The Witcher 3 was tough to review, not because I couldn’t figure out whether it was good or not. It is an excellent game just shy of being perfect. No, this was a tough old challenge because it is just so darn massive.
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Avg Game Length: At least 150 hrs. With all DLC, more like 280. More thorough players will squeeze even more juice from the fruit
CDPR have created their own world from the premise of Adrzej Sapkowski’s series of books sparing no effort in bringing it to its fullest realisation. There is enough content and lore here to make Game of Thrones at least quiver in its boots a little. That is to say, this IS the Game of Thrones of video games. For many of you reading this, that will seem like a very bold claim. In this review (which I have done my utmost to condense) I will do my best to show you exactly why I feel The Witcher 3 is the ultimate RPG experience.
A Team Of Extremely Talented Developers That Set Customer Satisfaction As A Highest Priority
First of all, before getting into the real meat and potatoes of the game, I want to give special credit its developers, CD Projekt Red. As you read on and learn more about the The Witcher 3, remember that their development team, budget and timescale for the final release of the game was almost half than that of GTAV. They have quite literally delivered hundreds of hours of gameplay to me, each hour as engaging and rewarding as the last. This was also their very first attempt at a free roaming game and they have successfully created the largest to currently exist (at original time of writing) in the videogames industry.
To top all of that off, they have also released 16 free DLCs that anyone can download as well as Hearts of Stone, available for a mere £8. That is a very low asking price for content that allegedly delivers a further eight hours of fresh questing. The second expansion, Blood & Wine, is far longer and only costs £12!
Lastly, for anyone who may have read the books, Wild Hunt has plenty of cameo references to events in the books making it an even more rewarding experience. However, if you haven’t read the books, don’t worry. Its never to an extent that leaves you confused.
A Black Temeria Is No Temeria At All
The premise of the game takes place almost immediately after the events of the previous game, Assassins of Kings. The Northern Realms are divided in allegiances as they are protected from invading Nilfgaardian forces, only by the mad King Radovid. Since his father was betrayed and killed by a sorceress, he has viciously outlawed anything to do with magic, burning witches, all of their literature and executing any supporters of magic and its ilk. On top of the racial tensions between humans and elves, the largest city in the north, Novigrad, has become a cesspool for crime. Known as ‘the black ones’, Nilfgaardian presence is felt all throughout The Witcher 3 as our hero, Geralt, travels across decimated battlefields and through pillaged villages.
Through clever implications, we can see that Nilfgaard is in fact the more civilized of the two nations. It is up to you, the player, to determine whether or not Nilfgaard sweeps through Novigrad by the end of the game. Oh and there’s 16 different ending variations to The Witcher 3, depending on choices you make throughout the entirety of the story. Mind you, the political intrigue found in the game may sound very complex and, well, it is – but it’s not even the main focus of Wild Hunt’s story.
A Living Breathing World
In The Witcher 2, one of CDPR’s main focuses was to create believable environments. They wanted their villages and their inhabitants to feel organic and alive. To start with, CDPR implemented behaviours that correlated with the weather. If it rained, people would run for shelter or comment on the bad weather. They also implemented NPC discussions that would change dependant on where the player was in the campaign to minimise repeated background conversations.
Of course, all of this has been carried over to the Witcher 3 and then some. Beggars cynically ask for money. Civilians argue with guards at checkpoints. Guards treat you differently when your weapons are unsheathed. Moans of pleasure can be heard in distant dwellings at night. The list goes on. All these peripheral elements to the world Geralt inhabits didn’t have to be designed. Yet, the fact that they were, on top of how there are so many of them makes for constantly immersive play.
This living breathing world has you, the player, believing that you are just bearing witness to unique moments time and again. That gives the The Witcher 3 a personality no other fanstasy free roamer has ever managed to squeeze in aside from all the other surely daunting design tasks to be taken care of. Combine all of this with the political turmoil and you have a pretty good idea of just how bloody fantasticThe Witcher 3’s game world is.
Geralt of Rivia or Gwynbleidd or The White Wolf or The Butcher of Blaviken or The Kingslayer.
Geralt is, thankfully, one of the main strengths of the game. The life of a Witcher alone is enough to build a great game upon. As we learn in the previous game, Geralt has already died once and was teleported by Ciri to the Isle of Avallache, where his soul could recuperate. This makes him over one hundred years old and still, he has no problem slaying ice giants and getting into sordid affairs with sorceresses. To become a Witcher, he had to pass the Trial of the Grasses at a very young age. Subjected to all kinds of toxins and potions, leading to his mutations to survive as a Witcher. He endured a process that kills one in ten boys. After almost a century of killing monsters for coin and watching kingdoms rise and fall, we get a strong sense of the kind of person this has turned Geralt into.
He is a very complex character that you will have to take the time to fully understand and CDPR has encapsulated this perfectly. Witchers are supposed to be devoid of emotion as a result of their mutations but Geralt seems special as he still has a sense of humour, vengeance, remorse and possibly most importantly – love. His characteristics alone make him very distinguishable from the few other Witchers in the game and he ends up being a character that you are almost proud to be playing as. Everywhere you go, passers by give you a nod of respect or spit the ground at your feet as you actions lead to many different opinions.
The Witcher 3 Offers An Incredibly Unpredicatable Experience
Each little find will have its own little story, character specific dialogue and set of objectives to accomplish. This already sets The Witcher 3 aside from many other free roamers which will simply throw the same task at you several times in different environments. Every single quest in The Wild Hunt is unique and frankly unpredictable.
You may have an objective like ‘Kill the monster at the grotto’. Only to find the monster has been slain by something much larger, has been slain by another Witcher already or is a sentient and harmless monster that has been misunderstood. As the player, you are given total autonomy over each of these events and how they play out. Kill the innocent beast and collect the reward? Or let it disappear into the wilds for a different kind of reward? The choice is entirely yours.
This concept of creating your own story is consistent from start to finish, not just with side quests but also with the overarching story as well. Sometimes this is to do with Geralt’s actions but mostly it is done through dialogue options. Some of the tenser scenarios offer a timed choice of options. If you don’t choose in time, the game will choose for you determining the ultimate outcome of a quest. Geralt may also come across settlements that have been overrun by bandits or monsters. If he chooses, he can clear them out entirely and the settlement’s original inhabitants will come back, opening up more points of trade on the map.
“I saw the Witcher cut down ten men in as many seconds! You couldn’t see the flash of his blade, he moved so fast”
The above is quote from the previous game but rings the most true for this one. Geralt’s sword wielding prowess is a force to be reckoned with. After all he’s got just under one hundred years of practice under his belt!
Gone are the days of frantically smashing the roll button. CDPR have refined The Witcher’s combat system down to a fine tee. Alternating light and heavy attacks are still here. They can even be held down for extended versions after a little leveling up. The real beauty of the new system, however, is found in the UI for spells. We now have a simple inventory wheel that slows time when used. Craftier players will know when to pause between moves to select the right spell, taking advantage of the right kind of opening or weakness. Even craftier again, players can switch left and right through these spells while parrying enemy blows. Combining all of this in busier fights isn’t ever overpowering Geralt as enemies across the map level up with him.
What it does perfectly is open up an easy to access plethora of tactics and playstyles that can be switched up on the fly. Not only will you have access to dozens of combinations of weapon modifiers and buffs. But you’ll also get to look and feel like a total badass putting them to use. This only serves to compliment the idea that among the “commoners” Geralt is an infamous figure to be feared and respected.
“How about a game of cards? Gwent for instance?”
If Geralt is in more of a playful mood, however, he could decide to play a little Gwent. This is a fantastic card game that is genuinely addictive. You can expand your deck by buying cards from various taverns or winning them from opponents. CDPR obviously knew they created a great mini game as you have entire quest lines revolving around Gwent. In Novigrad, there may have been a stabbing just to steal a rare card which could then be used to win a high stakes tournament. Or Geralt could simply play against other characters from the story, as well as ‘nobody’ NPCs who are locally reputed as ‘master’ players. I have yet to collect all the cards after more than a hundred hours of play.
What’re Ya Buyin’? What’re Ya Sellin’?
Speaking of trading, this being an RPG game, you’re going to be doing a lot of it and it’s worth understanding the economy of a war torn Northern Realm. With the invasion of Nilfgaard, we now have a new currency in the form of crowns. Although, plenty of Orens and Florens are lying about from the previous currency of the realm. Finding these old currencies allows players to go to the bank in Novigrad and have them converted to crowns. This is often a lovely surprise if you have been questing for a long time and have forgotten to pop to the bank.
Players can get a better price for selling swords at a blacksmith’s and likewise for armour at an armourers. Visiting either one of these, you have several options aside from buying and selling. Items can be dismantled to provide resources. Or they can be forged, provided you have the right resources or you can have upgrades removed. Using a combination of all of these options can build from a rare Witcher school armour diagram.
On paper, this process sounds like a bore. However, after a full understanding of the crafting/dismantling options that are available, you’ll be engrossed in a menu screen for as much twenty minutes sometimes. Unlike other RPGs, you are not picking things up simply to sell sell sell. In fact, you’ll rarely be parting with large sums of money save for the cost of crafting. Every single item that you find, even if it is classified as ‘junk’ can be set to some purpose. Crafting does not just apply to weaponry either.
Provided you have the blueprints, you’ll be creating bombs, potions, runes, and blade oils. Each of these have many different variations to be applied in many different situations.
The Biggest Open World Game Ever Created
Just to give you a concept of how large The Witcher 3 is and just how much there is to explore, the image of the map above is about one third of ONE of the maps. The city in the north (outside of the image), Novigrad is actually large enough to be a game on its own, including the content that it offers. When I say ‘one’ of the maps, you actually have a few to run around in. Each of them at least as large as, say, Skyrim if I had to make a comparison. Each of them are very different in style.
Nilfgaardian occupied White Orchard, where you start the game is full of low level enemy types and is generally a training ground, warming you up for the game. Velen, otherwise known as No Man’s Land is full of swamps, war torn lands and a particularly nefarious force of evil that you will discover as part of the main story. Skellige is a set of islands, again large enough to be a full game in their own right. They are amply spread out and full exploration of the waters between them is available by boat. You may even find sunken treasures, making use of the Killer Whale potion, allowing you to stay submerged for longer. I particularly enjoyed Skellige because of its heavy references to Viking tradition.
Then you have the great city, Novigrad as well its outlying suburbs and farming communities. Lastly, unlocked about half way through the game, we have Kaer Morhen, the Witcher stronghold. While Hearts of Stone only adds locations to the existing map, Blood and Wine is a different story. In the second of the two expansion packs, players can expect to unlock an entirely new map to explore.
Toussaint is refreshingly colourful, with themes of chivalry, romance and fairy tales. Despite those things, it retains all the adult themes we’ve gotten used to with The Witcher 3.
Crazy Levels of Variation in Enemy Types
The world of the Wild Hunt is totally packed to the gills with plenty of different monster types. The more you discover, either through reading or through unfortunate experience, the larger your bestiary will become. Closer to the end of the story, your bestiary will resemble an encyclopedia of European mythology. Indeed, every monster in the game hails from older mythos’ or literature, giving them a more believable quality, as opposed to something made up altogether.
The Witcher 3 Is Absolutely Gorgeous
CDPR have also created their own unique graphics engine called the Red Engine. I always appreciate when developers do this as my eyes have grown quite numb to the Unreal Engine, since it’s found in almost every game out there. This being the third game in the trilogy, the Red Engine has ended up pretty solid and refined. The day / night cycle in the game wonderfully showcases shadow and lighting effects. Load screens give you a little reminder about where you are in the story with comic book style stills that move slightly with a 3D effect to them.
Character models mostly look great unless they are a completely unimportant NPC, at which point it is apparent that CDPR have put less effort into them. There are a few graphical glitches from time to time, however. There are a few occasions where the weather system can’t decide if it wants to be overcast and gloomy or clear and sunny. I only found this happened rarely in built up, NPC busy areas of the game and it is just as well as out in the open it’d be a right pain. Sometimes, my game would load and I’d see spasming grey sheets jumping about, taking up the whole screen. Thankfully I could run away from them and turn to find they were gone. By the time you read this, I’m sure CDPR have patched the issue.
Like I Said, Just Shy of Being A Perfectly Crafted Videogame
You may have read this overly glowing review and thought to yourself that perhaps I am exaggerating a few points. After looking extra hard for faults, I had to eventually give up on the search. They simply couldn’t be found.
I mean, there were a few handling problems with swimming and maybe horse riding at a push. This, is why the game is almost perfect. We all know there’s no such thing as a perfect game but if you played this one, you’d understand that it’s about as close as it gets.
CDPR have poured so much hard work and attention to detail into The Witcher 3. It is unquestionably worth your money simply from the hundreds of hours you’ll get out of it. The voice acting is consistently top notch with a special mention for Charles Dance, voicing Emperor Emhyr Van Ehmries, the emperor of Nilfgaard. The graphics will insist that you stop now and then just to soak it all in. The gameplay is as varied as you want it to be, depending on your mood. If you don’t like the ending that you get, there is added incentive to play it all again and experience many different quest endings leading to that different ending. I am over one hundred hours in on my second playthrough and still finding new cutscenes, quests and loot. Seriously, if you like RPGs, own a PS4 and haven’t played this yet, you owe it to yourself to invest in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt