Exhausted. Weary. Done. Finished. I first played this game when it first came out; finished my first playthrough after roughly 80 hours. I enjoyed the experience, though I was glad to see it end. 3 years later, I got back into it again, knowing that there were expansions to play, updates that polished the rough edges (reducing the number of bugs and annoyances), and graphic enhancements which make the game look spectacular (something only the modding community provides, but CD Projekt Red is a beast of a game company that truly cares about its customers and its product, so they did the enhancement themselves with the update). With the expansions, I think I clocked in at over 100 hours, maybe 110. And I don’t intend to get back into this for a long time. I started this up again soon after I finished a playthrough of The Witcher2, which was several months ago. I thought I could plough through this and then play on New Game+ and take that into account for this review. But I don’t have the willpower. I don’t think I can invest that many hours into something like this without taking so long of a break I forget some story elements. I don’t intend to get back into this game for a long time, even though I enjoyed the experience.
Make no mistake, this game is a masterpiece. The gameplay has improved that found in Witcher 2. They did away with Quick-Time-Events thank God (combat in of itself should be its own natural sort of QTE; come to think of it, aren’t all non-turn-based videogames QTEs in their own way without having to be obvious about it? Press this button now or you die? Jump now or you’ll fall? Shoot this enemy or he’ll shoot you? You know what, QTEs suck.). The leveling system is as good (if not better) than it’s ever been. The (open) world is more immersive than its ever been in any other Witcher game. The diversity of choices and the short/long-term consequences they entail are numerous to the point of mind-boggling (there’s like, what, 20 different endings you can get with just the main story, never mind how the side quests can turn out. And no rational individual will complain about the game being too short or lacking in content (as if they could bitch about that with the other 2 games).
While the story isn’t as good as that of its predecessor, it’s a solid enough conclusion to this game trilogy, and easily ranks among the best game franchises that has ever existed. And it went out with a bigger bang than Mass Effect 3 (I’ve been comparing the Witcher games to the Mass Effect games so far, why stop now?). The characters are all as memorable as ever, and some of the side quests are just as memorable, if not more-so, as the main quest itself. And like the other Witcher games, you will be faced with decisions that will challenge you on an ethical level. Many players have different experiences with the story due to the decisions they made, due to their thought processes, and it can be a real conversation-starter when discussing why they chose one path or another.
So why do I give this only 4.5 / 5 rather than 5 / 5 like I did the 2nd game? It’s not because of the bugs and glitches, though they are there (no open-world game this large is ever going to be bug-free, not in this day and age). It’s not because the gameplay is worse (it’s better). It’s purely for selfish and personal reasons. There are two reasons, and both have to do with the narrative (what can I say, the narrative is the main reason I play these games).
1.) The main story gets docked a partial point. Why? Because of Ciri. Don’t get me wrong, her character is fine, the motivations she has and everyone has for seeking her out is fine. But the whole, “She has powers greater than anyone else,” element got on my nerves at a couple points, especially when the Wild Hunt lays siege to Kaer Morhen. Once a significant character gets killed, and it looks like the Hunt will finally get Ciri, she all of a sudden goes apeshit and scream forever (arguably to the point where it gets comical) and emanates this power that the Wild Hunt can’t take and are thus forced to retreat. That’s the big eye-roll moment for me. I was willing to take her powers of fast movement and exceptional strength. She was strong, yet still vulnerable. But once that bit happened, it just comes off as a deus ex-machina. And the whole, “She can’t control her powers,” excuse just makes it worse. I hate this shit of pulling magical saves out of your ass at the last minute. The other two Witcher games had magic, but kept them firmly grounded with their strengths and weaknesses. But that moment reminded me of the most irritating elements many animes contain. Thankfully, this only happens once, maybe twice, tops. But since it impacts the story, I can’t ignore it.
2.) The side-quests and in-depth lore. Again, the side-quests are fine and all, and the lore is great. But I can only stand delving into them for so long before my, “Can we just get this fucking over with already!” personality gets unleashed. Perhaps I am to blame, I don’t tend to play these games in small doses. I sprint through them for consecutive hours on certain days. But just because I do that doesn’t mean I’m not invested and interested in all the little details the world has to offer. But there was too much for me. And the side-quests get monotonous after a while, despite the differences ins stories and characters, and the way some progress and how occasionally they throw a curve ball at you (like how taking on a monster contract usually has you tracking and killing a monster and going back to the one who posted the offer for a money reward, but sometimes something happens along the way the links to another quest, or takes an unexpected yet refreshing turn). Patterns begin to emerge after playing for a while. I suppose this is inevitable for any game that runs this long. And I shouldn’t complain since the secondary quests are optional. But some of them can have an affect on the game ending, including the choice of ignoring some specific side quests. It’s what I call too much of a good thing. Many won’t mind that the game has all this, and that’s fine, to each their own. But I base my ratings on my personal experience and on my own personal tastes, and that’s just how it is.
It makes me compare this to Skyrim. I enjoy all the side-quests much more in that game. I can’t get enough of them. So at some point, I had to ask myself why that is? Why do I enjoy spending just as much time (if not more) in Skyrim (modded, mind you) than I do in The Witcher 3? Then I figured it out. It’s not because one is primarily first person and the other is primarily 3rd person. It’s because Skyrim is more of a true RPG experience, where you have more control over your character, how he/she/it levels up, and what they do in the world. You have more control, more customization, and aren’t playing as someone else so much as you are playing as yourself, or playing as someone you want to be in that world. With the Witcher, you’re playing as Geralt. You can decide which choices he is going to make, but ultimately it’s still Geralt making those choices rather than you. Geralt will always act and talk in a way that is appropriate for that character and his personality, and no choice made in the game will contradict that. In Skyrim, it doesn’t matter as much because you have more control, it’s more about you. It’s also more immersive when comes to how you play and what your lifestyle is like. Being a sneaky thief, a sneaky assassin, a blunt-force warrior, an all-powerful spellcaster who shoots fire/lightning, a spellcaster who heals, a chemist, a smith, a mixture of any or all of the above. It’s a more personalized experience. With Geralt, you can only play a Witcher. Sure you can determine if you want to focus more on sword-based combat, magic-based combat, or being an alchemist who makes the swords or magics stronger due to alchemy, but you’re always going to play the same way in terms of fighting enemies in the open and slaughtering them in order to get things done (though some dialogue choice could prevent a couple battles from happening).
Because of those intentional limitations, the game is more narrative-based. The narrative is good, but it’s long. It’s not perfect, but it’s not disappointing either. Too good to say it’s terrible, not good enough to justify the game length. I felt a bit guilty when I stopped caring about what some of the books were telling me about the world and its history. I felt I was missing out when I stopped reading every letter I got. Because ultimately they all resulted in the same thing, go to point A to get this or kill that, then go to point B to see the resolution or see how to get to point C. In Skyrim it’s not much of a problem because you can see yourself as a character who goes through the world not giving a shit. But in the Witcher, it seems like you should give a shit. And it’s exhausting to give a shit for that many hours, even with the breaks, because it gets monotonous.
So this will make the game experience different for some people. Some will relate more to Geralt and the world, and will thus stay invested no matter what. Others who don’t relate as much will eventually grow tired of this and start ignoring some books/letters, and start skipping through various dialogue conversations in many parts of the game just to get through it faster.
I sort of had that issue with the first Witcher game, had much less of an issue with that in the second Witcher game (probably because it’s the shortest, though 30 hours is nothing to scoff at; plus it had the best story that I can always get invested in), but began to have that issue again with this game after about 30-40 hours. It sounds like I’m being ungrateful that there’s so many hours of content, but I would prefer to have every hour investing and enjoyable rather than just a certain percentage of those hours be enjoyable. And that’s the risk of having so much in a narrative-based game like this that isn’t as personalized as Skyrim; the monotony becomes more apparent faster.
But regardless, when those great investing moments are there, they hit hard, and make it worth playing through to the end. And the endings are a gut-punch in their own way. Some are satisfying, others a bit more devastating. It encourages replay to see how different decisions result in the different outcomes. But considering how exhausting this game can be, I’d rather just see the alternatives played out on a YouTube video by players who are more into this game than I ever could be. The two times I played, I was perfectly happy with the outcome (if you ask which ones I got, I’ll answer in the comments). And yes, the outcome was different for each playthrough.
The rating is one of respect and admiration. I wouldn’t feel good about myself if I gave it anything lower than a 4.5. I feel bad enough not giving it a 5. But a 4.5 is nothing to scoff at. This game is a masterpiece in it’s own right, and it’s made by people who are passionate about it and who give a damn about their fans (because of that, I pre-ordered this game, and I never do that; and I will do it again when Cyberpunk 2077 comes out because CD Projekt Red has earned that much of my respect). The game may be a labor at times for me to get through, but it does feel worth it in the end.
Oh, right, there are mods for this game. I’ll only mention the ones that I used for my playthrough. There are others, but I don’t feel like re-researching through them all again to recommend what are considered the best. Keep in mind, the ones I’ve downloaded aren’t likely the latest versions. Some might have made mods that are similar but better or easier to implement with less work. And I’m not going to lie, I thought the gameplay was pretty much fine without the mods. The weight limit seemed right, combat was fine, the graphics were good, everything seemed perfect. Except for the nudity and sex.
I didn’t use this mod just because I’m a pervert (though I am). It just always felt off going into a sauna covering your private parts. Kind of defeats a bit of the purpose in my opinion. Though this does relate to another issue I had with the non-modded version of the game. Compared to The Witcher 2, there’s an awful lot of covering up and hiding the sex scenes and nudity. Which brings me to…
Just seemed like some of the women in the brothels and whorehouses needed to be skimpier, or just altogether nude to advertise their assets. But that’s just to see those you come across as you journey through some cities (and no, I don’t use the “all nude” version, just the version that alters specific women types). It’s more for immersion, I swear. But the nude mods don’t stop there…
I don’t remember if I used some or all of these mods, but at least two are needed to work together to overcome removing the bra and panties during the sex scenes. There’s a few versions of these mods. But because I’m only a half-assed pervert, I didn’t opt for the whole, “All females are naked everywhere,” version. Just the one where it removed the undergarments. I went for this mod after dealing with that one witch who sought a plague and/or cure for the plague. The cinematic with her at the lake, it didn’t seem to fit the dialogue while she was wearing bra and panties. They talked like she was fully naked. It lead me to do a little research, and I found out they censored the game a bit to make it internationally friendly, mainly because some assholes in the Middle East won’t accept a game with that much nudity and blatant sex. But I’m a fair man. I believe in equality. No anti-game-censorship would be complete without…
Finally, a proper naked Geralt mod. Unlike the version in The Witcher 2 which made him dickless and without balls, his whole man-package is on display for everyone to see. And there’s one last thing to take into account…
…which contrary to some opinions doesn’t require a mod. It’s clearly obvious with the way the sex scene went with Triss that the camera angles got altered to the point where it’s distracting that there’s more going on than with what is being shown. Too many close-ups and weird cuts. If you don’t want to track down a video showing how raw they can get, you can enable Free Camera. To do so, you need to edit a file titled user.settings.
Once you type that in under the [General] section (assuming you don’t just need to switch it from false to true), you can press the ‘~’ key to activate the camera, fiddle with where it’s aimed at, and try to capture the good moments.
So, yeah, those are the mods I use. Feel free to do the same if you want more adult content (plus making it closer to the intended uncensored version that those pansy Middle Eastern people can’t handle).
Ah, but there is one non-adult mod I use, and it’s a simple but necessary one in my opinion.
This allows you to go to the menu during cutscenes, in case you need to answer a phone call, take a shit, or actually interact with real non-digital people (just in case you have a real social life). This is a lifesaver mod.
So I was playing through The Witcher 3, with all the DLC installed. And after, I don’t know, between 50-60 hours of playing, as good as that game is, all I could think was, “Goddamnit, isn’t this fucking game over yet? How fucking long is this thing?” I feel bad saying that, because it is a really good 5/5 game I plan on reviewing some time down the line so I can say I reviewed the entire trilogy. But I guess epically (I don’t give a fuck if that isn’t a real word) long games and me don’t always mix. I’m the kind of guy who prefers game lengths (as in from beginning to end of one play, not including replays) to be between 8-20 hours, maybe 30 hours if it’s good enough. And I knew what I was getting into, because I played it a long while back and I remember clocking in at just under 80 hours of playtime. Throw in a couple DLCs that each add an additional 6-8 hours of playtime, and you see why it is that game is so goddamn long. The Witcher 3 is one of those games that I just can’t power through like I normally do for most games, it’s too long for that. It’s more like one of those games where you just do 1 quest (either a main quest or a secondary quest, maybe throw in a few treasure/monster hunts for the hell of it), savor it and the details, and then stop. Rinse and repeat for another 50 sessions or so, and then there it is. Otherwise someone like me gets burned out. Granted, it didn’t start to happen until I was about 40 hours into it, but that’s 40 fucking hours! I thought about holding off on reviewing that game until I play it through again on New Game+ mode, but fuck that. That’s like doing a marathon of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the extended cuts, and then saying you’re going to do it twice in a row. Not me.
So what does this have to do with Resident Evil 7? Well, for starters, it’s an easier to digest game that clocks in at an acceptable 9-10 hours on a first playthrough on Normal difficulty, which gave me a sigh of relief compared to the daunting task of finishing a Witcher game. Snack time.
The Actual Review
Ok, so first of all, I have played most of the previous Resident Evil games.
Ok, maybe not most. Just Resident Evil 0 (GCN), 1 (GCN remake, which is the best way to play it, minus the dumb fucking decision to throw in the crimson heads), 2 (my personal favorite out of all the games, but that’s another story), 3 (arguably the best one next to 2), Code: Vernoica (the first Resident Evil game I didn’t really care for all that much next to RE:0, plus I hated them bringing back Wesker and making him and the protagonists come straight out of The Matrix), 4 (the main reason people like this game is because of the updated third-person gameplay which is done well, and the self-awareness at how ridiculous it is; I thought it was just ok, albeit an entertaining time regardless), 5 (played it co-op with another real human being too; otherwise the only memorable thing about it is finally seeing Wesker die, though he should’ve stayed fucking dead in the first fucking game), and a couple of the spinoff games which aren’t memorable enough for me to even remember the titles. As for Resident Evil 6, I skipped out on that shit. As far as I’m concerned, it got over-the-top enough with Code Veronica and 5; the franchise needed to die rather than keep coming back to life (which I guess makes the Umbrella Corporation a metaphor for Capcom).
And then this game comes along. So it’s more or less a reboot for the franchise, moving away from the superhuman heroics (thank fucking Christ), and turning to a more immersive 1st-person horror-shooter (not on-the-rails like House of the Dead or those mediocre at best Wii games). And it didn’t star any of the leads we’ve become accustomed to. And I’ve heard positive reviews about the game. So I decided to snatch it up off of Steam while it was on sale, but didn’t start playing it until about a week ago, when I found out that about a couple months after purchasing it they released a Gold Edition of the game. Well fuck you too Capcom! You see why I’m hesitant to purchase any brand-spankin’ new game within the first year it comes out (patches for bugs aside)?
So how was it? Eh, it was ok. I don’t know man, I don’t know if its because I’m getting too old for most games, or because I’ve played so many that it becomes very difficult to please me outside of nostalgia-baiting. Or maybe it’s because the current state of the game industry makes me a little sick to my stomach, more so that all the gross-out moments this game shoved in my virtual face.
I will say that, by the end of it all, it did feel like a Resident Evil game. But at the same time, it also felt like it took as many steps forward as it did backward, which frustrated me. The main thing to discuss in that regard is the one thing I usually play games for nowadays, and that’s the story and/or characters. Because games nowadays focus more on the look/feel/flash than they do on the gameplay. And when it comes to first-person-shooters (FPS), that’s probably all that genre has left going for it. Gone are the days where you could just play something like Doom I and II (the newer one from 2016 does not count) or Duke Nukem 3D, or Painkiller: Black, or Descent I-III. You know, shooters with virtually no narrative or story outside the instruction manual (back when games came with those), where all you had to do was get weapons and blow shit up. Those are a-dime-a-dozen, and it’s not exactly a high bar to meet when it comes to crafting an FPS game. So we need to have story and characters to help stand out from the rest and get us gamers more easily immersed into the game.
So, story. You play as some random dude who’s wife has disappeared, and you receive a message from her to stay away and forget about her. So rather than forget about her and get another smoking hot wife to bang, he decides not to heed her advice and go out into the middle of “I buttfuck my daughter; redneck swamp land” nowhere, and decides to approach a house that looks like it’s been abandoned for a few years, if not a decade, crawls through swamp water and sewage and bugs and rotten food and other shit (maybe literally) until he finally finds a backdoor into the house where she is supposedly located. You know, it might be because I’m not the heroic type, but I would’ve decided that she’s not worth this, and drove out of “I buttfuck my daughter” land back to “I buttfuck any hot chick who isn’t related to me” land (though with this franchise there would probably be a twist to that). I mean, at least in the other Resident Evil games, the protagonists were thrust into these sorts of situations against their will, and usually due to extreme circumstances demanding extreme measures. Either that or the protagonists were so muscular and heroic and martial arts masters that it just seemed by-the-numbers by their standards.
But I digress. Our protagonist eventually goes on to find his wife, who then goes berserk and kicks the crap out of you and saws your hand off, before you get captured by some redneck dad named Bubba who introduces you to the rest of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre family (seriously, the parallels are impossible to ignore unless you haven’t seen that movie; the original Tobe Hooper movie from the 70s, none of the remakes you smart-asses). Well, it got me a bit interested.
The thing is though, there’s something about these graphic styles for these games that put me off. Something about the 3D modelling, the way they talk, the way they act, how they can never smile right. And most important of all, how hard it tries to be realistic with the graphics. It’s just something about that sort of emphasis on realism in a videogame that just doesn’t suit me. I just can’t help but have the attitude of, “Who are you trying to fool? You could have the effects as bad as Goldeneye on the N64 or as good as, I don’t know, whatever game exists now that people consider to be top of the line in terms of graphics, and it would all be the same to me.” Bit of an exaggeration, but hopefully you see what I’m getting at. It might just be a personal thing, but I have a feeling I’m not alone in thinking this.
Side-tracked again; back to the story. So let’s just say that as the game goes on, the main villain/monster turns out to be some Ring/Grudge/Ju-On/F.E.A.R. chick. Alright, you know what? If this game is going to pull cliches like that out of its ass, it really should do so with a more tongue-in-cheek attitude. But it plays things straight. That trait is endearing in the first 3 Resident Evil games, but that doesn’t appeal to me here.
The last thing I’ll mention about the story, kind of. There’s this moment in the game where you have to “make a choice.” Whoah, a choice? Where your decision affects the events in the game as well as the ending? Do tell! There’s nothing to tell. Like most games that do this, it’s not really a choice. It doesn’t matter who you choose to save. Sure the choice does give you a different ending in the long-run, but it’s really stupid how saving one kills them both, saving the other gives you a happy ending with one of them living. Would’ve been more intriguing if saving one gets you that girl at the end, while saving the other gets you that girl. Not going to work that way, so the game just kinda beats you up for making a choice that seems more ethically wrong, I guess. So it ends up being a waste of time inserting this so half-assedly into the game. But it could’ve worked well if it had that tongue-in-(butt)cheek attitude. Hey, if this game is going to be immature about this shit, then so am I. On that note, when the decision came up, I chose the non-wife (Zoe). Why? Well because Zoe kept helping me in her own way with getting out of the place through a good portion of the game, while the wife (Mia) did nothing but do spouse abuse so extreme I’m surprised she didn’t resort to slicing my dick off.
There is a problem with this game, and I’m pretty sure I heard about it well-before ever purchasing it, but I think I chose to forget about it thinking, “No, that just can’t be.” But it’s definitely there (poor choice of words). So here’s the problem. There are no zombies. There’s not one foot-stepping, undead-moaning, dick-sucking zombie in this entire game. Nothing in this game qualifies as a zombie as far as I’m concerned (anyone who says otherwise is stretching the definition too far). Sure there are people who aren’t normal people, but they’re not normal in the same sense that all the regular enemies in Resident Evil 4 aren’t normal. You know, in Resident Evil 4, all those not-zombie people had a decent enough awareness, they could talk, they could run a bit, and they could weld weapons, and they could mutate and shoot black stuff out of their heads. Pretty much the same thing here, except the not-zombies in this game can pass off as normal people (at least as far as isolated hillbillies in a swamp can go for normalcy) . They walk and talk like normal people, but they’re just stronger than average and are almost impossible to kill by any regular means (but in a Resident Evil game, nothing is regular). And there’s only like 3, maybe 4, of them. The rest of the time you’ll either be against these black gooey man-alligator things, giant mosquitoes, fat blubbery fucks, and the lickers (when they show up). So boss fights aside (which are just mutations of the not-zombie people), there’s only like 4 different enemy types. And that’s it. Even the first Resident Evil game had more variety than that: zombies, zombie dogs, zombie spiders, hunters, zombie birds, zombie snakes, zombie wasps; and those aren’t even the bosses.
And speaking of bosses, yes, this game has enough variety in bosses to satisfy me. But Jesus Christ do they go over-the-top with these boss fights. Granted, they’ve been over-the-top ever since Resident Evil 2 (and it’s hard enough to resist a jumping the shark joke with the first game), but this game was aiming for more gritty realism goddamnit! The fights get more over-the-top as the game goes on, and so do the mutations and monster forms.
There are some nice nods to the first Resident Evil game. Once you get involved in this “game” section where you go through some traps and such, some old-school Resident Evil music plays, and some nostalgic sound effects will go off when you press some buttons. I appreciated the nostalgia. Also didn’t hurt that it was one of the more memorable parts of the game, going through these Saw-like sections. And the game almost convinced me that it was tongue-in-cheek. But only for that section, the rest of the game thinks it’s too good for satire apparently.
At a few points in the game you get to watch some VHS tapes, which treats you to some lost footage films done in the same vane as The Blair Witch Project. Now, the first time this happened I was interested, and there’s one other time where it does serve a legitimate purpose. But for the most part I found them to be irritating distractions. These should be sections that are cutscenes, but instead the game has you play as the person shooting the video (which makes zero sense for the last “video”), which gets even more annoying when you realize you can still screw up and die and have to start over.
As the game went on though, once you’re finally able to grasp what exactly is going on and how things got to be the way they are (ie why there are monsters), the game actually wasn’t half bad. Plus I also became sympathetic to the swamp family, noting how they were before and after the incident, and how they’re crying out for their souls to be freed. A bit of a touching moment I wasn’t expecting from a game like this.
So, despite my gripes, I can say the game is fun enough to be worth a play.
Now, with that all being said, I’d like to take a moment to talk about gaming in general, my personal opinions on the matter. As I said earlier in the review, I fear my tastes in gaming have changed. I fear I may not really be all that much of a gamer anymore. Honestly, I try to do board games more than video games simply because I prefer playing against other human players, face-to-face. You know, for face-to-face social interaction, something I believe society is in dire need of, rather than isolating ourselves and using social media as an illusion for legitimate social interaction.
Gaming to me should be fun. And fun games for me personally, from what I’ve determined when looking back over the years, come in 3 categories:
1.) Short and sweet. Basically games from the Sega Genesis and SNES time period, where the games were short, the difficulty was high, and you had to play it multiple times to get good at it. There are plenty of games that are that old that I would still play to this day, like Contra (practically any of them, especially Hard Corps), Castlevania I III and Bloodlines, Starfox 64 (or the SNES version), among others.
2.) Games with an engrossing story and good characters. The first one to really pull this off for me, which I still maintain to be the best (even if this is predictable) is Final Fantasy VII. Memorable characters in storyline so fucking good I was willing to bear through the typical issues plaguing J-RPGs (random battles, some grinding, repetitive combat). I’m not sure how I’d feel about this one today, but Skies of Arcadia on the GCN wasn’t half-bad either. Tales of Symphonia had decent enough characters and story, and a pretty solid real-time 2D combat system to go along with it. Kane & Lynch (the first one) I consider to be underrated. And Spec Ops: The Line, whew, that whole game is designed to be a huge gut-punch to those who play third-person shooters regularly and don’t think much about the people they kill (look at you Uncharted). Silent Hill 2 is probably one of the best, if not the best, character study games of all time. And, of course, Metal Gear Solid 1-4 and The Witcher 2. Starcraft is arguably the best RTS game in terms of storylines (especially if you read the background story given in the game manual), though I do need to play Warcraft III. Mass Effect 1-3 (though less so for the first one just because the side missions make the game’s pacing suffer considerably). So, in other words, games that you talk about like they were movies when you’re done with them. But God help you if you play a game solely for this reason, and it ends on a cliffhanger with no sequel ever happening (fuck you Valve for not wrapping up Half Life 2).
3.) Games that are paced well and do something right with the overall design, especially level design; and maybe throw in some semblance of a story as a bonus. Super Mario World could arguably be the best designed out of all the traditional Super Mario games in regards to level/game design. Resident Evil 2 is the go-to horror game for me to this day, mainly because it absolutely nails the zombie sounds, both the moans and the footsteps; and how it gets under my skin during the portions where no music is playing; it’s paced pretty damn well too, and has tremendous replay with different bosses you can face; and it really knows how to time a couple of those jump-scares; plus I believe limiting the player’s view to fixed camera positions works to the game’s advantage when it comes to horror and creating tension with the player. Doom I is the best Doom game in terms of pacing and progression, both in terms of level design, the weapons you acquire, and the types of enemies that appear. Doom II isn’t half-bad either, especially with the level design, but the pacing isn’t quite as there, and exists more as a reason for you to just go insane with the shooting, to just unload all those bullets into all those hordes of enemies. It’s one of the reasons why I believe level design is the most important aspect when it comes to crafting an FPS, the second-most important aspect being pacing (types of enemies that show up on each level, which weapons you have each level). Usually the one genre I cut a bit of slack are RPG games, especially The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, mainly because of the mods. Valkyria Chronicles I think is pretty damn good too in terms of gameplay (plus I think the story and characters are so unintentionally hilarious it should be a case study; they have practically every anime cliche/stereotype in the book thrown into that game). And there’s the Dark Souls games; these are games that aren’t afraid to challenge you, and it’s the kind of challenge that I like. And then there’s Master of Orion (the first one, from 1993), which I firmly believe is the best 4X-civ game ever designed to this day, despite the dated graphics (at least it’s not Atari graphics and older, my tolerance for dated graphics doesn’t really extend further back than the 90s). Lastly, I’m terrified of getting into X-Com: UFO Defense again, not because it’s a scary game (though it is tense as hell), but because of how addicted it is; first time I played, I started at like 9am, and next thing I new it was dusk; that scares the shit out of me if a game can make me lose track of time like that.
But anyway, there are some game genres I’d rather not touch just out of personal preference, like sports games and racing games (Grand Theft Auto V I guess could be considered an exception). Aside from those, I’ve become quite picky when it comes to games. Probably because I’d rather use my free time doing something else now. Then again, it could be because the people I used to converse with about gaming in general are no longer around, giving me no one to talk to about this stuff once I’m done with it. And no, writing reviews about games and bitching about them and/or praising them isn’t enough. Or it could just be I’m going through a phase. But considering how much less frequently I’ve been playing videogames over the past couple years compared to how often I’ve played in the past, I doubt it. I guess it’s possible to reach a stage in your life where you’re gamed out, and are only willing to game on things you know for certain are of high quality (ie suited to your preference).
As for Resident Evil 7, it’s just going to be another one of those games that isn’t really all that special to me. Entertaining and fulfilling, sure, but so is a burger from Burger King or Jack in the Box or Carls Jr.; just because it’s fulfilling doesn’t mean it stands out compared to the other games/burgers that are out there. And at this point in my life, I’d rather indulge myself in games that do stand out. As far as I’m concerned, most of those games are in the past, not in the present or future (with some potential exceptions, like Cyberpunk 2077).
So a while back I mentioned I was working on a couple projects, that I would eventually get around to making a post on one of them. Well, it’s time.
Rating: 5 / 5
It is meant to be a complete fantasy world so full of variation that the players have real choices to make, so full of diversity that no matter how many times it is played it can still surprise you with its situations, and so filled with detail that the illusion of a complete world is created. All of this is derived from the annals and possibilities of adventure fantasy. — Richard Hamblen, The General, Vol. 16, Issue 4
I backed this game on kickstarter, and I believe I can say this could turn out to be my favorite kickstarter backed game next to The Lord of the Ice Garden (which also originates from Poland, along with the novel series which that game is based off of, which currently doesn’t have an English release, sons of bitches). There are expansions that are coming out for this, which last I checked are still being tested and developed, let alone not released yet. I have played the core set 10 times at all player counts (though have only done a 4 player game once), and can safely say the game plays well whether it’s with 2, 3, or 4 players (though it does play best with 4).
The first thing that attracted me to the game was the theme (which is the main thing I tend to go for in games now, as my collection is covered in the gameplay department at this point, for the most part). It’s not enough that this takes place in Ancient Greece, with the mythological heroes, gods, and monsters present; they had to make it sci-fi too. Which I think is awesome, and something to consider next time they release a Cthulhu-based game by making Cthulhu turn his tentacles on his face into missiles that shoot out and blow shit up (or something like that). Certainly makes it more unique, as I don’t think I’ve seen this done before. Not only is Hercules (or Heracles, as this game likes to spell it) still strong and buff, but he’s also enhanced with cyberpunk technology, enhancing his strength.
The second thing that interested me, and this is what sold me on it (as it should any serious gamer) is the gameplay. Having multiple paths to victory, and none of them involving accumulation of victory points. Because let’s face it, games that allow for winning a competitive game in a manner that doesn’t involve victory points doesn’t happen often enough; same thing with games that have multiple ways to end the game. In this game, you can win by traditional area control (control 2-3 lands), by gaining control of specific regions (control 5 temples), by killing 3 mythological beasts (kill 3 monsters), or by controlling a region with a fully-built monument. Not to mention you get a choice of 4 unique characters, with unique starting conditions and unique abilities.
It reminded me of Runewars, which plenty of users on boardgamegeek.com have mentioned. It’s similar in that controlling regions can net you certain resources to help you win (in this case, controlling temples can get you priests which can upgrade your hero, and in essence your army), but the main similarity comes with the heroes. In both LoH and RW, heroes are sent to go on quests, and gain artifacts/treasures that give the hero and/or army special advantages. However, heroes play a more prominent role in LoH compared to RW. In RW, it’s perfectly playable if heroes are removed. In this game, heroes are mandatory. They’re needed to allow hoplites to moves around faster, so it becomes easier to gain control of regions, and to reorganize to defend your borders against other player’s hoplites. In RW, your army operates optimally regardless of what the hero does (though the hero does allow for a minor impact in combat in that game, plus some items they gain can help you win, but it’s very downplayed in that game compared to this).
However, upgrading your hero’s leadership to allow more hoplites to move isn’t the only option. It’s not always that easy. There are 2 other stats to upgrade on your hero, strength and speed. So sure, you can focus more on hoplite area control and focus primarily on upgrading leadership (you can move 1 hoplite per leadership point your hero has). But then you could upgrade your hero’s speed so he can move around further, and thus get to quests and monsters faster, or in the case of Athena and Achilles, move to a strategic position to prepare for or dissuade combat from happening in a region. Or you could upgrade your strength so you can draw more combat cards when facing monsters. What you may want to upgrade depends on the hero you choose, and the current state of the map (and how the other players are threatening to win).
The other decision-making point comes in where you wish to start off on the map. At the start of the game, you place your hero along with 2 hoplites in one region. From what I’ve seen, it’s best to start in a region that you can immediately gain control of, as in a region that only requires 2 hoplites for initial control. There are choices of whether you want to start in a region where a temple can be built, or a region that has a city. If you start off in a region (and control it) where a temple can be built, you can build a temple early on to get a priest who can be sent off to a monument to pray and upgrade one of your hero’s stats. On the other hand, if you start in a city, it becomes easy early on to gain hoplites (especially if you get control of a second city on your first turn, and then use the Recruit special action on the next turn to recruit multiple hoplites in each of those cities). Both are good options, and your threat level for winning will increase either way. And, once again, it depends on the initial state of the board and your hero when determining what the best path to take is. And it will take multiple plays to figure that out. ‘Cause, you know, replay value is a nice trait for a board game to have.
I had a few concerns with this game prior to playing it. The monster combat. Now, one of the other things that attracted me to this game was card-driven combat. No dice. There is only 1 die in the game, and it’s only used for monster movement or attack (or doing nothing), which I’m fine with. However, I worried that battling monsters could get too easy. Each monster has a sheet with wound slots on it. Each monster varies, some having only 5 wounds, others have as many as 8 (sometimes more if they get upgraded due to an event). Each combat card you have (save for 2 types, one of which is a wild card) has a symbol on it, indicating what type of wound it can deal to the monster. Each monster takes different types of wounds. So you can get involved in a hunt by prepping ahead of time by building up your combat hand until you have combat cards of the right type (each card representing a weapon; heroes have to go through a lot of weapons to take these beasts out), or go in without the right cards but hoping you’ll draw the right ones. But you’re limited to a hand size of 4, unless you get a blessing that increases it (more on that later). At the start of a hunt, you draw cards into your hand equal to your hero’s strength (that’s why that attribute matters), going over your hand limit, which is legal during a hunt. So the more strength your hero has, the more likely you’ll draw cards of the right type to discard against the monster and kill it before it has a chance to counter-attack.
From my experience, monster hunts actually work better than I anticipated. Assuming you do wind up with the max strength of 5 and draw that many cards into your hand, and holding 9 cards in total, even then, there’s a chance you might not win the battle. First, there’s no guarantee that you have all the cards needed to deal all the wounds. Second, while most monster attack cards tend to be 3-5 strength, indicating you must either discard a number of combat cards which strength number adds up to that amount or greater to block the attack (which results in you adding 2 more cards into your hand, giving you extra incentive to block), there are a few curve-ball cards in that deck to make sure victory isn’t guaranteed. For example, there’s a card who’s strength is greater the more cards you have in your hand, or one that is stronger when there’s less wounds on the monster, or stronger when there’s more wounds on the monster. That being said, more often than not, a hero with a strength of 5 who has the right type of cards in hand initially prior to the hunt is usually going to win.
On the other hand, it’s also possible for someone who doesn’t have max strength, or even a max hand size, or holds cards of the right type(s), to still defeat a monster when starting a hunt against it. At that point, it becomes a push-your-luck battle. Sometimes a player may want to defeat the monster, in which case he must consider which cards to discard for dealing wounds, and which cards to hold onto so that he can brace for the monster’s counter-attack. Battles can be prolonged by successfully blocking attacks with 1 or 2 cards, which allows the player to add 2 more combat cards to his hand for the next round, thus making for an interesting back-and-forth feel. Alternatively, a player may just start a battle just to deal specific wounds which could allow him/her to gain a priest or artifact (each monster has at least 1 wound slot of that type), thus providing another reason to fight a monster outside of just defeating it (though another reason for defeating it could be so the monster stops messing up their army by killing of their hoplites, that can get annoying). And then there’s the 3rd reason to fight a monster, though this isn’t something used often (most games I’ve been in went by without anyone doing this): starting a hunt just to draw combat cards in preparation for a battle against other hoplites, and having no intention of using any cards to wound the monster. Sure, this results in the hero taking a wound (which happens at least once when a hero fails at a hunt), but it is worth it if it helps out the hero’s army. Let alone going after a monster so that another player trying to win by monster kills has one less monster to kill, assuming you wipe out the monster. Because if you fail to kill a monster and deal plenty of wounds to it, those wounds stay, making it an easier target for every other player/hero in the game. Plenty of reasons to engage a monster, and plenty of tough decision-making to go along with it.
There are ways to slow a hero down when it comes to accumulating strength. Each monument only has 2 slots to place a priest. Once 2 priests are on a monument, no more can be placed there until things basically “reset” via the Build Monument special action. So having other players dogpile on the monument can prevent a potential monster hunter from gaining the strength necessary to make hunting monsters an assured way of winning the game (yet another reason why I recommend playing with 4 players, greater chances of blocking off priests at certain monuments). But that’s not the only way to slow a hero down. You can also intentionally start combat against their armies, forcing them to play combat cards they may have wanted held for hunting monsters and using them to help their armies win instead (a great game design example of having cards with multiple uses). After all, controlling lands/temples is an alternate way to win, and you can’t just let a player run away with victory via land control anymore than you should allow someone to run away with a monster kill victory. And lastly, there’s the Zeus monument artifact, which can be used to wound a hero who is in the lead. Thus the early-mid-game is a very important part of the whole thing. How you start out, and how you choose to slow the others down while attempting to get ahead of them, is all part of the game. Thus you shouldn’t allow a player to get their hero upgraded too far too fast (easier to do in a 4 player game).
Regarding the monument control victory, this one doesn’t happen very often, and it especially doesn’t happen if all players know what they (and their opponents) are doing. It mainly exists if all players are at a stand-off, unable to gain victory via monster kills, and very good at preventing the taking of certain territories. Thus getting a monument built triggers a sort of end-game timer, where whoever controls the monument at the end of a certain number of rounds wins the game. One way in which this can become problematic, indicating a broken system, is with the Glory tokens, which can be gained by killing a monster or completing a quest (thus you gain the glory token that matches the color of the regions you completed the quest or killed the monster). When a hero has a glory token, they can do the Usurp special action to immediately take control of a region, and recruit a hoplite in that region, and force any enemy hoplites there to retreat to an adjacent region. If the player who built the monument has the glory token for the land the built monument is in, then victory seems assured assuming no other victory condition is met up ’till then.
However, as I’ve learned from experience, one shouldn’t attempt to rush towards the monument victory. Because this causes more and more events to get drawn, and thus allows for more quests and monsters to appear, which provides opportunity for a quest/monster to appear in the region with the built monument, which provides opportunity for another hero to complete the quest or kill the monster, and thus steal the glory token from the player who had it. And that’s assuming you don’t cause more monsters to appear for someone attempting to win via monster kills. And the more often you do the build monument action, the more opportunities you give other players to upgrade their heroes and do the same special action multiple consecutive times. On top of that, the monument build action can be utilized by other players for the purpose of drawing more monsters/quests and adding them to the map to gain glory, or just to move a monster into the land with the monument, kill it there, take the glory token from the player, and use his own strategy against him. Thus the monument victory doesn’t seem broken either, considering the dangers of rushing it, and the risk factor of usurp. It’s more of a long-term plan, just in case all else fails.
As for the other 2 conditions, controlling 2 lands or 5 temples, those victory conditions can be pulled off suddenly and surprisingly with well-executed maneuvers. You have to keep an eye on players who control 1 entire land and a couple regions in some other land, and keep an eye on players who control 3 temples (and when there’s at least 5 temples built; you built temples to get priests so they can be sent to monuments to upgrade your hero in case you’re wondering). Because if you overlook that, then they can use a combination of normal hoplite movement and a march action to take the regions needed to win the game. While these victories can be the most surprising, they are also the ones players can most often see coming if they’re paying attention.
I’ve noticed that the easiest way to win via controlling 2 lands is in the lower lands, the green and brown lands, both of which are adjacent to each other. The reason this allows for an easy victory is two-fold.
1.) The city of Sparta, where 4 hoplites can be recruited there at a time rather than the regular 2. Thus your army can be built up faster if you control the region with that city.
2.) The brown land only has 3 regions, while all other lands have 4 regions, thus requiring more territory to take in order to control the entire land.
So one shouldn’t allow Sparta to be taken too easily, else they risk the player controlling it to build up forces quickly and start flooding the lower regions with troops. However, this can be mitigated, as invading from the blue and yellow regions can allow for territory takeover. It also helps that each player has a limit of 15 hoplites, so you won’t have an insane amount of hoplites on the board to flood territories, which helps out against whoever winds up controlling Sparta (assuming they don’t lose it via Usurp, or a regular battle). That’s why region control markers are necessary, so you can maintain control even when you have no hoplites in the region (heroes can’t control regions). However, if you leave a region vulnerable like that, all it takes is for 1 hoplite to move in there to steal the region, or have an opponent’s hero move into there to do the Prepare special action and recruit a couple hoplites into the region to steal control that way. And on top of all that, even with the high number of troops, if they keep fighting multiple battles, sooner or later, that player will start to get drained of combat cards.
Despite the fact that this game was still in-development and being play-tested during the kickstarter campaign (and I believe briefly after the campaign ended too), it has turned out remarkably well. The game developers responsible for this game (Marcin Swierkot, Adam Kwapinski) seem to know what they’re doing. This game isn’t just good looks, there’s some real depth to it. How deep it goes, I’m not sure. But what I do know is that the base game is this good, and there are expansions on the way, which will definitely increase the replay value. Each time I think there’s a way to break the game, I discover some strategy/tactic that proves me wrong. And while it does play best with 4, with 2 and 3 players, it still seems surprisingly balanced, even if I question the land change-up for control with 3 players (the blue land doesn’t matter for land control victory; I still wonder why they don’t just make brown the irrelevant region, but it still seems to work fine regardless; but I still need to get more plays to determine the strength of the Sparta city strategy). But most importantly of all, I find the game to be quite fun.
Highly recommended game.
PS: If you’re wondering why there isn’t a monument for Ares, the god of war, I honestly don’t think that’s necessary. Here’s why: war is already being fought all across the game. So Ares is already being entertained by all this, just sitting back, relaxing, and chowing down on his popcorn that’s been dipped in blood and wine (rather than caramel, because he’s too good for cracker jacks) and cooled in his cyberpunk refrigerator, and enjoying the whole show.
Note: I have only played this game with the Full Combat Rebalance (FCR) mod. Any input I provide based on the combat gameplay will be a reflection of this, as this mod does give the game a significant overhaul.
Yep, regressed from the 2nd game into the first one. Why? Because I recall from playing it years ago that it was decent so long as you were patient about it. Also because I wanted a refresher on some of the characters before getting back into The Witcher 3. And like in my previous review, I did a (modded) playthrough which I recorded, edited, and uploaded as videos in a movie-like format (currently ongoing). This proved to be more difficult than editing footage for the 2nd game because:
1.) I was nowhere near as familiar with this game as I was with the 2nd.
2.) It’s longer. Five chapters plus a prologue and epilogue vs. the 3 chapters and prologue/epilogue of the 2nd game. This game can easily run you 50 hours of playtime, and unfortunately not all of those 50 hours is fun (more on that later).
3.) Much of the stuff that I wished was a meaningless sidequest, uh, isn’t, exactly. Some of the minor stuff in some of the chapters ends up playing into the main quest of each chapter. That may sound nice, but it isn’t, because most of these side quests just aren’t very interesting (something rectified to the extreme in the 3rd game).
Gameplay and Comparison to Witcher 2
So here’s the thing about this game vs. it’s sequel. Aside from this being graphically inferior (that’s expected), the gameplay is also considerably different. This isn’t an over-the-shoulder (sort of) run-around hack-and-slash like the 2nd game. It plays more like a top-down point-and-click hack-and-slash ala Diablo and Titan’s Quest and Torchwood. You click where you want to move to, your character moves to that spot. You click on an enemy to attack, Geralt will proceed to do a sword combo on it (a combo that increases in sword swings and damage the more you upgrade Geralt, assuming you spend time upgrading his swordsmanship). And there’s 3 different attack styles: fast, strong, and group. Strong attacks are effective against enemies who are unarmored, fast attacks are good against those that are armored, and group attacks are great for when you’re surrounded by foes (though it’s usually best not to get surrounded or flanked). Of course, there’s also magic spells to cast, but I used those rarely in my playthroughs. Granted, if I played on a higher difficulty, that would likely force me to adapt to using spells more often, but the game isn’t worth putting that much effort into in my personal opinion. Others may find it more to their liking.
In any case, I found that I had to think more tactically in combat in this game compared to the sequel. In Witcher 2, I could mostly just hack-and-slash without much worry, especially on the later levels. In this game, I couldn’t do that, even when I was leveling up pretty high. The game succeeds at this partly by not increasing your vitality when you level-up, thus keeping things tense with each combat situation in each chapter. Plus it adds an extra level of interactivity by giving you a small window of opportunity to chain moves together by clicking on the enemy at the right time when the sword symbol changes to a certain shape/color. Click at the right time, you land more seamless blows. Miss it or click too soon, the enemy will likely get more decent hits in before you can start chaining sword blows again.
Leveling up is also different compared to the 2nd game. When you gain enough experience points to level-up, you don’t just gain “talents” to be spent on whatever, oh no. There are 3 types of talents, bronze, silver, and gold. Bronze talents you get on every level-up, silver talents occur less frequently, and gold talents less frequently than that. And these talents aren’t just spread across magic, swordsmanship, and alchemy like in the 2nd game, it’s more branched out than that. There’s a section for strength (increase damage), dexterity (increase dodging/parrying), stamina (increase resistance to poising/bleeding/etc.), and intelligence (making magic and alchemy stronger). That’s just one section. Then there’s a section for upgrading each spell type (Aard, Quen, Yrden, etc.). A section for upgrading silver sword attacks (good against monsters) in either fast, strong, or group style, and another section for doing the same with steel swords (good against humans). Don’t like it as much as the simplified leveling system in the 2nd game, but it’s decent enough. Did make for some somewhat difficult decision-making, which isn’t much of a bad thing, especially when you can see the results of your leveling choices and see where you may need improvement depending on your play-style. I don’t prefer use of magic, but others likely will.
And then there’s the potions and oils, which you make using an alchemy process. Potions strengthen you in some way, while oils are put on sword blades to make them stronger against specific enemy types (humans, specters, insectoids, etc.). Only 1 oil type can be applied to a sword at a time, while you can drink as many potions as you want (theoretically), but each potion you drink poisons you more, and if you go too far into the drinking, your health will start getting sapped, so you need to choose your consumption wisely. The main potion I consumed throughout most of the game is the Swallow potion, which regenerates your health faster than normal. So, yeah, you’ll be swallowing a lot.
Another thing about the gameplay is, like in Witcher 2 and 3, there’s a day/night cycle. Time moves, and NPCs will be in different locations depending on whether it’s day or night, or even dawn/afternoon/dusk/midnight. But unlike those games, this mechanic, while immersive, proves to be frustrating. It gets goddamn annoying when you realize time dictates when and where characters are that you need to interact with in order to complete quests, and you can’t fucking find them until you either wait or meditate to the right fucking time. This wouldn’t be so bad if this game had a tracking system as good as Witcher 2, where you see the destination/objective on the map which is tracked in real-time. Not so in this game. Each quest objective is always listed in the same static map position, regardless of the time of day, so you have to wait for that time of day to interact with so-and-so. This is why I liked Grand Theft Auto V, and least in that game, when you reach an objective and it’s no the right time of day, the game fast-forwards until it is the right time and lets you carry on from there. The day/night mechanic is more trouble than it’s worth, and it drags on the game length needlessly. The immersion is not worth this.
Another little annoyance is the running from one destination to another. Really wish Geralt could run faster from place to place.
Lastly, a lot of the NPCs are recycled. As in it won’t take long to notice that many of them look the same. Get’s particularly frustrating when some of the npcs that play a role in the main plot are hard to distinguish from some anonymous merchant on the street.
So that’s the gameplay. Then there’s the story. Long story short, it’s not as good as The Witcher 2’s story. Mainly because it’s not as intriguing with the plot and characters and political intrigue (though this game does still provide that albeit in watered down doses), but also because it takes a while for things to click into high gear. The prologue is typical introductory fluff. Chapter 1 is more of the same, with most of the events proving to be insignificant to what would come later, and is more of a stand-alone chapter to get the player more acquainted with the gameplay and the “decisions have consequences” feel. Oh, right, you do get to make choices in this game that produce different outcomes, but unlike the sequel, there are no alternate endings. Only 1 endings, and how you get there can alter slightly, and almost no decision you make will alter how the sequel(s) play out; save for saving or killing Princess Adda (whom you get to bang, of course), but even then it’s just a minor afterthought brought up in Witcher 2, and hardly even noticeable in Witcher 3 without a mod if I remember correctly.
So like I was saying, the Prologue does get the story going, giving you a goal and motivation. Chapter 1 more-or-less just gets you acquainted with the gameplay and only 2 other significant characters (for about 5-8 hours). Then comes Chapter 2, which is easily the slowest fucking chapter in this entire fucking game. So many sidequests that, to this game’s credit, do link up to the main quest. But in hindsight nothing really significant happens in Chapter 2. Chapter 2 exists to get you familiar with the main city you’ll be spending most of the game in, and those who live within it, and some backstory. The gangs, thugs, drug addicts, poor people, old people, the hospital, those infected by the plague, the knights of the Order, the town watch, the grave-digger, the humans and non-humans, some people from Geralt’s past, etc. It sounds nice and all, but not for 10 fucking hours with the plot progressing at a pace so slow even snails would be feeling sorry for you. Chapter 2 is a glorified detective/mystery, where solving it doesn’t really accomplish much or move the plot forward hardly at all. It’s just for atmosphere and getting you familiar with the world.
Thankfully, once you get past Chapter 2, it only gets better from there. The political intrigue picks up in Chapter 3, where you wonder about Triss’ intentions and ulterior motives, you get more involved with the conflict between the Order of the Flaming Rose and the Scoia’tael, learn some interesting things about the criminal organization the Salamandra, and how they link into different sects high and low, and how they are used by those sects. And it only gets better from there. And I have to admit, by the time it got to the epilogue, a plot twist came up that, to this game’s credit, I honestly did not see coming, even if in hindsight I should have.
Chapter 4 slows things down a bit, but not to the extent of Chapter 2. And, again, it slows things down so you can get familiar with a particular character who pops up off and on throughout the previous chapters (excluding the prologue). Then when it gets to Chapter 5, full steam ahead all the way through to the prologue. It becomes pretty damn difficult to stop playing the game once Chapter 5 hits. And it all leads to a potential “end of the world” scenario. You know, like just about every single fucking RPG game ever made because creators/writers/corporations think having the stakes set that high is the only way to have a rousing and intense finale. I always roll my eyes at plots like this about as often as I roll my eyes at forced love interests in both games and film, because both usually come off as cheap and easy ways to get the player/viewer invested in the character(s) and/or plot. If you want my appreciation, make the characters interesting via their interactions with one another, their motivations, their personal journey and character arc. Which is why I have an appreciation for Witcher 2’s plot because it accomplished exactly that. The plot isn’t about the end of the world so much as the fate of a nation (or several), and how the leaders have their own personal goals, how they each treat their own people, and how your character feels about that and if he will side with any of them, or none. On top of that, there are also character well aware of his amnesia who may or may not be trying to take advantage of him because of that. Is he being used? Is he choosing to be used? Does he (or anyone else for that matter) have free will? What’s the price to pay for existence? Did you do the right thing?
Now in this game, it does focus primarily on the purpose of Geralt, what’s his motivation, what’s his character. They make this simple by starting the game off with him as an unknown prisoner who breaks free to make a name for himself and save the world. Wait, I got that wrong, that’s like every Bethesda game ever made. They make it simple by starting the game off with him running through the wilderness being chased by some ominous unseen figure calling his name (like the opening to the Witcher 2, but with worse graphics and camerawork), and he awakens at Kaer Morhen (home to a school of Witchers), with no memory. Then the place gets attacked, and he is off on his own to find out about the attackers, get their Witcher shit back that was stolen from them, and learn about himself in the process.
Now, it’s the “learning about himself” that is key here, in an attempt to make the players become attached to Geralt. The player is faced at several points in the game to make decisions that not only have consequences, but determine just what kind of a character Geralt is going to be now. Will he be like his old self? Will he follow the Witcher’s code? Or will he choose a side in the ongoing conflict between the Order and the Scoiatel? This may seem a bit more common in today’s RPGs, and I can’t say this is the first game to do this (the earliest in current memory is Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic), but 2007 seemed to be a big year for games like this where this sort of “choose your own adventure” RPGs became more prominent. After all, this game was released in the same year as Mass Effect (though it doesn’t look as good from a graphic’s standpoint).
Now, while this “choose your own adventure” element seems nice and all, the game becomes a bit of a dick about the whole thing during the later chapters. If you choose not to remain neutral during the events of Chapter 4, characters in Chapter 4 and 5 won’t let you hear the end of it. Basically, the game is just straight up telling you, “How dare you play it your way! How dare you not stay lore friendly and true to the Witcher’s code! For shame!” Basically made me flip them the bird before reloading to an earlier save prior to one of those “choices” and go for the more neutral path. Yes, I’ll admit it, the game shamed me into doing it, and I was pissed about it.
So anyway, the story does get good, it just takes a while to get there. And by a while, I mean 15+ hours. This is not a short game. Hell, I positive it takes longer to get through than Assassins of Kings does. According to howlongtobeat.com, this game is anywhere from 10-15 hours longer than Witcher 2, and it feels that way during the early sections. But, again, if you have the patience, and can withstand some mediocre voice-overs and some slow slogs, the game does manage to feel worth it in the end.
Comparison to Mass Effect
It’s worth comparing the two (briefly) because, despite the fact that both games play completely differently and occur in entirely different settings, both games share similar flaws, and were released in the same year (2007). I’ll be the first to admit that Mass Effect is the better game compared to The Witcher. That being said, I’d be hesitant to play either game again in the near future, especially Mass Effect. Why? Because the decisions you are forced to make in The Witcher are more thought-provoking and intriguing than in Mass Effect, in my opinion. Plus, while the side quests aren’t THAT interesting in The Witcher, I’d take those over the monotonous side quests of Mass Effect. In The Witcher, at least the side quests involve some preparation and learning, where you have to prep yourself for the monsters to go after, and fight differently for each one. Some of the environments are similar (particularly the caves), but most of the time the encounters are in distinct areas to give them a different feel. In Mass Effect, holy Christ! The side quests sucked ass! Similar levels/rooms/buildings (to the point where I’m positive they were clones of each other), the same fucking enemies making the same fucking comments (which they took comedic jabs at in Mass Effect 2), and it became a chore real fast. But when it came to the main quest(s), I’d have to give the edge to Mass Effect. The story was told better and paced better, if you discount the side quests.
And also like Mass Effect 2, Witcher 2 could be played by carrying over your save file from Witcher 1 and have some influence over the plot in that game. However, it was much more significant in Mass Effect 2, just about everything you did in the first game had an impact in the 2nd game, a significant and noticeable impact too, even with those shitty side quests from the first game. In Witcher 2, to be honest, it really doesn’t matter that much if you carry over the save or not (again, something heavily rectified in Witcher 3). And that’s all the comparisons I’ll make for those 2 sequels.
In regards to the gameplay, Mass Effect is more involving, where you have to constantly aim and shoot (or aim and cast, depending on your preference), and had a greater variety of play-styles compared to that of The Witcher. Granted, Witcher has variety too, where you can focus on spells or swords, or a combination of both, but the variety is greater and more noticeable in Mass Effect. Plus Mass Effect had more tactics where you could direct squad members to attack other enemies in a certain way, or hang back, or use an item/ability, etc. In The Witcher, it’s only your character Geralt, and his fighting styles, and that’s it. But Mass Effect’s tactical play comes at the cost of pausing the gameplay so you can click on an ability, aim it at an enemy or ally, and then un-pause it. Some people like this style of play, and to be honest it didn’t bother me all that much in Mass Effect. But games like Dragon Age: Origins (released 2 years after Mass Effect and The Witcher) where you’re doing the same thing except from a top-down perspective just didn’t gel with me. So I probably would’ve hated The Witcher if it incorporated this aspect so heavily. Granted, you can pause mid-battle to get a better angle on things, but this didn’t happen very often with my playthrough.
I know that CD Project Red was a small-time indie company at this point, so they had less finances to work with when making this game, and it is admirable that it turned out as good as it did under the circumstances. But it is what it is, and I can only judge it by how I feel now, and I’m not going to take it easy on it just because of the circumstances surrounding the making of them game, I’m just going to judge the game as-is. Both games are good, both have faults, and Mass Effect is probably the better made one overall. But neither one is something I would likely want to revisit while it’s still fresh in my memory, especially when the sequels to both games are so much better.
Mass Effect’s strongest point is its story and universe-building, getting into the races, their interactions, and how the main character can impact all of them. The central character(s) tend to be secondary to that. This does not mean the characters are weak, they each have their motivations and such. However, they seem too influenced by what you (acting as the protagonist) do and want to happen, being less independent in their own right. The game cuts a fine line between them acting on their own and acting based on how you want, and it works fine as is. It tends to be on the fan-service side in regards to characters.
While the Witcher has a world-building aspect to it in terms of Temeria and its occupants, it’s focus is less on that and more on the character of Geralt himself. How much is he influenced by others? Should he be influenced by them? The characters in The Witcher come off as more independent and self-motivated than those in Mass Effect. While Mass Effect has the aspect of, “Your leadership and influences those around you.” In other words, the lives of most other major characters seems to revolve around the main character, and thus revolve around you. The Witcher seems to be the reverse of this. It’s more like, “How much are you influenced by those around you?” Because the game continuously jabs at you for the decisions you make, making you wonder if you made the right decision, or if there ever was a right decision to make. In this case having the game end the same way no matter what, while changing the way it gets there, fits perfectly because of the whole fate/destiny theme being brought up. The free will theme being an extension of the player pulling the protagonist’s strings. Or is it the player having their strings pulled by others in the game? Either way, the message is the same. You may or may not choose to get caught up in a cause, or to stay neutral to them all; but no matter what you do, do not forget about yourself and what really matters to you, what your principles are, and if choosing or not choosing a cause runs the risk of you being forced to violate your principles. The fact that Geralt is imperfect and is guaranteed to make mistakes (regardless of players trying to choose the lesser of evils, or not) is what makes him a fascinating character, and is what makes the game every bit as memorable as Mass Effect. That, and he’s capable of banging more broads, and of different races too (speaking of similarities to Mass Effect).
Plus the last act of the game will have you questioning whether or not you’re doing the right thing, and I love games that provoke that thought. Indicates it’s smart enough to make a lot of grey rather than keeping things black and white. Mass Effect tends to be more on the black and white side of things. If you make a decision that doesn’t involve saving/sparing lives, sometime down the road you will be punished for it. In the case of the Witcher, sparing a life or killing someone doesn’t always result in a good or bad thing. And even if it does result in a good thing, down the line it could lead to a bad thing, and vice versa. It’s what makes the better moments of The Witcher stick with me. That being said, the sequels took this element and did it better, especially in Witcher 3.
The Witcher is a more deep thought provoking philosophical and character study at its core, while Mass Effect is more of a fun sci-fi ride with plenty of story and lore and, dare I say, universe to keep it interesting. That being said, both games have a bit of both, I’m just mentioning the main narrative strengths of each. Looking back on both, the main thing that stuck with me regarding the Witcher was Triss’ mysterious backdoor political dealings in Chapter 3 (which ultimately made her a fully realized 3-dimensional character), and the whole finale from Chapter 5 and onwards which provoked a sense of guilt and wonder. With Mass Effect, I enjoyed getting introduced to the universe and all that lived within, how the races worked, what their personalities and traits are, the first appearance of Saren, the confrontation with Liara’s mother and the spider monster, and everything from when the original creators of the Citadel are revealed and all the way to the action-packed finale. Both games know how to put on a finale.
Why I revisited the game
I brought up earlier that one of the reasons I wanted to play through this again was to get familiar with the characters again. Because some characters who are in this game are not in the 2nd one, yet they make reprising roles in Witcher 3. Sure I could’ve just watched one of those 3-6 hour “movie version” videos online, and I was tempted, and that sure as shit would’ve been less time-consuming than this game, but I wanted to experience this game again, even if it’s for one last time. Plus I wanted to see if it’s still fun to play today. And I must admit, if you have the patience and are willing to invest into it and become immersed in the world, it is worth it. If you can get to Chapter 3, the rest of the game is a breeze in terms of pacing and progression. It becomes quite captivating at that point. Plus it does have some unintentional hilarity with the dialogue.
So, the game is flawed, tests your patience, but is a decent enough experience. If you’re to play any version, makes sure it’s the Enhanced Edition (like how Witcher 2 got an enhanced edition, and how Witcher 3 got a Game of the Year edition). Despite the annoyances and frustrations, there’s enough here to make it worthwhile. But it’s only worthwhile if you play all the way to the end. That will run you around roughly 50 hours.
* A good storyline with some intrigue and questions on morality and destiny, and will leave you pondering on some points.
* Some colorful characters.
* Combat on any difficulty above Easy can prove challenging in a fun way, encouraging tactics and positioning and timing, plus some prep-work that fits with the whole theme/lore of how witchers work.
* Great finale.
* Immersive and interesting world.
* The plot pacing is spotty, and requires much patience before getting to the good stuff.
* Graphics are dated, even with the mods.
* Too many NPCs that look exactly the same.
* Voice-acting ranging from acceptable to laughable.
* Running from one objective to the next gets tiresome.
* Uninteresting side-quests.
* The dice-poker still sucked as much as it did in the 2nd game.
* The brawl mini-game is really not that good (gets better with the sequels, especially #3).
* The camera angles during some of the dialogue bits are terrible some of the time.
And should you choose to undertake the endeavor of playing this game, I know of some mods that will make it less painful. Which brings me to the other reason I’ve decided to go through this again. None of the videos are of the modded version, at least not in terms of graphics mods. Well, time to bring them up:
This is THE main graphics mod to get. Makes the game and characters look so much better. I mean, look at the comparisons between the vanilla game and modded game version of Geralt:
[Geralt image comparison]
And it not only makes the major characters look better, but also enhances the look of the UI. There’s one other mod next to this one that I consider mandatory. The only thing I don’t like is what they did with the druid chick and the water nymph.
[druid image comparison]
Would not play this game without this mod. Makes combat more tactical and deep using a very simple method. It makes Geralt more susceptible to high damage when taking hits from the sides or the back (especially the latter). Something the developers liked so much they incorporated it into the second Witcher game. On top of that, enemies no longer just appear wherever just for the hell of it, they are more focused in areas they live in. Drowners stay near the water, swamp monsters stay near the swamp and/or islands in the swamp. In other words, enhances the immersion and lore, and gives a heavier dose of tactics to the combat.
Witcher High Res Character Models
Improves the looks of most other characters in the game that Rise of the White Wolf missed (though you will need to remove some files if you don’t want them overwriting that particular mod).
Stop the Rain
If you think it rains too much, you’ll be given access to a scroll that, when read, gradually stops the rain. Immersion-breaking in the sense that Geralt has the ability to control the weather, plus I’ve never personally used it. But hey, for those who are interested.
Yep, a game review. And with that rating, you can rightfully expect that this will be a glowing review with praises and hugs and kisses. And sex and violence. And mods. And modded sex and violence. It’s going to be one of those reviews, so I’m putting up the warning signs.
Anyway, this game franchise is based on a series of novels (though they did start as short stories before growing into novels that linked together into a cohesive narrative). It’s important to use the term “based,” because it doesn’t exactly follow the storyline of the books all that accurately. Rather, it has its own story with some inspiration from the novels, but keeps the characters and their motivations fairly accurate.
Prior backing this game on Kickstarter nearly a year ago, my impression was that this game had artwork that was better than it, or any board game for that matter, deserved. This isn’t artwork that belongs on playing cards, this is artwork that belongs on posters to hang up on walls, framed, and meant to be gazed at in wonder and fascination; probably even better if you’re doing so while puffing the magic dragon or munching the eddies. The artwork is nothing short of amazing.
That being said, like most games, you tend to forget about how good it looks and look past that to focus on the gameplay. And to make the gameplay better, the component quality needs to be good, with easy to learn/understand icons, pieces that are easy to handle and move around without accidentally knocking something out of its place, etc. In all honesty, I have yet to play a deep fantasy board game that wasn’t fiddly to some extent, and this one is no exception, even more-so if you’re playing with more than 1 player/hero. That being said, it is less fiddly than Mage Knight and Magic Realm (good Lord, what isn’t less fiddly than Magic Realm?). It plays fine without too much fiddliness, assuming you have the room for it.
Cards are of decent quality, though when I started sleeving them in clear Dragon Shields (I usually never play one of my own games unless I have sleeved everything first, you know, for preservation), I did notice it ever so slightly chipped away at a small bit of the lower corner of the cards. Not all of them, but some of them. Other than that, the card quality is fine. Sturdy enough and thick enough to be considered standard.
So aside from the cards, there’s also Zelda hearts for health, black corrupted devil hearts for action points, clouds for obstacles, trees for hiding, sand timers for fate (what, no fate cards from Atmosfear?), Mario coins for gold, and solid sturdy chits for loot and marking enemies.
So this is where games either excel or fall apart, or somewhere in-between. In the case of this game, it’s in-between. You start out as a hero who seems too weak to beat the game as is. But once you complete the first part of you Saga (a 5 part story that you choose at the start of the game), and you level up, that’s when things start to get rolling. Basically the number of actions you can take is equal to your health at the start of the day. You start with 4 health at the start of the game, so you can take 4 actions. When you level up, you get another health, and thus another action point, allowing you to not only do more stuff each day, but also take more damage in combat.
In order to level up you need to acquire cards of certain types, whether they be Quests, Titles, Places, Spells, Strangers, Villains, etc., they are all represented by cards. You can only acquire these cards by traveling around and having encounters in various locations, hoping that the card you draw will be the type you want. And then you have to go about getting the card in the same way you do anything in the game that involves acquiring cards, rolling dice.
You see, when you move to a location where one of these cards is at, or if you move to a location with no encounter and one shows up when you move there, they each have a stat to roll against on the left side of the card. Depending on the card type, you can go for a Fight, Study, Sneak, or Influence test. For each test, you roll a number of dice equal to how much of those values you have (ex: if you have 3 Study, you get to roll 3 dice for Study tests), and get a success on a 5-6. Aside from Fight tests which pretty much mean you’ve entered in combat against a stranger or enemy, the other tests you can try multiple times over the course of a single in-game day until you get enough successes to get the card, or fail to get enough by the end of the day in which case all your successes go away and you have to try again the next day, starting from square one (or rectangle one in this case, you know, card shapes).
And once you get one of these cards, you can do two things with it (aside from getting either gold or loot): either keep the card in your hand as a Rumor for completing Sagas, or exchange the card for an Item, Title, Spell, or Ally (this depends on the card type you exchange; for example only Places can be exchanged for Titles). It depends on what you need the card for. But of course, it’s not that easy. Once you get a hold of a Item/Title/Spell/Ally via rumor-trade, you still have to visit the location depicted on the card in order to get the ITSA. Because it’s just a rumor you heard at the place you visited, from the individual/monster you killed, from the side Quest you went on, etc (thematically-speaking). On the one hand, Items, Titles, Spells, and Allies can give you ability/power boosts to make your life easier. But on the other hand, you can’t fight the final boss without completing your saga, which requires sacrificing these cards to progress on the saga and level up. Personally, from my experience, it’s better to level up ASAP, for at least the first 2 levels, so you can get stuff done faster. After that, it depends on the situation.
So pretty soon it falls into the same pattern. Move to a location, hope you get the card of the right type, hope you have good enough stats to beat it, otherwise move along and try for something better. Once something shows up, keep rolling dice until you succeed. Once you succeed, rinse and repeat until you get enough cards to get what you want/need, level up, do it all over again until the big bad Ancient One from Arkham Horror, I mean Eldritch Horror, I mean Lovecraft Gloom of Killing Forth demons from hell show up that you need to off by cutting it’s head off with a sword, or blowing it away with a spell (if you’re a good enough Arcane aficionado). And how do you do that? You guessed it, the same way you do in Arkham Horror, rolling a bunch of dice and hoping you get enough successes over the course of a few rounds (or maybe you’ll get lucky and only have to do it for 1 or 2 rounds) to take it out.
And you have to level up fast enough to chuck the maximum amount of dice per combat round before the game ends. And at the end of each day, things slowly get worse, with 1 of the 25 locations you can travel around falling into gloom, threatening to suck a little bit of life out of you if you spend the night there. And with each life you lose, you lose an action point. For each life you get back, you don’t get that action point back until the start of the next day. So the game does plenty to slow down your progress to prevent you from leveling up fast enough so that the game doesn’t become a cakewalk.
And that’s pretty much how the game goes. There are different ways to play it, either solo/co-op with multiple heroes, or competitively against others to see who the first hero to take out the baddie is.
This was the one factor I had my doubts on when backing the game, the dice-chucking. But I was willing to give it a shot (and my money) because it looked like there may be enough theme and immersion to where I could overlook most of that. Plus I kind of had to admire how much time and effort Tristan “ninja dorg (because that’s a cool way of saying dog)” Hall put into this thing. Truly worthy of attention on Kickstarter, unlike those other board game companies who would probably do just fine without it, but still use Kickstarter to fund their board game projects anyway.
In all honesty, there is a good amount of theme to it, enough variability to make each game experience different. But the tactical depth is lacking by my standards. A bit too much luck for my tastes. Getting a hold of some ITSAs can be fun, the feeling you get when your character levels up and can do more is great. And the card draws, while luck-dependent, seem balanced enough to where you’ll eventually find what you want (though I’ve only done 1 playthrough so far). But the dice-chucking, man, especially for the boss battle. It’s basically the same reason why I did away with Arkham Horror years ago. All that exploration, adventuring, analyzing the best routes to take and the best course of action to do each turn/round/day. All for it to lead to a nearly mindless dice battle. Sure there are different bosses to choose from, and they hit you in different way, but it all devolves into the same thing at the end of the day.
I guess you could say it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. But the thing is, if the destination wasn’t all that great, why would you want to go see it again? Especially when there’s other games in the same genre to fall back on?
Don’t get me wrong, I do intend to play this a couple more times, and with other players, before I decide if I’m going to trade this off or not. Game could be more interesting with player interaction. In fact, that’s what I’m counting on. The whole game boils down to being a race against time, and mitigating luck and planning well enough that you get to the finish line before it all ends. Throw in other players, then it becomes trying to get to the finish line before they do, which can encourage heavier thinking and more optimal planning. Co-op could be interesting (I would only do that solo, but that’s just me), with the way the rules force players to work together, requiring everyone to participate in completing each other’s sagas. But as it is now, too luck-based for long-term enjoyment.
But keep in mind, I’m a very picky gamer. I prefer my games to be light on luck, or entirely absent of it. Or if there is luck, that there be extreme strategic decision making to go with it, or a heavy amount of immersion. The game doesn’t have quite enough immersion or strategy to be a keeper. But it is worth trying out.
This isn’t fair, but neither is life or the outcome of dice. How does it compare to Magic Realm and Mage Knight?
All 3 games are not dungeon crawlers. You travel along landscapes in each of them. It has a Mage Knight feel in that you get stronger the more you do, to where enemies that were difficult before get easier to beat. But Mage Knight has far less luck, and is absent of dice, and has the same working against the clock and optimizing your turns routine, but with deck-building. But in all fairness to Gloom of Kilforth, it handles taking damage and how much that slows you down, and how much time you have to take to recover from it better than Mage Knight. You feel each and every wound you take in Gloom of Kilforth, while in Mage Knight you can tend to shrug them off unless you take a lot of them. It makes you feel more, well, human, more vulnerable. And that’s a good thing, because the last thing you want to feel in a game where the world is at stake is invincible. But on the other hand, Mage Knight is much more tactical with the combat system, giving you much more control and decision-making.
With Magic Realm, well Gloom of Kilforth is much easier to learn than that game, so that’s a big pro. But despite it’s complexity, Magic Realm stays very abstract with the theme. Sure there’s monsters and treasures and stuff, but they are absent of flavor text. That game is absent of a set fictional world that has a backstory. It leaves it up to the imagination. It leaves much of what you do up to the imagination, which ultimately encourages the immersive feel, getting you to think about what is happening and what is going on, rather than trying to show you. Each character in Magic Realm is far more distinct than the characters in Gloom of Kilforth. Not just in their starting stats, but in their starting abilities. In Gloom, it’s more about your starting stats, encouraging you to focus more on fights, influencing, sneaking, etc. Wherever you have the most numbers and can throw the most dice, that’s optimally what you’ll go for. It’s obvious in it’s approach. In Magic Realm it’s much more subtle, demanding many playthroughs before you can even see what strategies to use for just 1 character.
Pros and cons, Gloom of Kilforth is more accessible than either of those 2 games, but in being more accessible it has less depth. Depending on your group, you may not want depth, you may not want to play something that will take 4+ hours. You may want something like Gloom of Kilforth, which provides the fantasy experience at that level. And that’s the niche the game fits in, a medium level game, as opposed to heavy like Mage Knight, and as opposed to driving university professors mad with Magic Realm.
If there’s one thing I appreciate about this game, it’s that it’s not a dungeon crawler. I’m not a big fan of that genre, at least when it comes to the fantasy genre.
So, there’s my thoughts. Take them as you would with any review, with a grain of salt.
PS: Oh yeah, one other thing. It’s extremely refreshing to see a game that uses cardboard standees rather than 3d plastic sculpts.
So I played the game a few more times, once with another player in Competitive mode, too see if the game improves or worsens. Unfortunately, it’s the latter, but there are some nice things I found within the game upon repeated plays.
First it should be mentioned that this game should’ve come with a guide showing the statistics of what is in each region type. It helps with the theme and allows players to formulate strategies.
So this basically means the Badlands is where one would go in hopes of finding Quests, Forests for finding Places, Mountains for finding Enemies, and Plains for finding Strangers. It’s the most optimal, but the other region types also tend to have a decent number of other encounter types. As I pointed out earlier, “the card draws, while luck-dependent, seem balanced enough to where you’ll eventually find what you want”. It’s not quite THAT luck dependent, as keith hunt pointed out (see comments below). The first 2 or 3 Saga chapters just require places, strangers, enemies, quests, titles, spells, items, and/or allies. However, once you get to Saga Chapter 4, it gets a little more tricky. For instance, some cards require a specific keyword like Arcane, Shadow, Villain, Assist, etc. Those cards are more difficult to track down. However, during the course of the game, from what I’ve played, there’s usually enough instances of cards with those keywords showing up that it’s never unfair. I could be wrong, it may be possible that you could enter into a scenario where every encounter/title/spell/ally/item doesn’t have any of those keywords, but it’s never happened with my playthroughs, so it’s unlikely that will happen.
With competitive play against other players, the only real thing that changes is trying to get encounter cards before others do, though it may not matter that much if other players aren’t interested in some cards that are out there while the others are interested. Plus the map is big enough for players to explore and find what they need. Once you get 3 or more players, those special “keyword” requirements are less of a factor in regards to completing Sagas, because of the number of players and because the competition for getting more cards can become fierce (but it never seemed that fierce to me; then again I’ve only done 2 players tops).
In all honesty, the game seems better as a solo game. It plays shorter, and the playtime increases a pretty good amount with each added player. For a single-player game, if the player knows what he/she is doing, the game tends to run at about the time the box says, 45 minutes, maybe an hour depending. Each player does pretty much add on another 50-60 minutes to the game. And a game like this shouldn’t run more than 2 hours. Just my opinion.
In all the 3 times I’ve played the game, I’ve won 2 of them, including my first playthrough. It’s all really dependent on the type of race and class you choose at the start of the game, but the main difference is how often you play as someone who wants to Fight enemies straight up vs. someone who has more emphasis in study/sneak/influence. Fighting is more dangerous, especially early on in the game. If you lose a battle, you lose your gold and a rumor/asset. This sets you back considerably, and can make things hopeless. This is why I recommend the Advanced Variant for Saga completion, where instead of just spending 5 gold per chapter completion, you spend 2 gold multiplied by the chapter number. It makes the game flow better, and fits thematically for the world becoming more challenging to accompany your increasing strength. I’ve beaten the game using the normal and advanced versions of saga completion. There are ways to increase the difficulty, as provided in the files section of BGG by Tristan himself. But as of now, I don’t feel the need to.
I don’t consider the overall game to be fun enough to be worth going into Challenge mode for (or Ancient/Bloodbath mode, as it’s called). Mainly because despite the nice streamlined gameplay, despite the nice artwork, despite what immersion there is and thematic connections between the cards and race abilities and other things, the game is a glorified dice-chuck-fest. If that is your thing, by all means, go for it, it’s one of the better dice-chuck-fests out there. But for others who want more decision-making when it comes to battles, there’s other adventure board games out there that provide that. For everyone else who wants something accessible and dice-heavy, there’s this game.