The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Developer: CD Projekt RED
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed), PS4, PC
Release Date: May 19th, 2015
Price: AU$109.95 – Available Here | US$59.99 – Available Here
Oftentimes when I sit down to write a review, I wonder if I have spent enough time with the game to fully give it the credit it deserves. “Should I beat the campaign again?” or “Is 30 hours enough?” are the types of questions that fill my head. However, as I sit down to write this review, I KNOW that I haven’t done enough. The Witcher III by CD Projekt RED is such a hugegame that there just isn’t enough time in the world to dedicate to it in order to do it justice. I’m 50 hours in and I’m barely halfway through the story, and have a lot to go in terms of side-quests and character progression. That in of itself speaks volumes for just how immense and downright impressive this game truly is.
There are a lot of fantasy RPG games out there, and many of them focus themselves on massive, world-ending events like the descent of dragons, or portals to hell opening up to swallow the world whole. The Witcher II manages to separate itself from this fantasy cliche by presenting a story that is far more grounded and personal to the protagonist than just about anything I ever remember playing.
After living through wars, the extinction of the Witchers, a bout amnesia and even a little bit of death, Geralt of Rivia has turned his attention back to finding Yennifer of Vengerberg, his long-lost love. On his quest to find her, he learns that Ciri, his ward and adopted daughter is being hunted by the wraith-like Wild Hunt. This is confirmed when Geralt runs into Yennifer, who is also searching for the endangered young woman. This is the crux of The Witcher III’s story, with our white-haired, cat-eyed monster hunter trying to find someone he deeply cares about, but always feeling like he is a few steps behind.
In a lot of ways, the story of The Witcher III reminds me a lot of the Super Mario games, where our protagonist always feels like he is about to finally save the one he loves, only to discover that she is further away than he thought. The personal nature of the story allows us to feel more connected to the characters and the events of the world as they unfold.
Like most modern RPGs, choice plays a vital role in The Witcher III, with the player being able to answer questions and encounters in a variety of different ways. Unlike games like Skyrim or Fallout, there are no “good” or “bad” choices to make, and nothing flashes up on screen to tell you which you should do. Player choice is paramount in this game, and it shines through brilliantly. Decisions you make can affect characters and even whole cities down the track. Oftentimes you wont notice the effects of your choices until far later into the game, when certain plot points come to fruition.
There is a lot of maturity to the story of The Witcher franchise, and The Witcher III is no exception. By that I don’t mean that it is just violence and swearing (although there is plenty of that) but that the game just feels more adult oriented in its presentation and narrative choices. A prime example is Geralt’s meeting with a lord who beats his wife – it is the taboo kind of subject matter that you wouldn’t really expect to see in a video game, and every conversation with said lord becomes awkward and downright challenging after you learn it. The game adds a layer after layer of complexity to the world until the subtle shades of grey in morality are as close to real-life as I have ever seen.
For those of you out there wondering if the plot is accessible to anybody who hasn’t played the previous two games, then you are in luck because it absolutely is! (admittedly, this is a necessity because the first game is only available on PC/OSX). Early on, you are given the option to make some choices that retell the events of The Witcher II, and also serve as a little bit of a recap of the previous games. This game has a lot of extra little tid bits and nuances that fans of the series will recognise and enjoy more than newcomers, but they are in no way vital to the enjoyment of the game.
I know that I blabbered on about the story of the Witcher III for a long time, but it is a really well-crafted narrative, but enough about that! Let’s talk about some gameplay!
RPGs all kind of circle around a few key principles don’t they? Exploration, leveling up, skills, gear and side-quests. Well, The Witcher III has all of those in absolute spades! We will come to all that in a second, first lets talk about the most important gameplay mechanic; combat.
The Witcher III is a very hack and slash kind of game. You play as a trained monster hunter (who has also undergone several mutations and transformations to hone his skills and natural abilities), and as such the game is all about fighting. Enemies are broken down into two main categories (and a bunch of smaller categories after this); ordinary and supernatural. Ordinary enemies are fought using your Steel sword and contain things like humans, wolves, bears etc. While the supernatural side of things include werewolves, wraiths and a whole bunch of grotesque looking enemies that are just difficult to look at. These are fought using your silver sword (cause you know; mythology) and are where Geralt makes most of his money. You can use either strong or weak attacks, however there is very little comboing to be had here. You can also dodge, block and parry enemy attacks to crate an opening for which you will slash at them.
Swordplay is one thing, but Geralt also has access to a couple magic “signs” at his disposal. These range from a magical trap that strips wraiths of a portion of their strength, to the ability to cast a swash of fire from your hand. The game offers a bestiary which shows off which signs enemies are weak to, allowing you to plan accordingly.
At its core, while it is a hack and slash kind of game, The Witcher III is all about preparation. Think of Geralt as erring close to Batman than Wolverine with regards to his fighting style. You can brew any number of potions to aid in combat, oils that make your attacks stronger against certain enemy types, and even a slew of bombs that can help you in certain situations. Geralt’s utility belt is always changing depending on the encounter he is going in and if you enter a fight unequipped you will soon find yourself suffering for it.
When I first loaded up The Witcher III and really got into it, I examined the map and was stunned at its size. Sure it wasn’t the biggest I had ever seen, but there was so much to do scattered about the long countryside… Then I zoomed out further and learned that White Orchad was the small countryside I was looking at, and that adjoining it was Novigrad – the largest city in the world, in the state of Velen – an absolutely massive landscape filled with swamps, forests, villages, castles and all manner of rivers and landscapes… Oh, then there were the huge and far apart Skellige Islands. My mouth practically hit the floor when I saw the world map absolutely littered with little “?” icons for me to explore.
I actually did a bit of research before writing this review, and learned that not only is The Witcher III’s world 35x that of The Witcher II, but the only game that even comes close in map size is Grand Theft Auto V, and even then the Witcher III is about 1.5x as big. So if you are a perfectionist who needs to make sure all the undiscovered locations on the map are identified, then you had best get ready for a long game.
Leveling in The Witcher series is a little different to a lot of other RPGs. Instead of just getting new skills and strength when you level up, you are instead allotted skill points. The skill points can be put into any number of skills across the game’s skill branches (like alchemy, combat, spellcasting, etc). Now I know you’re all thinking “Come on, that’s the same for practically any RPG,” and if that were the end of it, you’d be right. However, The Witcher III only lets you have certain skills active at once. Meaning that you may spread your skill points across 5 different skills, only to find out that you only have room for 2 active skills at your current level. In this way, your skill points are a resource like any other and really change the dynamic of the game greatly. I myself stumbled into the trap of leveling up a bunch of skills that I am yet to even equip because I simply don’t have the room.
Are you a gamer who loves to collect gear and loot every box they see? Well prepare to have an aneurism with The Witcher III because loot is EVERYWHERE! Picking flowers, ransacking barrels, boxes and bag, carving meat off dead prey, and looting the corpses of your enemies are all par for the course here. Most of it can be broken down into other components for weapon crafting, potion brewing and just selling to merchants. This however does bring me to my gripes with the game;
For all the praise I have given it, I admittedly do have two major complaints about how The Witcher III plays. The first, and most frustrating is without a doubt the game’s way of managing inventory. I have attached a screenshot below to show you what the inventory page looks like:
If you are on a computer, with a keyboard/mouse this would no doubt be an incredibly fluid and easy to manage UI, but for my, playing on the Xbox One with my stock standard controller it was downright frustrating and tedious. Just to show you how annoying – you use both thumbsticks, as well as the A/B/LB/RB buttons to navigate it properly. want to swap to see what the merchant is selling? use the right thumbstick to switch to their inventory panel and then use the left to navigate through (or, use the left thumbstick the entire time and take even longer). Basically all I’m getting at is that it is a pain that really slows down the game.
The other little gripe I have with the game is Geralt’s horse; Roach. Roach is supposed to come to you with a double press of the Left stick, but so many times he just didn’t want to show up, and I was left whistling for him three or four times before he reared his long nose onto my screen. Secondly, while riding your horse you are able to just hold the A button and have him gallop along the predetermined paths towards your goal, but sometimes often unexpectedly he will just veer off into the forest for no reason what so ever. I’m not sure why this issue kept happening to me, but it was downright frustrating to have to reposition myself back onto the road.
It was during my time with The Witcher III that I realised the absolute absurdity of side-quests in games. In the middle of his search for Ciri, Geralt has the option to take on Witcher Contracts – basically monster slaying jobs, to earn a little bit more gold or some extra gear, and while this makes sense to the character – it is a lot less understandable for him to just drop everything to become the world boxing champion… I kid you not, there is a whole series of side-quests that revolve around Geralt challenging others to fist fights in the street so that he can become crowned the Champion of Champions. It is almost like the guys at CD Projekt RED wanted to show off the ridiculousness of side-quests in video games, and how in some ways you have to ignore the storyline implications of exactly what is happening.
Visuals & Audio
Ok I will just say it – The Witcher III is beautiful. The world, its chararacters and its monsters are all amazing to look at. During the game’s prologue/tutorial mission, Geralt steps out onto a balcony and comments on how beautiful the mountain range surrounding his home is, and frankly he is 110% accurate. In fact, here take a look:
And that’s just the first five minutes of the game! While I know there have been some complaints circulating lately about lack of higher visual options for PC players, just looking at the beautiful landscapes presented to me over the course of the game made me stop and think about how far game visuals have come in just a few short years.
Not only does the landscape look amazing, but it is so wild and varied that it feels as great to play in as it looks. One minute you are riding across an empty countryside, then the next you are in a thick swampland, trying to wade through the sludge-like water and move between the tree branches.
While the characters are well animated and highly textured, it is very easy to see that CD Projket RED have used the same faces and body types in certain places across the map. I had to stop and wonder if the slightly dimwitted card player is also meant to be the same kid hiding behind his father’s leg in a different quest. It would he been nice to see some more variety in the faces so that this doesn’t occur, but again I am nitpicking and considering the size of the game it would have been impractical to make unique faces for every character.
Speaking of characters – The Witcher III boasts a collection of the most grotesque and disgusting enemies I have ever seen in my entire life, and I love it! The wraith’s with their long, snakelike tongue poking out of their jawless faces, or the botchling crawling around with its umbilical cord still in tact are the stuff of nightmares. Not only that but they are so well defined and unique that you will never mistake a Witcher wraith for one from any other game.
The voicework of The Witcher series has always been a strong suit, and this is probably because of the high emphasis placed on the game’s narrative. The same is true in the third installment, where everyone has a unique sounding voice and personality that really shines through. At the same time, the game boasts an amazing soundtrack that I can’t want to listen to all over again, featuring some really amazing and epic scores that help suck you in to the moment of battle. Then of course there is Priscilla’s Song, which is just a beautiful little piece and whoever came up with that needs a huge pat on the back.
After 50 hours with The Witcher III, I am absolutely floored by its brilliance. From the epic, mature story that simultaneously separates itself from the rest of the pack, and sucks you in with its personal touch, to the easy to learn/difficult to master combat style… all the way through to Gwent, The Witcher III: WIld Hunt is the most fun, engaging video game experience that I have had in a long, long time. Sure there are a few minor gripes here and there, like the unresponsive horse or the frustrating inventory system, but you know what? None of these little gripes took away from the enjoyment I had, and am still having with the game. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go log another 50 hours.
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