Taking paper, rock, scissors to a whole new level.
I should mention first that I have very little knowledge of the previous games in the Witcher franchise; neither in story or gameplay. That said, The Witcher: Versus seems to be very forgiving in that respect, as there is no story, and the gameplay requires about as much skill as rolling a pair of dice. Does that mean I didn’t enjoy myself? No. There is some entertainment to be found in this game, the same way there is entertainment in waiting for your raffle ticket number to be called.
When you start the game, you choose between one of three classes: a warrior, a sorcerer, and an insectoid beast. Each of these characters starts with three types of attacks: heavy, quick, and magic. The game’s tutorials does a pretty good job of explaining the various points of the game, making an especially big point about how important the “premium” store of items is (sigh). Aside from the paid store, there is a store that lets you spend gold to upgrade your weapon or buy trinkets that boost your abilities. There are only two types of stats that effect what kinds of moves you can do: magic and might. For instance, you might have a move that takes one might to use, and if you only have one in the might stat, you can only use it once per battle. You may have multiple moves that have these requirements, so in order to use them all in battle, you will need to purchase items that buff this stat permanently.
So how does battling actually work? The first step is to find someone to fight with. There is a list of other players that are currently online, helpfully sorted by level number, that you must use to seek out your opponent. If opponents are ready and willing to fight, you’ll see a red dot by their name indicating so. I didn’t se any way to add friends, or the ability to challenge people when they’re offline. Considering the multiplayer is asynchonous, I don’t understand why this wouldn’t be an option. The list of players never had more than 5-7 people, and at times there was only one or two other than myself. Adding a friends list would be great, as you could really get to know how another player fights by battling them constantly, not just when they happened to be online. For the most part, I was able to find someone to challenge.
When you challenge someone, you are shown a screen that lets you choose your offensive and defensive moves. The number and availability of these moves depend on your level, your magic or strength stats, and what you’ve unlocked via the leveling system. You proceed to choose the precise order of your attacks… a heavy here, a magic there, a special potion at the beginning to increase your might, etc. Then you pick your defensive moves based on what you think the opponent will choose. For instance, if I was going up against a sorceress I would probably want to choose more magic defense moves to keep her from sucking my life away. When this is done, you have to sit and wait patiently for the other player to respond to your challenge.
There is a place on the menu that shows you when battles are completed using a notification system that resembles Apple’s app notifications (a red number at the button right corner). This happens when the challenged player pulls up your request from their own challenges menu and responds with their own strings of attack and defense moves. When you are informed of a finished fight, you must go to the appropriate menu to watch it. What you see resembles a turn-based 2D fighting game: each player trades blows and defensive stances. You sit there, hoping that you made the right choice, as you character carries out their commands. When one character kills the other, or the moves run out, the game is over and a victor is chosen based on the amount of health left.
I can’t tell you how many times I sat there, helplessly watching, as my player was torn apart by someone spamming the same powerful move over and over, or simply because I didn’t randomly choose the perfect order to my attacks/defenses. On the flip side, it was also satisfying to pull off one of my few victories. But as satisfying as it was, the feeling quickly leaves when you realize that you really didn’t do anything to gain that victory. Sure, you can level up moves to make them more powerful, and you can buy items that give you a bit of a boost, but everyone else is also leveling with you. In the end, it always comes to down to luck. If you didn’t choose the right counters to your opponent’s attacks, or if your opponent is strong enough to do damage despite your proper blocks, you’re screwed. This happened a lot, and all the while I felt helpless to do anything other than try to guess what pattern my opponent was following to try to counter him in my next challenge and hope I was right. More often than not I was not. Sometimes I would properly predict their moves, but their attacks were so powerful it didn’t matter than I blocked.
Since you’ll spend most of your time in the menus choosing attacks and upgrading your moves as you level, it’s important that these were done well. Luckily, you’ll have no problem looking up fights and buying the next big item, as the menus work well. My only complaint is with the notification system in-game, which is supposed to tell you when you have a challenge or a finished fight. From the first 30 minutes of playing, the notification icon always showed 1-2 challenges waiting, even though none were there. Speaking of bugs, the game quit to the home screen quite a few times, which is obviously frustrating. On a semi-related note, this game is begging for an app notification feature, but instead you must launch the game to see if anything is waiting for you.
Since The Witcher: Versus doesn’t support the retina display, the battles don’t look all that great. The characters are obviously sprite based, and sometimes look like they’re battling in front of a green screen as they perform the same animations over and over. Because of the pre-made animations, there isn’t any way to customize how your characters look, which really hurts the multiplayer aspect of the game. I don’t have any complaints about the sound, but nothing stood out as amazing.
I was expecting more from The Witcher: Versus. While there is a certain excitement that comes with sending out challenges and waiting to see how you performed, there is also certain frustration/disappointment when you watch yourself get slaughtered time and time again without much to say in the matter. When a character can spam the same over-powered move (or the same over-powered block) without any worry of being defeated, it shows that there are some serious balance issues to iron out. The frequent crashes and notification bugs will annoy even those who enjoy the “paper, rock, scissors” style of gameplay and light RPG leveling elements. At a buck, it’s not necessarily a waste of money (although that’s apparently just the launch sale?), as I didn’t find that spending real money on in-app purchases was an absolute necessity, but it’s not going to provide as much entertainment as it could have had a lot more time been spent on balance, customization, and social interactions.
The Witcher: Versus – $.99 (launch sale)