The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Something ends, something begins – Review

Gare – Saturday, August 1, 2015 11:22 AM
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It’s not every day that I find myself having to form coherent thoughts on a game that consumed well over 120 hours of my life over the past few weeks, but if I managed to do it with Pillars of Eternity, hopefully I’ll be able to pull off something similar in this case as well. So, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The third in the series of CD Projekt RED’s series of RPGs based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy novels and the final, conclusive chapter in the video game adventures of Geralt of Rivia, the famed monster slayer.

Right off the bat, you may be wondering how important of a role one’s familiarity with the previous games – or the novels – may be in this case. Well, I have to confess I’ve never quite had the chance to read Sapkowski’s original saga (which chronologically takes place before the events of all three games), but I have played the previous two games, at the very least. The Witcher 3, in this respect, is a relatively easy entry to jump into, and I’m willing to bet the developers themselves had this in mind when they so cleverly disguised the number “3” in the logo so that newcomers would not be put off. So while the The Witcher 3 does absolutely work with characters from the previous entries (novels included, as far as I could tell), I managed to have a grand old time just viewing it as its own game. With that out of the way, let’s dive into what it actually has to offer.

The Trail

First off, graphics. Because boy, it certainly has plenty to offer in that regard – and unless you’re playing on a console, you might want to consider checking whether or not your rig will be able to acceptably run this bad boy. But the thing about The Witcher 3 and its sheer graphical fidelity is that it’s all used for a good cause: creating a living, breathing game world (pardon the clichéd expression) in which exploration will feel more like uncovering the secrets of a wondrous fantasy universe, and less like going through a list of MMORPG checkboxes. Oh, and for the first time in the series, we’re dealing with a massive, open world, though not without some loading screens – the lush, wind-ravaged forests of Velen, the bustling city squares of Novigrad and the dreamlike, snow-laden mountains stretching across the Skellige Isles all contribute to creating an illusion you’ll have a hard time tearing yourself away from. While so many open worlds may end up feeling entirely barren and devoid of life, The Witcher 3 adds a variety of bits and bobs (quests included) to every nook and cranny, where even a horse ride from one village to the next may turn out to be an eventful journey. You may see wolves randomly attacking stray villagers, lone hunters looking for prey in the woods, townsfolk going about their daily lives, having meaningless or meaningful conversations all around the clock, creating a world that is both gritty and real, wondrous and fantastical.

On the other hand, with a world this large come certain drawbacks. True enough, while the Witcher 3 litters its map with untold amounts of treasure to find, bandit camps to clear and tough monsters to tackle, many of these activities may potentially become a chore at a certain point. Discovering a hidden treasure or monster nest here and there fills one with excitement the first time, the second time and even the third, I dare say – but once I cleared out my twentieth generic bandit camp and looted the thirtieth underwater treasure coffer, I was starting to view things in a different light. Still, this is an entirely optional part of the game and is meant to serve as a way to kill a few minutes between genuine quests – hardly anything that would detract *too* much from the overall experience.

Fate Calls

However, graphics alone are hardly enough to make a world interesting – and this is where The Witcher 3’s numerous side quests come into play, many of which would, in fact, be able to stand on their own as main quests in a lesser RPG. The game boasts of dozens upon dozens of various quests, all of which follow The Witcher series’ tried and tested formula of choices and consequences, with no clear-cut division between good and evil and ramifications that may only become evident later on. Add to this a cast of memorable characters and a story that, albeit not particularly original – considering it’s mostly a glorified missing person’s case –, still manages to be genuinely engaging, funny and emotional through stellar presentation and well-choreographed cutscenes, and you’ve got yourself a winning formula. Pun very much intended. It does need to be mentioned, however, that the Witcher 2’s brilliant split path approach to its narrative (two different stories would unfold halfway through the game based on your choices earlier) is not present in the sequel, which – though completely understandable – was unfortunate.

Silver for Monsters…

In terms of gameplay, CD Projekt promised to make players truly feel like a monster hunter for hire, and this promise was successfully delivered upon: plenty of witcher contracts await adventurous players, focusing entirely on tracking down and killing a specific monster. The Witcher 3’s tracking system (prevalent in all other aspects of the game) truly shines here, allowing Geralt to activate his so-called witcher senses in order to spot footprints in the grass, follow suspicious scents and so on to track the beast in question, giving the entire process a sort of “detective investigation” feel, further cementing Geralt’s role as a professional tracker and monster slayer. Still, while The Witcher 3’s side quests are quite enjoyable, the previously-mentioned feeling of repetition once again rears its ugly head with many of the available witcher contracts. Oftentimes, you merely go through the same old motions of tracking footprints, finding a monster, killing said monster, then collecting a reward, rinse and repeat – the entire process, therefore, lacks the intricate storylines that are usually woven into most of the game’s main and side quests.

The Song of the Sword-Dancer

Combat in The Witcher 3 builds upon what was established in the second installment, with certain tweaks. For one, you now have crossbow, although its actual, practical use is fairly limited to shooting down flying enemies once in a blue moon, so you’ll just be using your dual swords – silver for monsters, steel for people – most of the time. Possibly one of the more notable changes in the Witcher 3 come in the form of its potion system. As those familiar with the franchise know, witchers work with various potions to boost their effectiveness in combat, giving them an edge over specific monsters. In the previous installments, one had to sit down and meditate in order to brew and consume potions in advance. And once you drank a potion, it was gone. The Witcher 3 makes things a touch more accessible by allowing you to instantly use potions with the press of a button even in the middle of combat. Additionally, potions once made are never lost and never have to be remade again with the same ingredients: they merely need to be refilled with alcohol (of which there is a plentiful supply of in the game), and you’re good to go.

One minor gripe I had with this system is that Geralt is only capable of refilling his potions when meditating. When he does this, a bottle of alcohol will always automatically be used to refill every single one of his potions to maximum capacity. In practice, this means that even when you’ve only used one or two of your potions (out of dozens), the game will force you to waste an alcohol vial, leading to numerous “I’d really like to meditate now to switch the time of day, but then I’d waste an alcohol vial for no reason” situations. Thankfully, this only becomes a genuine problem early on in the game – at later stages, when both alcohol and money (to buy alcohol with) becomes plentiful, it turns into a non-issue.

In its basics, The Witcher 3 felt a lot like its predecessor in the combat department: you’ll be spending most of your time slicing and dicing, rolling out of the way of enemies, using some of your five trademark spells and throwing a bomb or two into crowds with precise timing – except this time, it all feels somewhat smoother, faster and more accessible, making for an overall more enjoyable and fluid combat experience. It’s not revolutionary, but it sure is fun, especially when the severed limbs start to fly and the soundtrack’s Slavic tunes kick into full gear. And they do, trust me. As far as smoothness and accessibility is concerned, one of the Witcher 3’s major flaws were its convoluted, user-unfriendly inventory system and somewhat clunky controls, in the “I feel like I’m controlling a boat and not Geralt of Rivia” sort of way. I’m deliberately using the word “were” here, as CD Projekt RED has done an amazing job in post-launch support, releasing a major patch to fix both of these issues this July. In fact, I find myself somewhat baffled as to why Geralt’s alternative control scheme (introduced in said patch and providing far more responsive controls) was not the default option on release.

Something Ends, Something Begins

So at the end of the day, what are we left with? Well, a splendid game, first and foremost. While not without certain flaws and occasional bugs, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is nonetheless one hell of a journey from start to finish, with scenes and characters that will no doubt stay with me for quite a bit of time to come. It has managed to set a new standard in open world gaming and western RPGs in general, all the while providing a fitting, memorable conclusion to Geralt of Rivia’s adventures. One can only hope that the upcoming two expansions (one currently scheduled for October, the other for next year) will maintain the same level of quality.


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