn't translate to "bastardized", and console gamers get a game every bit as sophisticated, complex and fun as the PC edition.