the witcherThe world of is built on the creaky backs of characters who look much younger than they are. Mutants and witches who might pass for 40 or 20, respectively, but have seen more faces of kings than a merchant with a bag full of coins. Don’t be fooled by the smooth skin. Their youth is a facade that rarely holds up in conversation, the rigid thinking and misplaced perspective of old age quickly showing through.
were CD Project RED to remake The Witcher – his very first RPG – the outcome would be much the same. No matter how shiny it may look on the outside, it’s a game that can never be mistaken for a modern product, or accepted as such, once it opens its mouth.
It’s not that the studio’s debut was a bad Witcher game or a poorly written game. So many of CDPR’s high-level decisions were sound: placing history after the books, rather than repeating old events; bringing Geralt back as the protagonist, despite the 2000s fad for character creation; to locate the action in the town of Vizima, where the consequences of Geralt’s past actions could occur. It’s those decisions that make the games such great companions, even now – existing comfortably alongside the novels and the Netflix adaptation, each part further enriching the other.
It’s also clear that, from the start, CDPR was the right developer to take on Wiedźmin, as the Witcher series had been known until then. Watch behind-the-scenes interviews – especially those aimed at Polish audiences – and you can feel the team’s admiration for Andrzej Sapkowski’s work. Their commitment to his “inherent” humor, emotional truth, and rejection of easy answers in his stories.
“These books are about modern people,” said chief designer Michał Madej. “You can easily understand their motives. They don’t want to save the world by throwing a ring into a volcano. They just want to have fun, gain power, earn money, drink. They are real, the problems are real, the decisions in the game world are real. It was a guiding statement that ultimately led CDPR to The Wild Hunt and mass cultural resonance.
Yet the precise, focused plot that would define later games is absent from The Witcher 1. The dialogue itself is perfectly good – taken individually, virtually every line is illuminating, funny, or at the very least functional. But the dense tree of quest logic they hang from is as gnarled and twisted as the one on the Whispering Hillock.
This structural confusion has a confusing effect. New information has a habit of materializing in Geralt’s mouth, as if he was carrying out his own investigations while the player slept. Other conversations, meanwhile, can be impossibly empty – bare scaffolding waiting for events to occur elsewhere in the game before they can be dressed up with meaning.
There’s nothing wrong with protecting the player with a repeated interaction that they can come back to once there’s more to say. In fact, it’s a fundamental aspect of RPG design – a necessity that keeps the wheel of conversation spinning – and even Bioware was guilty of implementing the basics a little clumsily at the time. In The Witcher 1, however, this awkwardness is exacerbated by inexperience and budget constraints.
It all comes to a head in Chapter Two, which CDPR wanted to be a detective story filled with a private detective, Private Investigator Raymond, in a high-necked trench coat. It’s Raymond who is supposed to anchor your search for Salamandra, a criminal organization that attacked Kaer Morhen and stole witcher secrets from his lab. But as lead narrative designer Artur Ganszyniec told TheGamer last year, the dialogue for the second act was recorded before the mystery started to make sense.
Today, CDPR would simply fix the problem with money, re-recording the offending lines. But for the fledgling studio, that wasn’t an option. Instead, Ganszyniec spent three days rewriting journal entries in an attempt to reconstruct the story around the recordings, and “learned a lot about how not to design investigations.”
As you can imagine, this solution leaves The Witcher 1’s main quest muddy at best and unnavigable at worst. In the most egregious case, I discovered a crucial character deception – but found the game didn’t give me the option to call it out. It wasn’t until digging through a wiki that I learned that I had to load an earlier save to take the path I wanted; I had chosen the wrong fork in an innocuous choice of dialogue during an autopsy. If you can spot the cataclysmic difference between the two lines below, you’re a better detective than me:
Moments like these are exactly the wrong kind of ambiguity, in a series that’s otherwise celebrated for its gray areas.
Do I wish CDPR had curbed its narrative ambition, and thus released a less scrambled game? Not really. The same ambition that makes The Witcher 1 such a hazy story experience ultimately led CDPR to master the art of branching storytelling in the sequels.
Still, these early mistakes close off any easy path to a remake. Of course, you can replace The Witcher 1’s pirouette, mouse, and keyboard combat style with a more modern dodging and blocking system, in line with The Witcher 3. You can tweak the dialogue here and there, like Hangar 13 did it with Mafia: Definitive Edition – deepening characters that were barely sketched the first time around. But either way, you’ll be dancing, like Geralt, around what’s really needed: a full-scale rewrite to update the game’s narrative structure. more Final Fantasy VII Remake. And at that point you have to question the value of the whole company.
It is a strange and sad conclusion. The Witcher 1 was a deservedly acclaimed computer RPG that, due to various production issues, never made it to consoles – and therefore appears to have huge untapped potential. Given the striga-like appetite for all things Witcher, it would seem obvious that CDPR is resurrecting it. Yet when the required overhaul is so fundamental and extensive, the studio might just be better off building a Witcher 4 instead.