by Marko Susimetsä
previewed on PC
Origins of The Witcher
The Witcher is the upcoming and long-expected single-player action RPG from CDProjekt and presents a high fantasy world that is promised to be darker and more realistic than many others. For most English-speaking readers, this world is a big unknown - as of yet, there are no English translations of the novels and short stories written by Andrzej Sapkowski, the creator of the brotherhood of Witchers and the world around them. All we can do to find out about this world is to look into the materials released by CDProject and wait for the first translations of the books that should be coming out next year (2007).
The world of the Witchers is inhabited by the traditional high fantasy species: elves, dwarves and gnomes, as well as many monsters. Humans are once again the dominant species, but the darkness of the setting comes apparent from the relationship between the humans and the other species. Instead of living in awe of elves and dwarves, the humans very often repress and persecute them. Elves fight a desperate guerrilla war against the humans, and dwarves live in ghettos around human towns and cities, basically in servitude to humans.
The game takes place in the Northern Realms of the world, warring against each other and threatened by a more powerful southern empire. In the meanwhile, the winters are growing longer and the days colder, the roads are swarming with monsters, wild animals, bandits, rogues and starving peasants. Savage elven warriors roam the forests, and unpaid soldiers form bands and set upon ordinary people.
The Brotherhood of the Witchers
The only people standing in the way of monsters and the approaching darkness are the Witchers, a mutated caste of warriors whose task it is to protect people and kill monsters - for a reasonable fee of course. Their mutations allow them to be the best swordsmen in the Northern Realms, but even their fate is threatened as dark forces attack their last remaining stronghold, leaving most of them dead and the surviving members scattered in the Northern Realms. The hero, a member of the Brotherhood of the Witchers, called Geralt, is left alone to discover the mysteries and find out more about the impending doom than hangs over the world.
As you can see, the world of The Witcher is pretty grim. Issues that are normally avoided in fantasy works, such as racism and totalitarianism, are very much part of the world, making it more realistic than what many gamers have gotten used to, although such dour worlds are sometimes seen in literature. But where the setting might be more realistic than the usual fodder, CDProjekt has gone a step further and made a great effort to bring the same level of realism to the other aspects of the game.
Graphics and action
The Witcher has achieved an astounding level of graphical detail and depth that is apparent in the screenshots, but even better when observed live. The graphics engine used, an updated BioWare Aurora engine, may be a few years old, but after the heavy updating the core's age is in no way apparent in the way it handles the graphics and action in The Witcher. The graphics show beautiful water reflections and other shaders, making the world as real as the artists can draw it. The passing of the time is shown very beautifully as the lighting of the environment changes between midday and midnight, and the weather changes smoothly between sunshine and dark and stormy weather. Furthermore, the different kinds of weather are not situation- or location specific, but the weather changes dynamically and realistically as the game progresses.