Games can be enthralling. Since their creation and gradual evolution they've been a medium that could grab you by the eyes and hold on for dear life until you realise, six red bulls and two cold pizzas later that you've been up for hours. It’s morning in fact, but you haven't regretted a moment of finishing Ghouls’n’Ghosts final level, taking part in a bit of duck racing in Shenmue, finding that mystical lift rave that Crysis 2 offered up or even taking the time to master Bloodborne and destroy Margot’s Wet Nurse in a game of Knifey Spoony.
Since it’s announcement, The Witcher 3 has looked set to be the next game that robbed me of sleep. An RPG bringing in a boat load of action, exploration while lonely aiming for adults and their secret desire to live their own Game of Thrones story. Battling through a sea of politics and arms.
The Witcher as a series however, isn't your average RPG. This isn't a game you’ll sink hours into, only to forget the earthy and gritty moments and simply hold onto the mystical, romantic parts as nostalgia so often likes to do. Everything takes work and graft but delivered in such a way that you’ll have fond memories of the work you put in just as much as that warm gooey feeling it delivered. Sure, you can bound around the land, whip out your blade and make sure every beast in the nearby area gets a taste of it, but once you’re in the world of The Witcher, you’ll be only too wise and happy to read more into your quarry, prepare the best potions and oils for your sword before running at them headfirst and making sure you're their worst nightmare. With battles against mythical beasts poured all over the land, its a lesson you’d be wise to heed.
Gone is that crippling control scheme CD Projekt Reds previous instalment was forced to utilise, in a switch from PC to console. Offering instead a fluid battle scheme that'll have you dodging, parrying and rolling as you sweep enemies off their feet and deliver a gruesome killing blow to the chest, before taking their mates head clean off its shoulders!
Ok, so for some it’s perhaps not the deep ocean of combos and controls that they may be accustomed too, but it fits so well into The Witchers often brutal world that I couldn't help but enjoy every moment of battle!
The sprawling world that lays at your feet has received just as much attention. Not just settling for a quick lick of paint and polish, everything has been built anew and flooded with life. The Witcher 3 looks simply gorgeous. Yes, lets be clear that PC fans out there will no doubt in the coming days begin a parade of taunts at how much better it looks on max settings, we know and expect this, but what is offered on console is easily the best we’ve seen of this generation so far. Which is saying something, lets be honest!
As the days and nights cycle, you’ll fall in love with your surroundings, staring at the way light spills through the trees, making patterns on the floor. Or watching the sunset from a windmill which over looks a sea of crops. Even the dark, muddy battlefields are a sight to behold as moonlight makes corpses blood glisten in the night. You’ll find a twinges of the games dark history weaved into your surroundings. Enjoying a nice walk during an orange dusk, only to pass a fleet of burned houses and bodies swinging in the trees.
Yes, this world is full of life, but its not you’re average cavalcade of sprites, cute animals and dead eyed humans. You wont find many creatures willing to dance around the forests with joyous glee at the world around them, while the sun pours down its golden rays. Nor will you experience a simple cast of good, pure souls and impending evil that threatens their world.
While most RPGs settle for this clean cut black and white world, The Witcher 3 is happy to be ‘The Dark Knight’ of medieval story telling, where good and evil are easily confused simply because they're normally one and the same. In a world riddled with war, pestilence and poverty as everyone musters to survive, doing what needs to be done while twisted spirits, abhorrent beasts and unspeakable acts of terror warp all life around them. Somewhere in the middle, lies Gerald of Rivia. A fair judge with a just hand or a hunter out for coin and nothing more. Your choice really.
While of course The Witcher 3 shares some spirit with games such as Skyrim, you won't find an endless sea of fetch quests or grandiose tasks that place you as leader of the free world or last hope of humanity, that fill to the brim with little more than cliche. The tasks you’ll be set upon in Tameria instead feel like little chunks of day to day life and give you a glimpse into the suffering of the lower classes. This dash of humanity is more akin to Red Dead Redemption and John Martens endless toil to help others while fighting for his morality and a leg up himself.
As Geralt of Rivia it’s your job to get stuck in and start making some hard decisions for people who can't do so themselves. Have no expectation of simple paragon and renegade choices however. Times are tough and while some options may seem to have an obvious indignation towards that of the light, most choices come with their own set of equally bad consequences, leaving you more often than not, to pick the lesser of two evils and hope for the best as the world evolves to decisions made by your hand and blood spilt by your blade. Such is life (apart from the blade part of course. Mostly)
It’s obvious that the key ingredient here is care. TLC. The world of Temeria has a lot of fantasy tropes you’d expect, with its beautiful flowing rivers, small bustling towns and deep dark woods, but with so much care to make each piece of land stand for a reason and knit together with natural purpose, everything feels right. I spent as many hours slowly galloping through the cities and swamps, as I did talking to townsfolk and completing quests.
This care extends its arms and bleeds through every part of the game. Even its narrative is perfectly handled, using a deft hand to touch upon a great deal of subjects and delivering it with some of the best character models and visuals you’ll have seen in a long, long time. Thanks to all these factors working together, everyone you meet feels like a key character, each with their own habits and agendas which in itself is a cause for huge amounts of praise.
Certain systems unfortunately work to marginalise the games strong points in places, offering up a functional set of menus for example, which will often need you to pause from the action and organise your inventory, repair weapons, read through notes and messages or prepare potions. This system feels like it works against all the hard work CD Project Red have put in to creating a truly immersive world, but while they somewhat drag you from focus, they're a necessary evil and one that you'll inevitably enjoy once you get the hang of them.
I could talk for hours about everything I enjoyed with The Witcher 3. Every story is free and open to be nudged in different directions, with endless landscapes to explore and characters to entertain. It’s an absolute joy to watch how your choices cause ripples across the land in ways you may not expect. No fists slam on the table and scupper your plans, instead winds change direction and new friends or enemies may not rear their head until you’ve long forgotten them.
Battles are great fun and puzzles within themselves, while quests send you to every corner of the world to discover each and every depth of humanity. CD Projekt Red took on a mammoth task in creating an open world that isn't just filled with characters but actual life and The Witcher 3 is proof of their success. We’ll be enjoying this one and remembering its fine details for years to come.
I mentioned that bit about sex on a unicorn right?