Bottom line: It's certainly cool fighting monsters from The Witcher and watching a story unfold through some lovely comic-style art. Unfortunately, the game requires too much of a time commitment and is pretty much pay to win.
Cool monster art
Narrative quests told through cool comic style
Solid crafting system
Requires walking way out of your way
Gear upgrades are expensive, and gold is hard to earn
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Pokémon Go was released by Niantic in 2016 and remains one of the most popular and lucrative mobile games, so it's no surprise that other developers are looking to find a way to imitate its model. Developed by Spokko, a subsidiary of The Witcher developer CD Projekt, The Witcher: Monster Slayer could be a real contender. It immerses players in the world of the extremely popular game and Netflix series by letting them play one of the titular monster hunters and kill creatures as you walk around in real life.
The game's mechanics most closely resembles Niantic's 2017 release Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, which adds more RPG elements to the collection-based AR game. It's also trying to hew closer to the main Witcher games with plenty of combat, narrative quests, and lots of gore and cursing. But while The Witcher: Monster Slayer could eventually grow into something enjoyable in its current state, it's only worth playing if you really love the franchise and have a lot of time or money on your hands.
The Witcher: Monster Slayer: What you'll like
The Witcher: Monster Slayer is set hundreds of years before the events of The Witcher 3, at a time when both Witchers and monsters were more common. You play a new Witcher setting out to earn a living by slaying dangerous creatures that spawn randomly on your map as you walk around. You soon encounter the traveling merchant Thorstein, who asks you for aid and winds up helping you by selling gear and giving you leads on the treasure to pursue.
|Category||The Witcher: Monster Slayer|
|Title||The Witcher: Monster Slayer|
|Genre||Augmented Reality, RPG|
|Minimum Requirements||iOS 12.0|
|Game Size||1.9 GB|
|Launch Price||Free with in-app purchases|
While you choose your name and pick from one of six set appearances — three male and three female — your gruff personality is pretty clearly modeled after Geralt of Rivia, with the loquacious Thorstein serving as your foil in the same way as Dandelion, or Jaskier has he's known in the Netflix show. The plot has some amusing surprises, but to proceed through it, you'll need to do a fair bit of grinding for levels and gold or pay real money to earn XP and buy gear faster.
The mechanics are pretty similar to Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, with you facing monsters by tracing magical runes and swiping at them with your sword. Killing monsters or gathering plants that spawn on the map rewards you with components you can use to make potions and oils to improve your combat skills and bombs that give you extra actions in combat. Your foes look appropriately menacing, and you'll need fast reflexes to drop them. Luckily, there's no penalty for losing a battle except for expending any items you used in the fight.
Defeating enough monsters or leveling up also gives you skill points you can use for passive benefits like reducing the effects of being directly hit by a monster attack or giving you access to new runes and crafting recipes. While the trees are pretty linear, there are real choices you need to make in terms of banking points for more powerful abilities or taking the immediate gratification that might help you level up faster.
The Witcher: Monster Slayer: What you won't like
I love Pokémon Go because it adds extra fun to what I was going to do anyway, letting me catch Pokémon and collect items as I go about my errands. When I want to spend more time playing, I can do it from home with remote raids or go to one of the nearby gyms. The Witcher: Monster Slayer works fundamentally differently, making you really go out of your way to complete quests.
Quest objectives appear on your map several blocks away from where you are, often drawing you into residential areas rather than sticking to downtown centers. Get to one objective, and chances are you'll need to go even further afield to complete the next step. These can be tough challenges if you're not high level or well-geared, and you might wind up having to give up, walk away, and come back when you have the right items unless you're willing to drop some money on the spot to get what you need instantly.
That might fit in with the brutal nature of The Witcher's world, but there are many problems in execution. A lot of people don't have the time or ability to physically wander around for 30 minutes just to get to an encounter they might not be able to win. The walking would be more enjoyable if you got something else for your efforts, but monster spawns and resources aren't that frequent, so you'll spend much of your trek just staring at your phone. The app also crashes frequently, adding to the frustration.
Even if you love strolling through unfamiliar areas, the game has plenty of other issues. One quest involves deciphering the order of runes, but the graphics used to indicate which areas you can interact with make it almost impossible to see the runes, turning it into a guessing game. Parrying is challenging and extremely frustrating since monsters will swing at you even when you're going through the animation needed to deliver a critical hit. Using AR is also frustrating since monsters might attack you while you're trying to center your phone to see them. The game is also a huge battery drain, so you might want to pick up one of the best iPhone 12 battery cases if you plan to play for a while.
Witchers are known for carrying two swords, one silver and one steel, that they swap between based on what they're fighting. You can score crits for capitalizing on a monster's vulnerabilities, but you only start with the steel sword, and the cheapest silver one costs the equivalent of $9. Gold is hard to come by unless you pay real money, only trickling in through completing daily contracts, so the game seems very tilted towards a pay-to-win strategy.
While you have choices in how you interact with NPCs, they don't seem particularly meaningful, sometimes as narrow as what curse word to use to express your displeasure. Social aspects are limited to exchanging gifts like in Pokémon Go with no other incentive for teaming up. Pokémon Go had plenty of problems at launch, so hopefully, Spokko will learn over time and implement changes and add more features to make this a better experience.
The Witcher: Monster Slayer: Should you play it?
The Witcher: Monster Slayer is free, so you can pretty easily download it and check out how much you like it. However, I wouldn't recommend sinking any real money into microtransactions unless you're a Witcher fanatic eager to complete the story. Considering winning a fight requires your full attention, and completing a quest means going out of your way to travel to wherever the game tells you; playing The Witcher: Monster Slayer requires more time and focus than I think is warranted for a game this light on features.
There's certainly potential for a darker AR game to provide a good excuse to go for long walks, but I don't think The Witcher: Monster Slayer is there yet. Pokémon Go significantly improved over time, so I'm hoping this game will too. Until then, I'll be getting my Witcher fix from home.
Bottom line: Hardcore fans of The Witcher who enjoy doing plenty of walking might enjoy a new way to battle some of the series' iconic creatures, but the game requires too much work to be worth playing if you don't have a lot of time to wander around. Hopefully, the game will evolve over time to become a worthy challenger to Niantic's titles.
Samantha Nelson writes about gaming and electronics for iMore, Windows Central and Android Central while also covering nerd culture for publications including IGN and Polygon. She loves superheroes, RPGs, cooking, and spending time outside with her dog. You can follow her on Twitter @samanthanelson1.