My oh my, it’s really here. Finally and truly.
The Witcher 1 was a mildly successful RPG based on a series of books and drawing heavily from Slavic and Polish mythology, The Witcher 2 was a more dedicated push into the mainstream consciousness, And now, a few years later, we have The Witcher 3; a labour of love from the notoriously ambitious CD Projekt: Red studio. But has the expanded time to create and heaps more budgetary money thrown at them translated into a better product? Well, what I can say straight away is that it’ll have to be a very special game that manages to grab my personal Game of the Year from The Witcher 3 at this stage.
New players might well find some of the minor points of the story hard to grasp at first, as well as returning players even to some degree. The story is intensely detailed, and the political situation between the fictional states is of huge importance to the story. It also doesn’t help that the games take place after the series of books, which are only now beginning to be published in English in a major way. However, extensive dialogue options and multiple in game books to read will help flesh out some of the major points.
The Witcher 3 takes place in world with magic, magical creatures, monsters, and deep political intrigue. It again stars the stoic and indomitable Geralt as its protagonist. Geralt is a witcher, a specially trained warrior whose duty it is to seek out monsters that terrorise humans and destroy them. Taking place shortly after The Witcher 2, Geralt has recovered from his amnesia and is now seeking his old friends Yennefer and Ciri. Yennefer is his former sorceress lover, and Ciri is his adopted daughter. Ciri is pursued by the mythical Wild Hunt, a group of shadowy elven spectres, who wish to capture her to use some of her latent magical gifts. Geralt must therefore find Ciri before the Hunt does, and Yennefer is his best lead to find where she was last located. Taking place at the same time is the expansionist Nilfgaardian Empire’s invasion of the Northern Kingdoms, flinging all the areas Geralt travels through into conflict and turmoil.
The game therefore sets up challenges from both human empires and magical forces, and presents the main quest as a detective mission. Geralt travels from place to place, finding rumours and whispers of both the hunt and Ciri, and he must often resolve the areas own problems before he can move on. Gameplay takes place in several open world zones, split between the starter area of White Orchid, the wild war torn area of Velen, the free city of Novigrad and the Viking-style islands of Skellige. Altogether, these areas are absolutely enormous, and all have distinct features and styles between them. Geralt is therefore free to complete the main storyline quests, or otherwise to explore and discover side quests and unique areas with treasure or enemies. Aside from normal quests, there are also special Witcher Monster Hunt Quests, Treasure Map Quests, and minigames such as horse racing, bareknuckle boxing, agility courses, and Gwent, a Magic the Gathering-like cardgame. Out of all these distractions, Gwent is perhaps the most addictive, and I let the fate of the world merrily slip on by on many occasions as I sought to find even more citizens to challenge and expand my card collection.
Gameplay is split into several forms. The most obvious is combat. Geralt uses a free-flowing form of swordplay, in which sidesteps and dodge rolls are essential, with movements dictated by which enemies he is fighting. The overall combat level is quite hard, and on harder difficulties intensive preparations before battles will often be needed. There is no level scaling, and enemies are always at a set level in each area. In between sword slashes, basic magic abilities can be cast, ranged attacks can be used like crossbows and bombs, and potions can be used for support. There are no easy Insta-Heal buttons in combat; the best you can do is accelerate your recovery patterns.
Another major feature of gameplay is crafting. Items and recipes are collected, which can in turn be crafted into special armour and weapons, and herbs and monster remains can be used in alchemy to create special potions or bombs. This works as well as I have seen in any RPG, and searching for ingredients or finding new design plans is often unusually exciting.
The final major form of gameplay is in the narrative department. Like most RPGs, there are dialogue choices that change the outcome of events. Unlike many other RPGs, The Witcher 3 really takes these to heart, and both the effects of your choices and the reasons behind them are considered in depth and have enormous results for the story. A basic decision in a random side-quest can completely change the results of a main storyline quest 10 hours later in game, and often in ways that you didn’t expect but that make sense once you see them. The narrative and characterisations are handled extremely well, and mature subject matter is often given the consideration it deserves, without skimping many of the messier parts. The world of the Witcher is often quite depressing, and there are no easy happy endings, but through hard work and good thinking, you will be able to earn a happy ending for the characters you care about, which makes them feel even more worthwhile. All I can say is, make as many saves as you can.
Both the graphics and sound in the game are of considerable highlights. There is an immense amount of detail in game, from clothes to hair to trees to mountains to bushes. When you see a castle or mountain in the distance, very nearly always you will be able to find your way up there to climb it yourself. The sound compliments the setting very well and the music is both poignant and emotional.
There are some flaws of course. Load times are often heavy, and there are a few more bugs here and there then are really appreciated. None are gamebreaking, as far as I found, and patches are correcting them as they come, but still, it is noticeable. Also, the first two thirds of the game are noticeably more challenging then the last third. Finally, some quests can feel like an excess of busywork, which detract from their quality.
However, these are all very minor complaints. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a labour of love, it really is, and it’s made to give players as much as possible to do in this haunting, compelling world. You can easily play it for 100 hours or more, and you will find yourself engrossed in Geralt’s story and efforts as you go on. For me it hit multiple nails on the head from what I wanted in a game, and I lost many days of my life to it already. People should be aware that it has an enormous amount of adult content, and rightly deserves its 18 only rating, but for those people who love open-world RPGs and pick this up, you will have a fantastic time.
I give it a full score not because it’s perfect, but because I believe that a perfect game doesn’t exist, and that you should still be able to use all the ratings on your scale; otherwise, why have them? When I say it gets full marks in every category, what I mean is that it excels equally noticeably and equally effectively in each of them. For what it is in its genre and context, it succeeds on every level I believe it should.