We all love an RPG with vast worlds and choices a plenty, each with real consequences, but with both being mean feats to create and deliver, they often make for strange bed fellows. Since the announcement of The Witcher 3, and its plan to take the rich, challenging and complex world of its predecessor only to blow it up into an even bigger experience and larger world, almost double the size in fact, I’ve wondered just how that could work and how it would impact the games quality.
Would this vast expansion affect the beautiful crafted quests and deep choice mechanics? Could the graphic fidelity really live up to what we've seen in past snippets and short trailers or would it suffer from trying too much, too fast?
Well, It’s been over a week since I got my hands on The Witcher 3 and I’m certainly confident that everything CD Project Red have promised may well just come off as they wish!
Wild Hunt is the next slice of sword fights, demon slaying and tight leather pants, from the Witcher series. A gem that shines bright in the glorious crown of CD Project Reds accomplishments. Marking the third entry of the franchise, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is also the first in the series to have been developed with home consoles, something which I’ve been excited to see in action considering many of the issues that plagued 2012s The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings, came from the team being forced to squash such vast content and numerous controls, onto less powerful consoles.
Thankfully, if you missed the chance to play any of the series previous instalments, The Witcher 3 is crafted perfectly to allow newcomers to jump straight in while losing nothing from the narrative, which speaks a lot for the strength of Geralts story and CD Projekt Reds writing team.
Focusing on the previously mentioned Geralt of Rivia and his friend Vesimir, a mentor of sorts to Gerald and leader of the last remaining Witchers of ‘The School of the Wolf’. Travelling the lands together, Gerald is in search of his long lost love, the Sorceress Yennifer, after some tense and dramatic nightmares deliver visions of her death along with the death of their adoptive daughter Ciri. Almost immediately the story manages to feel weighty, as weird as that may sound, and I was quickly invested in the outcome of Geralts destiny.
After some serious hands on time at Stirling Castle in Scotland, I was left more than impressed with what I’d seen. Not only does it look stunning with glorious vistas, beautiful maidens and detailed faces that look full of expression and beautifully hand sculpted, It actually feels like a living breathing world, in some ways, more so than last years Game of The Year (at least for me) Dragon Age Inquisition. Most of my time was spent talking to strangers and starting fights in bars, not because the game left me with little to do but because I was truly in awe of the world around me. It was also glaringly obvious just how much of the games course mechanics had seen a complete overhaul since The Witcher 2. From the combat that now allows you to fluidly dodge, roll and jump to Geralt now being able to swim the depths of the ocean as well as fight on both horse back and at sea, all of felt extremely well crafted.
Much has been said about the size of The Witcher 3 and its world map, many having quoted a passing mention of it hitting the mark of 20% bigger than Skyrim. CD Project Red have been keen to express their core concept had them build a world in which anything you see can in fact be travelled to. From the time I had with it, this certainly rings true. Every tree, castle, ruin or small village can be found and will no doubt contain a plethora of things to do and people to interact with. Split into a handful of sections, each with its own huge sprawling landscape and divided by two main larger maps, it took me some time to traverse the area I was allowed to explore.
There’s a lot to be said for the monster hunting and demon slaying here, which requires a decent amount of thought and preparation before you go bounding in. That is unless of course, you happen to like the smell of roasting flesh and the constantly repeating game over screen.
You’ll need to discover more about your quarry, from their weaknesses and strengths to areas of the map they’ll frequent long before you even think of drawing your sword. All of this can be discovered through your personal bestiary, think of it as a poke’dex for the medieval era, or ‘book’ as they were known. Once you’ve got your tactics sorted, you’ll be well advised to go grazing, picking up specific herbs ready to brew some of those all important potions! This isn’t a simple ‘stock up on health’ system mind you, if you craft right and craft well you can activate some handy, yet temporary, boosts and buffs to your stats! If you want to be a true master of the hunt, you could also go that extra mile and create oils with which to coat your blade, adding poison or bleeding effects, giving your steel that extra bite or simply strengthen your steel for a time!
After hearing of a small abandoned village in which a host of unwitting travellers and bandits went missing, I made my way there only to discover the ghost of a murdered woman had be blackened by grief and twisted into a MoonWraith. I wont tell you how long it took me to study up on just how I could kill something that was formless, but I made a tactical retreat to stock up, buff up and get my glyphs ready.
That’s right, if swords, crossbows, bombs and traps weren't enough, Glyphs play a huge part in Geralts arsenal of moves. These small bursts of magic allow you to fire off bursts of flame, kinetic energy which unsettles your enemies footing, magical traps to hold them still and even the chance of controlling their mind, setting them against their allies!
Even once prepared, taking on the MoonWraith lead to one of the most tense battles I’ve experienced for a long time! Constantly dancing on the edge of death and the dreaded game over! Throwing fire, swinging steel, dodging left and right, it was glorious!
With so many demons and monsters to discover and hunt, fans of the popular Monster Hunter series should feel right at home here, just don't expect to see those little fury friends of yours anytime soon. You’re hunting alone on this one!
Overall, I had a fantastic time with The Witcher 3. The world is huge and truly gorgeous while never leaving me overwhelmed and instead excited to push forward so I could discover more and more! I haven't felt this excited while exploring a game since first laying hands on Skyrim! Character models and facial animation are also a huge accomplishment, looking stunning and while the voice acting isn't always 100% top notch, the enthralling story and deep combat system really make up for that little pitfall!
Throw in a choice system that feels like it may well be deeper than a Mass Effect game and The Witcher 3 is on track to be my game of the year!
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is Available on Xbox One, Playstation 4 & PC on May 19th 2015