We fought for the domination of the portals on Ingress. We grinded miles on foot to recapture a lost gym or to catch that last, damn Pokémon that was missing from our Pokédex. Could we have given up the call to arms of CD Projekt RED and its mobile subsidiary Spokko, and the persuasive invitation to become a witcher? Available free from July 21 for iOS and Android, The Witcher: Monster Slayer is a “location-based game”, like the aforementioned Ingress and Pokémon GO by Niantic. In this type of experience, thanks to GPS and Augmented Reality, the surrounding environment becomes the theater, the battlefield within which to act, in this case fighting with blows, bombs and ointments. The level design of the world map is entrusted not to the developers, but to the planners who have shaped the metropolis, populated by creatures that appear and disappear periodically, based on the time slot and even the weather.
In short, even the most boring of neighborhoods can turn into an enchanted valley full of pitfalls, of monsters to slaughter, of souls in pain to be rescued and treasures to be found, and to embark on this adventure you only need a fairly recent smartphone (for devices that do not support ARCore, the team is still looking for a solution).
It hurts the sword finger more
Given the pedigree of the saga, the focus of The Witcher Monster Slayer it could only be hard and pure fighting, even before the crucial exploration, here aimed at the search and completion of main and secondary quests. Great importance is attached to the movements, with enemies of various kinds and degrees marked with symbols related to their difficulty, and alchemical herb bushes that will periodically appear around you on the game map, which thanks to Google Maps faithfully follows that of the place in where you will start the application.
To level up and get resources and trophies, all essential elements to become a legendary witcher, however, you will have to fight, and this is where Spokko’s game begins to show its potential: the combat system has in fact surprised us and not a little, thanks to a considerable depth, not at all obvious since it is a mobile title but always limited by the nature of its tactile commands. Before each duel there is a preparation phase in which we will find ourselves observing a screen with a concentrate of information, useful for evaluating the type of weapon to use by choosing between silver and steel, but also the type of bomb, ointment and of potions (of the latter you can bring up to a maximum of 3), with which to secure valuable bonuses in battle. Once on the field, net of the aids guaranteed by secondary accessories, the player’s skills and reflexes will determine the success in the fight: based on the speed of the swipe, quick or powerful attacks are performed (whose effectiveness varies from opponent to opponent) , while the parries are associated with the tap, which can be normal, when you approach the moment of receiving the blow, or perfect, when you guess the precise window of action, canceling any damage received.
Between one shot and the next, after cooldown, you can also throw bombs and the inevitable Elemental Signs (to be replicated by drawing them on the appropriate screen), so as to ensure extra damage and make the victory more affordable, never taken for granted even with the most basic mobs. We conclude by mentioning the critical hits: by filling the yellow bar above that of the enemy’s life you will have the possibility, hitting him at the right moment, to execute a critical that, like a perfect parry, can save you from a sound defeat (which however will not guarantee no malus, if not the loss of the ointments and potions used, of course).
Much more than The Witcher GO
In conclusion, forget the simple swipe of Pokémon GO, from which Spokko’s work differs in several ways, starting with its nature much more focused on the single player. Each fight in The Witcher Monster Slayer requires attention and dedication on the part of the player: an absolutely sensible choice in light of the genre and the saga of reference, and which gives it a dignity not so common to mobile titles, usually downgraded to simple button mashing fine to himself.
Not to mention its ability to dilute the inevitable repetition that will appear in the long term, despite the large bestiary available. A request for precision and timing perhaps almost exaggerated, given the importance of perfect parries, fundamental against any enemy at medium or higher difficulty, in light of the disproportionate amount of damage they can do, but which we found a little too complex to to achieve.
And it is precisely the general balance of the experience, perhaps the only real problem of an absolutely enjoyable and well thought out game: the level of the enemies is very high and right away you will find yourself against powerful and unscratchable creatures, which will push you into wild grinding or, for players with limited time, to invest hard cash in the in-game shop to buy more powerful weapons and armor.
Nothing will stop you from ignoring them until you have acquired experience and confidence with the controls, but the situation will become particularly frustrating when you find yourself grinding kilometers for a quest, only to realize that you are facing a too hard nut (moreover without even the slightest indication when starting the mission): in that case either you invest some money immediately, or you return a few days later, not before having increased your experience level and unlocked some skills.
While it is still a role-playing game, you will in fact also have a real skill tree to be developed by accumulating experience points and trophies: each defeated enemy will guarantee you one, and by killing more and more, you will be rewarded with skill points to invest to enhance. attack or unlock new Elemental Signs.
Patience is the virtue of the strong
Always from the enemies you will also get the materials for crafting, another important component of the gameplay: potions, bombs and ointments can be purchased with in-game currency, or created through your own portable laboratory, expandable with extra stills and able to speed up times, but with limited use.
Each object has requirements in terms of resources, but also of “real” time necessary for creation, ranging from 10 to 60 minutes: a gimmick that will keep you busy all the time, even and especially when you can’t physically move (maybe once at work, or at school) and enemies do not respawn within your range. In general, the resources are not lacking (you can also donate them, through random packages, to your friends), and thanks to the always full inventory, we have found satisfactory the need to continuously produce potions and more, a little to replenish the arsenal, a little to keep the inventory unloaded so you don’t have to give up the loot found around.
However, the coins are also fundamental, the most difficult to obtain but also the most important ones to improve your “quality of life” in The Witcher: Monster Slayer, expanding inventory, laboratory, and equipment (armor and swords, specifically). In case you do not want to give in to microtransactions, you will have a more tiring but satisfying way, full of daily contracts that are all in all easy to complete (they require you to use or create a certain object, kill a number of enemies, etc.), and above all of quest.
Parallel to the sought-after combat system, it is the great attention paid to the latter, and more generally to the narrative, the flagship of The Witcher: Monster Slayer, to further reiterate, as if it were still needed, the precise will of the development team and CD Projekt RED not to pass it off as a mere spin-off of the B series but as a mobile but absolutely valid version of its franchise more famous and loved.
Embellished with graphic novel narrative sequences (in approach and delightful art style), quests tell small or big stories, traps set by harmless commoners, riddles and even some pleasant twist.
Accompanied by the annoying but loyal merchant Thorstein, we will experience feats not comparable to those of the legendary Geralt of Rivia, but nevertheless intriguing and deserving, most of the time, of the toil necessary to activate them: the NPCs in fact (there are also support ones, like the blacksmiths who enhance the effectiveness of weapons for an hour) will appear randomly in your surroundings, and you will have to physically go to them to start the quest, and then return to get the reward. In the event that you accept a mission away from home and are unable to complete it before your return, the game also allows you to reposition it nearby, so as to avoid you moving solely for playful purposes. These assignments do not stand out for variety, being able to alternate only missions focused on combat with more narrative moments of investigation, but the beauty – as never before – lies in the journey rather than the destination. Not to mention a whole new type of hatred that you will feel for the already hated fetch quests of RPGs, which here will literally make you sweat seven shirts.
Finally, an applause also to the technical realization, with 3D models that are not very clean but absolutely valuable, a good support for Augmented Reality (which can be activated and deactivated at any time), which in our case worked even with sub-optimal lighting conditions, and the general stability found even in the pre-launch phase with a non-definitive build.
We found only a few sporadic bugs related to communication with the servers, but nothing particularly problematic. Instead, the communication of maintenance interventions should be reviewed, not at all reported in-game, which led us to sacrifice some victories, if not entire game sessions, due to interruptions not communicated. But we trust that the team will be able to fix everything as soon as possible by inserting clearer notifications.