Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review
There are hundreds of reasons why I think you should play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, but if for nothing else, it should be as a lesson in video game history as to the point at which all open-world games changed forever. I predict that for the next few years, any new open-world game will be compared to The Witcher 3 and it will be a long time until a higher benchmark is set.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a third-person, open-world, action RPG. It’s set in a medieval, fantasy world and follows the tale of Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher. The original Witcher game was based on a fictional Polish novel that distinguished itself by creating a universe that blurred the line between reality and folk-lore in a unique and interesting way. The Witcher video games are set in the same universe established within the novels, yet the game’s plot lines are their own. The games have continued their story arc over the course of each entry, however each consecutive title has built upon it’s predecessor significantly in almost every aspect, from game play to storytelling. This continues to be the case for The Witcher 3.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the third game in the series and the first truly open-world Witcher game. The series has been known for it’s rich, storied fiction and thriving game world since it’s inception, yet the open-world gameplay of The Witcher 3 brings this to a whole new level.
The world of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the most realized, authentic, detailed game world that I have ever experienced. Everything you encounter has an incredible sense of realism and authenticity that simply hasn’t existed in video games before. The people, the environments, the buildings, the landscapes – even the monsters that inhabit the land possess qualities and characteristics that makes everything feel so alive and so unlike a video game. It’s the combination of fantastic visuals, extremely detailed environments, brilliant writing and impressive AI scripting that makes it all so convincing.
In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, you play as Geralt of Rivia on a quest to find your former apprentice Cyri and save her from a pursuing malevolent force. The main story takes you on a sprawling adventure as you travel around the world, piecing together clues to determine the whereabouts of your friend. The main story is well written and interesting, with lots of memorable characters, moments and set pieces for you to experience as well as having an enjoyable narrative arc. Characters are relatable and superbly written while quests often have extensive dialogue options for branching progression, making the game ripe for multiple play-throughs. Yet the main story is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gameplay content.
The world of The Witcher 3 is filled with things to do. Side quests are found all over the place, from a wounded soldier on the side of the road to a pile of garbage washed up on the beach, and can range from simple tasks to huge event chains. More often than not these side quests are created with as much detail and production as the main storyline quests. The stories told in some of these side quests range from engaging adventures to boring chores, yet most offer decent rewards in the way of loot, materials or coin.
In every town is a notice board where citizens post all sorts of messages from public service announcements, to bounties on local monsters. These bounty quests are some of the best pieces of content in the game as they usually involve what is essentially monster-hunting detective work. This most often involves finding the person that posted the bounty and asking them for more information relating to the monster, which then gives Geralt an idea of what he might be up against and it’s last known location. The rest is up to you – you can go straight to where the monster was last located, look for tracks and try and take it down, or you can research the monster and prepare for the fight using your monster compendium to find out more information about the target, such as weaknesses to certain spells, typical hiding locations and other useful information. This background research and preparation is all up to the player, and for the most part is really engaging. Playing as a monster hunter in this world is down right awesome and a ton of fun.
As you travel throughout the world, you will also come across certain areas of interest out in the wild, which will be represented as an icon on your map once discovered. These can be anything from a monster nest to a bandit’s loot stash, and are totally optional for you to either investigate or ignore for later. This sort of thing isn’t new to the open-world genre, but the way these random events take place in the world of The Witcher 3 makes them feel a lot less contrived and more realistic in the context of the world than any other open-world game.
Over the course of your adventure, you will eventually be forced to draw your sword and engage in The Witcher 3’s deep and methodical combat system. The combat is built upon a number of subsystems including spell casting, potion buffs, weapon enchantments, skill trees, perks and weapon selections - all of which can be used in varying combinations to suit different playstyles. However, the foundation of the combat is the swordplay – an art that Geralt is very familiar with.
The basic sword combat consists of a light and heavy attack, a block and a dodge – all of which are tied to a stamina bar. Well-timed blocks can open up enemies for a counter attack, whilst the dodge alternates between a quick side step when locked onto a target, and a lunging roll when the camera is free. As is typical for Witchers (apparently), Geralt is equipped with both a silver sword and a steel sword at all times. Silver swords are more effective against non-humans, so deciding which sword to use in which situation adds another layer to the combat decision making process. In motion, the swordplay resembles a slower, more methodical Dark Souls-style two-handed sword combat, if that paints a picture for you.
Combining this swordplay with well-timed spell use is the key to dominating opponents. Geralt is equipped with five different spells: a simple fireball, a shield, a mind control spell, a trap to be placed on the ground and a force push. Each of these can be upgraded with ability points, which are earned from levelling up by completing quests and defeating enemies. Spells take on wildly different properties when levelled up; the fireball, for example, can be upgraded to a flame-thrower type ability, which also lowers your opponent’s armor. These upgrades are cool and each of the spells feel very unique and have their own situational strengths and weaknesses, but overall, you still only have five different spells at your disposal, and this feels somewhat limited.
Potions and elixirs are yet another tool in your combat arsenal. These can be crafted using reagents found throughout your adventure and have a variety of combat and non-combat related effects. These effects range from the standard stat boosting potions to more obscure abilities, such as being able to see at night or being able to breath underwater. However, these potions and elixir’s are highly toxic and downing too many at a time can have poisoning side effects, so it is important to use them wisely and manage your toxicity level at all times.
The combat is indeed deep and highly systemic, but like all games with complex systems, you’ll probably end up finding a combat procedure that works for you and stick with it – however it is nice to have the depth there if you ever want to try something else. The combat is completely serviceable and suits the game well, but in my opinion was totally forgettable. It wasn’t particularly fun or compelling, nor was it egregious or bothersome, it simply served its purpose of dealing with situations that required violence as a solution.
The Witcher 3 is a graphical powerhouse. Almost every single aspect of this game looks unbelievably good. Everything is modeled with such a high level of detail that just brings it all to life. Forests are lush and dense with dynamic vegetation that shakes in the wind and brushes against wildlife. Towns are huge, packed with people going about their lives and filled with buildings that can be entered without a loading screen. Humans have real faces, believable expressions and realistic movements. Monsters have noticeably scaly skin and can create fire that reduces objects to smoldering rubble. The graphical prowess is a feat that could only be achieved on the next generation of consoles or the beefiest of PC’s and comes across as a true technical marvel.
But this graphical prowess comes with a price. Significant frame rate dives, lockups and hard crashes weren’t frequent enough to sour my experience with The Witcher 3, but they were definitely present. The game was clearly wrenching all it could from the PS4 hardware because mine sounded like a jet engine after mere minutes of playtime. Oddly enough, the pre-rendered cut scenes were the worst offender for these graphical issues, often causing severe slowdown and texture pop-in. Oh, and the load times on the consoles are some of the longest I have encountered to date. However, seeing these bugs in the context of The Witcher 3, kind of makes sense. It doesn’t excuse it by any means, but the game is just so huge, complicated and gorgeous that I actually expected to run into more issues than I did.
There’s so much more that I could talk about in The Witcher 3; the fascinating folk-lore, the horrifying enemy designs, the great sound design, the environments, the crafting system, the over-arching narrative – goddamn Gwent. But half the fun is in discovering all this for yourself. I’ve always been of the opinion that a hallmark of a great RPG is having the feeling that you will never see all that the game has to offer. After 60 hours of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, that feeling remains as prevalent as ever.
Final Say: Play It