An experience for the ages.
The world of Wild Hunt is big, almost too big. I get lost wandering the countryside. Every nook and cranny is brimming with life, the world feels lived in, and every mission I take feels like I am making a difference. These are my biggest gripes with The Witcher 3, that there is simply too much to do. I may never see it all, but the world is so engrossing that I want to try. CD Projekt RED has done an amazing job finally realizing the world of Geralt and his cohorts. The third entry in the long-running series is one of those games that will be remembered for years to come, be listed on several Games of the Year lists at or near the top, as well as finally giving real purpose to those buying brand new consoles.
I have spent dozens of hours with Geralt and his world. I have not seen it all, I might not for months to come, but it keeps drawing me in. The story is a simple tale, but the weight behind conversations matter. Whether I was helping a woman find her frying pan, or dealing with some rather dark issues with the Bloody Baron, every performance gives way to an emotional weight most other games rarely touch. There are instances here that other games would dare not touch, but they are handled with care. They aren’t there simply for shock value, which is what makes this world all the more appealing.
Platforms: XB1, PS4, PC
Price I’d Pay: $59.99
The main story could be “rushed” through in about 50 or 60 hours, but it is the world that draws players in. Side quests in Witcher 3 are more interesting than main storylines in other games. The average player could easily get lost in this world for over 200 hours, and frankly I would love every minute of it. There are branching paths, choices are usually not black and white, and decisions have weight on the world. Choices I made came back to haunt me hours later in the game, while others benefitted me. These are the sacrifices of a Witcher.
For anyone who has never played a Witcher game, Wild Hunt brings a lot of familiar systems while introducing plenty of new ones. For starters this entry is finally a true open-world experience, and this world is massive. Areas are broken off into sections, with each one gargantuan in size. The best part is that these worlds are never short on things to see or do. Every area is packed with hidden treasures and side quests that can easily be missed to those that don’t explore, but thankfully rewards those that do.
While a lot of the game is spent having conversations with characters in the world, there is a plethora of variety to the game play. Combat sits front and center, and feels much more fluid than in previous iterations. There are two attacks, light and heavy, and mixing them up will feel familiar to players of just about any other action game. What separates The Witcher from others like it is the potion and oils system, as well as the implementation of magic.
Geralt carries two swords, one for human enemies, and the other, of course, for monsters. Hunting monsters are a large part of the game, and tracking them, studying them, and figuring out the best ways to take them down is implemented so well. The massive bestiary keeps tracks of creatures in the world, and how to defeat them. Geralt can use his Witcher Sense to track down the monsters, but he will also have to create potions and oils to help in the fight. For example some monsters may feed off of your blood, so creating a potion that poisons your blood will make the fight that much simpler. Players can also create oils to put on their blades to make them more effective against certain monsters.
The magic system also comes into play by using Signs. Geralt has an array of magical attacks in the game. They range from telekinesis, to flame blasts, to even a magic trap to capture more paranormal enemies. Like everything else in the game they can also be upgraded, and have various effects on certain enemies. It is a dynamic system, and on harder difficulties extremely necessary. For those concerned about it though, can change the difficulty at will, including a “story-focused” one that puts a lot less emphasis on these mechanics.
It is things like this that make Wild Hunt the most accessible game in the series. Players will get entrenched in the world regardless of their desire to dive into the deeper mechanics of the game. Thankfully they are always there, and accessible to players anytime they want them.
Now there are a few setbacks to the dynamic nature of the world. For example Geralt’s movement definitely takes time to get used to. Think Assassin’s Creed and the character’s seemingly stiff movement and you get the idea. Combat is also not for the button-mash happy gamers. Geralt needs to know when to block, when to parry, and when to strike. Again these make the experience better, but it definitely takes time to acclimate to it.
The world also has plenty of open-world problems that plague these kinds of games. With so much dynamic possibilities in the world, glitches do arise. Characters will load in weird positions, or not at all. The path finding of the horse is not always great and some dialogue did repeat at times. Again they feel minor for a game so large, but for something so engrossing, it stands out even more.
It is the little things that really make this game shine though. The horse riding is fantastic. Hold down a button and he sticks to a path. Geralt always pulls out the proper sword before combat. Meditation refills potions given I had alcohol to restore them. It is these user-friendly mechanics that make the experience and insane play time all the more enjoyable. This is truly a masterpiece of gaming, and simply exploring the world is more than worth the price of admission.
Visually once again Wild Hunt stands head and shoulders above the competition. The world is simply gorgeous. Watching clouds roll in, trees start to sway in the wind, and watching puddles form on the dirt roads is amazing. Watching the sunset atop a cliff is screenshot inducing. If any game needs a photo mode, it is Witcher 3. As for performance the Xbox One version always maintains above 30 FPS, but not without a weird frame skipping issue that should hopefully fixed in the upcoming patch. Also the text is a bit small, and the game tends to be slower loading the more I acquired in my inventory. These are minor hindrances to an otherwise stunning game.
I could spend pages raving about how good The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is. Rarely do I hand out this score, and I think that speaks volumes about this game. This is easily one of the best games of 2015, but beyond that it is the best fantasy RPG I have played to date, alongside being the best open-world game since Rockstar’s phenomenal Red Dead Redemption. This game is a must own, it is worth buying one of these new consoles (or a hefty PC if you have the cash). It will take something special to replace this game for years to come.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.