The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is….poetry, basically.
Created by Publisher CD Projekt, it is the third fragment in the Witcher Trilogy and it most certainly doesn’t fail to impress. Wild Hunt has stomped across game land with reckless abandon, grasping multiple awards in its journey to “Best Roleplaying Game” for 2015. It also grabbed awards for “Game of the Year”, “Best Narrative”, “Best Soundtrack”, and Geralt voice actor Doug Cockle won “Best Performance” as the games protagonist. Preceding 2015 however, Witcher 3: Wild Hunt had also won “Most Anticipated Game” for 2014. So, with all of those notches under its belt - does the game live up to the hype?
The game follows along the path of Geralt, a monster-slayer/bounty hunter/ladies-man who kills magnificent beasts for coin, and beds attractive ladies for free. Originally you start by tracking
Yennefer - a sorceress of no small repute, though quickly you realise the game’s main plot is to find Geralt’s adoptive daughter, Ciri- who is on the run from the Wild Hunt, a sky-riding group of dark elves who love wearing skeleton masks and speaking in deep tones. Geralt is a Witcher, a professional monster hunter whose presence in the world is tolerated only because he provides a service that no one else can perform, however he is met with disdain, insults and often outright hatred almost everywhere he travels.
Part of this hatred can be attributed to the fact that Witchers undergo a process which mutates their body - enhancing all of their senses. Witchers are notorious trackers, not least of all because they can find tracks in absolute darkness, hear the slightest of movements and smell scents that are weeks old, to name a few of their traits. However, these changes mutate their bodies, with all Witchers identified easily by their eyes. They are considered to be freaks and mutants, and this point is hammered home as you travel throughout the world, over and over and over again - almost as if the developer needed you to know this.
These mutations (and your smarmy, holier-than-thou attitude in the world) are a big part of the reason you get into so many fights. Nobody likes you (except sorceresses - all of whom apparently want to bed you…. regularly) and almost every second individual is either afraid of you, or wants to beat the stuffing out of you. The fights are easily avoidable though, you can talk your way out of it with convincing dialogue choices, upgrade your Axii sign and Jedi-Mind-Trick your way out of it - or you can ignore how easy it is to avoid fights, and chop down all those who stand before you.
You will fight though, and often. The game’s primary method of conflict resolution is combat. This, unfortunately, is where this wondrous game falls flat - the combat is sloppy. Don’t get us wrong - we love the variation in combat, and the ability to mix it up between signs and sword swings is amazing. However, all too often you’re left recovering from an over-done action to actually follow up with the next step. We found dives were almost entirely redundant (though we had to do them often) as you would often dive a degree in the wrong direction, and before you can get back to your foe they’ve already recovered from their combat animation and your opening is lost.
This is where the “Signs” came in extremely useful. First form “Quen” creates a barrier over your body that, as it grows in strength, allows you to take multiple hits. Upgrading Quen instigates a push back effect when the shield breaks. Upgrading it further allows you to hold the key down for the sign, forming a bubble around yourself that, when struck, regenerates vitality. This was ultimately far more superior to diving five meters in the absolute wrong direction.
“Aard” allows you to push back your foes, often staggering them enough that they are knocked down - which means you’re entitled to an instant kill if you can dive/roll your way to them fast enough (often not the case). “Igni” creates a burst of flame and, when upgraded, creates a gorgeous burst of ongoing fire that decimates your foe’s armour. “Yrden” creates a series of protective glyphs on the ground in a circle around Geralt - which has a number of benefits ranging from slowing foes, to forcing wraiths to take corporeal form so you can wallop them.
“Axii” reveals its dual utility here, not only allowing you to influence dialogue choices, but a quick cast of Axii will stun your foe - upgrading it forces them to be your ally - and upgrading it again forces enemies to fight for you. This ability is overpowered by far, as for some weird reason your enemies attacks when under your control can almost always finish similar enemies off in 1-2 hits. We found “Signs” to be far more useful than any combat upgrades, though the ability to parry arrows and bolts back at archers was both amazing AND hilarious in equal measure.
The only time combat feels genuinely smooth, and like you’re not about to roll/dodge into a giant’s waiting club, is when playing as Ciri - the adoptive daughter of Geralt, who is a child of the Elder
Blood (meaning she’s been granted some Ex-Machina-esque abilities – especially so in combat). Her dodge is a long range teleport, and her sidestep is a shorter range version of the same thing. Whilst she doesn’t have Geralt’s signs, what she does have access to is one of the coolest in-game combat abilities by far. Holding down Q allows Ciri to charge up a sphere that covers a small area, and attacking then sets off an awesome automated combat sequence, where Ciri teleports behind each enemy in the sphere range and slashes their back, then returns to her original position. We don’t stop getting excited by it each time we use it.
The combat animations were smooth, however they were still prone to the high number of graphics glitches that Witcher 3 suffers from. It was never close to anything game-breaking, merely a simple clipping issue here and there, such as sometimes we’d appear inside a stone, but we were still able to walk straight back out again. We never fell through anything, or were halted in our progress in any way by any of the glitches. If anything, they were a minor annoyance, especially when you consider the sheer beauty of the Northern Realms.
The scenery in Witcher 3 is awe-inspiring – even the lower level plains and villages are done beautifully. The game comes into its own however, when you arrive in Skellige, Land of the Viking barbarians. This is where the beauty accelerates ten-fold. Skellige is a land of wild snowcapped razor backed mountains, and huge sprawling vistas. A series of treacherous islands with unstable and rocky terrain is atmospherically created by the beauty that the art team at Witcher 3 has sewn into the world. We often found ourselves wandering aimlessly just looking and admiring - which is a true sign of a job well done. The game makes you want to explore.
The main story is… empty. It’s carried on the back of its side quests, which when the main story line feels slow, ninety percent of the time it does, they prompt you along to keep going and eventually lead you round robin back to completing the main task regardless. The side quests are well crafted and lovingly scripted and easily outshine the overarching plot. The main plot is just unimaginative – it’s one big, long man-hunt for Ciri, and we feel the plot-reasons for this search are just, well - lacking. Suddenly the emperor of the invading Nilfgaardian force decides he has “Reasons of State” to find his daughter, this rolls in Yennefer (who we were already searching for at the start of the game) who then enlists our help.
Why didn’t we go searching for our “daughter” before? Was finding Yennefer really more important than finding Ciri? Geralt is an expert tracker, yet apparently he has to wait to be told by the Emperor to run off and find our sole point of happiness in this world? You’re left a little confused as you trek off over a five country and hundred village strong search for our missing person. Luckily the side quests are imaginative, detailed and rich. The characters are interesting, and have depth and quality. The voice acting is one hundred percent on par and there’s no end to the side quests you can do.
You can either be led into these quests, or you can find them on Noticeboards which occur in almost every town. Don’t pass up noticeboards as you will find some of the best gear while on side quests, especially Witcher Gear, that can be upgraded up to three times, from standard, to enhanced, then superior to master craft. Each item becomes more beautiful with each level of upgrade.
The crafting system in the game opens up a whole other level of exploration possibilities, with both an alchemy and item crafting system although some of the ingredients are very rare and hard to come by - forcing you to explore the world for them. Check everything. Some of the best weapon diagrams and most amazing alchemy concoctions were found in a barrel that had not a single special instance about it - you could easily have run straight passed it. Open every crate, every container, and explore every corner.
The potion system has been enhanced, requiring you to defeat more and more powerful creatures, in order to obtain the necessary alchemy ingredients, unlocking stronger effects to make your end-game ride smoother. Potions do everything, from allowing you to see in the dark, healing you faster, making hits from enemies heal you, increasing your carry weight and …. well, almost endless others. You will want to find all of the formulas as they’re too useful not to hunt for.
The game plays like a detective novel, cross high fantasy, cross anti-hero mashup, and the combination works. Yes, your character is a bit of an asshole, but with no emotions and a series of torturous trials that led to his current state - is that really any surprise? Besides, he’s spent his hundred or so years in the realms saving thankless peasants, who still haven’t found the good grace to overlook his mutations or battle scars (of which there are many). You find yourself attached to Geralt, and even his more smarmy replies will have you nodding along in agreement.
Without having played the first two games, this still proved to be enjoyable. The RPG elements are all in place and the world is beautifully crafted. The character of Geralt is entertaining and appealing to play and you really end up feeling as if you’re in his shoes. The concept is well thrown together and the dialogue is fantastic. Altogether - should you buy this game? Yes, don’t hesitate. It’s a fantastic open world romp with amazing RPG elements - if you can get past the shonky combat you’ll be absolutely fine.
Writer, Gamer, Father, Tattoo and Gym Addict, I have no time to do any of it but I want to do it all- So I'll give it a damn good shot.
Latest posts by Matt Stone (see all)
- Skylanders Partners With Autism Speaks for Autism Awareness Month - March 5, 2016
- SITe REP Episode 2: Launch - March 5, 2016
- Paper Train: Traffic - Now Available for Sale - March 5, 2016