Although I've played several cross genre type games that include RPG elements, I've actually only gotten into true role-playing games in the last year or so. My first was Oblivion, then Fallout 3 and now The Witcher. Of the three, I would rate The Witcher third, which by no means makes it a bad game, just not quite as immersive as the other two.
I do really like the character, Geralt of Rivia and the premise of Witchers is quite intriguing and based on a book series by the same name. Witchers are those who have undergone special rituals that ultimately make them uniquely qualified as professional monster slayers for hire. And this world is full of monsters. They are also versed in the art of making potions and using alchemical ingredients. The ritual has certain side effects with sterility being one, so they cannot have children. Witchers live by a certain code and never kill humans without provocation, but above all, they try to stay away from becoming embroiled in politics and usually refuse to take sides between opposing factions. However, Geralt lives in troubled times and will often be put in situations where he will have to choose, which results in making enemies of one side or the other. One of the RPG elements is to decide between supporting either of two factions or trying to remain neutral, which will alter the way some of the quests are performed. As with any RPG, your decisions will change the outcomes. In the Witcher you have three choices, side with either The Order, the Scoia'tael or try to remain neutral.
The story of Geralt of Rivia, who is also widely renowned as "The White Wolf", begins with a mystery. Found semi-conscious by some friends, he is taken to Kaer Morhen, the home of the Witchers. Shortly thereafter, they are attacked by a powerful mage who steals the secret formulae used in making Witcher mutants. The balance of the main quest line revolves around finding this mage and recovering the goods. Along the way he will meet many people, take on many side quests and make decisions on whom to support. By far, the most intriguing aspect of the story is the fact that Geralt is supposed to be dead. Many people witnessed his demise and yet here he is. Geralt himself has amnesia and does not remember people or events prior to this.
One of the main complaints with this game is the combat. The mechanics are simple although they take a bit of understanding on how the leveling works. It's a bit unusual in that the player's part is to basically pull the trigger, so to speak, at the right times and then the game performs those actions without further participation. It's actually similar to what is known as "quick time events". You are provided with two main swords, silver for killing monsters and steel for humans with each being fairly ineffective against the other.
There are five categories of leveling with upgrade options becoming available as you gain experience points. Each level adds a new combination of moves, so as you progress, you have the first combination, the second indicated by a yellow arrow, the third, fourth and fifth the same. Don't keep clicking during combat as this will interrupt the flow through each level's combination. Since people are mostly used to button mashing during action, this style of combat is not very popular, and if you are the type of person who grinds for levels, you will probably get very bored with these mechanics. The developers were responsive to this and removed it in the Witcher 2. However, once I understood how the leveling worked and therefore the sequence of combat moves, I didn't mind it at all and actually could appreciate each incrementation of the fight animations. If you pause during these attacks, you can see that the developers put a lot of work into them, but unfortunately the details are mostly lost in real time. You also have a choice of playing in different camera views and I chose OTS (over the shoulder) as being the style I'm most used to. However, in OTS, you can't see the field of group enemies.
One other complaint is that you can't re-map certain functions such as pause to space, shift to free cursor, although you can do it through assigning these keys to your mouse. There are also one or two bugs with random freezing during dialogues.
It's typical of RPGs that they can be very confusing about what to do once choices open up. Pick the wrong line of dialogue and people won't talk to you any more and quests could fail. RPGs seem to heavily depend on reading wikis and walkthroughs. Another trend of RPGs is ultimately struggling for money and inventory at first, but ending up with tons of loot, potion ingredients and collections that you don't really need or use. Eventually, there is nothing much to spend money on other than books. However, these are not just filler and actually have a purpose and advantage. For certain missions you need knowledge gained through purchasing and reading these.
Although many people really like the Witcher and I liked it well enough myself, I wouldn't put it top of the tree. I enjoyed Oblivion and Fallout 3 better in my short acquaintance with the true RPG genre. But I've got quite a few in my backlog including the Witcher 2, so we'll see. I like the character, Geralt, but Chapter 4 kind of loses it as it seems more like a run and fetch segment. However, Chapter five makes a comeback and is a vast improvement which ends this game on a strong note. All in all, this is a great series with an engaging character and a story that's good enough to have you wondering what's next for Geralt of Rivia, so on to The Witcher 2.