The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review
The Witcher franchise has always been a series aiming for quality. So far each installment has hit all the right notes. The Witcher 3 is the culmination of a franchise. Similar to Dragon age Inquisition and Mass effect 3, Witcher 3 has some big shoes to fill as it will most likely be the last time we see Geralt and company. Fortunately the Witcher 3 is a worthy addition to a well loved franchise.
The Witcher 3 picks up several months after the events of the second game with Geralt fresh on the heels of Yennefer his former flame. While journeying Geralt finds leads and links to the mysterious wild hunt and his adopted daughter Ciri. Most of your time spent with the story will involve Geralt tracking down clues and finding people that have had contact with the wild hunt. It’s a simple yet powerful motivation to progress the story as I genuinely wanted to know how everything will end for Geralt and all those he’s come in contact with. While the story itself is solid I found that far too often it took a backseat for Geralt to solve the problems of other people for example someone will exchange information for favours and thus Geralt is running around a whole region tracking down someone’s wife and daughter. It’s not that I wasn’t invested in these stories it’s just that I felt they pushed story progress to the side.
Genuine side quests on the other hand have a surprising amount of depth and choice as you are tasked with lifting curses, defending villagers, hunting monsters and playing cards. Some side quests are very well written and are the main reason for the length of my playthrough as I was constantly distracted with helping someone out or killing an especially powerful beast. The Witcher contracts are by far my favourite parts of the game as you really feel like a monster hunter. First you gather information from villagers, then investigate previous attack sites, then delve deeper into the cause these attacks and eventually follow the monsters tracks back to their lair and fight with all your acquired knowledge. Utilising enemy weaknesses really is a highlight for the game as Geralt isn’t an all powerful warrior, he’s well above human level but he’s still mortal and if he’s surrounded there’s very little chance he’ll walk out unscathed.
Gameplay in the Witcher 3 is divided into two main sections exploration and combat. In exploration Geralt is free to move around expansive landscapes visiting towns, cities, forests, swamps, mountains and more in a well-realised open world. Some of these areas genuinely feel alive as you ride by on your horse and see some bandits locking up villagers or run by children playing with sticks as if they were swords. You’re free to run, jump, ride, climb and sail across these massive expanses of land in search of loot and other surprises. I really enjoyed riding by the countryside on my horse and this is made even easier by a function I wish was in all open world games, holding down a button and auto following the road. Exploration is a huge part of the witcher 3 as you’ll constantly be searching for ingredients to make potions or bombs, killing and looting monsters to make better gear and just selling all your unnecessary items to pay for the costly repair system.
Another significant part to the Witcher 3’s gameplay is combat. The short answer is combat is messy, the long answer is that combat is a patient and deeply rewarding experience that makes you feel like a real Witcher. On PC you are given roughly 4 attack buttons and 3 buttons used for defence and evasion. In practice on this can get a little frustrating and complicated as you swap from fast attacks, to strong attacks, signs and projectiles. On top of that you have a button to block and parry another button for dodging slashes and thrusts and another for dodge rolls to avoid being surrounded. I understand that it’s hard to map all these buttons and you can customise the controls to suit your style. I just felt that it was a little too much in heated battles.
Fortunately the more you play the better it feels and as you get stronger and unlock new skills and sign upgrades the combat becomes a good experience. Furthermore, those looking for a real Witcher challenge can take on Witcher contracts which involve Geralt particularly strong monsters. Some fights can last quite a long time so it’s vital to ensure Geralt is in top fighting form and so are his remarkably flimsy weapons. Fortunately, the upgrade system in Witcher 3 is intuitive and allows for a vast array of customization. Geralt only has a small number of slots for skills with more unlocking as you gain levels. This makes for some very strategic ability management as you have a finite number of slots available for use. This allows for several types of builds in a single playthrough and it encourages smart play. The problem with this is it’s hard to feel overpowered and it’s also hard to decide on what kind of Geralt you want. See CD Project have balanced your abilities and signs to the point where there aren’t clear winners or losers. Upgrade any sign and you’re good, it doesn’t matter which one as all of them are great.
Another somewhat odd gameplay addition is the popular trading card game Gwent. This isn’t some small side distraction or minigame, no it’s actually a full fledged card game that can hold its own against contemporaries like Hearthstone and Magic the Gathering. CD Project actually spent a great deal of time crafting a realistic card game as a purely optional activity in The Witcher 3. Basically it works like this, the field is divided into two halves, your side and the opponents. Each side of the field is sectioned into three lanes, which are basically close range, mid range and long range cards. Each card has a strength value and this number adds to your overall strength. You are given two lives each dividing the game into rounds. The aim of each round is to have a higher strength value than your opponent. To ensure your victory there a numerous spell and ability cards that bolster and weaken enemy forces. The thing that makes Gwent interesting is that when a game starts you draw 10 cards and throughout the round you won’t draw any more cards unless prompted by a special ability. After each round you’ll draw a single card, so rationing your cards is just as important as playing them. Making it to the third round with a single card will spell doom for you no matter how well you played before. Deck building is vital and you’ll often find yourself riding to different villages and cities to find the best cards to bolter your deck. It’s an interesting and incredibly well thought out side activity that has the potential for dozens of hours of enjoyment and frustration.
Presentation in The Witcher franchise has always been held to a high standard, and it’s no different here. Everything just looks good. Granted we haven’t been able to run the game on Ultra settings but High still looks fantastic. Character models look great, even the general civilian NPC’s. Monster designs are great however, they are overused as you’ll be fighting many monsters with different names but the same general design, I don’t mind this at all as the monsters still look great. Armors are well detailed although at times you may find yourself wearing something incredibly ugly just because its stats are great. Another surprise is just how interesting and dynamic the environments are. Depending on the weather you’ll see beautiful sunny vistas, torrential rain pour accompanied by puddles, heavy storms blowing trees with an intense ferocity and amazing sunsets as you set sail or stand on the water’s edge.
Geralt is the star of the show and definitely a standout in terms of design. The detail and depth of his scars, the eerie yet beautiful design of his cat like eyes and his male model like white flowing hair all help to make Geralt look like someone that doesn’t quite belong with normal humans. It’s also awesome that Geralt’s beard grows with the passing of in game time. Going from clean shaven to bushy beard can take over a week in game and it’s a really nice touch to be able to see actual progression of time appearing on your character. The voice acting is also great; Geralt’s voice actor delivers another fantastic performance of a mutated battle hardened warrior who has lost the majority of his emotions. The rest of the cast are also great but some of the repeating voices can get a little annoying.
Overall The Witcher 3 is a fantastic send off to an already amazing franchise. It may stumble at times due to some fidgety combat or story side tracking but everything that it does right more than makes up for this. The Witcher 3 is a huge game and I’ve barely scratched the surface of side activities and hidden areas. But what I have experienced, the vast sweeping plains of Velen, the hustle and bustle of Novigrad and the open and Viking-esc landscapes of Skellige help to make The Witcher 3 a standout not just because of its size but because of the stories that were held within.