As if we didn’t have enough wide open, beautiful looking RPG time sinks already, Witcher III bursts on to the scene. Witcher III: The Wild Hunt has been the one of the most anticipated new releases of this year, and has many of us waiting with glee for CD Projekt RED’s latest game.
Witcher III is an open world, third-person action role-playing game that follows the adventures of Geralt of Rivia, a professional monster-slayer. The aforementioned Witcher is searching for his lost love Yennefer and his former pupil Ciri, whilst also avoiding the clutches of the Wild Hunt: a spectral band of horsemen of unknown origin, killing and claiming souls at will.
Graphically speaking, the game looks fantastic. The new engine has built on the success of the previous title and is one of the best looking games on the market at the moment. Facial animations are very well captured, and monsters look magnificent. Some textures out in the world have missed the same level of detail, but for the most part the game world looks like a living breathing environment.
In terms of scale, Witcher III does not disappoint. The game world is far larger than that of Dragon Age: Inquisition and perhaps even Skyrim. It is broken up by loading screens which is a slight let down, but most of the areas are bigger than most open world sandboxes, and so it isn’t too much of a hindrance. The game world is loaded with side quests and random encounters. The greatest of these being the games many ‘Witcher contracts’ which will have you studying, tracking and eventually slaying or dealing with a monster for gold. Understandably this in general will seem like an obvious boon as the flood of things to do is welcome, but to me sometimes the amount to do can be overwhelming with the number of places to go and quests to complete. Witcher III is able for the most part to avoid these complaints, by not including the MMO-like waste-ware quests like in many games in the genre and instead attempting to make all quests interesting with well-written lore and decent voice acting. The size of the game world has also prompted the long awaited arrival of a fast travel system in the game, which for the most part was a necessary addition.
So with this in mind, you won’t find yourself picking elfroot for hours on end to improve your courtyard’s aesthetic, or perhaps fulfilling an order for the local garden centre whose devotion to horticulture during a demonic invasion can only be oddly admired. When you do go herb gathering though, it will be for the multitude of potions, oils, poisons and other tonics that are often necessary to even the odds against the game’s many monsters. This difference makes gathering items more enjoyable simply by making it more directly useful for completing a quest or taking on a tough challenge. The grinding aspect is limited by the inclusion of the classic ‘meditation’ mechanic from previous Witcher games. Basically the mechanic allows for the quick passing of time, and for previously crafted potions and tonics to be replaced automatically.
Granted, veterans of the series might find it a step in the wrong direction to simply meditate to replenish your supply of potions, fearing that it makes the game too easy. When it comes to item gathering in Witcher III I am pleased for the most part with the system of first needing to gather the materials, crafting them into an item, and then replenishing them automatically via meditation. The reason for this being that it avoids the long spells of grinding the same enemies and the same places in the game in order to get healing items much like in Bloodborne. Generally speaking I am all for avoiding grinding unless the game is especially attempting to imitate a struggle to survive with limited resources. In games like Witcher III grinding has the potential to spoil the experience by taking you away from questing and steadily improving your skills, and so I can live with the trade off.
The experience itself is completely underlined by a fun and rewarding combat system. Something that cannot be over-stated in its importance. Where Skyrim and Dragon Age: Inquisition fell short for me was the repetitive combat that rarely felt weighty or proportional, meaning that between meaty quests or exploration of new areas the games lacked any sense of enjoyable challenge. Witcher is able to offer a good combat system in conjunction with its multitude of quests, which means that the downtime between them is full of enemies that can easily kill you and will take skill to defeat, something that many games in genre have struggled with. Whilst playing Dragon Age I’d often lament having to fight something on my way to a quest or whilst exploring, but in Witcher on the contrary I relished every chance to dodge my opponents attacks and tear them apart, or perhaps test out my newest upgrades and mutagens.
As previously mentioned, some of the greatest joy with the game comes out of the large variety of upgrades that you can acquire through levelling up and exploring. For example there are many ways that you can upgrade your magical abilities, called ‘signs’. These spells range from fire blasts to laying down magical traps, and Geralt can upgrade them to perhaps have a longer range, trap enemies for longer or take over their minds and make them fight for you. Your spells are what will often tip the balance in battle against enemies that would otherwise kill you in a few hits.
Unfortunately the game has a few flaws that holds it back somewhat. Witcher III introduces horse riding to the series which for the most part was a necessary addition due to the size of the maps. However, the now infamous horse ‘Roach’ has joined the likes of Epona for horses that feel the need to run into every tree and are terrified of even the mentioning of the word ‘bridge’. It was such an annoyance at times that I would simply run around on foot a lot of the times to avoid it. Added, the voice acting varies from the outstanding to the downright annoying. Some NPC’s will repeat their lines over and over which can grate a little, something that of course plagues many games but is still present here. Another problem is a fairly annoying swimming/diving mechanic that reminds me of the utterly broken system from Ocarina of Time, Geralt will often bob under the water uncontrollably, swimming as gracefully as trying to stir a stick through cement.
Above all else however, the biggest problem with the game is the selection mechanic. Whilst running around the world jamming down on the run button, one might accidentally stop to a halt and pick up a herb that you happened to walk over, breaking the flow of the game. While trying to loot a chest, or talk to a NPC Geralt might take three goes at igniting or snuffing out a nearby selectable candle before summoning the courage to do what the player has asked. The inaccuracy of the selection tool is mainly the fault of Geralt’s blocky, tanky movement outside of combat, which for the most part isn’t really an issue out in the wide world and only really makes itself known in confined spaces.
It is to the credit of the game that it is able to surmount this issues that would be crippling in a smaller game that had less to offer it’s players. This game is so full of content and enjoyable gameplay that it will never drag on or make you quit the game for good. The bugs and other issues are only distract from what is otherwise the best RPG I have played in many years. The game is so full of content that it even supports a fully developed card game by the name of Gwent, which plays like a mixture of Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone. One of the greatest parts of the game is it’s soundtrack, which for the most part is eastern European folk singing mixed in with some more traditional orchestral themes. It is very well put together and definitely gets you pumped up for the next fight.
With all the controversy surrounding the game I feel it would be odd to not mention the game’s so called ‘sex scenes’. Unlike what many on the easily offend-able side of the internet might have you believe, romantic encounters are realistically portrayed and are maturely captured and so I see no problem with their inclusion. If you are still unconvinced, closing your eyes and playing K-Pop is still a viable option.
Witcher III is everything that one could want from the latest Witcher game. It’s bigger in every way, delving deeper into the games lore, and giving more options for customisation. The game world is incredibly beautiful, running like a dream on newer computers and still looking great on consoles. The combat is satisfying and complex like that of previous iterations, but simplified a little for newcomers. In short, Witcher III is the game that fans of the series have been waiting for, and the game that perhaps will bring a wave of new gamers charging into the world of the White Wolf.