A video game series created by CD Projekt RED, The Witcher, based on the books of the same name, has quickly grown in popularity since the first title was released for the computer in 2007. Just a few hours after Sony's announcement of the PlayStation 4, the Polish developer announced that its third game in the series, titled The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, would be released on the next-generation console in 2014.
That time is now. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is here and I have finished it in the three days since it came out...
Said no one ever. This a long game, like over a hundred hours long. Even if I blasted through the story and left all of the side quests and activities to the wind (which I would never do), the game would still be incredibly long. In order to provide our readers with some kind of opinion though, the powers that be have seen fit to allow for an ongoing review. If you haven't seen one of these before, here's how it will play out:
So, with that being said, let's dive into my first update!
Part One: The First Hours of Your Journey
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt opens like any good RPG should: with an epic cinematic cutscene rendered in CGI. After an animated introduction into the current events of the world, once you start that new game we join Yennefer the sorceress as she rides through the raging battle between the southern kingdom of Nilfgaard, and the forces of the north. It's a fast, gruesome and powerful opening that sets up the current events.
From here, we're treated to a scene where Geralt is back at Kaer Morhen; the place where he was trained to be a Witcher. In this flashback, we are introduced to Ciri who is supposed to play a vital role in the game's story. During this time, you are also treated to some tight tutorials that get you the knowledge you need without dragging on. The way they're incorporated into the daily training also doesn't make them feel out of place.
After a shocking twist to his flashback, Geralt awakes on the road, once again pulling us back to his journey to find his lost love Yennefer.
Without getting too much into the backstory, Geralt had amensia for the first two Witcher games, and at the end of the second one, he regained his memories, recalling his love Yennefer. Now that he has received a letter from her and an opportunity to find her, he's on her trail. The game wastes no time in handing you the reigns and giving you full freedom to explore the opening area.
It's big too, I've been in the prologue of the game for at least four hours and I'm still finding more things to do. The vast area near the village of White Orchard and the surrounding landscape is varied and full of hidden things to find. Of course, all of this wide open space doesn't do much if the game isn't fun, but luckily that's not a problem.
Side Quests, Points of Interest, Contracts, Oh My!
So yes, the opening area is big enough to put other RPGs to shame. I've done a couple story missions, but the bulk of my time thus far has been spent knocking out side quests and doing my first Witcher Contract. You see, the side activities range from quick little collectibles and challenges on the road in the form of question marks on your map, to full-blown side quests that appear as exclamation points, and finally to Witcher Contracts which you find on bulletin boards in town.
The first Witcher Contract was something special for me as it lets you do what Witchers do best: hunt monsters. When you find the message on the board, you have to speak with the person who wrote it. You then go to where it was seen and scan for clues using your senses. It's awesome to listen to Geralt's narration as he pieces together the evidence. Once you have all the information you need, you can fight the beast.
Of course, this is an RPG, and that means two things: strategy and preparation. The Witcher series has always stressed preparation in the form of sword oils, potions, and side items like bombs. When you encounter creatures of all kinds, they will be listed in the Bestiary which is accessed through the pause menu. Here you can read about the creatures and what they are weak against to help you prepare.
Potions, bombs, and the like are made from crafting materials that you find in the world. Thus far my experience has been that there's a ton of stuff to loot. I still find myself missing key ingredients for items, but I also haven't been looting as much as I could. Anything and everything can be searched.
I Gwent Stop Myself From Playing!
One of the more widespread side activities in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, is a card game called Gwent. On the surface, it's similar to something like Magic: The Gathering, but it's not as hard to grasp, nor as complicated. As you play through the game you can challenge people to this card game to earn new cards, or purchase them from merchants. As you work into this side activity, you'll find that you can create your own decks, and really spent as much time doing this as you would playing an entirely different game. Yes, a card game in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is, on it's own, as big as a game.
The strategy in Gwent is to place various card types on the board to build up an overall power rating. You keep putting down cards, switching turns, until either you run out of cards in your hand, or you pass. The idea is to get your opponent to pass and win the round with a higher power rating. You only get so many cards though, so sometimes you have to fall on your own sword to avoid using all of your cards on the first round.
The game goes on until someone has two wins, kind of like a fighting game. That's the short description of it, but I thought it was important to outline just how big this game is. Keep in mind that Gwent is just a side thing, so you don't have to do it. I would recommend it though, almost anyone in the game will play it with you, and you can bet money to win big.
Moving into Act One: Oh Boy, That's a Big World
I probably spent at least five or six hours in the prologue of the game alone. The opening area is massive by most game's standards, and it's packed with several story missions and tons of various side activities. I moved on from the prologue and into the game's first major area. The interlude set up the main story in a cool way, then it threw me into Velen or as it's also known, "No Man's Land." Once I was in the new area of the world, I decided to open the map.
There's several more places in the game, there's no way this one place is any bigger than the prologue area, I thought.
I may or may not have fallen out my chair when I saw the size of Velen. Uh, when I zoom it out all the way, I still have to scroll for a second or two in any given direction just to see the whole thing. Remember that town from the prologue with the side missions and the bulletin board, and the monster contract? There's like four or five towns like that in this area. Side quests? Oh yeah, plenty of those too. Finally, those question marks that show places of interest like monster nests, guarded treasure, and so forth? Yeah, there's like a 100 of those.
I've played plenty of games, and I've seen some big maps, but The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is just positively huge. More than that though, it just feels so positively alive! As I gallop on my horse along roads and into dense forests, everything sways with the wind, monsters leap from the shadows, and animals flee from my stampeding footsteps. Near towns and farms, people walk on the roads, going about their business.
When I stumble upon the side quests, I never feel like I'm being pulled away from the main story either. Actually, I'm excited! The side quests vary in length from a few minutes to an hour or more. What I love about them is they are always unique and interesting. Sometimes they're something funny, like two guys being tricked into feeding a fat monster because they think he's a god, to lifting the curse of a place because someone who died there became something angry and evil.
Besides these points of interest and side quests, there are also Witcher contracts. These are unique from the other activities because they have you doing what a Witcher does best: hunting monsters. Now that I've sunk some time into the game, I've had the chance to try these out and they are positively awesome. You begin my investigating using your Witcher senses to find clues about what your facing. When you know everything there is to know about the monster, you prepare to fight it.
Combat That Requires Thought
This is a good time to talk about the combat now that I'm farther into the game. The combat begins simple and fluid. You have a steel sword for people and a silver sword for fighting monsters. As you get into fighting some of the more intense monsters and spirits, you'll need to start playing the game like an RPG and not the next entry in the Dynasty Warriors series. In the world of The Witcher, you are a monster hunter, so when you learn about these creatures, you're shown entries in the pause menu under "Bestiary." In here, you'll find out about potions, sword oils, and magic signs to use on specific creatures.
This is where you start to feel like each battle is rewarding. For example, I went to fight a Gargoyle in the game. I had to prepare my drinking potions to up my attack power. Then I coated my sword in a special oil, and finally, I equipped some bombs I crafted to round out the package. The fight went over smooth because I prepared, and afterward I felt like a true monster hunter. This layer of strategy is truly where the game sets itself apart. There aren't many other games that have you put this much thought into a single fight.
A Beautiful World, and an Intriguing Tale
The prologue of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was good, but it didn't establish the major plot of the game. Luckily, that came directly after. You see, Geralt's quest involves seeking out a girl he once trained named Cirilla or "Ciri" as she's known. You are given this task by someone who has a lot of power and a vested interest in her. I'm being willfully vague to avoid spoilers. You get to see some glimpses of his past training her, and there are missions where you play as Ciri as well in a more linear type of structure.
The voice acting, the sharp writing, and the sheer level of detail to the world and all of its inhabitants is positively staggering. What I love about the game is that everything from the errands to the main story missions are all crafted with more love and care than any other RPG I've played. It feels like a real place, and that kind of detail is hard to come by.
The Big Picture
Above you’ll find my ongoing review of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt as I experienced it for the first chunk of the game. Now that I’ve seen as much as I need to in order to provide you with a score, I wanted to put everything into perspective. I’m also appealing to those who just want a straight answer and would rather not share in my journey (I get it, you’re busy, that’s what they all say).
So, we’ve talked about the massive scope of the game. We’ve talked about the incredible stories that present themselves both in the main storyline and in almost every single sidequest. We’ve talked about a living, breathing world that sucks you in and doesn’t let go, and we’ve even gone into significant detail about the in-game card game Gwent. Much like spending twenty hours with it though, this is only scratching the surface of what The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is all about.
I’ve spent far more than twenty hours seeing the world with Geralt and Rivia, and I’ve seen some of the most unique, engrossing, and amazing set pieces as a result. If you’re a fan of fantasy settings like Skyrim, Dragon Age, or you even enjoy watching Game of Thrones, you’re going to love this world and every little tree and Drowner in it.
If you enjoy RPGs that force you to think and prepare to face your foes based on their weaknesses, you’re going to love it. If you’re tired of games trying to be less violent and mature, you’ll be happy to know that this one holds no punches. Even if you’re just a gamer who wants to lose themselves in a great story and a world that showcases the consequences of your actions, this is the game for you.
With difficulties that cater to any and all play styles, this is truly an RPG that doesn’t leave anyone out. Whether you’re hardcore or casual, it’s got something for everyone. Everything you do in this world matters, and everyone you meet has a story to tell. Plenty of games promise engrossing worlds and hundreds of hours of gameplay. Plenty will promise decisions that really mean something, and still others will tell you that you’ll actually care about each and every person in the game.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt not only makes these promises, but it keeps them. All of them.
Now, while people have been complaining that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s graphics were less than promised, that’s not stopping this from being one of the most beautiful games on the PS4, hands down. I’m telling you, from the facial expressions, to the sway of the trees in the wind, the attention to detail in every facet of the massive world is incredible. There’s nary a bad texture or muddy surface to be found. Everything is crisp and realistic, which is just amazing
A Few Minor Nitpicks, or, “Why This Didn’t Get a 10”
So after a long journey, the score is finally coming, but I felt the need to point just a few small gripes I had with the game. Very rarely does a game deliver so completely on the facets of the genre it inhabits, but this one has done it, and for that CD Projekt Red deserves a medal, truly. The only real gripes I had with the game come in the form of the controls, and the frame rate.
In terms of the controls, they work incredibly well over 90% of the time. The only times I had an issue was when I needed to make precise movements. They can be incredibly snappy so trying to loot that one barrel or examine that one object can be a little frustrating since Geralt very happily throws himself into everything you tell him to do. Again, not a huge issue, but it warranted a few deep sighs from me when I was trying to do something precise.
The other issue I had was the frame rate. Again, this is a minor complaint as the frame rate tends to be in top form (a targeted 30 frames per second) most of the time. During large scale encounters though or graphically heavy moments like rainstorms, it can chug very noticeably. It’s never unplayable, but there were times when an enemy got a cheap hit on me because the game decided to tank for a few seconds.
It’s not enough to be a problem, but it is enough to be an annoyance. Honestly though, this game is so incredibly beautiful that I don’t mind the drops so much. More time to enjoy the scenery I say.
When it comes to RPGs, any new title has big shoes to fill. The Role Playing Game genre is filled with some of the most legendary titles ever to grace the eyes of gamers. To enter this field and stand tall amongst the competition is a task that many fail to achieve. The first 2 Witcher games were good RPGs, but The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is truly great.
It deserves a place in history, and in your video game library.
Final Score: 9.5/10
Article By - Bradley Ramsey
Insert Date: 6/3/15