What’s your ideal game? For me, it’s an adventure across a vast land, that’s not only beautiful, but immerses me the more and more I play. It’s a world full of interesting people, each with a tale to tell. My character would be well-versed in magic and swordplay and there would be a variety of fantastical creatures for me to slay. Does such a game exist? It does…it’s called The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
Once again, you take the role of monster hunting Witcher, Geralt – a master swordsman who dabbles with light magic, and is a keen alchemist able to craft potions and oils that buff skills or give an added edge against certain enemies. Geralt is a drifter – a merc for hire – able to hunt down anyone or anything with his sleuth skills. He likes treasure and the company of a good woman or two, his deep voice would even give Solid Snake and Batman a run for their money. It’s a good job he is a likable character, because you will be spending a lot of time with him – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is huge, and not just in terms of content, the world is massive and begging to be explored.
Tamaria is full of life – from lush vegetation that sways in the wind to majestic castles lavished in fine furnishing. From dank hidden caves to flee infested peasant villages, the world feels alive and lived in. You’ll need to ride on horseback or sail the seas if you want to get about quickly, and like Far Cry 4, you might not fancy travelling across long distances. Thankfully, The Witcher also has a fast travel system that allows you to quickly travel between discovered signposts. When riding horseback, you can hold down the A button to let your horse take charge and follow the road ahead, giving you the chance to sit back and take in the sights – The Witcher 3’s landscape is stunning (particularly the water effects) and continues to deliver wow moments even when you’re tens of hours into the game.
The main story sees you on the trail of your former ward, Ceri, who is being hunted by the supernatural group The Wild Hunt – it’s impossible not to draw similarities with Game of Thrones’ White Walkers, and the similarities don’t stop there either – like Harry Potter versus Lord of the Rings, I’m sure the comparisons between Witcher and Thrones fans will rage on for just as long.
During the main quest, you always seen to be one step behind Ceri, catching up with people she has met. It’s here when you listen to their tale that you get to take control of her and play out the story for yourself. It’s a welcome break from Geralt, but the scenes never drag on for too long, so never take the emphasis away from him and his journey to find Ceri.
Outside of the main quest there are secondary quests, Witcher contracts and treasure hunts to complete, but these are not just bolted on so that you can level up your character to be able to tackle the harder quests. Each one is well written and never sinks into the boredom of rinse and repeat fetch quests that so many RPGs are guilty of. The tales are often far more interesting and humourous than the main quest, but the genius behind them is in CD Projekt RED’s storytelling.
Some games place your character in a fascinating world but as a visitor, a tourist taking in the sights, Geralt is no mere traveler. Everywhere you go people will reach out for help, advice or hoping you to be easy prey. How you go about each scenario is up to you, but rather than single-serving, the stories twist and wrap themselves around the whole world, filling in blanks to another person’s tale or having a deep seeded affect on how the world shapes around you. It might not be obvious at first, but every choice you make has a consequence – it’s subtle and the outcome will often present itself when you least expect it.
I really felt for the characters I met, it was like I really got to know some of them, and even became their friend – it was a liberating feeling – especially when so many games use quests as a way to farm additional XP. Personalities of characters changed and hostile acquaintances blossomed into deep friendships – the focus is firmly on the lives and fiction of Tamaria’s inhabitants, far more so than the combat, which is almost there for the ride.
At first, I found the combat to be rather clumsy – there’s light and heavy attacks, with parry, dodge and roll for evasion. But this is just one element to The Witcher’s combat; potions, oils, bombs and magic must all be combined with your physical attacks if you are to make the most of the combat. While combat can’t quite hit the fluidity of Assassin’s Creed, it’s far improved from its predecessor. Mindless button mashing is a sure way to getting yourself killed, instead, the combat is similar to Dark Souls II although a lot less punishing, which did mean I endured poor combat techniques for far longer – Dark Souls forces you to learn better techniques or you won’t progress any further in the game – once the combat clicks, like Dark Souls II, it becomes far more enjoyable.
To help you gain a better insight into each creature and how you might defeat them with potions, oils and bombs, there’s a Bestiary – a pool of knowledge on everything you have encountered or read about in books that are scattered around Tamaria. Focusing on potion and bomb creation can easily keep you busy for hours – searching for an elusive ingredient. Unfortunately there isn’t a compendium of alchemy ingredients, so you have to rely on memory, luck or by purchasing the missing ingredients from herbalists.
The type size in the menus didn’t help my old eyes either; I found it difficult to read when sitting at my screen and had to move closer in order to read the text. Once you’ve created a recipe for a potion or bomb, it can be replenished when you meditate, meaning scavenging for alchemy ingredients is never too much of a chore.
CD Projekt RED couldn’t entirely resist from bolting on a few obvious open-world mechanics, there are numerous fistfight contests and horse races to enter, but these are all rather dull. What I did like was the superb Hearthstone-esque card game called Qwent. By building a deck of at least 22 unit cards, plus up to ten special or Hero cards, you can take on fellow Qwent players 1v1. There are around 150 unique cards, which can bought off merchants or won from other characters and ordered into four classes, each with it’s own strengths, weaknesses and special leader cards. It’s a simple game but it had me utterly addicted, I hope there are plans to release it as a standalone mobile app or so that I can challenge some of my friends over Xbox Live.
I can’t remember the last time an RPG gripped me so much, and it’s thanks to CD Projekt RED’s masterful crafting of the story and allowing me to play out some incredible adventures within the vast open world of Tamaria – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is about as close as it comes to being my ideal game. Now… where’s my Silver Sword? I’m off to slay some monsters!
Thanks to Xbox and Namco Bandai for their support
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