A Witcher’s Journey
The Witcher games have always been products of passion. Much beloved by fans, developers CD Projekt Red have long been praised for their attention to detail in the production of their titles, delivering on quality and expectation due to their love for the project. In the time that I’ve spent with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, it’s clear that this passion has continued, helping to shape one of the finest releases in recent memory.
I had the chance to play around twelve hours of Wild Hunt, and in that time I managed to complete the game’s prologue and half of its first act, as well as a decent range of side content. I could have easily spent more than double the time completing these sections, ultimately deciding to push on in order to get a good feel for all the game has to offer.
Quite astoundingly, the chunk I played is but a small slice of the huge, three act title. Claims are still circulating that the game will take upwards of fifty hours to complete just the narrative alone, and at this point I believe them. There’s just so much to do and explore every step of the way.
I concluded my time with the game at what felt like quite a natural stopping point. The narrative missions are built as really engaging segments, when I was on a mission I rarely found myself straying from my goal, saving the majority of my exploration for when I was riding to somewhere in the larger chapter. It was a quite a nice way to play, allowing the completion of important events without a whole lot of distractions, but also creating a desire to explore the world around you as you journey forward in the story.It’s this world that gives Wild Hunt its life. The landscape is a character in its own right, with each zone telling a tale about the larger conflict going on in the world. Ravaged by a war between two kingdoms – a conflict that began in The Witcher 2 – the landscapes retain an air of the violence and horrors that have befallen a majority of the everyday inhabitants as a result of it. Marauders roam the wilds, villages lay in waste and bodies litter the world, as do many monsters. The outlands are filled with sounds of far off creatures, with the audio helping to shape an atmosphere of danger yet also fostering a desire for adventure.
It’s not all swamps and squalor though, in my time playing I reached a few major cities and keeps, each with some gorgeous medieval architecture, bustling streets and a myriad of stores for Geralt to stock up at. There’s a real beauty to the way the world fits together with the inhabitants – be them man, mutant or monster.
A dynamic day and night cycle – complete with fluctuating weather systems – really rounds out immersion. Wind blowing through trees and vegetation or rain and lighting peppering the land really change the feel of the environment, as does the chilling dark as night sets in over the swamps. It’s all quite breathtaking, especially when I recall the first time I saw the sun setting in game as I was riding through a forest as the low sun flickered through the trees – equating to a really special moment while playing.The core story took me through quite a variety of locations, starting at the mountain keep of the Witchers, Kaer Morhen, all the way to the city of Novigrad and the depths of an old Elven ruin. As you work to track down Yennefer, and later Ciri, the story develops a really nice pace of action and intrigue. Without going into spoilers, the first act contains some very well written moments and difficult decisions, leaving me yearning to play more.
Thus far the choices made feel worthwhile, with a few paying off already. The dialogue options especially help to make Geralt feel personal, as I chose what I feel like I’d do in some of the more dangerous scenarios. While sometimes these choices landed me in more hot water than I’d expected, Wild Hunt really shows you the consequences of your actions, a factor that made my experience feel unique.
From the very start it was easy to get back into the lore of the world, thanks to stunning, comic-themed cutscenes. One thing that struck me right away is how welcoming Wild Hunt is to new audiences, providing plenty of contextual information and a full lore section accessible from the pause menu. This resource becomes invaluable as you begin to meet more and more people, keeping track of some of the game’s more intricate plot lines.
Journeying around the world between missions left me inundated with side missions, as well as an overwhelming desire to do all of them. Dynamic short missions on the road, the opportunity to help fellow travellers in need or set quests taken from the noticeboards in each town fill your quest list fast, presenting you with a constant stream of adventures to undertake.
One of the more memorable ones involved a cart ambushed in the swamps and a crime scene investigation, leading to quite a surprising twist and one of the choices Witcher 3 features heavily. My favourites were definitely the hunts, giving you a chance to hunt and kill some truly fearsome mythical beasts.At one stage I was commissioned to take out a Cockatrice plaguing a local keep, tracking it to its lair using my witcher sense. Preparing for the fight is key, learning through the bestiary how best to take it on yielded positively after I took down the beast. These monsters provide some really difficult but fun – not to mention profitable – scenarios, relying on skill and effective use of your witcher abilities to come out triumphant.
The combat in Wild Hunt is really smooth, building on the complexities of past systems. Blocking, parrying and slashing back all works really well, rewarding you with some particularly gruesome dismemberments and slow motion finishers. It all just feels so good, aided by the stunning music that starts up as you engage in conflict. It added to the tense feeling of fights, cementing those moments, along with the tunes, firmly in my memories.
The signs available to Geralt also perform quite well, giving you the one up on many different enemy types. My favourite signs quickly became igni and quen, allowing me to stun unprepared foes with flames and buff myself with a shield when combatting particularly hard hitting foes. At the early stages of the game I had few chances to use my alchemy skills, but they do come in handy to craft ability boosting potions as well as bombs to use in fights. Returning fans should feel pretty comfortable when using the sign and alchemical systems as they haven’t changed drastically in Wild Hunt.In between the action of narrative missions, monster hunts and exploration, playing Gwent quickly became one of my favourite things to change the pace. This is the card game of the Witcher universe, which sees you build a deck and challenge a huge amount of opponents in villages and castles all over. With cards hidden, buyable and winnable throughout the realm, I often went on the hunt for new cards to buff up my deck, ready to take on the next willing opponent.
I was quite impressed with the way the game handled on the PlayStation 4, retaining the complexity the series has been known for in a very successful way for the controller. The game just feels right at home on a controller, with fast access to all your signs, equipment and items.
Thanks to the scale of the Witcher 3, both in the scope of activity and its length, I don’t feel I’m qualified to give a full review and score to the title as yet. What I can say with confidence however, is that this game seems to be something special. In its early stages, it’s a game that lives up to the tremendous amount of hype surrounding it, delivering a really polished, well made experience sure to delight fans and newcomers alike.
This review in progress was conducted on PlayStation 4 on pre-release code at Namco Bandai Headquarters. A full review will be posted once we’ve had sufficient time with the full, retail version of the game.