CD Projekt Red is jumping on the remake trend and bringing back the first entry in The Witcher series. The developer announced the upcoming remake just in time for the game’s 15-year anniversary. Remakes can run the gambit from shameless cash grabs to meaningful updates, and it’s far too early to make such a call in this case. The Witcher started the franchise that made CD Projekt Red one of the biggest developers in the industry, but it wasn’t until The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt that the series really took off — and there are good reasons for that. Here is why a return to Geralt’s first adventure is more worthwhile than it may seem at first glance.
The sequel was better — It is safe to say that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of the best games ever made. The standout RPG has one of the most engaging worlds in video games and an engrossing story to match it. Despite being the final entry of a trilogy, it was many people's first experience with The Witcher and CD Projekt Red.
The Witcher 2 is oft considered a cult classic. It garnered enough attention in 2011 when it was released for PC and Xbox 360 due to its impressive branching story, but it wasn’t exactly a big hit. The first game was released four years prior. To put it kindly, The Witcher was middling back in 2007, and the years have not been kind to it. More bluntly, The Witcher is nearly unplayable for modern audiences.
While The Witcher 3 was built in CD Projekt Red’s own impressive game engine and had plenty of money put into development, that was not the case for The Witcher. At the time CD Projekt Red had mostly done translation work in video games, and it was the studio’s first big stint as a game developer. BioWare’s Aurora Engine was used to build the game, originally created in 2002 and used on projects like Neverwinter Nights and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. By the time CD Projekt Red got its hands on it, it was already five years old.
The Witcher succeeds on the strength of its big decisions and branching outcomes, something that still defines the series in later entries. But it feels janky in terms of combat and exploration. Anyone who played The Witcher 3 and wanted more of Geralt’s story and an interesting open-world RPG would not find it in the first two games.
The newly announced remake is a chance to fix a number of issues in the original release.
Fixer upper — Developed by studio Fool’s Theory in partnership with CD Projekt Red, The Witcher Remake is being built from the ground up using Unreal Engine 5, a state-of-the-art and brand-new engine that was fully released in April 2022. An official press release bills the project as a “modern reimagining” of the original.
An obvious path for Fool’s Theory to pursue is to rebuild The Witcher to closely resemble the core game mechanics of The Witcher 3. While the original Witcher has the same political intrigue and monster-hunting story that makes The Witcher 3 great, the world feels empty and stilted beyond the main story.
However, the most interesting improvements could be made in the gameplay. The Witcher feels more akin to something like Dragon Age: Origins than the more action-oriented free-wheeling combat of The Witcher 3. Combat feels tactical in a way later entries veer away from. Developer Fool’s Theory is also currently acting in a supporting capacity on Baldur’s Gate 3, a very tactical RPG that feels far more traditional. There is the possibility that combat in The Witcher Remake could look to create a middle point between the modern action players will expect and a more traditional tactical style of play that emulates the original release. A great example of what could be possible is Final Fantasy VII Remake’s real-time combat you can slow down to issue commands and choose actions.
In addition, there are some questionable things in The Witcher that have not aged well and would have been better left in the past. Namely, there’s a card-collecting mini-game that is cringeworthy at best — a far cry from the beloved Gwent card game that would come later.
Geralt can have numerous sexual encounters throughout the narrative. Once each sequence is completed, the player gets a collectible card with a skimpy portrait of Geralt’s latest ... “conquest”. These are generously referred to as “romance cards” in-game.
With CD Projekt Red working on numerous projects, including a new Witcher game that will continue Geralt’s story, The Witcher Remake may be one of the most interesting game’s currently in development due to the ability to deliver a totally reinvented experience of a flawed first outing from a now well-established developer.