Over the past six years, CD Projekt Red has developed quite a name for themselves. With titles like The Witcher and The Witcher 2 it’s obvious they have the talent required to make a fluid RPG experience, but when comparing the slogging combat of the first title with the utterly immersive jaw-dropping visuals of the second, it’s clear they’ve only grown more competent with time. Because of this, the bar of expectation was raised significantly for the trilogy’s third entry. And here we are, seeing the release of The Witcher 3: The Wild hunt, one of the most anticipated games of this generation, and I’ve got to say, it feels pretty damn good knowing that a AAA developer has finally lived up to expectations. The Witcher 3 is a well-realized title whose world and all its inhabitants felt like a living breathing entity, and the weighty decisions I made during the course of my 73 hour journey felt like they had a direct impact on the world around me.
Anyone familiar with the Witcher universe knows that it’s certainly a dark place full of loss and danger, but the amount of intrigue that CD Projekt Red has injected into its lore-filled world is one of this game’s most compelling highlights. Between the cinematic story quests and the fascinating hunting side missions The Witcher 3 ends up being not only one of the most captivating RPG experiences in recent memory, it’s the first one that I’ve had the pleasure of playing that feels truly “next-generation”.
The Witcher 3’s story is an experience that, much like the Mass Effect series, will depend on your choices made in the second game, though from what I understand this seems to be strictly a PC option. Console players and PC newcomers will be prompted to choose what decisions were made in the second game via a series of dialogue options presented early on. Unfortunately the weight of these choices and the profound effects they had on the outcome of the second game are not well explained and I fear that a lot of these choices will be lost on newcomers. Because of this I strongly recommend that new players familiarize themselves with the branching outcomes of the second title before jumping headfirst into the third game. It will without a doubt enhance your overall experience.
"It feels pretty damn good knowing that a AAA developer has finally lived up to expectations."
The Witcher 3 places players in control once again of Geralt of Rivia. Geralt is a Witcher, a person who has undergone a series of mutations and intense training that specializes in monster hunting. Witchers are lone travelers that tend to wander from place to place in search of contracts and jobs that can keep their pockets lined with enough money to journey forward once more. Because of this they have a distinct reputation of being heartless, concerned only with coin.
As a result this reputation precedes Witchers, causing villagers and local townsfolk to be wary while in their presence. This is something that is made prevalent in the Witcher 3, and soon players will find themselves used to being outcasts only welcome when people are in dire need. Luckily being a Witcher is a lucrative business and it is never hard to find townsfolk that are in need of your services, so expect to engage in a lot of monster hunting.
One of the best aspects of the Witcher 3 is its monsters and the way they’re presented. With each new contract I found myself spending hours gathering information about my enemy, attempting to discover the best course of action. Direct engagement was never the only option; in fact charging in headfirst was rarely the best way to solve a problem. Most monsters, especially specters, no matter how sinister they may have initially appeared, were eventually presented with such an incredible amount of humanity that I was left with nothing but sympathy for them forcing me to seek out other, more humane ways to solve problems.
"The Witcher 3 isn’t all about monster hunting, though. Its main storyline is one fraught with suspense and intrigue. The characters were all incredibly well realized and each one felt like it had purpose and weight, as if there was reason for Geralt’s interactions with them."
Even the game’s more standard fantasy monsters like griffins and werewolves had motives that were more than they seemed. If anything, the more that I committed to learning about my enemy the more I realized that there was always another side to the story. No matter how much a village was being terrorized by these creatures there were reasons for it. This presentation extended an impressive amount of empathy towards the creatures in the game; so much so that I found myself feel bad at points when eventually my blade would be used to end their lives. No other game I have ever played has had this kind of profound effect on me when it comes to monster presentation, which is a telling point of CD Projekt Red’s keen attention to detail.
The Witcher 3 isn’t all about monster hunting, though. Its main storyline is one fraught with suspense and intrigue. The characters were all incredibly well realized and each one felt like it had purpose and weight, as if there was reason for Geralt’s interactions with them. The voice acting behind them was superb, their animations were stellar – especially facial animations, and their dialogue and interactions all contributed to the overall realism of the world.
Graphically there has been some controversy over the final product and the initial demos that debuted a while back. Personally I found the visuals to still be among the best I’ve ever seen, and while there is a noticeable difference between the pieces that were presented in gameplay demos and the game’s final overall look I was incredibly pleased with the striking realism. Players will no doubt find themselves in awe of the environments and character models throughout the game. In fact, the only thing that I can think of that comes remotely close to matching the Witcher 3’s beautiful scenery is a heavily modded Skyrim, which is saying something. The graphical options that are available to PC players are incredible, and CD Projekt Red has done their best to ensure that people can change every little detail of their visual experience.
"Personally I found the visuals to still be among the best I’ve ever seen, and while there is a noticeable difference between the pieces that were presented in gameplay demos and the game’s final overall look I was incredibly pleased with the striking realism."
Combat and alchemy has gone through an extensive overhaul when compared to the controls of the second title. Things have been streamlined, and that’s not to mean that controls have been “dumbed down”, but every action feels smoother and the ease of use has improved extensively. The process of alchemy has been simplified but the challenge of finding and maintaining ingredients still exists, and the inclusion of meditation and potion regeneration makes things a lot easier to manage when stuck in a long dungeon. Signs are easier to cast in this game as well making combat feel much more fluid when compared to the last two entries. The ease of access ensures that there’s little downtime during the heat of battle keeping the pace constant, but choices made within combat must still be deliberate especially when pertaining to potion preparation and sign usage.
"The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt may very well be the most defining role playing experience released thus far this generation. It’s deserving of praise in every regard, and the occasional stumbles are so few and far between that they seem to be non-existent."
CD Projekt Red was kind enough to include another highlight for those that wanted a way to enjoy their downtime in The Witcher universe: Gwent. Gwent is a simplistic card game where players each take turns playing cards with varying power. The goal is to have the most power on the field by the end of the turn. Players make decks consisting of anywhere between 20-30 cards including a few spell powers and heroes. The players then draw 10 cards each and are forced to manage those 10 cards for the entirety of the game. Occasionally there are ways to bring back discarded cards or even draw a card or two, but other than that you’re stuck with your initial card draws and must make the most of them. It doesn’t sound like much but there’s an element of strategy that is contained within this format that is incredibly fun. I found myself booting up The Witcher 3 on more than one occasion just to play Gwent and I sincerely hope that CD Projekt Red somehow manages to patch in some sort of multiplayer format or even decides to develop a standalone Gwent title. I would love the option to be able to play other real people online, and I think it could really turn into a special experience that could compete with the likes of Hearthstone if given the right treatment.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt may very well be the most defining role playing experience released thus far this generation. It’s deserving of praise in every regard, and the occasional stumbles are so few and far between that they seem to be non-existent. CD Projekt Red has provided an experience that deserves – no, demands to be played by every gaming enthusiast out there. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for me to pick up my controller, hop on Roach, and start my second play-through because there’s still so much for me to see and do in the game’s astoundingly well designed world.