Phenomenal characters, voice-over, animations and body language.
So, so many features.
A truly vast sandbox filled to the brim with content to wade through.
Decisions actually have consequences.
The best side-quests in the genre.
Absolutely astonishing soundtrack.
As good as the story might be, it's not as jaw-dropping as we hoped it would be.
The UI could be better.
Somewhat badly optimized.
Lots of bugs
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review
Let’s get this straight, right off the bat – for me, The Witcher 3 blows Inquisition out of the water in every possible respect. It is, by far, the better game in virtually every way, and I enjoy my time with it immensely while I can’t help but cringe at some features of Inquisition. With that said, it’s only natural that different opinions will arise; I merely wanted to get this unavoidable comparison out of the way and continue trucking with the proper review of The Witcher 3. The one article where I had to cut text out because it was too bloody long! Onwards!
Back in 2007, I didn’t like Geralt of Rivia. I didn’t like his smirk nor his attitude, nor did I fancy the way he acted in female company. So, initially, I ignored The Witcher for the first couple of months. Then came the reviews, then came my friends hammering on about how awesome the game is. It was a niche piece of software, for sure, but it fitted nicely into the niche my mates were interested in, and thus I was simply too curious not to invest my monthly allowance into this game. The point to take away from this is that I hated, hated, hated, the idea of The Witcher until I actually started playing. Then I was hooked, and my mind was blown. The silver-haired bastard was a much more likeable fellow than I initially imagined; partially due to me playing the character the way he was depicted in the books, but also due to his innate charisma and wit – two features most modern protagonists simply lack. The Slavic-inspired universe was unnervingly beautiful but also close to me, due to my own heritage. It was also a dark place, one of grisly murder and political corruption, with unique monsters and characters you wouldn’t ever hope to meet in real life. It was different, in essence, and I connected with it much easier than I did with The Elder Scrolls’ Nirn. A couple of years later, in 2011, The Witcher 2 was out, and my obsession with the game, its personas, and the world it plays out in, was rekindled. It was a better game in virtually every regard, and Geralt was even more malleable than he was before, not to mention more of a badass. Instead of following the original fiction (kudos to Sapkowski, for sure), I now made Geralt my own, with his moral choices more closely following those I would potentially make. In the end, I was faced with a difficult dilemma, one that weighs heavily on me even now. These choices I’ve transferred into The Witcher 3, however, so as to signify my attempt to deal with what I’ve done earlier. So you see, this is a universe I’m personally deeply connected to. This game simply had to blow my mind once more, because it’s Geralt’s final adventure. I had high expectations, to say the least.
The Witcher 3 is, by far, the biggest Witcher game we’ve ever had the chance of playing. Its huge, sprawling sandbox is littered with a massive number of points of interest – NPCs, the usual traders, side-quests… you name it. The prologue itself pursues a fairly linear path, but even with its many prompts and tutorials, it offers several options for the player to follow through. It’s also a window into a happier time for Geralt up until the very end when the Wild Hunt itself wakes him up. Through the course of this game, you’ll be tracking down Ciri, Geralt’s adopted daughter, as well as some of the other fairly important characters – those who are acquainted with Sapkowski’s work, will know them very well. I feel that it’s important to mention that the main storyline itself perhaps isn’t quite as well-developed as it should be. Its content, specifically the motivation of the protagonist, will be unclear to those who aren’t familiar with the already vast mythology set up by the books and previous games, for the first half of the rather lengthy quest line. Even for me, there were moments when I couldn’t help but sigh at what’s going on in the screen. Interestingly enough, even Geralt throws in a comment on the matter every once in a while. Don’t get me wrong, The Witcher 3 serves a gripping story, but not because of its writing. It’s the characters who bring it to life and keep the player at it. Naturally, there’s Geralt’s ever-so-witty persona for the players to define, but Triss, Yennefer, Dandelion, Zoltan, Vesemir, and a rather large cast of supporting characters help in setting this game apart from the rest of the raffle. The voice-over is simply phenomenal, as are the facial animations. Don’t expect NPCs to be stiff here as they are in, say, Dragon Age or Skyrim. Now, there are moments when they bug out and do some weird stuff, but it’s bound to happen in a game as large as The Wild Hunt is.
As you progress through the truly large and expansive environments of The Witcher 3, you’ll always have a plethora of story threads to follow. The thing I appreciate the most is the way all quests are entwined, one with another. Side-quests will often overlap with the main storyline, drastically changing the original outcome; sometimes even opening up areas that weren’t otherwise accessible. Or perhaps shutting them off. The important thing is that the side-quests rarely feel less worthy of your time than they do in other contemporary AAA RPGs. Hell, some I found to be more fascinating than the core adventure is, and they are all filled to the brim with interesting details and hints for the player to take note of. Monster hunts, in particular, bring the Witcher out of you, forcing you to follow tracks, find leads, and prepare for the upcoming fight. It is tense, atmospheric, and exhilarating once the shit hits the fan. As for the game world, I haven’t yet had the chance to see a sandbox so lovingly crafted as this game is. For me, it overshadowed Los Santos easily, as it has much more flair and character than GTA ever did. This is a truly dark and difficult universe to deal with, and you’ll rarely have a clear-cut decision to make. All of your choices are little more than nuances of grey, and you’d do well to think your choices through carefully. Granted, you’ll definitely see what’s right and what’s wrong with certain quest lines, but I applaud the fact that the choices are there for us to make.
Some reviewers keep bringing up this game’s misogynistic qualities, yet I fail to find them. The universe the game is set in spares no man, woman or child – it’s been like that since the first Witcher. More than anything else, the game mirrors what happens in the real world and lets the players decide what they make of it. Now, Geralt can spend his leisure time in brothels and whatnot, but this is just one more choice we are to make. One doesn’t need to look further than Ciri, Yennefer and Triss to find three powerful female characters the protagonist often heavily relies on. For all of his masculinity, Geralt wouldn’t get far without his female accomplices. Finally, this is a world that’s run by women – powerful sorceresses pull the threads here, with men often being relegated to the function of a pawn, for the lack of a better word. Bottom line – those who see misogyny in the instance of men opening the door for women will surely see it in The Witcher 3 too, but it’s simply not true.
Back on track, the gameplay has been streamlined nicely from The Witcher 2’s blundering, heavy combat and sometimes overly complex interfaces. Interestingly enough, the focus of the gameplay doesn’t lie on combat here, and you’ll find actual swordsmanship to happen relatively rarely. Once swords are drawn though, it’s a real blast. Geralt is now faster and more aggressive than ever, even though he’s supposed to be close to a hundred years old by now. The game features a more refined form of its predecessor’s combat module, yet it’s a far more responsive system. I’d dare to compare it to the combat found in Dark Souls 2, even though it’s somewhat more forgiving and less precise. You’ll have to prepare potions and build your character carefully for some of the later encounters, let alone boss fights. The skills one can invest in offer a rather diverse selection of different upgrade paths, and you’ll be able to build a Sign-focused Geralt that is just as viable as the one that focuses on swordsmanship is. Perhaps you’d prefer to focus on defense? Or fast evasive techniques, even? There’s a lot of variety to be found here, and combined with the large amount of armour and weapons on offer, you’re bound to have fun in crafting a Geralt of your own.
The Witcher 3 is also a rather pretty game, but it’s hardly what many expected it to be. Whereas The Witcher 2 killed our hardware a while back, The Wild Hunt isn’t quite as taxing nowadays. While I can’t quite play it properly on my college laptop, it runs nicely on my home rig. The frame rate, however, fluctuates according to the location you’re currently visiting. The cities, and particularly grassy areas, will often thump down the frame rate to questionable levels if your PC isn’t up to the task. It’s understandable, however, due to the sandbox nature of the game. You’ll find some low-resolution textures popping up every once in a while, and the whole thing simply isn’t up to par with the game’s initial target render. Things get out of hand easily however, and CD Projekt RED explained this with the fact that the game simply grew too large for the hardware to handle it properly on that level of visual fidelity. Few will mind because it’s still an unquestionably beautiful game overall, and due to the amount of brilliant gameplay hours it delivers effortlessly. Do note, there’s almost certainly an Enhanced Edition coming up in a year or so, and something’s telling me we’ll be seeing rather substantial improvements then, concerning the PC version in particular. The game also features an especially impressive soundtrack that adds much to the atmosphere. The tunes simply fit perfectly with what’s currently on-screen, and you’ll rarely be left wanting, as far as sound effects are concerned at least.
Naturally, there’s a fair few bugs to consider here as well. I’ve mentioned the frame rate drops and animations bugging out already, but strange things keep happening to Roach (Geralt’s horse) as well. Characters interacting with the environment also procure amusing effects sometimes. That said, I’ve not found a bug that shouldn’t be easily fixed in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned for those patches, folks.
When all is said and done, The Witcher 3 remains one of the very best games I’ve ever played. It offers a substantially large, complex and immersive world, fascinating characters and oh-so-many side-stories to get lost in. You will get side-tracked, and you will get lost, but you will always feel like you are adventuring, learning about the world as you prowl along. Very few games can consistently deliver one such experience, yet The Wild Hunt accomplishes this task almost effortlessly. It is a game I will be playing for times to come, and I wholeheartedly suggest other RPG lovers to do so too. CD Projekt RED, you’ve done it again.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review
CD Projekt RED
CD Projekt RED
19th May 2015