Geralt of Rivia: The Last Champion of PC Gaming?
Well, not likely. But he’s certainly the posterboy for it right now. The first Witcher title was a relatively low-key affair. Built on Bioware’s Neverwinter Nights engine, Witcher came from the relatively unknown CD Projekt RED, based in Poland. The first release was buggy and had some glaring problems surrounding a solid PC game.
In the first instance of the “CD Projekt RED is awesome” initiative*, however, the developer released a huge patch for the game that fixed translations and animations, improved textures, and chopped the loading time by around 80%. The problems were pretty egregious before, but even so it’s not often a developer will go back and invest a million dollars in a game they’ve already released.
I loved the first game. I’ll admit, it took me four tries to actually get past the first couple hours, but once I did, you could hardly tear me away. It’s easily one of my favorite PC games. So you can expect that I had high hopes going into the sequel. Good thing CD Projekt RED is awesome.
The sequel arrived this spring with a brand new engine, some some of the best PC graphics out there, and zero DRM.
When most series hit their second iteration, they get a minor graphical upgrade, a couple add-ons to the major mechanics, and a new story. Assassin’s Creed is a perfect example. Each new title adds some more weapons and strategic options and by the end the Ezio Auditore de Firenze is carrying so much crap on his person that he might as well be a Sherpa.
Witcher 2, instead, overhauled combat. Without the NWN engine holding them back, the developers were able to do something closer to the combat they wanted. The major elements are still there—silver and steel swords, alchemy, and signs—but they exist in a free-form system more reminiscent of the recent Batman games than of the semi-turn-based system it originated in. When I try to think of other series that changed the basic functions of their combat and pulled it off, nothing comes to mind, except for Witcher.
The game also released sans DRM. At least, on CD Projekt’s Good Old Games service. This was a risky move for the developer; it opened the door for massive piracy. And pirated it was, to the tune of 5 illegal downloads to one legal download. But CD Projekt stands by its decision. Not only is Witcher a great PC game series, it’s a great example of a developer and publisher walking “the walk” when it comes an Anti-DRM policy and continuing to treat their devoted fans (like myself) with respect.
My biggest fear is that that’ll come back to bite CD Projekt in the proverbial ass. Witcher is a rich series – five books and a collection of short stories give the dev plenty of backstory to work from, and I’d like them to get through all the good stuff. The world of the Witcher is a lush, memorable low-fantasy world. Characters like Geralt and Triss are some of my favorite to check in on. Just like the first Witcher did more than hint at a sequel, we already know Witcher 3 is on the way, and I can’t wait to see both what’s in store for Geralt and for the series itself.
*That’s what I call it, anyway