If you had told me this time last year that I would be playing a fantasy RPG (Role Playing Game, in case you’re not already aware) in which the lead character is a mutant human who kills monsters for a living, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. My favourite genre is -and has been since I was 10 or 11 years old- science fiction. I grew up on a diet of Captain Scarlet, Thunderbirds, and Star Trek. At school in English classes, I always tried to choose science fiction books to study (although I did read other genres too of course). I went to London’s Empire Square to see the very first Star Wars film in August 1977, and absolutely loved it. (I mourned the passing of my first real pop crush, Elvis Presley, the same month, too) I even started a fan club for the ultimate in Science Fiction comedy, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when it became a TV series on the BBC. I loved Blade Runner before it became a cult hit. I loved the music of Dune more than the actual film (having read the books first of course). Until Harry Potter came along (which I enjoyed) I had never watched or read any films*, TV shows or books in which magic or scorcery took place, or in which dragons flew. I still haven’t read any Anne Macaffery. I haven’t read nor seen Game of Thrones, although many people have told me I should, that I would enjoy it. Maybe one day I will. *I tell a lie – I did see some (but not all) of the Lord of the Rings films, but having started but never finished reading the books, I found them a bit confusing, to say the least.
So when my son and his gf told me about a TV show they were really looking forward to that was based on books they’d read and a PC game they’d both played, I didn’t pay too much attention. I probably just nodded and said something polite… On a visit to their house in November, they showed me some books and told me a bit more about it. I said it sounded interesting and promised I’d look out for it. I think I finally got around to watching The Witcher on Netflix over the Christmas 2019 break, spurred on partly by my son telling me that they’d binge-watched it when it came out in mid-December – I think they might even have watched it twice before I saw it once… If it was that good, I thought, perhaps I should give it a go.
Well I watched the trailer first. You know that little tingle of excitement you get when you realise you’ve found something new and good to get into? I got that just from the trailer – the production values, the music and the rather attractive lead character hooked me, and whilst I didn’t watch the whole first season in one sitting, I’d seen it all by the time I went back to work in the new year, and decided I needed to read the books and check out the game.
Now, I’m not a complete newbie to PC gaming – my son (again!) got me into a simulator game called Eurotruck Simulator 2 a couple of years ago, so I had some idea of the learning curve that would be involved. I’d also dabbled in Pharoh and Stronghold but never really got to grips with either of them. What drew me to ETS2 initially was the amazing graphics, and the idea of driving a truck around Europe was intruiging. If you’ve never driven a virtual truck using a keyboard and using the mouse to steer, you won’t know what I’m on about….. but for those of you who do, yes, I finally learned the importance of the WASD keys! I even got myself a gaming laptop when the one I was using started to struggle with ETS2 and the game kept freezing up and crashing. If you’re interested, it’s an HP Omen. It has keys which light up (so you can play in the dark) – whoever heard of such a thing? Well, I hadn’t…. but believe me, it helps, especially when your eyesight isn’t as sharp as it used to be…LOL.
So what do I like about The Witcher? What finally convinced me to overcome a lifetime’s disinterest in things magical/fantastical? I don’t count enjoying Harry Potter as having an interest – they are good stories (I read all my son’s books) and the films are great entertainment. Even my husband, who prefers historical and period drama to the more fanciful stuff that I enjoy, likes Harry Potter…. Let’s take the different versions in the order that I discovered them.
Netflix’s televison adaptation of the books by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski captivated me because quite simply, it is entertaining, it is beautifully shot with very high production values and the music … sublime! (That the lead character was rather nice to look at didn’t hurt, either!) I will admit that not having read the books first put me at a disadvantage; I didn’t realise that there were three seperate timelines playing out, which would all meet up in the season finale… because none of the central characters seemed to age. My husband, alas, watched the first episode and… well suffice to say it wasn’t his cup of tea (although like me, he loved Grimm… ah well, I tried…). So I have only seen one episode on our big TV screen, the rest I watched on my iPad or laptop (with headphones). Sigh. One day I’m going to banish him from the living room, put the soundbar on, turn the lights off, and enjoy an almost cinematic experience.
CD Projekt Red’s video game trilogy (The Witcher, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt) is, quite simply, a revelation to me! I had some idea of the complexity of open world games because my son has been playing games like World of Warcraft and Halo for years. I’d watch, bemused, for a few minutes as he battled weird and wonderful creatures and patiently tried to show me on a couple of occasions how it all worked. He even gifted me Halo on the game platform Steam, but after a few attempts I kept getting killed and gave up! It’s still there, in my library, though, so perhaps one day, armed with my Witcher experience, I might have another go. But I digress… The sheer complexity of the multiple storylines (about 40 I beleive, with lots of side quests and variatons on those) which are all down to multiple choice, is wonderful. My son has played Witcher 3 all the way through three times, he says (one more than the actor who plays Geralt, the afore-mentioned Henry Cavill, I recently found out). The graphics are amazing. The CGI isn’t quite as seamless as, say, Avatar – but when you consider the thousands -perhaps millions- of hours of coding that must have gone into creating the game, well, you can forgive the odd weird visual moment! One thing I should say here is that the voice of the Game Geralt has been very impressively adapted by Henry Cavill for Netflix – he doesn’t have the American twang of the original voice artist (Doug Cockle) but the timbre and delivery immediately connects the two versions. The only thing TV Geralt is missing is the facial scar, which would have been interesting, and I’m not sure why it was omitted – perhaps it would have been one prosthetic/make up sequence too much, considering that it already takes the make up artists two hours to turn Henry into Geralt! But back to the Games… I haven’t played the first Witcher game, but I’ve played part of Witcher 2, and am working my way through Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. I love the music for Witcher 3 – so much so that I purchased the soundtrack. The Netflix soundtrack is not disimilar; in fact I think I’m right in saying there are more than a few nods to the game’s musical tone and themes, so that it probably feels familiar to gamers. Anyone out there care to comment on that? Or is it just me who thinks so? In short, the Witcher games are wonderfully immersive, and I look forward to many years playing them.