In baseball there is the term, “5-tool player”, which refers to a player who is great at every aspect of the game: speed, power, batting average, fielding ability, and throwing power. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt can be best described as a 5-tool game with beautiful graphics, an amazing soundtrack, fun gameplay, excellent story, and great value for your money. Considering this is developer CD Projekt RED’s first attempt at an open-world game, especial one of this magnitute, to say they did a remarkable job is a gross understatement. Needless to say The Witcher 3 is easily one of the best games of this generation.
The Witcher 3 follows the events of The Witcher 2, and begins with the legendary witcher, Geralt of Rivia, tracking his lost love, Yennifer. Once reunited, they discover that Ciri, their adopted daughter and heir to the Nilfgaardian Empire, is being heavily pursued by The Wild Hunt, an otherworldly army whose appearance signals the end of the world. Geralt must then embark on a quest to find Ciri and protect her from the Wild Hunt.
The first thing that comes to mind when playing The Witcher 3 is the gigantic size of the map and the near endless amount of content housed within it; a feat that dwarfs even Skyrim. Normally a game of this size is populated with a truckload of mundane fetch-quests, but that is not the case here. Simply put, The Witcher 3, pound-for-pound, has the best side quests to ever come out of an open-world RPG. Many of these side quests feel like a main quest, and often link to other side quests. Characters explored in one quest, later appear in another to further expand their character arch. Every quest explored, no matter how small, had some sort of spin to make it interesting. The majority of these quests heavily use Geralt’s ability to investigate his surroundings and probing people with questions, which can expand through several quests. It may sound boring, but quite the contrary. The constant searching and revealing leads feels authentic and flows quite naturally. A LOT of effort will be exerted towards a goal, so when you finally succeed, such as Geralt’s hunt for Ciri, it feels very satisfying.
Other notable side quests are the witcher contracts. It is here where Geralt showcases his talents for investigation and hunting monsters. Geralt can accept these contracts to earn money and rid the town of their harassment by a variety of monsters, each with interesting back-story leading up to the occurrence. Geralt can use his witcher senses to search for clues in tracking down these dangerous foes, very similar to how Sherlock Holmes or Batman tackle mysteries. These monsters aren’t always easy to defeat either. These battles, especially on higher difficulties, require careful planning and the application of oils and potions to provide combat bonuses. Studying the games extensive bestiary reveals enemy weakness to gain an edge in combat. You really get a sense of what it’s like to be a witcher primarily through these contracts, especially with how both the common folk and nobility view witchers based on their interactions.
I’ve heard The Witcher 3 compared to Game of Thrones on a number of occasions, and it is an accurate comparison. Not only is the world rather unforgiving, the political dynamics explored are well executed. I particularly liked the portrayal of life when a conquering empire enforces their laws and customs on surrounding towns and villages. Peasants are heard mentioning how they want to change their name to suit the Nilfgaardian Empire, or soldiers seen destroying symbols of the old society. This shift in power has a huge effect on every character in the game. Mages, once celebrated, are now hiding for their lives from witch hunters. As expected, decisions made in The Witcher 2 have lasting effects on the world, and the choices you make in The Witcher 3 can also have devastating effects.
With countless enemy encounters combat needs to be satisfying, and here it certainly succeeds. While not as methodical or deep as Dark Souls, swordplay combined with magical witcher signs can be a beautiful, yet grotesque, display straight out of a movie. Geralt’s movements gracefully flow from one enemy to another with a sudden flash of gore as he cuts a foe clean in half and decapitates another. Fighting the many varieties of enemies can provide a huge challenge, but once you reach higher levels and upgrade your abilities, they become very easy. This can especially hurt when exploring lower leveled quests, and you breeze right through them.
With 25 skills total, you can only equip 12 at once when all slots are fully unlocked. This requires you to specialize between 4 skill trees. Do you want to focus on your witcher signs, or maybe you want your oils and potions to be more potent? Maybe you want to focus entirely on melee combat. The leveling system provides customization that can be adjusted to your play style, and can change the way you approach combat entirely. As mentioned before, by using these skills, Geralt can become almost overpowered, but higher difficulties can help facilitate that problem.
Players can not only play as Geralt, but Ciri as well. At certain points in the game, you are placed in the shoes as Ciri, usually when someone is describing their encounter with Ciri in a flashback. These scenarios aren’t the most substantial parts of the game, but they provide an effective means to showcase just how powerful Ciri is compared to even Geralt. Ciri does indeed play differently than Geralt, using teleportation techniques to work her way through combat. It would be interesting to see a DLC expansion focusing on Ciri because she is a fantastic character, but due to how powerful she is, I don’t know how that could work.
I must not forget to mention Gwent, the built in collectible card game. Gwent is one of the best minigames and perhaps the best card games featured in a video game. Simple to learn, but deep in strategy; I found myself able to beat better decks simply by outplaying my opponent. I would like to see a means to play a fully functional form of Gwent against real players because I had a lot of fun playing it, although some rule changes would need to be made, since decks can become too powerful with a lot of power cards.
The Witcher 3 is a great game, but it’s far from perfect. As expected from any game of this size, there are a ton of visual and audio bugs, often leading to hilarious results. I did have one hard crash, but the problem was patched within the first week of release. In fact, some of the problems such as small text and various performance issues have already been fixed with patches. However, character movement is still slippery (improved a bit since patch) and underwater swimming is frustrating to control. One big complaint is the decision to have a candle next to every lootable area in the game. Geralt can ignite and extinguish light sources by pressing X (on PS4). It just so happens that looting is shared by the same button, so very frequently I would ignite a candle instead of looting. Sometimes it was very difficult trying to accurately open loot container even without a candle nearby.
One of the most beautiful games out on this generation of consoles and even more beautiful on the PC. The realistic outdoor lighting effects are breathtaking. Countless times I had to stop and watch the evening/morning sky because it looked that good. Additionally, the dynamic weather effects coupled with swaying foliage really enhance the believability of the environment, and it’s one of the better uses of this feature that I’ve seen in any game. Facial expressions capture subtle expressions fantastically, allowing the player to know exactly how a character feels without having to say a word.
I love this game’s soundtrack. The Slavic, folk sound of the music really adds life to the game. There were times when I didn’t want a battle to end because I didn’t want the battle theme to stop, or the times I wanted to get up and dance to the tunes of the street bands. The voice acting is also superb. At first I wasn’t sure if I would like Geralt’s stereotypically gruff voice, but his voice actor nailed it; a job very difficult considering the character is meant to not express emotion.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was my introduction into The Witcher series. Although I was lost at first, it didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the game at all, but I definitely would have had a better grasp of the characters and situations had I played the previous games. I highly recommend purchasing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt even at full price since you can easily spend 200 hours on one playthrough, not to mention playing the game again to see the alternate quest results and multiple endings. Despite my naivety to the series, it is one of the best RPGs I have ever played and is going to be a very hard candidate to beat for “Game of the Year”.
Style – Single-player, Action RPG
Publisher – CD Projekt RED
Developer – CD Prokekt RED
Release – May 2015
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is easily one of the best games of this generation.