Review: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
In two episodes, CD Projekt RED has turned The Witcher series into a goliath of an IP, which fantasy RPG fans praise. Hammering its ambitions and qualities, the third and last episode of the saga arrives with great hopes, and maybe too much for their own good. Many publishers lost their ways by falling to the lure of the open world, but have CD Project Red find the perfect balance between new and old, and created the perfect episode?
Yellowish cat eyes, scarred face, white hair, and a lack of facial expressions: Geralt of Rivia is not your typical hero (unless you’re an emo). His debut and second adventure that came out on PC (and much later on Xbox 360) have not really boosted his public image, but that’s not the point. Here we are in May 2015, and the entire planet was waiting for the return of the Polish messiah. It’s a beautiful hype, but there is a flip side of this intense media exposure, yet I’m here to tell you that The Witcher 3 is more than just a pretty game.
The mention of open-world is becoming increasingly common in the gaming industry, and should be remembered that this represents a challenge for developers. CD Projekt Red has built a solid reputation with productions close to perfect, bold in narrative skills, themes or the choices and consequences offered to players. Switch to an open-world, while keeping all these qualities therefore have probably raised legitimate concerns about the ability of the studio to complete this feat.
Now let’s start by reassuring the newcomers: playing the previous games or reading the books is not a mandatory task before diving into The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Even though landing for the first time simultaneously on two home consoles and PC, the developers have been keen to give us the overall context and scale of the main character. It is better though to have played The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings, as you will at some point been ask to pick your past adventure choices that will influence the rest of your story. The story opens up with Geralt alongside his mentor Vesemir, trying to follow the trail of the sorceress Yennefer.
Let’s first remind you that Witchers are known to hunt down and kill creatures and demons that haunt the continent. These warriors with superhuman abilities come from a lost tradition of intensive training and mutation allowing them to have access to supernatural senses, basic magic, but also to use potions to up their advantages. You can detect footprints in the mud, follow a scent hundreds of meters or analyze a crime scene through different auras of color displayed on the scenery. If all this wasn’t enough to have the upper hand on demons and all sorts of creatures, Geralt hones the mastery of the sword, which will be introduced in a short playable and subtle prologue which features Kaer Morhen, the Witchers’ fortress.
As if hundreds of hours required to visit the entire range of quests and sidequests were not enough.
Less than a year after the conclusion of the second episode, there’s a lot of things that changed in the world of the Witcher. The White Wolf is finally living up to its reputation as an outstanding swordsman and now you can dodge, parry, use your signs or absorb potions gracefully, without break the flow of the attack animation. The fights will not be solved by hammering the attack button, let alone from the start by opting for a mode of increasing difficulty. Dodges needs to be timed, but do not make you absolutely invincible. The range of your weaponry even got expanded by the introduction of the crossbow that will be very useful against flying foes. All these changes do not just make the game smoother and more enjoyable, they also justify the choices you make in the skill tree, completely revised as well. Each level grants you gain a skill point, as the activation of magical sites scattered throughout the world. If the system seems limited at first, it becomes very effective in pushing the player to specialize and start the adventure by choosing one of many different path. As if hundreds of hours required to visit the entire range of quests and sidequests were not enough.
Let’s be very clear about this, it is necessary before engaging seriously in The Witcher 3 to make arrangements in your social life. To say that the world is big is an understatement, but especially the wealth of available activities that will extend the life span. The idea of proposing a miniature version of the playing field initially is excellent and allows to get a very good picture of what awaits us later. If we have the opportunity to criticize an atrocious interface later, the quest log is very convenient. Between the main game, side quests, Witchers contracts and hundreds of places to discover, there is plenty to do. Also add a Hearthstone-like card game, the “Gwynt” which has its own story arc and will fill a bunch of hours on its own. Regarding contracts, this is an excellent use of your role in the universe. Accept contracts in each village via the job board, and then systematically by a chain of information and investigation phases, you start dwelling on the hunt itself. Obtaining clues about your target is essential because the illiterate villagers call everything and anything by “monster”, and you need to understand more before finding an exploit to face the demons, hybrids, ghosts and golems. By exploiting skilfully witcher craft and adding an investigation phase, the game with avoids dropping you into a pile of tasteless collection quests.
In general, writing and rich quests are one of the real strong points of The Witcher 3. Even the most mundane task feature a context and will never simply ask you to go pick up thirty kind of herbs. In addition to very detailed and expressive faces, each character has its own history, its own personality. The dialogues are accurate and welcome back a world in which nothing is ever completely right or wrong. And so often that your choices will have consequences to the locals, sometimes without noticing that you triggered a series of chain reactions that, which you learn hours later the fruit it bears. A short explanation by Geralt then enlighten us on the defining moment that triggered this butterfly effect. Again, this will likely lead to a desire to start load the game to test different outcomes. Even better, the order in which you complete quests matter, dialogues are adapted to the options most of the time. Also be ready to welcome great writing, which hits without betraying the will to portray a cynical and adult world. Sensitive issues such as the image of women in Medieval societies, sexuality and racism are addressed with finesse, despite some appearances. The title managed to avoid falling into moralizing or provoking anyone.
This is perhaps one of the few weaknesses of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which stretches its long main quest on dozens of hours. If the plot overall in the second episode lingered on the political relations of the different kingdoms, here we discover a more intimate story about Geralt’s search of his adopted daughter, Ciri. A more human scenario in which it will be much easier to relate to and to slip into the skin of a Geralt who will unwillingly demonstrate emotions from time to time. And without revealing anything of the story, just know that CD Projekt RED sometimes were seduced by the fan service lure. The overall pace takes a hit with a cumulative of several hours worth of walking to an NPC, unable to move so you can go back to a damn message to kilometers away, and drop you a reward at the other end of the city. Fortunately, these wanderings are not the whole scenario, but it is regrettable not to cut short all of this to maintain a pace at the height of an epic epilogue, in which it is hard to catch its breath. And if you find the fighting against bosses a failure in The Witcher 2, it is simply a turned into a change of scale in size of your opponents in the Witcher 3. These fights are therefore part of the overall improvement of the combat system and oppose a little challenge for you chose to play in high difficulty, which we recommend to all since that the option can be modified at any time.
To continue in the few negative points ahead, let’s take a moment to talk about ergonomics and menus that seem to have been forgotten in development. If we welcome the emergence of a possibility to compare equipment, it is not an option given to crafts or alchemy. You will soon have hundreds of different ingredients and materials that can be used in dozens of recipes and pattern. On top of all when it comes to console, I have notice that an increasing number of objects in your inventory causes delays in opening the menu. It’s a shame because the true skill of alchemy crafting opens the possibility for hundreds of equipment, swords, rare and unique potions. Dwelling on these aspects is required if you plan to survive in the high difficulty levels and we regret the blow of ergonomic handling for the whole management part. Smiths or armor makers will be able to break your things to make other at a fee, thus increasing the amount of carried objects. There is no storage and it is impossible to put objects on the side. Everything is linked to a maximum weight of indicator, but fortunately you can work around this oversight in an unorthodox way.
I could even dare to do the comparison with the work of the goldsmith Rockstar
If the variety of activities, the richness of the writing and the overall quality of quests is in itself an achievement, The Witcher 3 also shows an aesthetic aspect of the highest order. CD Projekt RED brings us here one of the liveliest open worlds and most magnificent ever made. Far from perfect technically, of course, with a frame rate which is struggling to remain at 30 frames per second on the consoles even after the the launch of the day one patch. The water is also rather crude, even dated for who took the habit of the latest advances in the field. Most bugs inherented of the open-world games will be found without much surprise, especially in terms of AI and path-finding, but in proportions they are quite reasonable especially against the competition. For the rest, it will be difficult to keeps its mouth shut from the beauty you see. Every place, from the most insignificant muddy streets of major cities, received a rare care in games. The vegetation is lush and the amount of detail in the soil textures shows the application of the artistic team. The Witcher 3 displays a palette of bright colors that sometimes seems to evolve in an oil painting. Despite an undeniable loss of detail when it comes to distance of field, the moood of each place is palpable and unique. Similarly, the realism in the construction of villages and towns, as the amount of busy with their lives NPCs (mostly miserable) combine to create an open living world of rare consistency. I could even dare to do the comparison with the work of the goldsmith Rockstar.
We must also acknowledge the correctness of the soundscape. The amount of tunes enhance the feeling of immersion and playing with headphones is highly recommended unless you have a home theater. It is possible most of the time to close your eyes and be carefree, focusing on the soundscape of the Witcher 3 world. The sounds of towns, villages, forests, campaigns or oceans are full of treasures for your ears. To hear a live band at a distance in the Street over the hubbub of the local market is a rare enough experience in video game to be noted. The thousands of lines of dialogue have also received special care. Playing with English voices is optimal, but I did try the French dubbing and Arabic subtitles which are very good. Only downside is that Geralt speaks a very Shakesperian dialect, and the likes of these words are quite difficult to perfectly translate in Arabic.
Needless to linger longer, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a masterpiece that will mark this year’s list of releases and probably the genre as a whole. In betraying nothing of its origins, the title even managed to change its tone, addressing sensitive issues more accurately and gravity. The impact of the player’s choice reminds us that we are indeed in a role play where the consequences of the term is not overused. All with a revamped combat system and engaging an open world shouting life and consistency. The amount of content will struggle to coexist with your regular schedule. The visual landscape and soundscape of the game gives meaning to the term of art direction again and imposes a new standard in the business. Even with some technical mishaps inherent from open world genres, it is still a a slight smudge on a master painter’s work.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was reviewed using an American Xbox One digital copy and a retail Middle East Xbox One copy of the game purchased by the reviewer as well as a PC downloadable code via GoG.com provided by CD Project Red. Our review extended to trying out the local Middle East version of the game to measure and assess the localization and adaptation for the market. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 and PC in both retail and online store releases. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• A breathtaking adventure in a compelling universe
• Great writing and scenario
• A huge playground, rich with content
• A dynamic combat system which is simple and effective
• An overall graphical achievement that commands respect
• That soundtrack is a delight for the ears
• Almost all quests are captivating
• The Gwent card mini-game is a great waste of time
• Marvelous voice acting and amazing quality on the Arabic adaptation.
• A camera that is hard to control
• That horse needs some taming
• A.I. is not always so bright
• The Inventory management system needs some fixes
• The story is quite overwhelming for newcomers to the series