Review: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Ahead of its launch, Bandai Namco gave us the chance to go hands-on with the final build The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on the PS4. Having been able to preview the game back in January, I jumped at the chance to once again play through it, and see just how far it had come.

NOTE: Before continuing, I highly encourage you to first read my preview here. A great deal of what I said back then remains true today.WitcherStory
To quote myself, “Geralt of Rivia makes his return as the central character, a great Witcher whose skill and prowess has earned him much respect and fear.”

Being the third instalment in the franchise, there are of course references to Geralt’s adventures in past games. However, Wild Hunt provides a fresh storyline that allows newcomers to get a grasp on the story without too much difficulty. That can certainly be said of myself, as the Witcher 3 served with my only interaction with the franchise, and yet, it was easy to figure out what was going on.

The game itself opens to a world in turmoil, as warring nations take up arms against one another. Once peaceful villages get caught up in the conflict, their farmlands now strewn with the bodies of the fallen. Entire countries even cease to exist, suffering defeat at the hands of their enemies. But it soon becomes evident that the wars of mankind are insignificant compared to the threat posed by the otherworldly beings known as the Wild Hunt.Witcher1While featuring an overarching storyline, there is a quite bit of non-linearity to the game’s narrative, such as at the quest level. For instance, the player has the freedom to undertake any number of side quests in each area in order to gain experience, and these offer a deeper insight into the game’s background and lore. That said, it is nice to see that players can explore the game at their own pace and delve deep into the lore, or just skim right past it.

Now, if I had to be critical of any aspect of the game, this would fall among them. Before continuing on their journey, the player should complete a number of side quests in each area in order to proceed. While beneficial in that these help to level Geralt up, they run the risk of detracting from the main storyline and making it feel unsustained. Indeed, in trying to give some deeper story to the game, players may lose track of the main objective, and instead get sidelined (which, truthfully, isn’t all that bad).WitcherPresentationThe world of Wild Hunt is one that is alive and dynamic. From reactive NPCs to the changing weather and the persistent day and night cycle, CD Projekt RED has created a truly immersive world.

Now, the amount of detail put into every facet of this game cannot be understated, a notion that comes across perhaps most evidently within the environment. Games like those of the Assassin’s Creed franchise may feature open world maps, but comparatively, I have to admit that their scale feels quite unrealistically small when you look at the world of Wild Hunt. It is truly vast, often necessitating the need for a horse to traverse the landscape.

Witcher2For lack of a better word, the game environment is just beautiful. Fields of crops give way to villages and towns, each unique in their own way. Elsewhere, Scandinavian fortresses that overlook stunning scenery such as those you would find in far off lands like Norway. Considered separately, there was some point to each little location, well worth a few moments to explore. Brought together, they make up for something to behold.

Adding to the above, it’s the little things you’ll that really contribute to the experience. In one such case, I found myself simply watching the time of day just tick along, estimating that five real-world seconds equate to a game minute.Witcher3
With all that said, credit must be given to a developer that has taken into account so many different aspects and made full use of them, in order to enhance the gaming experience.

In the course of my time with the game, however, I did notice a couple of minor issues. For example, during a cutscene, I noticed Roach (Geralt’s horse) wandering into frame and actually passing through another horse.
Something I didn’t really play around with last time is the game’s economy system. Simply put, players can trade in loot for money. However, it was a refreshing (albeit shocking) twist to see that shopkeepers have a limited amount of money to purchase items from you.

Going away from melee and magic-based combat, I found myself equipped with a crossbow and going head to head against a griffin. I did see how it could be useful, given that the griffin chose flight over fight quite often. But it wasn’t quite as simple as aiming and firing, as I found myself having to free aim at a moving and flying target. That said, ranged weapons are still quite welcome, as I would prefer to keep stronger enemies at bay for as long as possible.
Witcher4In my preview, I made mention of the fact that choices have their own consequences, and that players should carefully consider each option before proceeding. Having journeyed further into the game, I did encounter several quick-time decisions, forcing the player to make a split second decision. Getting past my brief shock the first time I encountered it, I feel that this works well in lending some realism to the game.

Playing throughout the final version expose a couple of issues in terms of controls. In one case, I went under a bridge to access a cache of goods, but could not immediately get back on dry ground where it seemed I should have been able. Given that, I feel that the controls could still be fine-tuned in some areas.
I must say that I am quite impressed with what CD Projekt RED has created. They have not only built a massive open world, but a complex and non-linear narrative that can be freely shaped by the player. Beyond that, I must also applaud them for giving meaning to everything in the game, such as the side quests that really contribute to and deepen the narrative.

Compelling non-linear narrative
Massive & beautiful open world
Mechanics could still be fine tuned, or controls easier to master
Risk of too much side content