Initial Release Date: May 19, 2015
Developer: CD Projekt RED
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PC (reviewed)
Publisher: CD Projekt
The Witcher series has prided itself on its wonderful attention to detail in building the deep lore of the book series its based upon. Geralt’s journey in the third installment has quickly become one of the strongest entries into the RPG genre, and its heralded coming was not without justification. The Witcher 3 manages to paint a living breathing, morally ambiguous open world experience that is hardly matched in scope.
The Witcher 3 has become the epitome of engaging storytelling in the video game medium. That is a bold statement, but one I reserve for a title such as Witcher, which truly has done a fantastic job in building and exploring the world according to Geralt.
Witcher 3 follows the story of Geralt the Witcher, a monster slaying druid of sorts, who is on the search for his adopted daughter Ciri. He is actively pursued by the insidious Wild Hunt, who seek to capture Ciri and harness her innate power for their own purposes.
The lore of the Witcher universe is vast, and its hard to accurately sum up all the different angles the game pursues. When starting out, especially if you haven’t played the first two titles in the series, can get a bit confusing with all the different names, titles, and factions. Never fear, as the Witcher 3 gets you up to speed quick enough, and does so with a beautifully interwoven mesh of story in gameplay.
The game incorporates flashbacks and exploration quests to help situate you to Geralts current situation, tracking down Ciri, and also the broader war between the Nilfgaardians and the Northern Realms. You don’t just hear about Ciri’s journey through exposition, you live it, and you also get new interesting angles on characters that Geralt must now deal with.
What really makes the story and gameplay mesh, throughout the 100+ hours it takes to complete this beast, is the extreme attention to atmosphere and world building which makes even the most mundane tasks enjoyable. This is quite a feat for such a long game, where pace and story progression are at a difficult balance.
The Witcher 3 weds these ideas to near perfection, with an overarching “main” quest guiding you from zone to zone, along with a seemingly unlimited amount of side quests to explore the world. Exploration is a huge draw of the game, and in era where many open worlds feel static or lifeless, its Witcher 3’s ability to give detail and precision to the world that is truly astonishing.
Every tree, village, and mountain feels like it was meticulously placed. This point speaks partially to the graphical prowess of the game, but its also a major part of the world building which in turn promotes varied story telling that keeps its hooks in the player.
The Bloody Baron quest line has received particular acclaim, and now, having played through it, certainly warrants its praise. This quest is really a microcosm of what makes the Witcher 3 great: incredibly interesting characters, moral grayness, converging decision paths, and strong progression.
A key aspect of all the Witcher titles has been the story’s ambiguity or moral grayness. The games are now firmly rooted as some of the first to actively explore adult/mature themes, and those heavy decisions abound in the Witcher’s unforgiving world.
Further, the branching decisions do have an impact in the world. Decisions I had made back in Witcher 2 (importing a previous save is an option when you start a new game) greatly affected some of my questing. I was happy to see Vernon Roche make his re-appearance, after taking his main quest line in the previous title. The Bloody Baron quest has some extreme difference depending on how you navigate its critical decisions.
All in all, the Witcher 3 does a great job at narrative and story telling not just from having a plot, but from a deep lore enhanced and augmented through effective world building, atmosphere, and characters.
If there is a weakness to the Witcher juggernaut, it might be in its gameplay or combat. Nevertheless, the Witcher, in a similar vein to the Bioshock series, takes the genre formula and effectively executes it, along with a little flair.
The game has a fairly basic RPG structure – get quests from NPCs, complete them and return for reward, get experience, etc. However, the story puts meat on the bones and the aforementioned exploration is the secret sauce of the game play.
The player remains engaged to find the next big thing, to discover the next amazing environment or dark secret in some underground dungeon. Witcher 3 manages to capture and replicate this sense of adventure without feeling repetitive, even in the 100th hour. Where Final Fantasy XV failed to give context or passion to its quests, the Witcher 3 manages to make the player care about a mud-splattered peasant just trying to make ends meet.
The knock in the game play comes most often from the combat, of which the controls can play a big part. Combat can quickly get difficult despite the simple appearances of a basic action RPG.
Parrying, blocking, and dodging are vital, along with effective counterattacking. Simply button mashing might get you there on the lower difficulties, but the balance really shines in the higher challenges. This then requires proper planning and proper character building to be effective.
Character building consists of point allocation to various skills, such as melee, ranged, alchemy (potions provide in-combat bonuses), and Witcher signs (similar to enhancement spells). In addition, there is proper equipment maximization, which gets down to specific stats and plug-in enhancements.
Controls are oft cited as a downside of the combat, although I played with a controller on PC for the entire playthrough and did not have much trouble. You can learn the proper timing for enemies, and once you get your gear and stats aligned you can be an effective fighter. Controls are a bit obtuse when it comes to navigating Roach the Horse, as horseback combat was often a chore (but I hardly dabbled in this aspect anyway).
In addition to the questing, character building, and combat, the Witcher 3 contains multiple side games. The big one is Gwent, the card game that has now spawned its own standalone game (of which I have tried). There is also horse racing, brawling, and monster hunting. Each has their merits and Gwent can have some big payoffs.
In sum, the game play of the Witcher doesn’t reinvent the action RPG. Slower paced and timing based combat can seem a bit awkward at first, but with proper planning with a decently robust character progression system, can be made fun. Questing is accompanies by numerous side expeditions, all of which blend fantastically with the overall narrative progression.
The “additional factors” are really what take Witcher 3 from a good game to a great game. Attention to detail to all the different aspects create a spellbinding experience.
The sound and music are expertly done, but the real award goes to the voice acting. While all manner of different accents may seem cacophonous, I found the voice acting to be a subtle draw, helping to give uniqueness to the various factions and characters. When I’ve played a game for 100 hours and did not become annoyed by the soundtrack, the creators have done something right.
The visuals are as strong as the series as always touted. The animations are better than in previous titles, and the attention to detail is unmatched – the grass, the trees, the water, the rocks all feel like they have been intentionally placed with great care. Witcher 3 can become a screenshotters paradise with its amazing views and huge terrain. I played on PC and had most of the sliders on max settings. I did not run into many technical difficulties in doing so, although I did have one freeze-up.
As for replayability, the game currently has two paid DLCs, both of which are nearly as long as many full length AAA games. The different character builds can lead to drastically different playstyles, and the incentive is there to replay and get all of the endings, even on a quest by quest basis.
As if there wasn’t already enough to make the game great, the Witcher 3 boasts a sizeable modding community on PC. These run the gamut from simple quality of life enhancements to full on overhauls (like a popular one for combat). I used an autoloot mod and found it very helpful.
In pure description, the Witcher 3 might seem like yet another fantasy action RPG filled with quest hubs and a dead open world. However, the Witcher 3 in practice is the gold standard for open world RPGs with a story and progression that manages to stay engaging for the 100+ hours. With an intricate weave of gameplay and story, enhanced with carefully crafted visuals, environments, sound, and characters, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a must play.
+Amazing progression for its length
+Great sound, graphics, and world building
+Robust modding available
+Length can give you great value for the money
+Fun, interesting side games within the main quests
+Cumbersome controls at times
+Slower paced combat that requires patience to become accustom with
Total Score: 9.4