Last year spoiled me with two PC games with very big game worlds. One of them was GTA 5. The second, and the subject of today’s review is about Witcher 3.
So far I’ve been silent about the Witcher’s story, and that’s because CD Projekt Red have the “bad habit” of including so many elements in their games that transform their titles into ravenous monsters devouring any social life! I’ve spent a week in the game, and frankly, I’m not sure where the time ran off, with the few actions I can clearly remember being loosely linked with a bathroom and a globe of light in the sky. Other than that, the real world is a blur to me. I ate, breathed and drank Witcher 3! And quite frankly, it’s a solid contender to 2015’s Game of The Year recognition. I’ll detail the “why” in the review below.
The first thing you need to know as a potential player is that Ubisoft really need to start hiring CD Projekt Red staff. Witcher 3 does a sensational job of explaining and detailing the history and folklore of the game, without sticking the same tired story down your neck at the beginning which explains less than a government pamphlet.
Not by a long-shot. The entire retelling of earlier events is slow, leisurely, with details provided during several hours, so that the player can assimilate all the information without having to remember some X event presented at the beginning of the game a generic cinematic. And this is just one of the strengths of the story.
When it comes to ambiguous characters, whose morality is blurred by their own choices and ghosts of the past, Geralt is king. Sure, there are small ties to Andrzej Sapkowski’s book series, but the script written by CD Projekt Red is not bad, in fact it expands upon many character traits, chiseling and defining a surprisingly human protagonist. Albeit over 200 years old…
The story isn’t presented such as in the Assassins Creed series, but simply unfolds around you. There are no fixed preconceptions of the game to follow, nor any moral thread that may direct your path. In fact, the idea of morality is… nonexistent in this game. You can do whatever you feel like, without much in the way of punishment. There are some pretty hardcore consequences, sure, but many of your choices show themselves only near the end of the game, not after you have completed a quest, something that makes the story a rather unique animal in this regard.
You can usually tell whether you’re doing bad or good, but sometimes your choices are influenced by other factors, even when you choose to… ahem, have the end prove the means.
Narratively, things are great. The characters, whether they be of the good, bad or neutral flavor posses detail, reason, with a set of personal values you as a player can easily understand. Even if someone is a bad guy… looks can be deceiving. In The Witcher 3 nothing is black or white. You may get grays and pinks sometimes, too. There are some sensational scenes, story-wise, that may satisfy all kinds of players’ tastes.
In talking of such a wide-spread game, there are some obvious ramifications to discuss. Besides the main quest, there’s about a cubic ton of side-quests. It hurts to make this joke, but unfortunately (or fortunately), a Witcher 3 side-quest has more story and tangled plot-lines than all of Destiny. And then there are also side-quests that branch in the main story. The game world is an entire canvas that you paint with your actions. Something which we’ve only seen in Bioware games in recent years, or some DeepSilver titles.
You have a damn long story, with ramifications that you’d not have thought possible. If you want a game with exceptional story, Witcher 3 is for you. To which we add that Geralt is not the only interesting character, the remaining ensemble of characters being the salt, pepper and meat of the recipe, culminating in an extremely carefully crafted narrative experience.
I swear, before writing this phrase I took a deep exhale! That’s because I know that many will not agree with this statement. Unfortunately the gameplay of Witcher 3 is far, far from perfect. There are two previous titles this game builds on. Unfortunately, the hit detection, characters hit boxes and general geometry of the game leaves A LOT to be desired.
It’s the game’s biggest weakness. Clipping through boxes or bushes could be forgiven, especially in a game so big. But to fall through the map and have your save-file corrupted is likely to drive you mad with rage. When you jump, you’re not sure if you’ll get where you need or if Geralt decides not to grab one ledge or another.
It is a general problem of the game, which combined with the occasional charting error, may result in extended bouts of cursing the developers. It’s not always a problem, but when it happen, it can make you tear your hair out. I understand the wish to transform the main character into a more mobile avatar, but when you try it, think about your limitations as a gaming studio, and remember that The Witcher is not Assassin’s Creed. Underwater control is terrible, and horse-riding, although functional 90% of the time, has that 10% that makes you lose your temper, especially when the stallion stops in the middle of a race because he thought a texture looked strange.
Glossing over some of these issues, Witcher 3 has taken some favorable steps forward, gameplay-wise. I mentioned that Geralt is more mobile now. And for good reason. You can now swim, go boating, and jump like a mountain-goat here and there, things which were pretty much impossible in the past. This mobility confers the gameplay a more flexible nature, the player being able to use his new abilities to reach places before inaccessible.
The presence of a crossbow helps you bring down the mutant bird-freaks in the sky. Not bad. Especially now that Witcher 3 takes a page out of Batman Origins and introduce a new investigative mechanic, which basically uses the Witcher’s Sense, a kind of cat’s eyes, letting you solve mysteries and find clues to find monsters or solve a Witcher Contracts. This system is quite common and surprisingly very satisfying, giving a sense of involvement in the story of that quest.
Fights on the other hand are very complex. The Witcher series didn’t really encourage the “swing until you hit something” approach, and this is very obvious in The Witcher 3. The famous two swords worn by Geralt back are already known by gamers, but for those new to the series we should mention that any Witcher wields two swords. One silver and one Steel.
The silver is for slaying monsters and the steel sword is for everything else. The fights are quite rewarding, with two ways to avoid attacks, through side-stepping or rolling, as well as the ability to parry and counter-attack enemies, adding new degrees of complexity to the game. And the attention to detail does not stop here.
Every enemy has weaknesses, and learning to counter when should can quickly leave them lying in pools of digital blood. Combine this with the parry system, rolls and side-steps, add in the magic, the potions and oils and some well thought-out item and skill combinations, and you have a highly complex system that you can use in your favor. Although the magic (through Witcher Signs) only becomes truly useful after you invest more than 5 points in it, because that’s when you start unlocking the alternate versions of the Signs.
And I’m far from done.
Witcher 3 also does another thing I’d like to see in contemporary RPG’s: that you can take it easy, leisurely and prepare yourself for a battle, even if you do not know when you’ll be in one. In the first game I had a pretty unhealthy relationship with the game inventory. The Witcher 3 has things better laid out.
You have a menu for every skill from crafting to alchemy, and everything is done without requiring a camp-fire. That particular shortcoming got removed in this last part of the series. The issue now is that you will keep Witcher Senses enabled to gather the ingredients and look for recipes to craft potions and new armor from now until November. Because it will help you immensely. Besides this, when you craft your first armor set (green), don’t throw it away in the first store when you stop using it, it’s upgradable.. I tell you from experience, because I’ve done this twice. Fortunately the map is large and allows you to gather components for the nth time to get an armor or sword. A map which takes about two hours to cross from one end to another.
Visually, the game looks sensational – if you have a monster PC, or a render-farm, with about three GPU’s on board. In terms of optimization, Witcher 3 has major problems. If you activate Hair Works your FPS will drop faster than a drunkard in a pub. But if you choose to go with everything on Medium, the game won’t hiccup even for a frame, which makes it one of the pickiest since Crysis Warhead.
However, if we analyze it only aesthetically and not performance-wise, Witcher 3 is a great game. The player gets all natural phenomena such as day-night cycle, changing weather and gorgeous coloring. If you have a powerful projector you can cast the sunset of Witcher 3 on the nearby block and swear it’s real. CD Projekt Red have actually been paying attention to every detail in this title, varying not only the characters in towns so that they rarely repeat, but the enemies as well. Excepting monsters, human enemies are rarely the same, with an algorithm providing random clothing.
Town architecture is also enviable, providing that authentic medieval feeling, where a village is built around the local lord’s mansion.
There’s plenty to see and experience when it comes to landscapes, with The Witcher 3 being one of the most diverse games from this standpoint. Even the detailed animations for each character, with visible emotion on their faces, something that seems to have become an industry standard in recent years.
As for sound and vocal actors, well, I can say that things are… sensational! If you bought the game on GoG we recommend downloading the soundtrack, open a player, chill out and enjoy. The experience is amazing.
You get all possible and impossible tonalities, from two-stroke melodies to complex adrenaline-pumping transpositions or… instant calm. The general sound gets extra points from us, such as a sword striking another, or the sound of the rolling waves under your boat… close your eyes and you’re there.
My only problem is that the game is a bit too “British” for my tastes. Almost all the characters have a British accent, almost obsessive sometimes, with the occasional Welsh or Scottish brogue. It would have been nice to have a more neutral accent in general and only meet that refined British tongue in cities in order to clearly differentiate classes, in a time when illiteracy runs rampant. It’s a bit hard to take the peasant asking you to save his son seriously, when he does so with a posh British accent of the highest quality. But, coming down preferences, it bothered me, but it may not bother you.
How good is the The Witcher 3 overall? Sensational is a good word to describe this game! Does it have problems? Certainly. Like any big game. But the most serious are linked to the hit detection and geometry, otherwise, it’s an adventure that you have to try.
My verdict? Undoubtedly worth buying! As a game it’s almost perfect, except these problems that may have already been eliminated by patches. Plus it comes with a ton of free DLC.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a must-play title for any Action/RPG fan, and not only. We recommend you get it through our affiliate link on GoG.com, DRM-free and with tons of added goodies such as wallpapers, a world map, artbook, toys, soundtracks, videos, avatars, artwork, comics and more. Alternatively, you may purchase the version you need through our Amazon affiliate link.