The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt may be the new RPG where all other RPGs ought to be judged. Not merely has CD Projekt Red deliverered the major & most convincing fantasy open-world we’ve ever seen, but a storyline, quests and systems which make it an incredibly compelling destination to run, ride and sail around in.
Huge, coherent and immersive game world
Game systems and storyline both engage
Beautifully rendered characters and scenery
Filled with interesting quests, side-quests and activities
Geralt a far more mature and sympathetic lead
Long loading times
Occassional framerate drop
Review Price: £44.00
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch
Developer: CD Projekt Red
With the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, CD Projekt Red’s saga is continuing to grow into something magnificent. It’s a casino game of truly epic scale that still displays an eye for each and every minute detail. It’s the one which sees its hero, Geralt of Rivia, fully transformed from the sword-swinging Mr Loverman of the first game right into a mature, reflective hero, and one where story, systems, art, music, action and lore all seem to be to mesh together into one dazzling whole. It’s the very best fantasy RPG of its type because the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and sets a fresh benchmark for the genre. In all honesty, that’s all you should know.
Yet, you’re probably expecting more from an assessment than breathless hyperbole. Well, imagine a casino game that takes all you love from The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings, Skyrim, The Legend of Zelda from Ocarina of Time to Twilight Princess and Red Dead Redemption. That’s just about Wild Hunt. With the 3rd Witcher, CD Projekt Red is playing in the biggest leagues.
The Red Dead comparison might seem to be strange, but there’s something about Wild Hunt’s free-roaming gameplay that keeps bringing Rockstar’s western masterpiece to mind. It’s not merely that Geralt spends a sizable proportion of the overall game on horseback – his faithful steed, Roach, rarely beyond a whistle away – but that the give attention to exploring the wilderness, discovering characters and missions gives it an identical sort of feel. Both games share a dark, cynical tone leavened by sardonic humour and a dash of hope. Both are tales of killers who, in a few sense, yearn to be something more.
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Wild Hunt has limitless possibilities, but it’s smart enough never to swamp you with all of them at once. The original section of the overall game threatens going to you with the same mild disappointment you felt when you uncovered that Dragon Age: Inquisition wasn’t doing one seamless world, but a number of linked, large-scale landscapes. Even Wild Hunt’s starter area is filled with story missions, beasts to slay and side quests, on a map we’d have called huge a decade ago, nonetheless it feels just a little constrained. Is this what an open world Witcher really means?
Yet CD Projekt Red is merely getting you used to the systems; to locating noticeboards and dealing with pest-control contracts, to getting from A to B on horseback and discovering what perils and hidden treasures lie en-route. You’re being eased in to the game’s combat – fast, smart and tactical – and into its research and crafting: a couple of things that other games make a chore, but Wild Hunt makes a fundamental element of the fun.
There’s been a whole lot of talk recently amidst the gaming literati about whether systems engage players a lot more than storyline, but Wild Hunt binds both together in ways that produce the question seem to be nonsensical. Geralt has evolved from a surly young blade to a would-be father figure, on the trail of the girl he once loved and the closest thing they must offspring.
To see them, he’ll need to battle men, beasts, spirits and otherworldly forces, whilst getting involved with intrigues that affect the fate of nations, yet it’s always clear what you’re doing and how it plays a part in your goals overall. And if which means collecting herbs to brew potions to provide you with a fighting potential for dealing with a murderous griffin, then that’s something you’re ready to do.
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Even levelled up, Geralt is a specialist instead of a superhero. When you can win some battles simply by wading in, hacking away and dodging quickly, you’re much more likely to succeed in the event that you go in prepared, stocked with potions and together with your target’s weaknesses at heart. Possibly the most impressive thing about Wild Hunt is how it creates light work of its most mundane elements.
It still gets the classic hook of each RPG – fighting monsters to get experience and loot to level up and upgrade to cause you to better still at fighting monsters – nonetheless it has other pleasures too, with incredible scope for exploration and quests that are well-scripted, varied and packed with personality. Your faithful steed works brilliantly both as a transport and as a way of charging headlong into combat, and even here the overall game shows intelligence, both by limiting its effectiveness in battle through a fear gauge, and in having what’s effectively a cruise mode for gently cantering along the paths.
Yet it’s just when you imagine you’re getting the way of measuring it that Wild Hunt pulls the veil away, then lets you know that you ain’t seen nothing yet. This still isn’t quite a unitary open world, however the major areas are so huge that it effectively doesn’t matter, and each one comes filled with so many story quests, side quests and incidents that you’ll spend half your time and effort trying to prioritise what things to tackle next.
Even though you’ll be pleased to spend hours trotting through the scenery on horseback, the fast travel options that seemed unnecessary in the prologue section now seem to be vital. Ditto for boats – an important for getting from the key landmass to explore far-off islands. Words like sprawling and massive don’t do The Witcher 3 justice.
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There’s a genuine balance here, too, between your narrative-led gameplay and the more explorative, emergent stuff. The story missions don’t you need to you in one point on the map to another, but offer you threads to tease out and follow, in order that you’re always touching the central storyline irrespective of where you are.
The only limitation boils down to your present level – each quest and side-quest includes a recommended level, and we’ve discovered that you ignore these at your peril. Yet when Wild Hunt does put you on a tale mission, it feels as detailed and cinematic as any linear action game. Dialogue scenes, set-piece action sequences and boss battles all seem to be to flow naturally in to the gameplay, with a potency we haven’t always observed in previous Witcher games.
It’s held together by great music, strong voicework and an extraordinary consistency of tone. Fantasy doesn’t get much darker than it can in Wild Hunt, where in fact the ongoing war between empires is continually in the background, where in fact the ordinary folk are evidently suffering, injustice runs rampant, and a good hero must sometimes turn a blind eye.
That doesn’t mean you can’t change lives. There’s a genuine feeling that everything you say and everything you do is changing things for worse or better, regardless if it’s simply clearing a farmstead or a tiny port of monsters and letting the locals make contact with their grubby, impoverished lives.
The visuals, meanwhile, are simply astonishing. The game’s landscapes are epic, atmospheric and believable, making excellent usage of vegetation, light, fog, cloud and colour. It’s the sort of game where you intend to look for the scenery alone. The up-close detail is equally impressive, with textures and surfaces you can almost feel and facial animation that leaves Dragon Age: Inquisition’s in the dust.
Wild Hunt provides an environment of magic you could have confidence in and characters you can have confidence in too. And if the series’ predeliction for dubious sexy stuff hasn’t gone away entirely, at least the needless cleavage and soft-porn groping doesn’t look so ridiculous or Thunderbirds-like these times.
Causes for complaint are spectacularly few in number. CD Projekt did a fabulous job of all basics, from inventory and quest management to crafting, that the interface barely bogs you down, but two steps to access the map screen appears one step too much. Loading times certainly are a little on the long side, though only a problem when you die or use fast-travel, and the frame rate falters occasionally on the PS4 version tested, particularly if you’re wandering around the world’s big cities.
Speaking personally, I’m also not really a huge fan of experiencing to correct weapons regularly, and needing to travel back again to the nearest blacksmith to get my gear fixed up is one chore I possibly could do without. Still, repair kits are often available, and some persons like that type of authenticity. Actually, Wild Hunt helps it be palatable by inserting accessible limited-time weapon and armour buffs so that you can use while you’re there. In a nutshell, I’m only sweating about the tiniest small stuff.
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And that’s just silly. The big stuff here’s absolutely brilliant – and brilliant in a manner that leaves you wishing that more games could possibly be both this ambitious which well executed without failing one way or the other. Sure, The Witcher 2 isn’t something you can grab casually, requiring time, commitment and – well, far more time – but it’s hard to assume anyone with out a hatred of RPGs and fantasy regretting the many hours they’ll devote.
With commiserations to Bioware and Bethesda, Wild Hunt may be the new RPG where all other RPGs ought to be judged. Not merely has CD Projekt Red deliverered the most significant & most convincing fantasy open-world we’ve ever seen, but a storyline, quests and systems which make it an incredibly compelling destination to run, ride and sail around in. It’s the most breathtaking time sink you’re more likely to play this year.