The Witcher 3 (2015)
Developed by CD Projekt Red
Thrill of the Hunt
Reviewed by Mason Manuel
57 and a half. That is how many hours that my in game window told me I had spent galloping the vast expanse of a war torn Tameria by the time my campaign was over. I can honestly say that when the credits rolled I released a heavy sigh as if I had finished a long and hard day’s work. That’s not to say The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is not fun to play. In fact, it is one of the best games I have ever played. Just be prepared to commit yourself fully in mind, body, and soul to the adventures and well-being of your protagonist.
The world has not fared well since the event of The Witcher 2. Nilfgaard has all but decimated Tamerian forces and corpses of soldiers and innocents both line the bloody gutters. Our hero (?) Geralt of Rivia is sworn to stay off sides in the wars of men, but depending on your choices he can make some rather large tide shifts in the war effort. To make matters more complicated, Geralt’s adopted daughter Ciri has reappeared after having been missing for a decade, and the ethereal Wild Hunt army is relentlessly pursuing her for unknown nefarious reasons. Geralt must overcome the now war torn world to save Ciri and maybe even the world from the Wild Hunt, or all will fall into death and destruction. No pressure.
I will be honest off the bat. I did not like The Witcher 2. The combat was difficult to learn, the story made next to no sense if you had not played the previous games, and the learning curve to be anywhere near competent was way too large for new comers. I am happy to report that Witcher 3 has solved almost all of these problems. Geralt is more agile than ever and makes combat feel fresh and engaging. The story remains complex but the addition of helpful flashbacks and a character glossary help explain when you’re scratching your head trying to remember why a character is so well acquainted with Geralt. Certain heartbreaking moral choices have a visible, dramatic effect on the surrounding world showing other games how an organic world should be (cough, Mass Effect, cough).
Geralt has become more dynamic as well. Armor and weapon creation has returned as well as a streamlined character upgrade tree. Signs (the Witcher version of spells) have upgrade trees with different levels that add completely new variations to the original style of sign. For example, Igni’s (a flame shooting sign) first form is a simple burst, but when upgraded the sign evolves into where instead of a single burst you can shoot a long, continuous stream. It is a simple, but dynamic change that is a welcome table flip to the original Witcher formula.
The environment is beautiful but comes with a price. Bustling cities and dense forests are meticulously detailed but if you play on a console beware; you are going to run into a ton of frame rate drops. The Witcher 3 is CD Projekt Red’s first foray into Playstation hardware and the inexperience shows. Compared side by side, the Xbox has a much better processing visual. Cutscenes which would otherwise be engaging are often ruined by constant loading screens in the middle of dialogue. However, when the hardware can keep up with the graphics, the result is fantastic, particularly when a storm blows in. Trees strain and bend under the weight of a ferocious gale, leaves fly in a chaotic pattern, and lightning flashes in the distance. The sound design deserves special mention too as I would often hear a boom! of thunder and flinch because I thought it came from outside my house (I am in desperate need of a Ted style thunderbuddy). I would love to see another developer with better console experience develop this reactive of a world and still keep it within hardware limits but until then The Witcher 3 is your best bet.
The story this time around does not carry the same sense of urgency as previous titles. For those who read the novels, Ciri is a pivotal character of the series but for an average, not polish book reading guy like myself, she was a complete stranger. The entire main quest is focused around finding her but she never felt truly important until I had spent a ridiculous number of hours trying to find her. In a surprising twist, the side quests this time around have incredibly enjoyable stories, both tragic and comical. These random NPCs stranded about the continent made me care much more for them in their 15 minute side quests than Ciri did in her 57 hours (soooooo many hours). The main plot does get rolling around the halfway point and introduces some tense situations, but players may feel discouraged from even trying to get to that point after so many hours of what are basically glorified fetch quests.
It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn close. The amazingly detailed world is only matched by characters of the same depth. Despite the huge run time (which will only get longer with the free DLC coming out) quests never feel boring despite some repetitive moments. The finale is satisfying and if you can stick around for the long haul, I give you my word that it will be worth it. I give this game the official Dude Seal of Approval with a 9.8 out of 10.