There are a vast number of open world, exploration-driven RPG’s on the market right now, which can make finding a game you will enjoy quite challenging. I’ve spent upwards of ten or twenty hours on a game to finally decide that, actually, I don’t get it and it isn’t for me. Whilst there have been a number of decision based games that I have enjoyed recently, such as Telltale’s The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, and obviously Bethesda’s hit franchise Fallout, there have been few games that have touched every element of my personality and being. So far, only three games have achieved such a status: Bethesda Studios’ Oblivion, Bioware’s Mass Effect series and finally CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
The latter of the three, The Witcher, is a game that shook me to my core. I hadn’t felt so obsessed and engaged in a game since Mass Effect and, honestly, I don’t know if another game could come along and take its place. It is an absolute triumph of gaming prowess with an outstanding attention to detail, innovative and thought-provoking story lines that induce very real feelings of happiness, sadness and humour and unique, believable characters. Of course, The Witcher game series is based on a series of books by the Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, therefore the vast majority of characters come ready made. What the team at CD Projekt Red have done, however, is lift Geralt and his troupe to an entirely new level, giving the sarcastic, duel sword-wielding professional a voice and a new platform on which to reach people.
I do have a confession to make: I initially didn’t understand or like TW3. The game begins with a few introductory visuals and some story- telling, then throws you right into the game. I hadn’t played either of the previous Witcher games and hadn’t read the books yet, so I was very confused about the whole thing. What is a Witcher, exactly, and who was Ciri or Nilfgaard? Why are people not more upset about these weird monsters running around, and why is there a war? The best way I can describe is that I felt like I had loaded someone else’s game that was somewhere in the middle of the story. I didn’t know who or what anything was and honestly just felt very noob-like.
After around five hours of gameplay, however, that completely changed. Having played TW3 on the PS4, it wasn’t possible to upload any previous saves that would affect the beginnings and outcomes of my game, unlike its Xbox counterpart. So, when Geralt is receiving a casual shave, an aristocratic Nilfgaardian comes in to grill you. It’s a lot of questions based around who you kept alive in the previous games at its heart, which is quite difficult if you haven’t played them. I choose the simplest option: choose the options that had as many people alive as possible, as there was a probable chance they’d feature in the game.
It’s worthwhile noting the importance of Geralt receiving a shave. CD Projekt Red provided no less then sixteen free additional content items, one of which is allowing barbers to cut and style Geralt’s hair and beard, because the game has dynamic beard growth! It is really clever to see Geralt be shaved totally clean and then watch as his white, bushy beard sprouts as you progress over a few hours/ in-game days. It’s a fairly unique feature to allow a character to change his or hers appearance throughout the course of the game and it’s something that really made me smile.
Graphics wise, the game is phenomenal. Not only does it follow a standard day/ night cycle, there are various weather elements that effect the game as well as Geralt’s chat; he really enjoys commenting on the weather as you run over the Skellige Mountains or through well-to-do Novigrad. The water and landscapes are quite surreal and are probably the most realistic I have seen in a game of late – but maybe that’s because I haven’t played a whole host of next-gen games. Character faces, body movements and reactions are fluid and accurate, through the use of body and face mapping. Geralt’s sword choreography is concise and natural-looking, something of an escape from the usual smash-and-hack approach.
Another key element in understanding the world of TW3 and its inhabitants is the Bestiary and Character explanations in the Glossary section of the player menu. The Bestiary details the monsters and demons you encounter throughout the game, giving you a brief history of their existence as well as details of their weaknesses. The Character element is also very useful as you’ll encounter a plethora of important major and minor NPC’s, old friends and new companions, all of which are contained in one handy guide. It mostly tells you how and when they met Geralt, their impact on him and/or the story and a few other details. Both entries are worthwhile and interesting reads and do enhance your gaming experience.
The inventory itself is basic and, if I’m truly honest, a bit on the old-school side. Even on my 42 inch television, items often seemed a little small and descriptions hard to read. However, once you get the hang of it – and the many, diverse items you can accrue – it becomes much easier to navigate. There is also an alchemy and crafting menu which allows to you mark ingredients, materials etc. you’ll need for each respective skills, as well as make various potions and bombs which are 100% useful in game.
Other key aspects are the Character and Meditation menus. The Character menu allows you to pick which elements of Geralt’s skills you wish to improve, such as: sword fighting (fast attacks, slow and strong attacks, etc.); Signs, which are kind of like his magic skills; alchemy skills and general one-off skills, as well as matching said skills to mutagens (Witcher’s are mutants, after all). The Meditation menu is effectively a “wait” option, however if you play the game on lower difficulty settings – of which there is no shame in doing! – meditating will restore your health and replenish your bomb and potion supplies, because you will die many, many times in this game in many ridiculous ways.
What really makes the game, in my opinion, is the dialogue. The NPC’s respond to Geralt’s actions and choices in various ways, between outcries of shock and anger as you run through the town (and sometimes directly into the NPC’s, knocking them over), as it becomes clear that a huge portion of the world’s inhabitants are not friendly towards Witchers. They often shout “Freak!” or “Mutant!” at you, yelling at you to get away from them and their children (there are a LOT of children in the game, and many of the quests involve them). Some character’s a bit more sympathetic after you’ve helped them or their town, but you do get a real sense of decline in the need of Witchers at this point.
Geralt is ruthlessly efficient in dialogue challenges, mostly because he’s unwaveringly cynical and sarcastic. If you decide to implement the Axii skills, you will unlock the ability to use a Jedi-like mind control power to have things go your way; that’s if threatening them with your massive sword isn’t enough. One welcomed feature to Geralt’s acceptance of Witcher quests and side quests is, unlike many other major RPG’s, the acceptance of silly or seemingly unimportant quests isn’t met with the usual vigour and “THIS IS MY ULTIMATE QUESTS!” responses we’re usually met with. Instead, Geralt usually sighs like a bored teenager, stating simply: “Fine.” It is interesting to see a lacklustre response to banal and dreary missions which, to be honest, I think we’d all give in real life, much like the under-the-breath mumblings of someone who’s been asked to go fetch someone juice or a snack. I identify a part of myself in Geralt’s personality; an understanding that I am a bit different from those around me but that I’m awesome af. My sword-play skills leave a lot to desire, however.
It would be fair to say that each major and minor character brings a special something to the game that further enriches your experience, not mention the game-altering effects speaking – or not speaking – to characters can have. There are three main endings to the game, but within these three endings are thirty six variations, which gives the game a huge replay value. It would be useful to note the seemingly innocuous activities – such as whether to have a snowball fight with Ciri or to be super serious about everything, for example – can have a dramatic effect on the endings, so be mindful of every decision you make in the game, quests and dialogue choices alike.
The vast number of morally-grey choices you can choose to make or ignore have various effects on the game with not all of them being particularly obvious; some choices or lack thereof may not be apparent until later stages of the game, therefore not easily rectified, whilst some are sudden and are easily changed. The game allows you to play in any style you wish, whether you want to be the kind of guy that mocks then disembowels your enemies (The battle cut scenes where you behead and dismember foes are superb!), or take a more diplomatic/ Jedi mind trick persuasion approach.
The various storylines, both major and minor, are encapsulating and endearing. Quite a lot of the time, the side quests are more enjoyable than some of the hard slog of the main quest itself, and there are a balance mixture of fetch quests, treasure hunts and random encounters, with Geralt giving his own monologue of inner thoughts for most of it. I don’t want to give too many spoilers away for the plot as there are so many elements to the main and side quests that are both intertwining and separate. Just play the game and you’ll see for yourself!
Beware, however, entering into a love triangle with Triss and Yennifer. In the book The Last Wish, Yennifer is trying (and failing) to capture a djinn, a sort of genie in principle. Geralt comes along to save the day and makes a wish: that he and Yen will be forever bound to each other. The rest of the books detail their tumultuous relationship, which then becomes apparent in the previous games. Triss Merigold – one of Yen’s BEST FRIENDS (!!) – is best described as the main romance option in the previous Witcher games. She knows full well that you are tied to Yen, but since you’ve conveniently lost your memory, she decides she’ll have you instead. Upon meeting Yen in TW3, we find out that she’s pretty angry at Geralt and doesn’t believe his amnesia stories but nevertheless still loves him and in the end both women pursue Geralt for romance. Unlike Fallout 4 where you can be in a relationship with every companion at once and face practically no retribution apart from “X hated that”, trying to have your cake and eat it won’t work in this game and can have a pretty bad effect on your ending. You’ve been warned: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
Finally, it is absolutely worthwhile discussing the music of the game. Composed by Marcin Przybyłowicz, Mikolai Stroinski and Percival (a total amazing Polish folk band), the soundtrack brings a whole new emotion to the game and compliments the story, characters and indeed its design incredibly well. The game came with a CD version of the soundtrack that now lives in my car and makes every journey in Scotland that much more enjoyable, especially when the mountains and water are in view.
The Witcher 3 has been, in my opinion, a complete success. It is a full 5/5 from me, after over 200 hours of gameplay and completion of its latest DLC, Hearts of Stone. I am eagerly awaiting the release of the next DLC, Blood and Wine, the last game to feature Geralt as the main protagonist. Whilst I am obviously a few years tardy to The Witcher party, I am so glad I took a gamble and bought the game because now I have three excellent games to play and a whole new book series too. My advice: GO OUT AND BUY IT NOW.
P.S. The in-game card game, Gwent, is brilliant and incredibly addictive. I spent far too many hours playing Gwent rather than slaying monsters. The Hearts of Stone DLC came with real Gwent cards, as did the Xbox One edition of TW3, so now I can play in real life too, which is absolutely as exciting as it sounds.