May 21, 2015 by Paul Curtin
CD Projekt RED put themselves on the map four years ago by releasing The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. The second in the Polish developer’s now-iconic series challenged top role-playing games such as Dragon Age and The Elder Scrolls at the time to be more graphically demanding… more difficult… more open… more mature… and well… to just be more. Even to this day, Assassins of Kings still looks better on high-end PCs than most new triple-A titles on current-gen consoles… and finally after numerous delays, the conclusion to Geralt of Rivia’s final major chapter is here.
In the third and final installment in the series, the developers have taken the rather linear maps of the previous games, broken down all of the invisible walls, and still managed to not sacrifice any of the great story-telling elements that made the previous games feel so personal. To say that The Witcher 3 is a massive improvement over Assassins of Kings is a bit of an understatement – and that alone is a bold statement when many consider The Witcher 2 to be one of the best RPGs ever made.
Even with how beautiful the second game still is, CDPR’s latest work blows it away. With almost no boundaries, from the very start it’s easy to find yourself ignoring objectives and constantly wandering off into the lush forests of White Orchid to create your own monster-hunter story. Enticed by the sounds of wildlife and beasts you can hear and see lurking in the distance, you can’t help but want to explore. But before even swinging your blade for the first time, you’ll first be taken back by the way the countless number of trees sway in the wind and beams of light shine through the copious amounts of foliage. The new world of The Witcher is simply breathtaking.
But like any epic journey, the forests and farmlands are only the beginning of what the game has to offer with a diverse world that covers almost every element. Murky swamps ooze mysterious green mist as you’re forced to tread lightly while on the hunt for swamp things. Abandoned haunted houses slow down the pacing of the game and require Geralt to use the piercing light of a magical lantern to reveal ghosts. Drowners will try to pull you down into the depths of the great lakes you swim in. And dragon-like wyverns fly overhead challenging you to take them down with your crossbow, plunge your sword through their hearts, and cut off their heads to keep as trophies that hang from your loyal steed– which brilliantly also act as a buffs in addition to bragging rights.
Major cities are packed with even more monsters, though here of the human kind. The city streets are constantly flooded in the daytime with merchants, performers, guards, other citygoers, while at night shops close and the streets clear for the guards who are none-too-pleased when you don’t keep your sword sheathed. Engaging in conversations with lively characters will constantly have you battling them in games of wit, questioning their true motives, and always watching your back. You never know when somebody asking for help might be luring you into a trap or when you might even have to lie yourself to help or hurt others.
With such a large world to explore, thankfully, for the first time in the series, Geralt can now also travel the land on his horse mount, Roach. There’s even combat on horses, which can literally be hit-or-miss. Unfortunately, like the commander of the Termerian military who also returns from previous games, Vernon Roach, the horse mechanics are a bit too stiff and stubborn. You’ll sometimes find yourself fighting with the horse’s controls and getting stuck in tight spots — slightly breaking the fluidity of the game at times when awkwardly trying to maneuver around small obstacles.
Although Wild Hunt is not technically an open world game due to the map being divided up into sections – each of which requires load screens to fast travel to — almost all of the six zones drawf that of other recent open world games. It’s easy to forget about loading screens when wandering off the beaten path can turn into unexpected and unscripted journeys that last for hours and have nothing to do with the primary storyline. You might find clues on a simple investigation of a missing person case that leads to uncovering a monster living amongst a town or an evil spirit who may or may not be trying to trick you into helping it slaughter more innocent townsfolk.
It’s this level of detail in every conversion you have that makes the Witcher series so refreshing. While the open world genre has started to become oversaturated and stale due to an overabundance of meaningless quests in recent other games that focus on quantity over quality, CDPR has packed The Witcher 3 with what seems like a never-ending amount of important tasks. Each of these feels unique in its own way and worthy of being a main quest in other franchises.
Every first encounter you have with a quest-giver in The Wild Hunt feels like the beginning of a brand new adventure due to the superb level of detail in the game’s writing, voice-acting, and storytelling progression. The developers have found the perfect balance of exploration, combat, and conversation with almost no content that feels copied and pasted. Some quests may be more rewarding than others with bigger payoffs, but almost no two boss battles or resolutions at the end of a questline ever feel the exact same. And with easily over 100 hours of content, the sheer amount of quests can feel like an endless amount of exciting and unique adventures waiting to be embarked on.
The Witcher 3 may be based in fantasy, but its story deals with serious adult-themed subject matter that you wouldn’t normally think of when dwarfs and elves come to mind. The Game of Thrones of the video game world, The Witcher series has never shied away from sex and violence, and Wild Hunt is no different. Geralt may spend more time f@*king and fighting than any other video game character we’ve ever seen, yet the story still maturely focuses primarily on its compelling characters’ tragedies and loses. Like Thrones, no decision made is ever without sacrifice from some character, and with that weight behind every choice, every player-driven interaction feels important and meaningful.
Unlike other popular RPGs, players are rarely ever hinted to what is a true good or evil decision, and instead they must make their own moral choices and live with the outcomes. Options are rarely ever black and white (or red and blue), and the path you take thinking it will help you could end up biting you in the ass. As the player, making choices as Geralt isn’t always hard when pulling the trigger, but living with the consequences of your actions after unexpected events unfold is a whole ‘nother challenge.
As you can gather from the title, The Witcher 3’s central story focuses on the Wild Hunt — an otherworldly force on the hunt for Geralt’s white-haired surrogate daughter, Ciri, who has the potential to be used as a weapon in a galaxy far far away. The hunt for Ciri drives the story forward; however, most quests have almost nothing to do with her conflict and involve other characters’ personal matters. As a Witcher, Geralt is a monster hunter-for-hire whose main concern is getting paid. Yet, despite his best efforts to stay out of politics, Geralt often finds himself in the middle of political tension, verbally jousting with barons and kings, allowing you as the player to play the ultimate game of thrones.
The superior writing and voice-acting are to credit for making each one of the players in said game so amusing to converse with, and the high level of detail in facial animations brings every character to life. Doug Cockle is as good as ever returning as Geralt of Rivia, and all of the supporting cast are equally as memorable in their mature, foul-mouthed, and at times even comical roles. The freedom of choice allows players to shape Geralt how they please. Do you want him to be a serious and hardened killer or a more lighthearted and passive anti-hero? The choice is yours as the White Wolf.
Like the Mass Effect and Dragon Age franchises, choices made in previous games can be carried over into The Witcher 3 via a save file. Playing previous games isn’t required, but playing the second game is highly recommended, especially in order to have the ultimate experience when linking all of the most important player choices and storylines from the franchise together. These choices not only determine the rich history and relationships Geralt has with other characters, but can even omit characters completely out of the new story if they died in previous games. With hundreds of hours of optional non-linear side-quests, multiple endings, and so many directions a player can steer the dialog during a conversation, almost no two players will ever have the same experience.
One of the only things that was holding The Witcher 2 back was its slightly-awkward combat system that didn’t translate well from keyboard and mouse to controller. Thankfully, the developers have given combat a complete overhaul and clearly designed it this time with controllers in mind. Still wielding both a steel and silver blade (one for humans and one for monsters), Geralt can ruthlessly chop through waves of foes. Slow-motion executions are downright brutal and might be hard to watch for some while others might bask in the blood of slaughtered enemies who presented more difficult attack patterns to be countered and mastered. Combat in The Witcher isn’t too technical, but the epic musical score will give you a rush every time Geralt wields his blade.
Geralt also still has the ability to craft and use potions and oils along with signs to assist him in battle. All of the mage-like spells from the last game have returned, but now with the ability to be upgraded to alter their effects. Casting a burst of flames with the Igni sign works the same as in The Witcher 2; however, now Igni can be leveled up to melt armor and/or spray a constant stream of fire until Geralt’s energy runs out. Other skills and attacks can also be upgraded to allow Geralt to perform wild blade-twirling maneuvers, knockback effects, executions, and other awesome effects.
With leveling up also comes the ability to equip new loot. And what RPG isn’t complete without loot?? Weapons and armor come in a wide variety of rare colors with different stats and slots to power them up. Armor and blades can drop off fallen foes, be found in stashes, or crafted by artisans in towns. With so much loot, Geralt is constantly changing his equipment, transforming into a more hardened hunter as the story progresses. There’s even the ability to change Geralt’s hairstyles and shave his beard – which will amusingly continue to grow, sway in the wind, and get wet with Nvidia’s HairWorks turned on.
As if real-time beard physics weren’t enough, CDPR has even replaced the mediocre dice poker mini-game from The Witcher 2 with an impressive new battle card meta-game called Gwent. Taking elements from collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon, and last year’s best downloadable game, Hearthstone, Gwent is brilliantly simple and highly addictive. Each character and monster from the game has their own card with their own stats and differing attack effects. You might find yourself playing for hours in pubs, traveling from town to town just to challenge other Gwent masters for their best hero cards in an effort to collect ‘em all for your own deck.
The Witcher 3 simply does so many things right in such a massive world that it’s hard to note start nitpicking when anything little thing doesn’t seem perfectly in place. Unfortunately, like all open world games, it suffers from tons of glitches, bugs, and other issues that will inexplicably cause the game to crash and cannot be ignored. It’s not rare to find Geralt’s horse Roach stuck in a strange position clipping through walls or other weird animation issues. There was one time when entering a part of one major city where all of the characters’ heads were floating to the sides of their bodies and the characters were floating around like ghosts. Other times, Geralt’s hair and medallion would blow wildly in the wind… despite being indoors where no one else’s hair was moving. And even with one of the top Nvidia GTX video cards on the market, I personally experienced more crashes than I’d like to try to count.
Even with all of its technical issues trying to hold it back, The Witcher 3 is unlike anything before it and simply enjoyable from beginning to end. Even after crashing multiple times, I couldn’t stop playing and found myself still falling back in love with the game every time the epic music hit and I engaged in unforgettable moments with friends and foes. You can’t help but be amazed with the level of detail put into every single aspect of the world of the Witcher 3. Even mini games of other genres within the game like Gwent are worthy of standing on their own. With how amazing the last game was, it’s shocking that CD Projekt RED has been able to improve the franchise in so many ways, yet they have… and as a result, lived up to the hype by topping themselves and creating the most impressive RPG to date. The Witcher 3 gets 5 out of 5 stars (Masterpiece).
- The most realistic storytelling and characters of any RPG to date
- New open world visuals are breathtaking
- Vastly improved combat mechanics with brutal executions
- Ridiculous amount of content with easily over 100 hours of exciting and unique adventures
- Gwent is brilliantly simple and highly addictive
- Epic soundtrack
- Tons of glitches, bugs, and other game-crashing issues