Given the runaway success of Pokémon GO from Niantic (which just became the eighth video game to cross US$5 billion in revenue), it is rather surprising it took so long for other entrants such as Harry Potter: Wizards Unite! from Ludia (2019) and Jurassic World Alive (2018) from Niantic and Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment to arrive on the scene.
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Almost five years later, the gaming market is not that crowded for Augmented Reality location-based games. Considering the pandemic has got many of us huddled in our homes, The Witcher: Monster Slayer comes at a very odd time.
Though, for fans of the Henry Cavill-starrer Netflix TV series (season two of which is scheduled to release on December 17) as well as the popular series of The Witcher games and novels, the very notion of being a monster-killing enigma, does seem intriguing.
The world of Andrezj Sapkowski’s novel series The Witcher is a gritty cross between the worlds of Westeros and Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales. Those familiar with titular hero, Geralt of Rivia, will know of the legend of the mutated cat-eyed monster-hunters. In The Witcher: Monster Slayer, you get to play as a Witcher hundreds of years before Geralt’s story even begins. It was a time when there were many more monsters and the world was in need of more Witchers to deal with them.
- Developer: Spokko Games
- Publisher: CD Projekt Red
- Price: Free on iOS and Android, with in-app purchases
The Witcher: Monster Slayer, is thematically and tonally closely inspired by Wizards Unite. You walk around in real time, and fight monsters that pop up. To push things along, you can take up quests that have you investigate places of interest to solve puzzles or eventually kill monsters. While that is enough to draw you into the game, you do also meet some interesting non-playable characters (NPCs) along the way.
One of the biggest plus points of this game is the fun fighting system. The monsters’ designs are quite striking, with incredible animations. Some of the more eye-catching ones include the Basilisk, the pig-faced Pale Fledger, the Alp and the antler-toting Leshen. Your Witcher sword can slice and dice in a series of flashy moves. To cast spells, simply draw the signs on your screen (just like in Wizards Unite). As intended for a mobile experience, the concept is catchy.
Heavy on micro-transactions
Things, however, go awry in the gameplay. Everything seems to be designed for you to pay either in time or in money, though it seems to lean more towards micro-transactions. For example, a Witcher staple, the signature Silver sword is not given to you at the start, you begin with a steel one, which works on non-monster enemies. To rub it in, every monster’s readout reveals that they are vulnerable to silver. So you have to grit your teeth, and just slog it out with steel to either kill that monster or risk a case or two of carpal tunnel — whichever comes first. Either earn enough gold to buy the sword, or just fork over some cash.
The mobile gaming industry is at a point where a lack of built-in monetisation systems would make me suspicious of what they are actually taking. So, it is fine that Monster Slayer has in-app purchases, but many of them border on the pay-to-win factor. You either pay real-world cash to take shortcuts or you pay in time to keep roaming around finding herbs to make potions and more. This is fun, but eventually it will get rather repetitive.
Graphically this game is gorgeous; despite the map being a bit sparse, the monsters, as mentioned, look fantastic. In AR Mode, the creatures just loom, and even daytime lighting on them is a sight to see. Technically, this game has insane loading times, even on the latest iPhone. There are unfortunately quite a few crashes, often draining battery, and I do not understand why the game wants to track my activity on other apps. Clearly the developer’s focus should be on fixing the game before it goes ‘full Zuckerberg’ on my data.
All of this leads me to ask the question, who is this game for? It seems like Witcher Lite to fans of the PC role-playing game. It certainly feels more targeted to the Pokémon GO and Wizards Unite crowds, in which case it has a long way to go. For now, it is worth a try if you have the patience
The writer is a tech and gaming enthusiast who hopes to one day finish his sci-fi novel