Developer: CD Projekt RED
Publisher: WB Games, 1C Games
Genre: Adventure, RPG, Single Player
Platform: Playstation 4 (also on PC and XBox One)
Rating: M (for Mature)
Release Date: May 18, 2015
One of the most anticipated games this summer has been the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt by CD Projekt RED. There was a lot of hype surrounding this game, including a lot of disappointment about graphics when it actually came out. Then there was drama on Metacritic and Reddit about how people have been rating the game. Despite all that, I decided to give the game a go when my editor said, “Here’s a copy of Witcher 3 for the Playstation 4,” right before cracking the whip. Hey, no need to push, I wanted to play it anyway.
The Witcher 3 picks up with our favorite hero Geralt of Rivia and his mentor trying to hunt down his ex-girlfriend and monochrome sorceress Yennifer. That’s right – Geralt is still chasing after magical women in his desperate attempt at emotional and physical closure while a huge war is raging around him. As evidenced at the end of Witcher 2, the Nilfgaardian Empire has invaded the south, pushing the old kingdom into chaos and violence. Meanwhile, the specters of the Wild Hunt are running around making things even more difficult. Throw in intrigue and a young woman named Ciri, and the entire game is still about chasing magical women while trying not to piss too many people off and dying.
Which is okay, because even with the mess of things to do, you’re thrown into a large open world where you can hunt monsters, craft items, perform quests and level up Geralt however you want. There’s so much to do that it feels a lot like Elder Scrolls: Skyrim at its heart. They even gave you the ability to jump – which anytime you give any role-playing game the ability for the hero to jump, it improves by three times. I’m not kidding. That one improvement made a huge difference over the previous games. Still, running around the open countryside slaying, playing and doing Witcherly things makes for hours of fun. 51.6 hours at the time I write this article, to be exact.
I feel weird doing this, because it seems kind of contrite to do this. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is basically a combination of a lot of open world games I’ve played in the past. I already mentioned Skyrim, but I would also compare it to Red Dead Redemption. I’m riding around on a horse, improving my weapons while markers pop up on my little radar compelling me to stop and pick every damn weed or kill every creature I stumble upon. You might think that sounds weird, but if you’ve ever played Red Dead before, you know what I’m talking about. Throw in a dash of Dragon Age: Inquisition in how areas and stories are linked together, and you have The Witcher 3 in a nutshell. Which is why it feels so deja-vu while playing it.
This also triggers a lot of travel paralysis – do you do every single quest, or do you just kind of roam around, harvesting what you can? Do you rummage through every thing you find that has a “LOOT” indicator? Should you try to craft every single item that Geralt learns to make, or should you just plow through to the end of each chapter, only creating what you need now? All great questions. There’s the main story and all the side missions, so feel free spending time in every area harvesting, hunting and looting dead bodies. You’ll need the materials and the money to keep improving Geralt’s arsenal. Just that it can be OVERWHELMING if you are one of those completionist types.
Part of the fun of the game is using Geralt’s enhanced senses to find quarry or hard-to-see items. Things glow with various auras, letting you know what you’re looking at. For example, quest cues or monsters glow red, while objects you can loot glow orange. You should also watch your overhead radar/map widget in the corner – plants, monsters, places of power and lairs are marked as you approach them, giving you a heads-up of what is around you. You can always open the large map, but it doesn’t give you too much detail. It’s the widget that gives you the best idea, just like Red Dead Redemption. I had to fight my compulsion to pick every single plant that kept popping up (otherwise I’d be spending hours just creeping 800 meters).
Aside from his normal fighting implements, Geralt wouldn’t be a Witcher without his special abilities. These are magical powers he can use to help him in certain situations. Most of them are of the combat variety – magical shields, psychic blasts, shooting fire, traps to harm enemies. These you’ll want to level up quickly and spend time developing your strategy around them. Others come in handy in social situations – there’s one power that allows Geralt to control the mind of an individual. You’ll probably use that A LOT when encountering hostile people – it can be the fastest way to end conflict. However, since your choices in some instances gain or lose local favor (or in the case of special NPCs, personal favor), it’s best to judge how you solve puzzles in light of how that solution might affect the people.
Almost every village and town has a notice board. Geralt can take jobs and learn about what’s going on in the area. It’s a nice little nod to the hundreds of other role-playing games that utilize the same kind of “Receive Quest” mechanic. You’ll also see people on the map with exclamation points (!) above their heads. Usually, Geralt gets the option to help or coerce these people into helping him. You’ll also want to hit every merchant in the area, to get repair kits and random items needed to finish crafting that one item Geralt needs. Merchants also sell potions, food and water – all needed if you want to keep Geralt healthy in the field. Sometimes completing a quest can gain you cheaper or better goods from merchants, so keep that in mind as well.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a fun game, even if the story is a little confusing or falls flat in some places. It looks fantastic on the Playstation 4 – I never ran into an instance where collision detection failed, or things looked bad. The sound is clear, the voice acting is well-done, and the music is also very atmospheric. I really like the cut-scenes, since they give the game some flair. The controls take some time getting used to, but once you master combat with the controller, you’ll be just fine. The crafting and alchemy portions were revamped for the better. I think everything flows better that previous installments.
Being able to go wherever you want and loot everyone’s houses are also a nice touch.
All I have left to talk about is the game’s new gambling game called Gwent.
Much like the dice game in the previous Witcher installment, they put in a collectable card game called Gwent. When I say it’s a CCG, I mean it’s a CCG, much like Magic the Gathering (only slightly less rules-laden). You’ll want to improve your deck at every opportunity, since the variety of cards and combos is staggering. I found myself talking to every vender I stumbled into (and various NPCs as well) hoping they had a rare or unique Gwent card I could add to my collection. The whole collecting aspect reminds me of my experience with Triple Triad in the Final Fantasy world. It doesn’t matter how many of each card you have, you find you just gotta have them all! Especially if winning a game of Gwent might produce a special reward or be part of a quest. I’m surprised no one in the game has mentioned what a CCG junkie Geralt is.
Gwent requires you to draw 10 cards from your deck. You may discard two and draw two new ones, but after that, you’re stuck with those 10 cards for the rest of a game. The game is broken into best two out of three rounds – so you will want to play your cards wisely and somewhat conservatively. In a round, you play a card, your opponent plays a card. Then you choose whether to pass or keep playing. If you pass, your opponent may play more cards until they pass as well. You add up the strength of all the cards played on your side, and highest strength score wins. Sounds simple, until you factor in that every deck has a leader card that the players use to invoke a special circumstance once in a game. There’s also cards that hinder cards in a specific zone on the table, reducing their strength. Some cards have abilities that boost the strength of cards in the same zone. Etc. Those who play it well know when to win and lose a battle, and how to play the perfect combos to destroy an opponent in a round.
Overall, The Witcher 3 is a decent game. Is it worth the price of admission? Depends on how you like your RPGs, to be honest. This game is well done with plenty of action. Again, the story suffers a little here and there, and the game does hint at a fourth installment or more downloadable content (DLC). I think if you liked any of the games I mentioned in comparison, you will probably enjoy The Witcher 3. Maybe more than I do. Just be prepared for the occasional difficult moment or dull speech.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is presently also out for the PC on Steam, and out on the XBox One. You should be able to get your fix that way, as well.