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.
Introduction (ie addressing some criticisms of the game)
So there are 2 versions of this game. One is the version which has anime chicks in scantily clad outfits doing some implied and ridiculous sexual gesture. The other version is a more historical version with black and white WWII photos. Regarding the latter, where’s the fun in that?
First of all, I own the anime-chick version, not the historical photograph edition. Some would ask why I would buy such a game. I bought it for a simple reason, spite. I despise all you easily offended politically correct gamers with all of my little black perverted heart. Some of which state that no one should play this game because it is vile, perverted, sexist (sexploitation), pro-lolita, pro-nazi, and glorifies horrible people in a horrible war. That revisiting/addressing WWII should be done in a serious/professional matter, and in no other way. And there’s also arguments along the lines of keeping your sexual fetishes in private. Subject matter like this should not be perverted.
“It amazes me that people who fancy a certain fetish can seriously be upset by the aversion displayed by people who don’t share this fetish.” — Simon Mueller
I’m starting to think that political correctness is also a fetish.
You know, stuff like that. It’s less controversial to have a game with images of individuals getting their brains/organs blown out by knives/gunfire/bombs/zombies, but more controversial when there’s any amount of skin shown in any fashion, perverted or otherwise. That’s how it works here in America. Doesn’t help that the girls in this game are under-age.
* = with some caveats and warnings that must be brought up
So, first confession, I initially played this a few years ago on the PS3. At the time, I thought it was the best GTA game ever made. Granted, one could think that with any newly released GTA game, but I thought this was the definitive GTA game that does the title and theme justice. The first in the series to get it right, in my opinion, was GTA: San Andreas. Though I really hated how you had to button mash and do workouts and stuff to make your character stronger. GTA IV was, uh, not bad, the gameplay was solid enough, especially with the shootouts. But the storyline in that game was cliche and predictable. GTA V took the best elements of both games and removed all the shitty ones. The storyline and characters are fantastic, blending satire and legit emotion into it all, covering aspects of both gangster land, redneck country, and high class riches levels of society by having you play as one of three characters representing each. Thus you get to play as someone who represents a certain aspects of society, for better or worse. But since it’s a satire on society as a whole, not being afraid to show the cons of all three, and mostly reveling in the cons, that is what makes it so perfect. The crimes they will commit, all of which require hijacking vehicles as a bare minimum to get the job done. Not to mention it does away with all the BS workout minigames from San Andreas, improves on the storytelling aspects of GTA IV, and makes banging hookers fun again. But you still don’t get to see nudity when you’re doing that. The nudity is left strictly in the strip clubs, where you can be subject to private strip dances ala GTA IV, but no sex.
So, to rephrase that last part, there’s sex in the game, but no nudity while sex is going on. There’s nudity in the game, but not while having sex, and outside of strip clubs, the nudity is mostly relegated to man-ass. Rockstar is teasing us, aren’t they? Like how they showed the full monty with that one DLC story in GTA IV. Maybe in the next one they make we’ll be able to play as a female protagonist who isn’t shy about baring her assets. That would honestly be a bit refreshing, having a female lead in one of these games. She should be a biker. But if the sequel will turn out anything like this one, I’d expect there to be multiple characters to choose from. Well let’s see, they’ve done Russians, they’ve done black gangsters, they’ve done white gangsters, they’ve done rednecks (which deserve their own distinct classification)… Well I guess they could do a Mexican gangster, which up until now have pretty much been NPCs. They’ll also probably have some Middle Eastern guy or something, with some terrorism theme thrown in where some assholes yell “Alla Akubar!”, and one of the missions is just mowing down radical Islamic terrorists or something. But to counter-balance that, you also have a mission where you get to mow down a bunch of radical Christians, radical KKK members, radical neo-nazis, radical leftist liberals, radical right wingers, etc. Have them be done via those Rampage missions, like those ones done in this game with Trevor.
Oh yeah, the Rampage missions. Those are fun as hell. They’re mainly done via the redneck character Trevor, who has a very short temper, has some screws loose, and virtually anything can set him off. So at various points in the game some optional side missions can pop up where you can start killing off people who pissed Trevor off. For instance, he has a conversation with some rednecks at a bar, just out of the blue, he gets pissed at them and starts shooting them, and then you have to start shooting all these other rednecks which just start showing up trying to kill you. Rinse and repeat for black gangsters, Mexican gangsters, and the U.S. military. It’s a huge amount of politically incorrect fun.
So that’s Trevor’s unique character missions. As for the black gangster of the trio, Franklin, he has side missions that are all about assassinations. And about those assassination missions Franklin does. The first one that you get to do, the hotel assassination, I never was able to do the fucking thing. Both on the PS3, and PC version. There was some fucking bug in the game where the guy you are supposed to assassinate never goes outside the hotel, and you’re just waiting for-fucking-ever for it to happen. It pissed me off that I couldn’t do the mission, but thankfully the game seemed prepared for such a scenario and had countermeasures built in. If you fail a mission enough times, there is usually the option to skip it, which I did, because I didn’t have a choice. And by “skip”, I mean the game glosses over it and treats it as you you successfully pulled it off, without you actually having done anything. The game gives you the option to do that for all the side missions as far as I know. I’m positive the reason they implemented this is because they didn’t want gamers getting frustrated over a mission that is optional to do, but really this also serves as a way to bypass mission-breaking bugs in the game.
The 3 main characters are fantastic, and so are several of the side characters themselves. The dialogue is top-notch A+ class writing. I don’t think it could’ve been done any better. Trevor is one crazy psychotic sick sadistic motherfucker, whom the other characters are scared to meet, as they should be. On top of being less than rational, he has a very short temper. His special ability is all about ignoring damage for a limited time and shooting everything in slow-mo.
Michael seems to be the main central character, at least in my opinion, though the other two share as much screen time as him. But everything major tends to revolve around him. His actions usually keep the story progressing. A retired criminal who is having a hard time living the retired life and keeping away from the criminal life. Also doesn’t help that his family are spoiled rotten annoying pricks. I kept hoping he would leave them, but he doesn’t. Whatever. Special ability is shooting in slow-mo.
And then there’s Franklin, the true character living up to the GTA name, stealing cars for profit, and being a thug life gangster. But he desires more than where he’s at, and is thus willing to go along with Michael on more high-stakes heists. Special ability is driving in slow-mo for better vehicle maneuvers.
The story is all about satire of the United States and its occupants. How the main characters themselves are terrible people, the people around them are terrible, and the supposed “good guys”, from the police to the government to corporations to shop owners and such, are all terrible people. But in this fucked up little world, somehow someway, amidst all the muck, there still manages to be small slivers of goodness within everything. But they come at a point where characters have fallen so far when it comes to stealing and drugs and (mass) murder, that the only good comes from killing off guys who end up being worse than they are. Michael’s family hates him for being an uncaring asshole of a father (though he seemed reasonable to me), and for bringing danger to them through his criminal activities, yet they have a hard time living without him because they don’t know of any other way, and are too fucked up to live any other way. And even though the pacing slows at a couple points with the main missions, it never gets bogged down for too long. And there are alternate endings (like GTA IV), but any decent person knows which one to choose.
The story is better than GTA IV. The graphics and gameplay are better than GTA: San Andreas (even if this game does take place in that location). And all 3 of those are better than any GTA game prior. If you were to play any of them, this would be the one, regardless of any bugs it may contain. The only real downside to this game is the whole buying/selling of stocks. I mean, I seriously doubt many would be into that sort of thing if they’re playing a game like this. But hey, it’s there. Also gets a bit irritating how messages can clog up your in-game cell phone.
* But the other con to this game, and this is a big fucking con that everyone should know about before purchasing this game, is with the Rockstar servers themselves. I purchased this game on Steam, and when you first play it (after spending a long-ass time downloading all 66+ GB of it), you need to register with the Rockstar Games Social Club, which is required to log in each time you play the game. A sort of DRM thing, more or less. Now, theoretically, you can do offline play even with this, but it still has to detect the Rockstar servers before it allows you to play the game, which means you still need an Internet connection, even if just for a moment, before it will allow you to play the game. It’s mainly because of GTA Online, which I do not and never want to be a part of because of all the bullshit I heard goes on with it (plus they’ll ban you if you play GTA Online with a modded game). Now, this may not sound so bad, at first.
But there came a day where my PC couldn’t connect to the servers for some reason. I assumed it was a problem on my end for a while, until this problem continued for 2 days straight. At which point I did some research to find out this is not a rare occurrence. Sometimes this happens to gamers. And when it happens, there’s no way for you to get into the game to play it, not even single-player mode. And the only way to fix it is to uninstall the game, delete your folder than contains data on your Rockstar Social account, then reinstall the game, all 66+ GB of it, which takes a long-ass time. This was fucking bullshit.
So while I did eventually get it up and running again, this issue should be a disclaimer put in front of the game whenever anyone wants to buy it. I’m going to be very skeptical of any future purchases (if any) I make from Rockstar after this little stint.
Oh, right, this is a PC game, so naturally I want to see how mods can improve the experience. And they’re definitely out there. The main site to go to for mods for this game is GTA5-Mods.com. To get started, there are 2 main mods to download in preparation for everything else.
Required Mods (in order for actual mods to work that affect gameplay):
1.) Script Hook V, which comes with Native Trainer, which allows you to do some cheating in the game if you wish to fool around with it.
After installing those two, then you’re usually safe for everything else, though you should always read the instructions and requirements to be sure. Anyway, here’s the mods I ended up using for my playthrough:
1.) World of Variety. Basically gives greater variety in the people you see, the clothes they wear, and in the cars and boats that are driven around. Variety is a good thing to break up monotony. That being said, every now and again, there’s a minor glitch of a vehicle disappearing. Happened to me once immediately when I tried to get into it while the cops were chasing me. But that’s a minor bug that doesn’t happen very often.
3.) Bullet Impact. It just felt unfair how you would get shot and nothing much happened, but if you shoot someone else they could fall over or stumble for a moment. This mod fixes that, making your character react like anyone else if they get shot. It encourages more use of cover. I thought it was great, but it may make missions a little too difficult at times. It’s clear that the game wasn’t built for your character to take a pounding like this in certain places (the Rampage missions in particular). However, with a couple struggles here and there, I made it through the game with this mod. Just be warned of the increase in difficulty.
4.) Safe Cracker. Hey, now you can break open safes and get a bunch of cash rather than only stealing from cash registers. Works for me.
5.) Rob People. You aim a gun at someone, they will stand with their hands up for a moment, then drop their wallet, then run off. You pick up the wallet and get money. Brings more immersion, but it can also cause some missions to get a little buggy with this feature. But again, I was able to play the game the whole way through with this mod.
Now, those are the 5 main mods I used for my playthrough, but there are some others worth checking out after you complete all the missions in the game. That’s required because these other mods don’t work to well when playing through the game normally.
Optional Mods to use at end of the game:
1.) Open All Interiors. Opens up a lot more buildings that were previously closed off in the game. That being said, don’t mistake this for something that opens up “any and all” interiors in every single building. It doesn’t do that. It just opens up many more interiors that were previously closed off. Makes for more interesting shootouts with the cops.
And honestly, those are all the mods I’ve tried that I can recommend. There are plenty of others to choose from which I’m sure will improve the game the way you see fit. One other one I have tried which I can’t fully recommend is the Tanks Spawn at Five Stars, which means the military and their tanks and choppers come after you when you have a 5 star warrant rating. It was fun at first, but there’s 2 reasons why I don’t prefer it. 1.) It’s not realistic. 2.) The tanks are way too overpowered and way too accurate. You won’t last 10 seconds after reaching 5 stars when the tanks show up. That’s no fun.
* One other thing to mention. Last I checked, Rockstar still releases occasional updates for this game, mainly just for GTA Online. Whenever they release an update, and you have mods installed using Script Hook V, you need to either wait until Script Hook V gets an updated release which you must also download and install in order to play with the mods, or play the game for a while without the mods.
Anyway, despite the caveats, I do recommend this game. The game itself is fantastic, it’s just that Rockstar borderline fucks it up with their corporate DRM bullshit.