When he first published The Witcher in 1986, Andrzej Sapkowski would never have expected his first novel to do so well. Ignoring the success of the book franchise, his works have spawned three main-series video games, one spin-off card game, a critically acclaimed TV show and now The Witcher: Monster Slayer, an augmented reality (AR) game that racked a million downloads in its first week, pulling $500,000 in sales. Not bad for a first novel!
The Witcher: Monster Slayer brings you all the real-world fun of Pokémon Go and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, just with the grunts, gore and foul-mouthery of the franchise we know and love. The question is, how does ‘Witcher Go’ compare to these more established AR games?
Grunts in Witcher
You’re a recently graduated Witcher from the Wolf school, setting out and immediately meeting a merchant who is your stand-in for Jaskier from the Netflix series and helps you through your first quest. From there, you ‘team up’, like in the TV show, which basically means being followed around by a talkative Skelliger (Irishman), who you occasionally grunt at while ticking off some very well-written and voiced quests in exchange for coin. So far, so Witcher.
Sadly, from here on out, the established lore is draped around the franchise as loosely as Yennefer’s top in the show. Gameplay, and the need to generate cash for the developers, soon starts to fight the established lore.
There are a couple of important facts to know about Witchers. They’re super-human monster slayers who left their humanity behind in exchange for a series of extremely painful (and often lethal) mutations that help them kill the monsters humans are scared of. In this game, you frequently get your ass handed to you by the monsters you fight. You’re going to die, quickly and often.
Prepare like a Monster Slayer
If you want to stand any chance in a fight, there are a couple of things you need to do to prepare. First, you need to need to know what to bring to battle. Witchers carry two swords — one silver (for monsters) and one steel (for everything else). It’s something of a trademark. Sadly, you left school without the silver sword, so you’re starting with one arm tied behind your back.
This leaves you with the other two parts: oils and potions. Preparation is so key to the franchise that the trailer for the first game starts with Geralt drinking a potion, the toxicity ripping through his veins before he picks his sword. It’s as important as it is iconic, such that it is faithfully recreated in the Netflix show.
In this game, you slam potions like shots at the club, with zero toxicity.
So, what about oils? These are concoctions applied to swords, two or three drops at a time, that help you in your fight against certain monster types. Here, rather than making a batch that lasts for multiple battles, you simply smash it over your sword like a jock at a frat party.
Toss a coin to your
You’ll know why this is when I tell you that potions and oils cost money. Sure, you can make them by gathering ingredients, but that in itself requires killing monsters. Coin you get by doing quests or your one-a-day missions, reward you a meagre 50 coins, while a single battle against a medium-level enemy can cost you around 120 coins. Even with the 25% off the game gives you when it auto-equips what you need from the shop — there’s a reason your companion is a merchant, not a bard.
Bosses at the end of quests usually require a significant investment. If you die, you lose it all and the enemy heals back up to max.
This leaves the annoying dichotomy between wanting to actually play the game, which constantly saps your coin reserves, and saving up for the best weapons and armour, which are immediately available, but cost around £50 total.
There are other ways to up your stakes in battle, such as mastering the Parry. However, even a perfect Parry will leave you taking a chunk of damage, which means you always need to be on the attack. If you attack too quickly, the game won’t register your parry in time.
There is an RPG element tied to this, with levels and skill points you can invest in bettering your character, but it really is such a grind. I don’t know much longer I can keep playing it.
Battling bugs, not monsters
This is ultimately a game with a lot of potential that is being totally squandered. This is something that the Beta community seems to be echoing, with very few monsters or features added since January and continued stability issues causing headaches.
Pokémon Go players love hating the game for its myriad bugs an issues, but it doesn’t hold a Litwick to the issues faced here — never before have I played an AR game so unstable. Running this in the background (if you switch apps or stop to use your phone as a phone) makes it crash roughly half the time. It has also crashed several times while taking screenshots for this review, which is uniquely unfortunate.
The quests are buggy and ill-designed too, which is probably the final nail in the coffin. The Witcher forces you to walk around, but you can’t just click on everything like you can in Pokémon Go. Instead, each quest sends you to a given location on a sparsely populated overworld map, usually to somewhere a kilometre away — I’ve had a school playground, the middle of a river and a train track, none of which are ideal. While you can relocate quests if you move far enough away from them, this brings its own potential issues, especially if you live in a rougher part of town.