I’m playing through the bonus Adventures included with The Witcher. Read about the earlier Adventures, along with an introduction to the game, here. Also remember that you can click on images to view larger versions.
Well, this is it: the last Adventure included with The Witcher. To be honest, it took much longer to play and write about these than I expected. But they offered a great opportunity to write extensively about a very interesting game, and I was often impressed with what the fan community had created.
The final Adventure is called Merry Witchmas, and is also by Ifrit, the group responsible for The Wedding. After playing The Wedding I didn’t have very high hopes for this one, but it’s actually much better. Merry Witchmas takes us once again to Vizima’s Temple Quarter, but this time snow is falling as winter approaches. Geralt wants to make a little more money before retiring to Kaer Morhen for the winter, but gets more than he bargained for when he discovers it’s up to him to save (or destroy) the Witchmas holiday.
In my post about The Wedding, I mentioned that if by some slim chance the original Polish writing had some modicum of charm, it was lost in the translation to English, leaving only inane and obnoxious drivel. In Merry Witchmas, however, the dialogue barely makes sense at all. I’m not sure if this is the fault of the translation or if the writing is intentionally odd, but both Geralt and the various people he converses with appear to be speaking some sort of code that I do not understand. I got the gist of it, but I often felt there was some inside joke I was missing, and on occasion things descend into the level of nonsense usually associated with the shoddy translations of classic Japanese games.
Surprisingly, this actually accounts for much of the Adventure’s charm. Instead of falling back on juvenile jokes (although it’s not completely free of those; a throwaway gag implying Geralt was drugged and raped is in particularly poor taste), Merry Witchmas is humorous because it is odd and ridiculous. A strong vein of silliness runs throughout, and even if it doesn’t always work perfectly it’s a nice change of tone from the main game, which could get a little over-serious at times.
Like The Wedding, Merry Witchmas features some original music that meshes well with the main game’s score. The most striking new piece plays during the gentle snowfalls that shroud Vizima, which do wonders towards making the area feel new even though I’d spent a large part of the main game there (as well as the Side Effects bonus Adventure). As is often the case for a Witcher, Geralt soon finds himself in the graveyard, tasked with eliminating the ghouls that are eating the dead. Instead he finds a small coven of witches, who babble about a weird prophecy that will bring about the end of Witchmas forever. All that’s needed is for Geralt to kill Father Witchmas.
I was surprised to discover that Geralt can in fact kill Father Witchmas and take an evil route through the Adventure. But it’s more interesting to try and save the holiday, starting with Geralt visiting the hospital with the goal of bringing happiness to the patients there. It would have been touching if the means for bringing cheer weren’t so bizarre. Prophetic madmen, mathematical romance, drugs, and hallucinated conversations with monsters are all involved, and I found I was motivated simply to see what crazy thing was going to happen next rather than by any actual investment in the proceedings. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But it’s definitely a different style than the other Adventures.
Merry Witchmas also sets itself apart through a stronger focus on combat. Geralt has access to nearly every potion and blade coating in the game, and must use them frequently as he battles through hordes of enemies. I fought using the Group Style, tailored for fending off multiple opponents, more often than in any other Adventure. Almost the full menagerie of monsters make an appearance too, from the basic ghouls, drowners and fleders featured in the other Adventures to the more exotic bruxae, alps, kikkimora, ifrits, and even a custom big baddie to take down. I’d actually forgotten the proper tactics to use for many of these enemies and had to brush up on my monster fighting strategies. I got plenty of chances to get back up to speed, however, since most of the monsters respawned every time I visited particular places.
These encounters were a welcome reminder that the fairy tales that inspire much of The Witcher influence more than just storylines and characters. Most of these creatures have origins in Polish folklore, and they provide a welcome change from the standard fantasy beasties common to most role-playing games. There are far more of them in Merry Witchmas than in the main game, which detracts somewhat from the strategic combat I usually enjoy, but it was fun to send Geralt wading through packs of creatures, cutting them down like so much wheat with his deft spins and precise strikes. Merry Witchmas is the best example of the fluid motion-captured animation used for the combat in the game, which really makes Geralt look like the expert swordsman he is.
An odd Adventure, then, but one I enjoyed much more than expected. It’s the last one packaged with the main game, but there are plenty more user-made Adventures out there. I’ve heard good things about And A Curse, And Love, And Betrayal and Medical Problems in particular. But I need a break from The Witcher; I’ll be playing some other things for a little while, and then I’ll start playing through The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings again. It’s very different in many ways; stay tuned to hear much more about it.
If you are interested in The Witcher or its sequel, the best place to buy them is probably GOG, which offers DRM-free versions (DRM stands for Digital Rights Management and is just a fancy term for copy protection) for download. GOG is also associated with original developers CD Projet RED, so it’s close to buying direct. Currently the first game is $9.99 and the second is $19.99, both of which are good prices in my opinion. Happy monster hunting!