Wednesday, November 05, 2008

And so it ends

Nah, I'm not talking about the election. That was over weeks ago.

I'm talking about the Witcher.

The end of the game dragged on a little too long. The evil bosses kept summoning bad guys and running away, delaying the inevitable confrontations. But defeating bad guys is hardly what the game was about's about the babes.

I arrive back in the city of Vizima to find it in flames. A full-scale war has broken out between humans and elves, and Shani's in the middle of it, playing field medic to both sides. And as the fires spread, and the fighting gets more desperate, word gets out that she's in trouble. No one can save her, of course, except me.

Thank you, game designers. When you forced me to choose between Triss and Shani, and Shani stopped speaking to me, I was annoyed. But now that you've given me the opportunity to make amends, all is forgiven.

You have several meaningful choices in the Witcher, and one of them is whether or not you get involved in this war. You can fight on either side, or just stay out of the whole thing. Since the clouded ideals and brutal tactics of both sides disgusted me, I chose neutrality, and on this day, it was by far the most rewarding path.

I waded into the heaviest of fighting, dragging with me two nurses who needed to reach the hospital. And honestly, while both sides are hostile towards me, they're so busy killing each other that it would have been simple to sneak through the streets and avoid conflict. But that wasn't going to happen. Not when Shani's in danger, and these fuckers are the reason.

I slaughtered indiscriminately. I whirled and stabbed and burned anything that moved. Humans, elves, dwarves...fighters, civilians, refugees fleeing the battle...everyone fell to sword and fire. I stacked up corpses first by the dozens, and eventually by the hundreds. I couldn't be bothered to loot the dead, not so long as more were still alive. I killed until Shani was safe, until my rage was sated, and then I killed some more. When I made it to the hospital, Shani wasn't exactly glad to see me. Still, there were two more groups who attacked, and after I fought them off she was grateful. Not grateful, but at least she was talking to me again, without a single snide remark about my pet sorceress.

I have to post this one last card. The two nurses were only too happy to thank me for leading them safely to the hospital (but only after Shani left - they knew she'd be jealous.) But check out the dead/dying guys in the background...too funny. I'm definitely a little light in the scruples department, and the character I play in game is even worse, but I'm still not sure how much I could enjoy a menage-a-trois in front of a bunch of dying soldiers. Call me sentimental.

At the end of the game, leading up to the epic battle, I'm joined by Triss Merigold. Abigail the witch also appears and offers aid. Celina, another conquest, shows up in wraith form to fight alongside me (I'll spare you the long, boring story about how she became a wraith.) Even princess Adda appears, and kills enemies with me in werebeast form.

That's the real strength of the Witcher - the choices you make have a meaningful impact on the game. Obviously, Abigail wouldn't have appeared to help if I'd let the town lynch her. Princess Adda wouldn't have helped if I killed her when I learned she was a werewolf. I've skipped the whole Celina backstory, but chances are she's only there if I make certain choices as well. And who knows about Triss? Does she help if I pick Shani over her? Or does Shani fight alongside me instead? And what happens if I choose a side in the war instead of killing everyone? Not to mention all the minor choices I made along the way, like inviting Carmen to the party and then helping her later find true love.

The Witcher is absolutely terrible in some respects - the anachronisms are jarring when characters throw around words like "psychoanalysis" and "terrorist", monsters are occasionally misspelled (you kill a Koschay and get a Koschey's heart), and models are reused shamelessly. Yet the interaction with other characters is well thought out, and at times, very well written. (At other times, bleh.) The choices you make are varied and impactful, but never black-and-white. In most games, if being good gets you one more gold piece than being evil, I'll be good, and vice versa. But The Witcher encourages much more immersive role-playing by offering valid options and true moral conundrums, instead of simple good vs. evil.

Coming back to Abigail as an example...the town where she lived was terrorized by a curse. The townsfolk believed her to be the cause, and while they had no conclusive proof, a little snooping on my part did find some evidence pointing in that direction. She claimed her innocence, of course, and said the curse was a result of the townsfolk's own evil actions. There was plenty of evidence of their evil as well, although they blamed the witch for influencing them. When the lynch mob comes for her, and you can't talk them down, what's the clear choice? Let them have the witch, who is possibly innocent, so that only one dies instead of many? Or slaughter the whole mob, punishing them for intending to kill without justification?

The Witcher is full of rich choices like this one, and the characters who survive with you never completely drift away. This is more than enough to make up for the game's shortcomings, which are many. I'm not tempted to play it again just yet, but maybe once my Gears 2 fix is over, I might replay and see how different decisions affect the outcome.


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