Friday 1 July 2011

Silence is the most powerful scream.

I’ve been playing The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings on those rare occasions when the delight has temporarily faded from hunting wolves, shaving angry badgers, or run-by punching crows from their perches in a shocked puff of feathers in order to appease some random MMO NPC who will never speak to me again once I’ve completed the task for them. I mean, I’m not asking for much, but once I’ve performed whatever task the NPC demanded of me –run halfway around the world on an errand, or saved their children from orc raiders, or unblocked their toilet– half the time they’ll just outright not speak to me at all, and the other half of the time… well, I get the vague impression that they might be trying to avoid me

“Hello again Norman NPC!”

“I’m sorry, do I know you?”

“It’s me, the guy who rescued you last week from being crushed by the butcher’s wife when she fell on you from the top of that haystack. Remember? I heard the screaming, and came running, like the hero I am. Surely you remember: the impact was so great that it had blasted fully half the clothes from the pair of you, and she was still in the residual stages of bouncing up and down when I rounded the corner and tackled her to the ground before she crushed you further!”

“Oh, right. Yeah, look, this is a bad time, I’m kind of busy. Sorry.”

“Are you sure? You seem to be just standing around aimlessly. I can tell because I’m standing right next to you… [waves amiably] Hel-lo.”

“Dam… hi, sorry, thought we were on the telephone; forgot we hadn’t invented it yet.”

“The telephone?! My word, we haven’t even discovered gunpowder yet, and here you are dashing off and pre-inventing the telephone already! I mean, we’ll have to imagine inventing electricity first!”

“Yeah, anyway, I really am very busy. I really appreciate what you did for me, and taking it upon yourself to further help out and artificially inseminate my herd of yaks, which was no mean task.”

“You’re most welco…”

“Since they’re all males.”


“But I’m afraid I don’t have time to talk right now.”

“Oh. Well, okay. Fair enough.”


“Okay then.”

“Uh huh.”

[I look hopefully at the NPC]

“[sigh] Yes?”

“You really don’t seem terribly busy…”

“I’m, uh, meditating.”


“Yes, I’m trying to find inner peace, harmony, and an unconditional selfless love for my fellow man.”


“Now piss off.”

Maybe I shouldn’t expect so much. After all, they did give me a knackered old pair of boots two sizes too small for my character to wear as reward for saving their entire village from being captured by orcs and sent to work as green coats at the orc equivalent of Butlins. But these NPCs, they’re all “Save us! Save us!” and they’re your best friend and won’t stop talking to you “Do this. Go there. Take that. Rub my feet”, until you’ve performed their tasks for them, and suddenly you find that they’ve unfriended you on Facebook, and stopped following you on Twitter. I mean, really.

I’ve stalled slightly on The Witcher 2 however, not getting all that terribly far through the game, and thus there shouldn’t be any spoilers in this post, because if there are then it’ll probably spoil it for me too, at which point I promise I’ll turn to myself and punch me off my chair.

I’ve reached Chapter 2, where the most memorable part of Chapter 1 was the huge forest in which you spend most of your adventuring ‘me time’, wandering around just stabbing stuff for stabbing stuffs sake. Witcher 2 is a beautiful game, graphically and atmospherically, and the needle on the immersion-o-meter was definitely lolling (but definitely not loling) towards the redline on the display whenever I took the time to wander through CD Projekt’s carefully crafted abyssal chthonic resonator. Chapter 2, however, is where I came a little unstuck. As a veteran of many an RPG campaign, the ‘install yourself in a city, follow a main quest line, and collect every meaningless side quest you can find along the way in the hope of finding a weapon upgrade or two’ style of play has begun to wear a little thin. Especially when you consider the nature of our protagonist, from the Wikipedia entry:

“[…] witchers are monster-hunters who receive special training and have their bodies modified at an early age to provide them with supernatural abilities so they can battle extremely dangerous monsters and survive.”

Which means it’s always hard to be searching on hands and knees through an ancient ruin for Dwane the dwarf’s mithril ring, a long lost family heirloom which he lost while adventuring, when you could otherwise be hunting fearsome monsters. More so when you eventually return to town holding the ring far out in front of you, pinching it lightly between two fingers, a pose which you assumed the moment you realised that this ring was never designed to go on a finger. Dwane defensively proclaims to your back that eroticism is a valid form of adventuring as you walk away with your newly acquired pair of old boots two sizes too small for you.

It’s the usual RPG feeling, that wonderment as to how NPCs ever manage to get on in their lives when the Witcher, or generic hero type X, is not around to help them with their every single measly chore

“Witcher! Trolls are attacking the orphanage!”
“Witcher! There are giant rats in my cellar!”
“Witcher! I can’t get the lid off this jar!”
“Witcher! This garden gate squeaks when it opens!”
“Witcher! There’s an itch on my back I can’t reach!”
“Witcher! The lawn needs mowing!”
“Witcher! My prostate needs checking!”
“Witcher! I need to consolidate my debts into one easy manageable loan!”
“Witcher! I have something in my eye!”
“Witcher! We’re going to my mother’s, put the child seat in the cart!”

I mean, the immersion-o-meter is still reading quite high in Chapter 2, but only because I switched it over to measure the SI unit of Henpecking.

I’m slowly making my way through the game anyway, because I feel I owe it that much from the unadulterated joy it gave me in Chapter 1, but the further I progress the more eerie the town I’m residing in becomes; the more I rub backs, peel potatoes, wax bikini lines, and trim hedgerows, the more residents there are who seem to have suddenly and wholly taken to the philosophy of silent self contemplation.

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