Spoiler alert: It’s still amazing.
CD Projekt RED’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt always had this mystique about it ever since it was first teased. From the “Can’t believe it actually looks like that” to “Can’t believe it’ll actually be that good”, The Witcher 3 was subject to massive hype from day one. The series as such has always had somewhat of a moderate following ever since Assassins of Kings with several swearing by the game’s story-telling and characters even as the combat and lack of tutorials were criticized.
Now that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has been out and in the hands of numerous players for more than a month, the flaws of the game have become clearer. However, the game’s core appeal and ultimately what compromises its fun gameplay still shine through roughly 75 hours later. Spoilers in-bound.
"While many of the best games can be broken down into the moments you feel connected to the most, The Witcher 3 provides a steady stream of moments across quests and then inter-connects those quests together."
Let’s make this clear: Between E3 2015, Destiny’s House of Wolves and numerous other games, I’ve been on and off with The Witcher 3 in the past month. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because the quests aren’t meant to be blitzed through. Power-leveling through the content is still possible but one thing The Witcher 3 encouraged above all else was exploration. Go out and experience what the world has to offer. This may come in the form of higher level enemies that are tough (or near impossible) to kill or intriguing locations filled with Places of Power, loot or additional side-quests.
However, The Witcher 3 always rewards you for putting in the time to explore. Say you want to scavenge for Cat School Gear, just for the sake of how awesome it looks (though it is a worthwhile armour set to have). While exploring the ruins beneath Temple Isle in Novigrad, you actually discover that the diagrams for the gear rest with a Witcher from the school who was kidnapped, experimented on and is now a horrible husk of rage that must be put down. From here, you learn the story of the kidnapping backwards, as you move from the hidden laboratory to the initial shipwreck where the Witcher was taken from.
It’s a highly involving quest that accomplishes so many things – providing a meaty storyline, enlightening one to the evils of mages and the plight of Witchers, offering a unique boss battle – but it’s laid out in such a way as to naturally reward you. Sure, The Witcher 3 could have pointed you to a chest somewhere with all the diagrams but when it has an opportunity to provide you a unique, fun and emotional experience, then why take the easy way out?
While many of the best games can be broken down into the moments you feel connected to the most, The Witcher 3 provides a steady stream of moments across quests and then inter-connects those quests together. Admittedly, I can see where the main story may be harder to commit to. The Witcher novel The Last Wish was amazing because it presented several different incidents involving Geralt while still providing a suitable main plot tying them all together. It’s probably the best representation of Geralt’s life.
"Certain assets like character models have been reused generously; horse movement and swimming mechanics can feel clunky, even after extended play-time; and the general combat can be tough to really get a grasp on."
The Witcher 3 sees you running from one zone to the next to find Ciri, Geralt’s former student and surrogate daughter, while the mysterious Wild Hunt pursues her. At times, there may be the feeling of constantly being side-tracked while trying to find her since every individual in the world of the Witcher has their own agenda. That being said, this is Geralt’s life. As he tries to locate Ciri, he must also earn his “living” so to speak. He must contend with monsters and the affairs of men, the choice often being left to the player as to how they will proceed.
Who do you swear an alliance to? Do you try to make a difference in the world? Are you just going to be professional about everything? Ciri, more than just a main quest, is also the anchor for Geralt’s being and ties into his sole motive – that of caring for his loved ones. Yes, even with their flaws, Geralt will do whatever is possible to help them, even if it means forsaking his own happiness at times. Why? Because that’s how he chooses to live, the war between Nilfgaard and Temeria be damned. So even as we run around, finding new gear and exploring each new thread to pop up, Ciri is the emotional anchor that keeps players tied to the central mission.
Again, there are flaws to The Witcher 3 as a game. Certain assets like character models have been reused generously; horse movement and swimming mechanics can feel clunky, even after extended play-time; and the general combat can be tough to really get a grasp on. Enemies can be parried and cut down but Geralt’s biggest strengths lie in Signs and bombs. Tear groups apart and mop up the remains afterwards. If you’re fighting a larger foe like a Griffon or Wyvern, it’s easy to simply oil up your blade, cast Quen and annihilate them with sword strikes. At times, the targeting seems to shift awkwardly, shifting towards a different enemy from the one you were initially swinging at.
"The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt may not be perfect. It may not be the game for everyone. However, it's been a long time since I've played a game which has offered such a stunning experience even with its flaws..."
This isn’t Batman: Arkham Knight to be sure but Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor feels much more fluid in its sword-based combat. The Witcher 3 can still be fun – it’s just a little hard to shift towards this combat model at first. Battles feel less about maintaining a smooth chain of strikes and more about maneuvering, crowd control, using the right Sign/oil/bomb on the right enemy and out-flanking the larger foes. In that sense, it feels less like a rhythmic beat ’em up and more like an action RPG. Don’t even get me started on some of the bugs, including the XP glitch that prevented players from receiving proper experience. That being said, The Witcher 3 with all of its glitches is still easily the best game of the year thus far.
A special note on the visuals: Despite all the concerns about the downgrades and some glitches that still occur (such as abruptly shifting weather or time of day conditions when you exit a cave), The Witcher 3 is absolutely beautiful. It conveys a magnificent sense of scale and nuance at the same time. Even when casually wandering through the world, I’m amazed at the abject detail around me. Villagers take cover under hut awnings when it’s raining. Brick kilns can be seen smoking throughout the day as various workers tend to them. Shops close at night and certain merchants tend to appear at different times. A pair of shoes was found at the top of a cliff while a man’s corpse was found at the bottom (a possible suicide). Honestly, if you look closely and for a long enough time, you’ll notice much more.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt may not be perfect. It may not be the game for everyone. However, it’s been a long time since I’ve played a game which has offered such a stunning experience even with its flaws, perfectly conveying its stories, characters, combat and visuals even with the occasional stumble in gameplay mechanics. The highest compliment I can pay to The Witcher 3 is that even after 75 hours of playtime, I’ve only experienced 30 percent of what the game has offer (by Xbox Live’s calculation at least). I can’t wait to experience the full 100 percent this game. I can’t wait to see everything it has to offer. And honestly, I can’t wait to go back and do it all again.