I’m midway through The Witcher 2 and I’m struggling to love the series the way reviewers and audiences seem to. The issue isn’t the production values. The Witcher 2 is very much a Mass Effect style game with all the technical qualities that come with such a statement. What Witcher has in technical quality it lacks in setting. For all the obvious love that went into this game, I’ve noticed several reasons why it just can’t measure up.
When I first jumped into The Witcher, I was impressed by the consistent moral grey area and lack of obvious choices. It felt like a world where unpredictable things happened and the best of plans didn’t always work out. A game and a half in and I’ve noticed the patterns. The humans are some combination of ignorant, racist, and smug. Non humans are old Tolkien stereotypes under persecution that Dragon Age modelled better. The foundation exists to say something about race relations or to build an interesting history, but instead The Witcher squander’s that potential to rehash the same views and stories with little variance. The world always seems characterized by humans ignorantly hating non humans and non humans fighting a guerilla war in response. The series has many variations on that theme (human pogroms against non humans, attacks by non human resistance, discriminatory lords abusing non humans, etc), but doesn’t move beyond that one note. I hope CD Projekt Red evolves the world beyond the limit direction it has taken it so far.
It lacks wonder.
The opening of The Witcher 2 is truly grand. The Witcher (Geralt) walks through a camp readying for war. In front of him are soldiers checking their gear, explosions from enemy munitions, and a grand battle on a massive scale. It’s a great introduction and inspires a sense of epic adventure. Unfortunately, just about every scene after that is cramped villages and generic forests with a hefty coating of dirt and grime. While The Witcher’s universe is meant to be bleak, it doesn’t need to be boring. One of the great advantages of a fantasy universe is how it creates opportunities for wonder on a scale unshackled by reality. Fantasy universe’s have infinite opportunities for wonder that ought not be wasted on the mundane aspects of existence. The developer should use this opportunity, not waste it.
It thinks high politics matter
I haven’t seen this sin in a while and it hasn’t improved any with age. No one cares about the high politics of a made up universe. Seriously, we can barely get people to pay attention to the politics of the universe that they live in which people actually die. You think anyone cares about the potential for war between two made up countries or the clash between nobility shown entirely off screen? If a developer is going to introduce this kind of politics, they need to work hard to make it personal to the player. Otherwise, the player will skip over your long, detailed story about the fight between Temeria and Nilfgaard.
It has a teenage sense of maturity.
I remember the early days of video games as they took their tentative first steps into the world of mature themes. Back then, developers defined maturity like your average teen rebelling from their parents. Cussing is shocking! Boobs are so hot! It’s hard not to see parallels with The Witcher’s universe. The relentlessly dark aesthetic doesn’t add weight to the universe, it’s just bleak to the point of dull. Constant cussing imparts no additional edge to the characters. Treating women as sex dolls (did you know everyone wants to sleep with Geralt? They do.) and adding nipples on dwarven statues doesn’t make a game sex, just misogynistic and embarrassing. It’s time to age the maturity of The Witcher beyond kids getting aroused from Victoria Secret catalogues.