Reviewing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt felt like reviewing an MMO at times. Sure, there are certainly less mechanics than a fully fledged MMO would have, but the amount of content Witcher 3 serves you on a platter and allows you to digest however you see fit is staggering. The main course alone which consists of the main quest line is already a sizeable portion of the meal, but then you have the garnishings of Monster Contracts, treasure hunts, monster lairs and other various, delicious side items that you actually might have a hard time consuming it all, despite having every intention to. What makes the whole package that much more palatable are the gorgeous visuals that spare no expense on the little details to really bring the lush forests of Velen and the bustling town square of Novigrad to life.
The Witcher 3 follows the exploits of Geralt hot on the heels of his former-yet-still-current lover Yennefer, as well as his adopted daughter Ciri. Both of these characters haven't appeared in previous Witcher games, but certainly have been mentioned. I found that not being well versed in the books, where both of these characters stem from, wasn't really a hindrance. All that proves is that CD Projekt RED crafted an experience that doesn't simply include the hardcore Witcher fans, but caters to newcomers as well. The game's handy glossary filled with entries written by the bard Dandelion himself are well written backstories that offer insight for those that might not remember a past character, or have no idea who someone is.
The game thrusts you into the province of White Orchard, a smaller more confined version of the much larger two maps you'll be exploring later. This served as the perfect sampler of what's to come, with a little bit of everything. From story missions to monster contracts and hidden treasures, this area was the perfect way to introduce The Witcher 3, and it only got better from there.
After the game's initial scene, you're thrust into combat, allowing you to feel the difference in combat first-hand. While it certainly didn't leave the best first impression, it was a lot better when compared to its predecessor, Assassins of Kings. In that game, combat felt floaty and it never felt like you had direct control over Geralt's actions, not to mention the hit boxes we're a complete mess. In Wild Hunt, however, Geralt feels more responsive. With the press of a button, you see that action immediately. Sure, Geralt still fights with an overly flashy fighting style which I assume is just the nature of Witcher combat after all, but I don't feel as open as I did in the previous game. Geralt is also able to dodge roll out of the way as well as sidestep attacks, each one having its own particular place in combat. Unlike some of the more recent games I've played, rolling doesn't actually give Geralt any i-frames (invincibility frames) which can certainly throw off a number of players, like myself. Instead, it's all about careful timing and making sure you're not rolling right before Geralt gets hit, but rather, right before the enemy actually starts their attack.
With that said though, the fighting isn't perfect. Coming from games like Bloodborne and Dark Souls where combat just feels "right," and any mistake resulting in damage or death is more or less your fault, I found Witcher 3's combat to be the opposite. It often feels like the game simply doesn't give you ample time for dodging and counter-attacking, and instead gives the enemies' unnaturally quick attacks that result in damage no matter what you throw at them.
Mechanics aside though, there are a lot of different ways The Witcher 3 allows you to dispose of your enemies, be it human or otherwise. Aside from the steel and silver swords which can dispose of human and monster enemies respectively, Geralt can brew up various potions that can increase his stats, make oils to coat his swords for increased damage against enemies with particular weaknesses and of course use his trademarked Signs, which are for the lack of a better word, magic spells. It's staggering just how much variety there is in combat, which makes it that much more disappointing that it's not as tightened up as it should be. At least those hitboxes are better.
CD Projekt RED has figured out the scientific formula for immersion and coated The Witcher 3 in it. The only way I could see this game being more immersive, is if it allowed players to explore its vast open landscapes in first person, but I can't imagine combat with all of Geralt's twirling would make the transition well.
In its grand size, the various maps offers nearly everything from lush green forests, rolling hills, mountains, islands, bogs and swamps, small villages and a large capital city. Breathtaking would be the right way to describe the scenery. It's easy for me to simply get lost in the beauty of it when traveling from one settlement to the next. What's astounding is that despite it's grand size, none of the areas feel like their copies of one another. Sure, settlements might be composed of a few houses and a bar, but even their layout and NPCs make them stand apart from one another.
Entering the city of Novigrad for the first time felt like I was entering a completely new map of its own. I felt like I could easily get lost and before I knew it I was wandering around stumbling across various bars, a brothel, the slums that were filled with bandits and pickpockets as well as familiar faces.
Developer CDPR deserves all the praise their getting, especially when it comes to quest design. RPGs have more or less become to-do lists filled with shopping items. Go kill a number of X and pick up their Y to deliver to person Z, rinse and repeat. Almost none of the quests in The Witcher 3 feel like this, and that's largely due to the way quests branch out and expand. What might seem like a short quest line involving clearing out a house of monsters for an old lady might turn into a much larger quest involving familiar faces and a grand scheme of revenge. Of course, some of these are dependent on your previous save file or how you've answered some of the questions in the game during a specific part. But what I'm trying to say here is that quests rarely feel like they're chores. They're multifaceted questlines that often spawn new quests for characters you meet during the initial quest. I'm unsure just how CDPR has managed to make questing so meaningful in a game that has hundreds of them, but they did. In this day and age where companies like Ubisoft try their hardest to fill up their open-world games with hundreds of map markers that include trivial items like chests and insignificant collectibles, CDPR outright proves that exploring each and every question mark on the map is worthwhile.
Simply stepping into a new village or town and stepping up to the notice board is exciting since you know it's basically a gateway to more of that fantastic content. Don't waste time and take all of it. Luckily none of the quests you take from notice boards have an expiration timer so you can come back to them at any point. The only downside to quests comes from picking them up from random NPCs since they have no indication of level. For example, I accepted a quest to rid the home of monsters from two bickering guys. Upon accepting it, I was thrust inside with monsters 10 levels above mine. There was no way I was surviving that. I simply had to reload and then skip that quest and come back later.
Even Witchers might want to take a load off and perhaps partake in some leisurely activities. The game includes a fully fledged card game called Gwent with nearly 200 cards to add to your collection. It's a simple game as far as mechanics go but offers some truly strategic gameplay depending on what faction of cards you're playing with and against, as well as what type of Leader card you're using. It's surprising on many levels just how deep the game is aside from its simple ruleset, and the first time I witnessed this game's genius was when playing against a player in Vizima with vastly superior cards. Through some clever gameplay tactics and luck of the draw, I was able to make his cards weaker and ultimately beat him by a few points by the third round. In a game already filled with tons of things to do, I'm legitimately shocked at how great and deep Gwent is.
There are also various horse races scattered around the map which provide Geralt with some loose change as well as some horse upgrades. If horse racing isn't your cup of tea, you can always bash people's faces in fist fights scattered across the map. Even these side activities are sprinkled in with moral choices like throwing the fight in order for the fighter to win a bag of flour that he needs in order to make bread for his wife and children.
Interestingly enough, the Monster Contracts are easily the best content the game has to offer. There are a few duds that end up being over far too soon, but for the most part these quests really make you feel like the monster hunter Geralt is supposed to be. Often you'll have to prepare yourself for the encounter by figuring out the species or type of monster your wrangling, then acquiring specific items that will either help lure it out or weaken it. The encounters themselves are also quite difficult, encouraging careful and defensive tactics over an all out attack. Each monster has its own entry in the bestiary which gives further information on its weaknesses. The process of carrying out a Monster Contract from start to finish truly feels like an accomplishment, and there are a slew of them in the game.
As far as the UI goes, I can only speak for the console version, but it's a mess. Navigating menus specifically feels like a chore and is often bogged down by inexplicable slowdown. Just navigating through the items and their categories takes a while, with the game freezing for a second each time you switch a category. I imagine people playing with a mouse and keyboard on a PC must fare much better, but it seems like the menus weren't really built with a controller in mind, even though the actual game does.
Through the course of your adventure you'll find numerous armor and weapons to outfit Geralt with that will not only make him look better, but also make ensure his stats are up. There is also a crafting system that's well worth investing in as some of the best armor and weapons come from the crafting system. Also as a protip, loot everything for materials and resources. Certain crafting materials can cost a lot of Crowns, which you can simply bypass by looting all the monsters you kill.
Being as massive as it is, it's no surprise that something glitches out on occasion. I have been one of the luckier players who only had very few glitches show up, such as my horse floating in air, or an NPC disappearing, but other players haven't been so lucky. It's comforting though that CDPR is hard at work ironing these little glitches out.
While Witcher 3 is a completely single player experience, it's a game I can't wait to discuss with my fellow peers, just to see how our adventures differ. These conversations usually revolve around describing quests and their different outcomes, Gwent strategies, familiar faces we encountered, who dies, who survives. It's like the day after Game of Thrones airs when all you want to do is discuss that crazy scene at the very end of the episode and geek out over how crazy it was. The Witcher 3 is pretty much exactly like that, except on a much larger level. It's absolutely brilliant, and for those that for some reason would ever want to replay the game in its entirety, something to look forward to since events can play out very differently.
The same care and attention that went into the game's graphical department, can be heard in the game's audio as well. John Cockle reprises his role as Geralt and does a phenomenal job at portraying the emotionless alpha male monster hunter, while Denise Gough and Jo Wyatt bring Yennefer and Ciri to life respectively. Charles Dance of The Last Action Hero or the more recent Game of Thrones fame lends his voice as Emperor Emhyr var Emreis. Likewise, the soundtrack is phenomenal, with serene tunes as you're exploring the countryside that smoothly blend into high energy battle themes accompanied with strong female vocals the further emphasize the situation. The Witcher 3 is certainly a treat to both the eyes and the ears.
Even without the promise of future content that's already been revealed through the game's $24.99 Season Pass, the game is large enough to support hundreds of hours of play. It's easily one of the most fully featured RPGs sitting right next to Dragon Age: Inquisition. In a world with post launch DLC that promises to enhance the core experience, Witcher 3 can get by completely without it. Kudos CDPR.
Let's face it, if you were already salivating at the mouth for the entire first half of May to get your hands on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, there is no way my review is going to do anything for you. However, if for some reason you fall under the very small category of gamers who have yet to purchase this fantastic masterpiece, let this review be another reminder of what you're missing out on until you finally give in.