Available on Xbox One, PS4 PC
The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt release date: May 19th 2015
We all love an RPG with vast worlds and choices a plenty, each with real consequences, but with both being mean feats to create and deliver, they often make for strange bed fellows. Since the announcement of The Witcher 3, and its plan to take the rich, challenging and complex world of its predecessor and blow it up into an even bigger experience and larger world, almost double the size in fact, I’ve wondered just how that could work and how it would impact the game’s quality.
Would this vast expansion affect the beautiful crafted quests and deep choice mechanics? Could the graphic fidelity really live up to what we’ve seen in past snippets and short trailers or would it suffer from trying too much, too fast?
Well, after an extensive hands-on session with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, I’m certainly confident the game has the potential to live up to all of CD Projekt Red’s promises.
Wild Hunt is the next slice of sword fights, demon slaying and tight leather pants, from the Witcher series. Marking the third entry of the franchise, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is also the first in the series to have been developed for the Xbox One and PS4 from the beginning. It’s something that I’ve been excited to see in action, especially considering many of the issues that plagued 2012’s The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings were due to the team being forced to squash the vast content from the PC to the far less powerful Xbox 360 and PS3.
Thankfully, if you missed the chance to play any of the series previous instalments, The Witcher 3 is crafted perfectly to allow newcomers to jump straight in while losing nothing from the narrative, which speaks a lot for the strength of Geralt’s story and CD Projekt Red’s writing team.
Focusing on the previously mentioned Geralt of Rivia and his friend Vesimir, who is a mentor of sorts to Geralt and leader of the last remaining members of ‘The School of the Wolf’. Travelling the lands together, Geralt is in search of his long lost love, the Sorceress Yennifer, fuelled by some tense and dramatic nightmares deliver visions of her death along with the death of their adoptive daughter Ciri. Almost immediately the story manages to feel emotionally weighty, quickly immersing you in the outcome of Geralt’s destiny.
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After some serious hands on time, I was left more than impressed with what I’d seen. Not only does the scenery look stunning, with glorious vistas, but the characters have some of the most detailed faces I’ve seen in new-gen titles. They look full of expression and even hand-sculpted at times. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt truly feels like a living, breathing world, even more so than the equally beautiful Dragon Age: Inquisition.
During the hands-on, most of my time was spent talking to strangers and starting fights in bars, not because the game left me with little to do but because I was truly in awe of the world around me.
It is also glaringly obvious just how much of the game’s core mechanics have been completely overhauled since The Witcher 2.The combat that now allows you to fluidly dodge, roll and jump, while Geralt can now swim the depths of the ocean as well as fight on both horse back and at sea. All of the new mechanics feel extremely well crafted.
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Much has been said about the size of The Witcher 3 and its world map, many having quoted a passing mention of it being 20 per cent bigger than The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. CD Projekt Red has been keen to express its core concept was to build a world in which anything you see can be travelled to. From the time I had with it, this certainly rings true. Every tree, castle, ruin or small village can be found and will no doubt contain a plethora of things to do and people to interact with. Split into a handful of sections, each with its own huge sprawling landscape and divided by two main larger maps, it took me some time to traverse the area I was allowed to explore.
There’s a lot to be said for the monster hunting and demon slaying here, which requires a decent amount of thought and preparation before you go bounding in. That is unless of course, you happen to like the smell of roasting flesh and the constantly repeating game over screen.
You’ll need to discover more about your quarry, from their weaknesses and strengths to areas of the map they’ll frequent long before you even think of drawing your sword. All of this can be discovered through your personal bestiary, think of it as a Pokédex for the medieval era, or ‘book’ as they are known.
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Once you’ve got your tactics sorted, you’d be well advised to go grazing, picking up specific herbs ready to brew some of those all important potions. This isn’t a simple ‘stock up on health’ system mind you, if you craft right and craft well you can activate some handy, yet temporary, boosts and buffs to your stats. If you want to be a true master of the hunt, you could also go that extra mile and create oils with which to coat your blade, adding poison or bleeding effects, giving your steel that extra bite or simply strengthen it for a time.
After hearing of a small abandoned village in which a host of unwitting travellers and bandits went missing, I made my way there only to discover the ghost of a murdered woman had been blackened by grief and twisted into a MoonWraith. I won’t tell you how long it took me to study up on just how I could kill something that was formless, but I made a tactical retreat to stock up, buff up and get my glyphs ready.
That’s right, if swords, crossbows, bombs and traps weren’t enough, Glyphs play a huge part in Geralt’s arsenal of moves. These small bursts of magic allow you to fire off bursts of flame, kinetic energy which unsettles your enemies footing, magical traps to hold them still and even the chance of controlling their mind, setting them against their allies.
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Even once prepared, taking on the MoonWraith lead to one of the most tense battles I’ve experienced for a long time in a game. Constantly dancing on the edge of death and the dreaded game over screen, I was throwing fire, swinging steel, dodging left and right throughout this glorious battle.
With so many demons and monsters to discover and hunt, fans of the popular Monster Hunter series should feel right at home here, just don’t expect to see those little fury friends of yours anytime soon. You’re hunting alone on this one.
Overall, I had a fantastic time with The Witcher 3. The world is huge and truly gorgeous while never leaving me overwhelmed. Instead I was excited to push forward so I could discover more and more of what the game world could offer.. I haven’t felt this intrigued while exploring a game since first laying hands on The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Character models and facial animation are also a huge accomplishment, looking beautifully realistic. While the voice acting isn’t always top notch, the enthralling story and deep combat system really make up for that little pitfall.
Throw in a choice system that feels like it may well be deeper than a Mass Effect game and The Witcher 3 is on track to be one of the best games of 2015.