During my inexplicable WoW hiatus1 I’ve been trying The Witcher for the 3rd time. I’ve installed and uninstalled it twice in the past, being frustrated each time by the amount of courier quests which take you from one end of the map to the other and back. That plus badly signposted irreversible decisions led to furious HDD wipes before even getting through the first chapter.
This time I decided to fully cheat and have a thorough walkthrough open while playing, as well as a recommended talent build ready to go as I played. Armed with this knowledge, and being better prepared for what I was getting into, I rerolled Geralt and plunged into the thick of it.
And it was better. Knowing most of the map already mean I could more easily adjust to the constant back and forthing, and the walkthroughs helped when it came to some decision point where I wasn’t sure what was going on (or worried about what was).
I rumbled through Chapter I, completing it this time, and actually enjoying the complexity of the questing and characters. The European heritage of the game shines through, both in the depth of the world building (based as it is on Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels) and the adult nature of the NPCs. There’s plenty of swearing, politics, racial tension, and sex on offer. Bad, women-as-reward ‘achievement’ sex, but at least it acknowledges that sex is a thing. There’s all sorts of sub plots, hints at a rich back story, and complicated cross threaded storytelling. It’s very different to standard Dungeons and Dragons based fantasy gaming, and all the better for it.
Feeling confident, I ventured heartily into Chapter II, which takes you into a city for the first time. The story changes to a murder-mystery of sorts, as you try and eliminate suspects whilst investigating the denizens of Vizima. Again there are plenty of complicated stories and characters, and the distances to be traversed are thankfully shorter (though still with plenty of back and forth).
The super annoying ‘drunk’ mechanic is, well, super annoying (you basically can barely see or move for what feels like 30 real-time minutes – though you can force the game to sleep it off by meditating). And the clever idea of using day/night phases to show/hide different NPCs is fun for a while, but eventually a bit tiresome. Having to meditate until dawn to generate an NPC, then immediately meditate again ’til midnight isn’t particularly thrilling gameplay.
Notwithstanding these tics, I slowly pieced together what was going on, and felt that the game was nearing it’s first story climax. I’d solved the mystery, had a suspect in my targets, and was ready to spring the trap…
… only to find that there was what looks like another 10 hours of gameplay before that was going to happen. 10 hours of trudging through a swamp, more courier quests, more sloowwww collecting of objectives. Slightly incredulously I mentioned this to a friend who recently finished (and is working on Witcher 2) who laughed and confirmed that the accursed swamp sub-chapter is indeed frustrating and time consuming.
Even with all the positives of the story, I couldn’t face committing more time into what was already 15+ hours of play to only be half way through Chapter I. It must be a 70+ hour game at this rate, which is beyond my capacity to complete I fear.
Which is kind of an odd position when I think of my /totalplayed in WoW: months, if not years. But an MMO somehow offers something different, the persistence of your characters, the evolving storylines, and the relationships with other players. The timesinks in The Witcher are pretty obvious and pretty weird, given there’s no financial reward for the developer in making us take longer to do something. MMOs on the other hand have got the timesink hiding down to a fine art. Catch 1000 fish but get a great hat? Why not.
The feeling that I’m wasting time playing single-player games is hard to ignore, even though it doesn’t really make sense – it’s ‘wasting’ far less time than an MMO. That feeling is something I guess I was trying to overcome with this latest endeavour, but while I haven’t deleted it off my HDD yet, I can feel the moment fast approaching.