The Witcher 2, as reviewed by a table top gamer.

This review is based on roughly ten hours of game play, and will therefore have very little in the way of spoilers, but I will spoil something right from the get go; this is not a glowing review. If you have played the game to its conclusion and feel that my opinions are less valid due to only playing the start of the game, I’m going to have to side with Charlie Brooker on this one. If a TV show (in his case Dollhouse) doesn’t grab you in the first three episode, it’s failed. Saying that you should stick with it because it gets better later is so much poo; why would a TV show punish us by making us watch three hours of tripe before getting to the gooey center of loveliness?

This was very much how i felt about this game. A little background on it first I think. It’s based on the novels of Andrzej Sapkowski, as was the first PC only installment, and I have heard some very positive reviews of both books, and they have made it onto my pile of stuff to be read. Said pile is in fact an entire book case full of stuff, but it’s on there nonetheless.

In the game itself, you play the eponymous Witcher – named Geralt of Rivia – who is basically this big scary dude with scars, who has a couple of close combat weapons, some spells, some bombs, can cast runes and lay traps, throw knives at dudes, mixes potions to drink or rub on things and also exists in world where the NPCs have never seen a Hong-Kong action movie. because of this they don’t have the ‘run up and attack once at a time’ mentality most RPG gamers are used to (I’m looking at you Assassin’s Creed).  For this reason they all to decide to attack on mass, which is much more effective and a bit more scary. So far so awesome, and I have to say I loved all the cool stuff you could do in combat to tip the odds in your favour, especially because if you don’t do them, the odds are stacked so high against you, death is inevitable.

Plot wise, from what I saw, is nothing too inspiring when considered from outside the game, but when playing it, makes for some damned fine writing. Kings and bastards, with traitors all around, and only the Witcher – whom no one seems to like in the slightest – being one of the few guys trying to right the wrongs of the world. As I say, doesn’t seem like much, but the details are in there and once you get into it, the rewards are some killer writing hooks.

I can hear my readers scratching their heads in puzzlement right now, since this seems like a much more positive review than they were led to expect. ‘There must have been something that made him take the disc out and go back to playing Skyrim‘, I imagine you all saying, a quizzical look making you all appear even more attractive than you already are, if such a thing is possible. The best way for me to get across my dislike of this game is to imagine it as an old fashioned pen and paper RPG (‘old fashioned‘? the kind of gaming I still do on a weekly basis).

This game is run by a GM with a near legendary reputation for running games. The world he has woven for you is beautiful, every tree he describes is fixed in your senses as a sight to behold. His NPCs are better rounded than some of the actual player characters, each with their own personality and full of insightful things to talk about, just as you walk past them! When he runs combat, it’s a joy. A challenge every time, with so many options, but all of them used so intuitively, they seem like the most natural things in the world. Added to that a genuine feeling of consequences if the combat doesn’t go your way. It’s quick, but immersive, and even the NPCs act like they’re playing to the same system as you, not just going through predefined moves set out in a GM’s handbook. As mentioned above the plot is wonderful, such a simple idea made wonderful through subtle twists and turns of characterization and larger social ideas. Why then, did I not stick with it?

Because the GM is a dick. harsh, I know, but by giving an example re-imagined as an interaction between the player essaying the character of Geralt and his douch-tastic GM, as the trail of some bandits leads them to a sinister hideout;

GM: You’re told that they hangout at a graveyard to the east of the village.

Player: Cool, is there a graveyard on my map?

GM: No.

Player: Oh. Well I guess I just walk out the village heading east then.

GM: You have no compass.

Player: Oh, but I think I can figure out looking at the few landmark son the map, and just head out until I find out.

GM: Good thinking. You follow the path you think is the right one, and keep walking for half an hour, eventually ending up in a swamp.

(there was about twenty random encounters on the way to this point)

Player: OK, is there a swamp on my map?

GM: No.

Player: I guess I’ll head back and try a different path then, they did say the graveyard was only just outside the village.

GM: It takes about forty minutes to get back to the village. You get lost twice and twenty bandits attack you.

Player: For fuc… OK, can I just ask someone for directions?

GM: Of course you can, they tell you it’s to the east.

Now, imagine over two hours of this kind of thing, and I eventually give up and go online, finding dozens of people who had the same problem, but that you can actually see the gate of the graveyard from inside the village, but have no way of telling that it is actually a graveyard.

There were a dozen such problems like this I encountered playing through the second quest I found (something about  a troll), far too many to bore you with here, but all of them left me feeling like the game was run by the douchiest of GMs in the world. I know that games shouldn’t pander to players too much, but it should go without saying that the character will know things that the players doesn’t, and a half decent GM will take this into account when running a game.

So yes, I stopped playing. I have since shared this concept of GMing dickery with people who loved the game, and stuck with it through the opening tripe. Every one of them has not only agreed with me – they were also pen and paper gamers too, to be fair- but have given me other examples of this kind of dickishness running throughout the game.

If you disagree (and I bet there’s a lot of you who will), please post underneath that I’m wrong, and why – you may even change my mind, but you’re going to have to try hard). On the other hand, if you have had the same reaction to me, please share your crappy GMing stories, they’re great fun to hear.


6 thoughts on “The Witcher 2, as reviewed by a table top gamer.

  1. There’s also the ripped off names factor, any good GM knows that if you steal a character from another medium you change the names as it so rarely works to try and use someone else’s work in your games. Geralt of Riva is a character in David Eddings ‘Mallorean’ series, Geralt of Rivia is a very minor change and while the character is in no way connected it shows poor research on the part of the author…

    The tendency in this game to have the very best equipment in Act 1 available for manufacture only after the start of Act 2, by which time better stuff is available which makes all of the work you did to get the components seem totally futile…
    GM “if you complete this really involved quest you can have the materials to make some really cool armour”
    Player “okay, sounds cool, I’m in”
    Months of questing later…
    Player “yay, I’ve finally been able to make the coolest armour ever”
    GM “you walk through the bazaar on the way to the next big chapter of plot, someone’s selling 25 suits of the ‘incredibly rare’ armour that you just made an some stuff that’s even better”
    Player “wtf?!?”

  2. I had almost EXACTLY the same startup experience of The Witcher 2 (xbox 360) – having sat through some immensely well written dialogues and cut scenes. You’re not wrong in your assessment of this game Shorty but I hope what you’ve written is right about the books… they’re going to be added to my “shelves-of-stuff-to-read”.

    I haven’t brought myself around to playing it again, instead resorting to the pulp hack and slash of Diablo3.

    Most of my RPG hits come from LRP these days, time for tabletop sessions being a rare commodity (one tmnt session in the last 18 months *sob*). By its nature, LRP can be either very linear OR very “open world” – sometimes both. I’ve found tabletop to be more of the latter – especially with a good GM.

    The opening section of the Witcher 2 reminded me of a WFRP session I took part in back in the days before HUGS. I was in the second year of college – University a whole year away. Only one other HUGS type will recall those sessions in Slaithwaite but I can’t remember if “Hoppy” (as he was then) was in on this one.

    I shouldn’t be too harsh on the GM. He’s the person who hooked me into Palladium’s systems. The other person (who was responsible for an earlier immersion into D&D and MERP) had recently joined this session, he was my good friend Morelenmir.

    The GM (who was always the GM, never really enjoyed letting anybody else GM) had fawned over Morelenmir for almost a year – seeing him as some kind of cultural Adonis at whose alter he should lay laurels, accolades and fruit. Lacking the ability (or suitable grocers) our GM had persuaded Morelenmir to join the game.

    It was a return to WFRP after something of a Hiatus. We’d played a lot of Palladium games over the last couple of years but our GM had wanted to wow Morelenmir with his creativity and skill – so he’d chosen a return to Warhammer. Bearing in mind that Morelenmir and I saw WFRP as tedious ripoff of Moorcock at best and at worst the Terry Brooks of fantasy RPGs, at the time; this was not the GM’s best choice of strategies – still you work with what you know and back then there was less choice than now.

    Driven by his desire to impress Morelenmir, the GM spent far more time than normal setting the scene and quickly hurried us out of the obligatory “You all meet in the Tavern and get hired for a job” style intro. (Overused and not as good as my favourite “The noise from the explosion dies down, there are only the five of you left standing” intro). Never mind that we haven’t had chance for introductions and chit chat, we can do that on the road.

    Roleplayed chit chat is cut short frequently with newly crafted descriptions of the changing scenery and random encounters – to show our new party member that the GM can indeed handle random Wolf encounters. As I recall it, Morelnemir is playing a herbalist – a shock to our GM, who is more used to munchkin min/maxed characters (we were teenagers, it was forgiveable then – ish). And, much to the GM’s frustration, progress along this linear path was held up with searches for herbs whilst the rest of the party bickered or helped.

    Cut through some more dialogue, more searches for herbs cut short and we hit a key plot hook. Undead, in a graveyard, near the building we’re heading to – to kill some Necromancer or something (Think a 5 hour retelling of Drachenfels without the hot vampire chick or Jack Yeovil). It’s a tough fight but we make it into the building, where Morelenmir and I – now fully reverted to Armaitus and Morelenmir style dungeon crawling – start working our way room to room.

    The first room off the entrance hall is a library, again, beautifully described by the GM – who takes our description to the obviously false book case in the room.

    “Books, pah! Boring, I’m going to check another room” says I.
    “Well I’m going to look for a kitchen to brew up these herbs, we might need them later.” says Morelemir.
    The rest of the party wanted to look around too, furthering their own character archetypes.
    “There’s a book case that appears to be ajar, you think it might be a door to a secret passage.” Says the GM.
    “What’s on the other side of the entrance hall? Past the dead skeletons we just killed”.
    “What? No other doors. OK, I’ve checked my inventory and I have a cooking pot and water. Is there a fireplace I can set up a fire to brew these herbs?”
    “No. There are just shelves of books, one of which looks like it is open to a secret passageway.”
    “Oh. No other rooms. Any steps up or down in the main hallway?”
    “Not much of a manor house this. Maybe thy’re hidden by illusions, can anyone in the party detect illusions?”
    “There are no illusions, just a hallway and a library.”

    The GM is quite angry now and the players are reacting against the anger – as they sometimes do.

    Other players start exploring everywhere EXCEPT the secret passageway as the GM drops more and more clues to its relevance. Noises, chants and odours come out of the doorway as the player party start to gather books and wood together to make a small fire in the room, by which our new herbalist friend can make us potions to aid in the coming battle – it is obvious to our characters that we will have to fight something in that passageway and potions might help.

    As a last straw the GM tells the herbalist that he does not know what the herbs are and that he doesn’t think he can make a potion. The herbalist replies by looking for books on herbalism to help identify this local flora.

    Exacerbated the GM denies him. “No! You cannot look for books on herbalism, there are no books on herbalism! You must all go into the secret passage and fight the necromancer that waits for you in the next room!”

    Needless to say, the session was all but ended by this outburst and Morelenmir rarely joined us after that.

    I think the GM tried having the party attacked but whether he’d just decided we’d gone into the room or the necromancer came to us I can’t remember. In fact, with 20 years thrown onto the memory, some of the session is likely disjointed… I can’t even remember what I was playing… probably a munchkin min/maxed Dwarf Warrior.

    Once I’d got to University, most roleplay sessions died off until I met the HUGS crowd 🙂 Morelenmir and I played Rolemaster but I donb’t think I played with that GM again. Last I heard he had written his own roleplaying system but hadn’t playtested it outside 2 or 3 people – then he started talking about football and I moved on.

    Witcher 2 reminded me of that. Zero player free will.

  3. Pingback: The Witcher 2 – Reviewed by Roleplayers « Armaitus on…

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