Geralt’s return makes for the best open world RPG in years.
Once, while traveling through The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s White Orchard – doubtless returning from my investigation into the devil by the well, which turned out to be a restless soul wandering our plane as a Noonwraith – I came across a house beset by ravenous wolves. Being the kind Samaritan and blood-thirsty wolf meat consumer that I am, the beasts were quickly dispatched. I expected a man or woman to come out and thank me. Instead, a little girl opened the door. The house had been occupied by children who lost their parents in the ensuing war between Temeria and Nilfgaard, the two major factions in the game. Geralt had surmised that the children hadn’t eaten anything substantial in weeks.
Obviously, I decided to give them some food but I left with the knowledge that the Witcher had only momentarily boosted their spirits. What would they do for food next week or even a few days down the line? Would some other kind soul come along to help them? Could I return and continue feeding these kids, showing them the meaning of hope in a world gone mad? Either way, one had to make peace with the fact that Geralt had his own agenda and needed to press on.
"The best part about the game is how lived in and natural it all feels. Even when you encounter the odd struggle with the game’s combat or movement mechanics, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt feels like a seamless open world RPG narrative that gently pulls you in and stays with you throughout."
Quests have been completed in numerous RPGs and open world games till now but none have made me care about random passers-by like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has. You could argue that these being children made them all the more innocent. However, on travelling to an inn in Velen seeking information from a spy, I had been encouraged by the barkeep not to pick a fight with the local bandits. On exiting the bar, I noticed the bandits sleazily warning an old man that there would come a day when he wouldn’t be able to hide his daughter from them. Bloodshed ensued and even the bandits in the bar weren’t spared. There were no rewards or acclaim and the decision could come back to haunt me. Regardless, the game made me care enough about this little village to not let a few bandits take advantage of its citizenry.
Such moments are plentiful in The Witcher 3, which is a medieval fantasy RPG with mature story-telling, grimy settings and bloody violence. There’s nothing horribly extravagant about the beginning areas of the game. You’re basking in natural beauty from the outset as you explore White Orchard and Velen, completing side-quests and slaying an array of beasts. The best part about the game is how lived in and natural it all feels. Even when you encounter the odd struggle with the game’s combat or movement mechanics, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt feels like a seamless open world RPG narrative that gently pulls you in and stays with you throughout.
Geralt of Rivia is traveling to the Northern Realms, seeking his love Yennefer, a sorceress. The only clue he has is a letter, asking Geralt to head to the White Orchard. Before you embark on this perilous journey, a short prologue mission sees Geralt back in Kaer Morhen, enjoying happier times with Yennefer and training Ciri, a feisty but earnest girl working to become a Witcher. All good things must come to end though and it’s not long before Geralt’s flashback is interrupted by the Wild Hunt, mysterious riders clad in black and wearing masks of death.
Ciri’s fate is unknown and Geralt is motivated to find Yennefer before the Wild Hunt does. What is the Wild Hunt and why are they after Geralt and Yennefer? Why are they interested in Ciri? Where has Ciri been and why has she suddenly re-emerged? These are the few questions driving Geralt’s personal quest but there’s tons more intrigue surrounding him with regards to the world and its development since Assassins of Kings.
"In fact, nearly every individual you come across in The Witcher 3 is beautifully fleshed out, even in the short amount of time you get to know them. One feels bad about the situation befalling the Noonwraith by the well and this is only amplified when you travel to the herbalist’s house and discover she knew the victims."
It goes without saying that fans of previous Witcher games will appreciate the plot and characters more immediately than new players, since they’ll understand their significance. CD Projekt RED does an excellent job in having us care about the main cast though, presenting them as real people with real desires and motivations. Geralt isn’t a mysterious Inquisitor suddenly driven to lead a movement against demons.
He’s a mercenary for hire, but one that places honour and his loved ones above all else. Yennefer is sly and ambiguous at times but at her core, she also cares about Ciri dearly. These aren’t the only compelling characters you’ll encounter throughout your journey in the Northern Realms.
In fact, nearly every individual you come across in The Witcher 3 is beautifully fleshed out, even in the short amount of time you get to know them. One feels bad about the situation befalling the Noonwraith by the well and this is only amplified when you travel to the herbalist’s house and discover she knew the victims. A witch named Keira Metz that you come across later acts manipulative initially but proved her mettle as a loyal fighter. You come to care about those around you and despise some of the more wicked elements of society.
A few other characters like Triss Merigold return and there will be a scenario in Witcher 3 wherein you can make several decisions to craft a world state following the events of Witcher 2. One can also forgo the need to simulate events from the Witcher 2 and simply follow the story as presented by the developer. Suffice to say that the decisions you make in the Witcher 3 have a long-lasting impact throughout the game and while they may not be immediately apparent, it always pays to think carefully about what you want to do next.
"CD Projekt RED has done such an excellent job pacing out its quests and planning its areas yet still providing enough freedom for exploration. It makes you wonder how some larger developers have so much trouble creating compelling worlds even half the size of The Witcher 3."
I could go on about the lovingly crafted world of The Witcher 3 and how its side quests feel more like side stories. There aren’t any fetch quests – at least none that I’ve encountered thus far. Most times, you’ll receive contracts on notice boards, leading you to new areas, Places of Power, monster nests or individuals seeking help. There’s one quest which asks you to seek out a man’s brother who went missing following a battle between Temerians and Nilfgaardians. Another quest asks you to protect the brother-in-law of a sleazy merchant to obtain a pass.
Yet another quest sees you tracking down a griffon harassing the local populace and making preparations to kill it. You’ll clear out bandit camps, find new armour to craft, battle enemies way beyond your current level, play the collectible card game Gwent and delve deeper and deeper into the world of the Witcher. None of it feels overwhelming – CD Projekt RED has done such an excellent job pacing out its quests and planning its areas yet still providing enough freedom for exploration. It makes you wonder how some larger developers have so much trouble creating compelling worlds even half the size of The Witcher 3.
Combat has been a major stickler since the game’s initial impressions were revealed. Long story short, it isn’t easy but that’s only because the Witcher 3 isn’t meant to be played as an open world action game. This is an RPG through and through, and combat sees you relying on positioning, countering, dodging, Signs and various other mechanics to scrape by. Potions are a necessity and help provide increased attack and other effect to boost Geralt’s abilities. The biggest compliment that can be paid to any game’s combat system is that there’s no one way to play.
I’ve been relying on my swordsmanship to carry me through most battles, studying enemy movements and trying to find the right methods to dispose of them. Some players have been relying on alchemical builds with bombs and potions to rip apart their foes. Others have created Sign-based builds to keep foes at bay. Mastering the various parrying mechanics is tough at times, especially in combat when choosing foes to focus on (auto targeting is present but enemies won’t wait to attack you).
"A game like this isn’t without its bugs. Having played prior to patch 1.04, I did encounter some clipping glitches and issues with sword sounds seemingly quieting down at odd moments before returning to their normal loudness."
Some players may find it annoying at first but rest assured, there is a methodology to the Witcher 3’s combat and it rewards slashers that dance around the targets, striking at opportune moments, as much as it does those who make clever use of their abilities and items.
I don’t have to tell you how great The Witcher 3 looks, even on my PC which is many steps away from running the game on High settings at 30 FPS. Despite this, I didn’t encounter any terrible missteps in performance and was still rewarded with a visually resplendent world. Words simply don’t do justice to the visuals – you only need to stop and admire the light shafts moving between the trees or witness an oncoming storm front to appreciate the imagery on offer. The voice acting, sound effects and orchestral score also come together fantastically well. This many hours in and I have yet to nit-pick any particular character’s performance.
A game like this isn’t without its bugs. Having played prior to patch 1.04, I did encounter some clipping glitches and issues with sword sounds seemingly quieting down at odd moments before returning to their normal loudness. As noted, many other players have encountered issues with Nvidia Hairworks, some quest markers being glitched and horses acting downright strange when it came to movement. It takes an amazing game to thrive even with these issues. But it’s also to the credit of CD Projekt RED that it not only crafted a large adventure and world without any game-breaking issues but that even some of the present issues don’t mire the experience at all.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt isn’t perfect but that’s like saying The Matrix, the original Star Wars trilogy, Watchmen and The Wire aren’t perfect. Though it has its problems but as far as video game experiences go, The Witcher 3 is one of the best games I’ve played yet. Behind the blood and brutality, there’s an immeasurable beauty that shines through it all.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Beautifully realized and meticulously crafted world. Challenging but rewarding combat. Great story-telling, characterization and quest design. Amazing visuals and sound design. Plenty of variety in missions and areas.
Some glitches still need to be ironed out. Fairly hefty system requirements on PC.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt lives up to and surpasses the hype, delivering an excellent experience that won't be forgotten any time soon.