What if: CD Projekt Red The Witcher 1 reissued?

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The first Witcher game is weird. It’s chunky even for 2007, with weird point-and-click fighting, flat characters and dialogue, and very little common DNA with its more successful sequels.

I played The Witcher for the first time last year (thanks, pandemic backlog). While the fight is harrowing, there is much promise in its story. With a generous dose of TLC to bring it up to modern game standards, it would be a great adventure, especially for the 50 million Witcher fans who haven’t had a big new game on this influential series to play since 2016. It has got me thinking – what if CD Projekt Red had done just that? What would a Witcher 1 remake look like in 2021?

The property can stay. When everything else threatened to get in the way of the game, the narrative and worldbuilding drove me to the credits. Long story short, Kaer Morhen is being pillaged by a group called Salamandra who are stealing her sorcerer-making secrets, so Geralt – who suffers from amnesia – and his friends split up to track them down.

This quest takes Geralt through the Northern Realms, from Kaer Morhen to Vizima and finally to the remote village of Murky Waters. We meet characters who have since become firm favorites, such as Löwenzahn, Zoltan, Triss and Vesemir (but not a Yennefer, sobs). At first glance, it’s a standard story about hunting bad guys around the world, but it’s riddled with political intrigue, there are plenty of beasts to learn (and then kill) about, and there is no shortage of moral wetlands for which the series became famous. None of this compares to The Witcher 3, but the basics are solid for a remake. Depending on how much CDPR would be willing to change, a remake could even lift some quests from mediocre to classic.

For example, there is room for a real Flashpoint in the first chapter of The Witcher. A major quest line culminates in the decision to choose a hunted witch named Abigail or to be lynched by a crowd of angry townspeople who may have wronged her. Personally, it was far too easy for me to choose Abigail because the stakes weren’t raised high enough – or were even made completely clear. It seemed like the obvious “good” choice. And my Geralt is always a good boy.

What if Vizima opened up to a huge space, with buildings that reflect the culture and history of Temeria?

It doesn’t help that Abigail’s character development is next to nonexistent, so I found it difficult to understand the situation (not least because it is being treated fairly disposable as she is one of many female characters in the game that is involved in this become deplorable “sex card” system with notches on the bed post, which I’ll get into later). Ultimately, the Abigail site is the “right” choice. There are no downsides, and Geralt is later said to have helped shed innocent blood if he hadn’t. Likewise, it doesn’t matter whether you side with the mob; another NPC later just jumps to Abigail’s place as part of a quest and, Geralt’s conscience aside, there are minimal consequences to be concerned about. The whole quest line ends a bit, well, damp.

The Witchers 2 and 3, on the other hand, are masterful at handling stories like this one. A Witcher remake has the potential to give that quest a real moment by presenting a double-edged decision as seen in its sequels. A remake could buy us more time with Abigail and the townspeople and allow us to better understand their respective plight through a deeper, more nuanced dialogue. What exactly are the city dwellers afraid of? Could there be any truth to their claims? If so, does Abigail have at least one good reason? Of course, CDPR should leave just enough unanswered to make this a difficult decision, and perhaps point to some unrecognizable, but certainly dire, consequences.

Geralt on Roach in The Witcher 3

There’s a similar opportunity to reconsider the game’s key story beats. The choice of who to choose between the Scoia’tael, the Order of the Flaming Rose or, well, yourself and leave the ‘original child’ Alvin with either Triss or Shani could be as iconic as those moments that make you nervous about Googling brought up The Witcher 3’s “good” ending, just in case you missed a better one. It’s one of the things that the sequels do so well – the fear of not knowing what your Geralt has just gotten himself into – and the Witcher 1 plot is already fertile ground for more of that. With a remake, CDPR can tweak the script to add depth and nuance and remove some of its rough edges – the plot could be brilliant.

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There is also the game world. TW1 is much more similar to TW2 in that it does not offer a fully open world; Instead, we have world zones for each chapter and very little backtracking between them. It’s probably too much expected to add a full open world, not to mention the story reorganization it would take to support one, and in any case the zone system works pretty well for the game’s opening and closing chapters. You don’t need much more choice, but what if there was a compromise for the main chapters of TW1?

Vizima hosts most of the game’s chapters in its various segments. It is the capital of Temeria – a fortified city that is securely embedded in the middle of a lake and was built on the foundations of an old elven settlement. This doesn’t really come across in the original due to its fragmented zones, lifeless streets and the inconspicuous landscape.

Vizima in The Witcher 1

But what if Vizima opened up to a vast space, with buildings that reflect the culture and history of Temeria, and the ability to crawl through these elven ruins into dungeons? What if we could travel through every region of the city (including Old Vizima and the swampy areas beyond) without being paralyzed by loading screens or story advancements? What if the simple streets of Vizima were replaced with a labyrinthine network of corridors and shortcuts to explore, all filled with people from all walks of life?

It would certainly change the flow and feel of a large part of the game, but nothing would be lost – it would just be easier to explore and more vividly realized. A remake could make this amazing city – unfortunately unexplored in the other games – the real heart of the game.

Then of course there is romance. A Witcher remake would have to abolish the “sex card” system. This stark approach to romance is a far cry from the complex relationships of The Witcher 3 and essentially doing minor fetch quests – or just saying “hello” at the right time – the only requirement for another night of passion for the horny old man Geralt, with a pornographic trading card from each partner as a “reward”. You know, it’s not that holding trophies exudes incredibly strong serial killer vibes or anything like that … completely normal behavior.

Romance in The Witcher 1

Video game relationships still leave a lot to be desired today, but what if a Witcher remake could remake that whole aspect of the game and instead let you connect in more organic and meaningful ways with the various people Geralt meets? What if Geralt has one or two one-night stands? Fine, but let’s be less scary.

The Witcher hasn’t aged that well, but he’s got good bones

This is the game in which we first meet Triss and Shani, key characters in the sequels and important ones in Geralt’s life. What if a remake spent time developing its characters and sending us on new quests with them that would allow us to see them as complex, thinking characters like the later games, rather than conquests ? Not only would this be a huge benefit in terms of female representation in games (and frankly, in taste too) – it could also complete a narrative thread that runs through the entire trilogy and the appearance of these characters on the Witcher’s previous journeys part of a continuum, rather than a bizarre, dislocated episode where Geralt really had to take one long, hard look at himself.

And finally, let’s fix the weird, swashbuckling rhythm-action battle. The Witcher franchise has never featured complex battles in the style of games like Dark Souls, but their battles have never been as boring as they are here, and the later games offer a range of builds that don’t feel fully fleshed out in the first.

Geralt wears decorative armor in The Witcher 3

The bestiary and the enemies are fine. There’s a lot of variety in these already, and we’re seeing several beasts in TW1 that won’t appear in later games, which is exciting in itself. Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough options to take them out. If a remake could rework the entire combat system of TW1 with TW3 as a starting point and put in a few more combat encounters, then large chunks of the original could be turned into memorable monster showdowns that made The Witcher 3 sparkle bring. After all, that is Geralt’s daily task.

While the concept of a Witcher 1 remake attracts little attention, CDPR has confirmed that it is still pursuing the development of its “two core franchises,” namely The Witcher and Cyberpunk, so that a girl can dream. The Witcher hasn’t aged that well, but it has good bones and – CDPR if you read it – would be ripe for transformation with a remake that could lift it to the performance and style of its dazzling successors. And after everything that happened with Cyberpunk 2077, a Witcher remake is also an opportunity to do good publicity.

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