Developer: CD Projekt Red | Year: 2015 | Price: $42.99 | Buy from Amazon
Well, it’s finally over. After nearly four months of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt dominating my outside-of-army life, I’ve finally gotten to the end credits. I bought it right after I got my PS4 in May, but before I’d done my finals, so I actually wasn’t allowed to play it until a month later, when I moved to Singapore. In the six weeks I spent waiting for my enlistment into the army, I played Wild Hunt obsessively, often well into the small hours of the morning (although that was probably also a product of jet-lag!). Since enlistment I’ve had to slow down my progress, as I’m only allowed out of camp on weekends and have lots of other things to accomplish during that time. But last weekend I made a final 7-hour-long push to the finish and defeated the game’s final boss. And I can’t wait to tell you guys all about it, so cop a seat and enjoy the ride!
The Witcher 3 is set in an alternate version of the the world established by a series of Polish novels written by Andrzej Sapkowski. The game focuses on the adventures of famed Witcher Geralt of Rivia as he searches for his long-lost ward Ciri. But the player really gets a sense of Geralt’s day-to-day life as a witcher as well, as there is a veritable smorgasbord of sidequests and contracts to pick up and do. In this universe, a witcher is one who chases away monsters and evil spirits for coin, and you can really get a sense of that as you wander around the dozens of little villages of the Northern Realms, often virtually penniless, solving the problems of everyone from peasants to barons and jarls.
The monster-slaying alone is entertaining enough, but there’s also a long and winding narrative to tie the whole experience together. What starts as a simple search for Geralt’s adopted daughter soon evolves into a 40+ hour plot that involves everything from Salem-esque witch trials to assassinations. When I think back to everything that happened over the course of the story, it’s a wonder I didn’t ever feel overwhelmed. But I think this is because the game moves slowly enough that you’ll always know what’s going on at any given point in time. And the in-game narrator (who’s actually a character in the game!) will do a good job of giving you a summary of recent events everytime the game loads the world, which is useful if a little annoying if you’re already caught up. The story does get a little complicated towards the end, but overall I found it to be entertaining, with dramatic ups and downs that keep the player intrigued throughout. Without spoiling too much, I can say that you’ll quickly realise the story isn’t really about Geralt, and I really like that. It’s almost as if you’re playing as a supporting character in a novel, and it’s kind of interesting.
A great story can be ruined by bad characters, but luckily The Witcher 3’s massive cast of characters is pretty great. The dynamic between Geralt’s two major love interests, Triss Merigold and Yennifer of Vengerberg is entertaining and will divide players. I also really liked how the relationship between Geralt and Ciri evolves over the course of the game. Games in recent years like to play with the father-daughter relationship (think The Walking Dead and The Last of Us) but I liked how the game starts by exploring what Geralt does as a result of Ciri’s actions and switches to focusing on what Ciri does as a result of Geralt’s influence. Finally, there are dozens of supporting characters and even though they don’t all play a major part in moving the plot forward, I liked that most of them have sidequests associated with them, meaning that when they peep into the main story, you most likely won’t have to look up who they are in the in-game encyclopedia, provided you do your homework. And some of these sidequests are arguably more interesting than the main plot. I particularly like the series of quests concerning Temeria’s independence, as well as the subplot about choosing Skellige’s ruler.
A big part of The Witcher 3 is the element of choice. Geralt always has multiple choices regarding what to say to NPCs and it’s interesting to see how what he says affects the outcome of quests, but what’s even cooler is that some of these choices have far-reaching consequences that you won’t even notice as they happen 20 hours later in the story. There are a total of 36 states the world can be left in when the main quest is over, and though I’m really happy with my ending, I looked up all the things I did to achieve that ending and it’s pretty cool that in most of the events leading up to the finale I had no idea that I was making game-altering choices. I liked that the game isn’t scared to let the player really mess things up. Like in many quests, characters die if you make the wrong choices, and sometimes those choices may seem like good ones at first.
As for the actual minute-to-minute gameplay, I’d say it’s like a mixture of Bloodborne and Monster Hunter, but twice as fast and twice as forgiving as both of those. There is a lot of work that goes into preparing to fight a monster or enemy, at least if you’re playing how the developers want you to. Especially early on, and especially on the hardest difficulty, which I beat the game on, running into enemies without the right potions and items equipped is a recipe for instant death. You really have to know your enemy, which plays into the whole feeling-like-a-real-witcher thing. There’s a bestiary that’s useful to look up what an enemy is weak against, and as you actually fight monsters, you’ll learn techniques to deal with them on a species-by-species basis.
The sheer amount of things to do in The Witcher 3 is staggering. I’ve completed over 100 quests, and there are probably a 100 more I haven’t even started. And did I mention every sidequest has its own fully voiced narrative? But that’ isn’t where it ends. Whenever fighting monsters gets too mentally straining, there are always less stressful diversions. First of all, you can collect materials and diagrams to upgrade your equipment in preparation for your next encounter. You can race horses and get into brawls for money, and there’s also a wonderful card game called gwent that can really get its hooks into you if you let it. I sometimes found myself losing hours going from merchant to merchant, trying to win their cards. You won’t find crazy metagames in The Witcher 3, but there are little things here and there that provide light entertainment outside of the main attraction of monster-slaying.
From a technical standpoint, The Witcher 3 does well to impress. The visuals really are stunning, with an attention to lighting and colour you don’t often see out of swords-and-sorcery RPGs. And there’s a really nice cinematic nature to how cutscenes are presented. The game usually pauses and camera control is taken away from the player to create interesting angles that feel more akin to how movies and TV shows deal with presentation. The wonderful music also has a part to play in this. From intense choral battle music to the folky tunes that play during the game’s lighter moments, The Witcher 3’s soundtrack really does it all and it adds to the overall immersion in the game world.
Basically, if you’re looking for a game that will entertain you for hours and hours, you really can’t go wrong with The Witcher 3. Many of the initial complaints have been fixed, including most of the glitches. And the lack of a traditional postgame has been rectified with the new Hearts of Stone DLC, which I have lined up but haven’t started yet. I’ve heard it’s pretty good. Anyway, if you’re interested in RPGs in any way, just do yourself a favour and get the game.
Design: 10/10 The world is massive, with lots of things to do and see. The story is interesting and fleshed-out, with many different endings for different choices you make in the game. The Witcher 3 is a wonderful experience overall.
Visuals: 9/10 Though the game suffers from some graphical glitches now and then, and faces are reused in non-major characters, marvelous lighting tricks and lush environments more than make up for any hitches. One of the best-looking new games.
Sound: 10/10 The soundtrack is varied in mood but with an overall folky, Nordic/Celtic theme and with many memorable tracks. Voice acting is superb, and it’s everywhere. Even the smallest of sidequests have fully voiced cutscenes. I really liked the use of different British Isles accents to represent where characters come from.
Gameplay: 9/10 The Witcher 3 strays just far enough from hack-and-slash territory to feel fresh. Fighting may feel frantic to the new player, but it really rewards anticipation and reflex as well as tactic. My only complaint is that there are certain difficulty spikes in a game that’s relatively easy even on the hardest difficulty level.
Value: 10/10 I’ve invested at least 100 hours into the game and still haven’t seen everything the game has to offer. The Witcher 3 is a game you really can lose yourself in if you want to, and even if you do try to rush the main story, you’ll still get at least 30 or so hours out of it, which is well past the endpoint of most other games.
Total: 48/50 (A+)
Price: $42.99 | Buy from Amazon
I’m still in basic training (it’s a total of four long months!), so I don’t really have much lined up in the coming weekends, but I’ll try to put up content at least once a month. I’m thinking about giving the Nathan Drake Collection a try, but we’ll see. I have to wait till payday!
In the mean time, have a look at the rest of our gaming-related reviews and articles!