People have monster problems in The Witcher: Monster Slayer and I’m here to murder them. The monsters, not the people; I think.
I’m sitting in my car in the middle of a working class neighborhood while a guy who has clearly just come home from his construction job glares at me, wondering why I’m parked in front of his house. He’s totally correct to be suspicious. I’m here because I’m hunting a griffon.
Over the last couple months or so I’ve been picking at the new location-based game, The Witcher: Monster Slayer, which is based on the hit video game series (and the tv show, and the books; it’s a whole thing.) This is a universe of fiction that I have no familiarity with, though I’ve long heard that The Witcher 3 video game is fantastic, even if it takes far too long to complete. (A common issue with big video games these days.) Still, I knew vaguely that a “witcher” is a monster hunter of sorts, and that successful encounters with monsters require some bit of preparation of the proper materials. Certain foes are weak to certain metals, different potions and oils help against certain monsters, etc.
The Witcher: Monster Slayer seems to translate that same design into a location-based game. Monsters populate a map of the real world around you, and you walk to their locations to hunt them down for parts. You turn those parts into items that you can use against stronger monsters, and the cycle continues.
Much of the positive buzz around The Witcher video games series stems from its strong story hooks. You encounter characters around the world and some of them tell you about their monster problems. You then go hunt down those monsters and interact with those characters further. I’ve heard that many of those encounters are weird and interesting, so I was delighted to see that The Witcher: Monster Slayer seemed to have something similar. I’ve long bemoaned the lack of storytelling in location-based games, especially among the bigger releases of the genre.
I got even more fired up (in a nerdy way that few other people will care about) after seeing The Witcher: Monster Slayer’s “quest relocation” feature. It’s a location-based game mechanic I’ve not seen since CodeRunner, one of the first location-based games, and I have demanded to see it more often. Basically, it works like this: the game requires that you visit a specific real life location, as assigned fairly randomly. But what if that real life location is inaccessible or dangerous? The game allows you to move that quest location to somewhere else. Why don’t more games do this?!
All this felt like the setup for a great game, and for my classic obsessive, head-first fall into a universe. Shoot, I’ll go find those books to read! I’ll watch the Netflix TV show! I can get into some Witcher! Let’s go!
The problem is the way that the game chooses those real world locations for quests is very frustrating. They’re always too far to walk to, and the reassignment function is unnecessarily rigid. It took me forever to finish the initial quest because the game would only choose either a spot in the middle of a deep, thorn-, tick-, and poison ivy-filled wood, or the middle of a residential area with no sidewalks. It would only flip between those two places.
Further, many of the quests have multiple steps and I found myself having to drive from place to place because walking simply wasn’t possible. It’s not like I could just go to a big park and play the game— the quest waypoints are too far apart. Maybe if you lived in an extremely-walkable large city it would be ok? But even then I don’t see how you’d be able to consistently walk to each quest location for long.
It’s a problem because there’s not much else in The Witcher: Monster Slayer to do. The combat is ok to a point, but running around killing monsters is, well, boring without some kind of motivation. Why are there succubi all over the place, and why must I murder them?
Eventually you level up your character after all that murder, but that just makes you slightly better at… killing monsters. The Witcher: Monster Slayer’s augmented reality (AR) feature, like most games with AR features these days, is useless and overheats my phone’s battery in minutes. In fact, every time I’ve tried it my phone gets too hot, darkens itself to keep from frying, and I can’t see the screen; making doing anything in augmented reality pointless.
Throw in the fact that really the only practical way to get new weapons and armor is to spend real money— sure you can earn “gold” in the game, but item prices are absurdly high— and combined with all those other things, the game very quickly feels very player-unfriendly.
I’m being fussy because the quests I’ve done so far are interesting and quirky. Sometimes they have illustrated vignettes, and have excellent voice acting. I want to see more of them! I’m fine with having to work to unlock things in location-based games—I’m a geocacher, I’m used to long hikes through unfriendly terrain to achieve a silly goal—but pulling my car over on the shoulder of a busy road and then sitting there tapping on my phone isn’t fun, and feels very much against the spirit of the genre.
After being burned by Minecraft Earth I’m nervous about location-based games with high-profile intellectual property sticking around. This game feels like one where the plug will be pulled at any moment.
Goodness, I hope this game keeps going and gets some updates. There’s a solid foundation of a game to be found here, if they’d just loosen up on the aforementioned quest location assignment shenanigans.
Selfishly though, it’s for the best. I really don’t have the time for a 60+ hour video game like Witcher 3. I don’t have the space to watch a whole new TV series, and so forth, but I was really hoping to go wild for a new, big budget location-based game, especially one that finally has some narrative elements. But, for at least this version of The Witcher: Monster Slayer, they haven’t made exploring the real world fun, and I’m more inclined to let the monsters run free.
12/6/2022, UPDATE: They did not pivot their design and, predictably, the game is shutting down.