Impressions: Halfway through The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

tw3crossroadsI picked up The Witcher 3 back in June when I first got my PS4 and have been playing it more or less since then, minus the last month or so when I’ve been at basic training. But as you may or may not know, The Witcher 3 is one of the biggest open world games ever to grace our consoles, and 50 or 60 hours in, I believe I’ve reached the halfway point in the story. So, because I won’t be finished with the game for a while, and because I already have so much to say about it, I thought I’d give the game a review-in-progress of sorts. Don’t worry if you haven’t finished the game either. I obviously won’t spoil the ending, mostly because I don’t know what happens! And I won’t be giving away any of the explicit plot spoilers I’ve seen so far, though I will be talking about some gameplay elements that aren’t available right from the start.

A little bit about how far I am. I just stepped onto the continent of Skellige, the third major area Geralt arrives at in his quest to find his one-time ward, Ciri. It’s also the second-largest area of the game and once again, I’m completely overwhelmed with the sheer amount of things to do. I’m level 18, a little bit overleveled for my point in the main story, though because I’ve been playing on Death March difficulty the entire time, I still die at least once or twice an hour. So far, I’ve been doing every side quest as it comes along, as long as my level permitted.

The density of content is at once the best part of The Witcher 3 and the worst. Like I said, I’m about halfway through the game, and I’ve already completed 83 side quests. That’s not counting the 4 or 5 quests I failed or the yellow question marks I still haven’t investigated, nor does it count the 40+ quests I have in my log that I haven’t gotten to tackling yet. The good thing is that even the smallest side quest seems to have something or other to make it special. Even the 10-minute fetch quests are fully voiced and animated, with at least some story or other to grab your interest. And some side quests branch out into truly intriguing plots. The bad thing is that you’ll have to spend ages doing every single quest if you want to see everything, and it’s really easy to get exhausted.

Even though this is the third installment in the Witcher franchise, the game’s developers over at CD Projekt Red have advertised the game as being a good entry point, and as someone who’s never played a Witcher game, I can definitely agree. I feel like I understand everything I need to understand about what’s going on in the world. Early on, the main story isn’t actually that interesting, mostly consisting of doing favours for people in exchange for information about Ciri. That said, just last night, I finished my business in the Velen/Novigrad area and the plot has thickened a bit. But perhaps the reason I haven’t been enjoying the main story as much is because of the gaps that I placed between them. I always tried to complete all possible side quests before moving on, which ruined the pacing of the story a bit. I’ve started alternating less, only doing side quests when I need more experience, and that helps with keeping the narrative fresh in my mind.

In terms of actual gameplay, the Witcher 3 doesn’t disappoint. The moment-to-moment gameplay mostly consists of dodging enemy attacks before going in with a counterattack, or otherwise standing back to cast a Sign (the game’s equivalent of a spell). There are a total of five Signs that Geralt can use, all of which are available right from the beginning of the game, but as the he gains experience, he can upgrade them as well as unlock alternate Signs that work slightly differently. It’s all really well thought-out, and everyone will find his or her own playstyle. For instance, there are lots of powerful potions, mutagens, bombs, and oils that Geralt can use, and the game certainly rewards those who know them well, but I’m not really one for much preparation, and I’ve gotten by mostly using the Quen and Axii (shield and stun, respectively) Signs to complement my swords for dealing damage.

That’s not to say the game is easy, however. In fact, the first 15 or so hours on Death March difficulty were a massive hurdle, and I was dying so much I was actually seeing more of the loading screen than the actual game! But eventually I got better at the game, and invested in skills that suited my playstyle, which made the game much more manageable. There’s a really robust crafting system, and now, fully geared up, I often find myself confidently charging into battles instead of lurking behind stuff, waiting for enemies to come my way. I’m not usually one to pick the hardest difficulty unless there’s a specific reason. But in The Witcher 3’s case, there’s a trophy that I want to get, and I heard the game gets pretty easy towards the end, so I decided to stick with Death March difficulty. If you’re just starting a game, I’d recommend one of the harder difficulties, because it’ll be much more rewarding in the mid- to endgame, even though it starts pretty difficult.

There’s a lot more I haven’t really talked about in the Witcher 3. There’s an excellent card game that I’m ashamed to admit I’ve spent at last four or five hours on. There are tons of points of interest scattered across the map that reward you with loot or start quests. I won’t get too much into them, partly because I’m still planning on doing a review in the future and also because I want to get back to playing! If you still haven’t picked up this game, I highly recommend you consider it, especially if you like other open-world games like Skyrim or Dragon Age. (I haven’t actually played Dragon Age, but I’ve heard it’s good!)

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