written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
It’s very rare I jump into a series without playing any of the previous games, The Witcher III: Wild Hunt is the third game in the Witcher series, a fantasy-RPG based on the works of polish author Andrzej Sapkowski featuring the same lead character. Walking into Witcher III I had some basic knowledge about the series but not much beyond that, I didn’t know what to expect but after powering through the epic tale of Geralt of Rivia; it makes me want to go back in time, slap younger Prince and go full on Batman interrogation yelling “play The Witcher” before I jump into my Tardis and romp back to the future. Anyway, let’s get into this review.
The Witcher III: Wild Hunt follows the adventures of Geralt of Rivia, a famed witcher (like a merc for monsters) known throughout the lands as a sword for hire as much as he is for interfering with the politics of the kings. After a war where the fearsome Empire of Nilfgaard has subjugated much of the Northern Kingdoms, the world is left in chaos while a darker force looms on the horizon. The mysterious Wild Hunt, a group of otherworldly elven spectral riders seek Ciri, a young girl raised by Geralt at Kaer Morhen, to exploit the power hidden within her blood. Ciri descends from Lara Dorren, a powerful elven sorceress who fell in love with a mighty human mage. Those who have the “elder blood” as they call it are regarded as very special individuals, able to harness great magical power; Ciri’s power allow her to travel effortlessly through space and time, an ability the Wild Hunt greatly want to exploit for their own sinister gains.
I feel like I need to start with the story here, Witcher III is the explosive final chapter for Geralt of Rivia, while I wasn’t up to date with the story so far, the game was surprisingly easy to walk right in to. Unlike other sequels liked Mass Effect 3 or Assassin’s Creed: Revelations that require the player to have experienced previous adventures, this feels like its own contained story with a plethora of extras for those who have played previous titles in the series. Characters return from previous installments with choices Geralt made in past titles holding weight in the world of Witcher III. Your choices are simulated in conversation early on in the game, while I had no prior knowledge I just randomly picked who I wanted to say live or die or whatevs.
After the initial opening which acted as a bit of an extended tutorial, we get full reign over the world after Emperor Emhyr tasks us with finding Ciri, Geralt’s ward and also the heiress to the Nifgaardian empire. This takes Geralt to locales like Velen, Novigrad, and the Skellige Isles. Hunting down every lead he can find, Geralt once again shapes the fates of those around him whether noble or peasant. Integrated into the story are Ciri missions that shift the player perspective from Geralt to Ciri, further shedding light on what happened when she came across these key individuals Geralt meet down the line.
This story is just as much Geralt’s as it is Ciri’s, perchance they could be setting up a continuation from Ciri’s perspective or build a whole new franchise. I’ve never read any of the novels but if this game is meant to be the final chapter for Geralt’s tale, this opens up the possibility for the franchise to continue on. While story missions lead you from point A to point B, the game is littered with various sidequests, Witcher Contracts, treasure hunts, and little tid bits here and there meant to act as worthwhile distractions. While I forced myself to power through much of the story while experiencing a good chunk of the game’s side missions, there was so much content I just couldn’t fit into one initial playthrough, something I see myself doing in a second playthrough.
Gameplay has Geralt fighting or talking his way through various scenarios. The game’s combat system is surprisingly robust yet simple to master. Witchers are armed with two swords, the steel sword is used for beasts and men while the silver sword is used exclusively for the game’s many monsters. Hacking and slashing is mapped to two face buttons, varying attacks between swift and strong attacks. Defense is handled to either block, parry, or dodge/roll out of an enemy’s way. Geralt is also armed with a variety of spells (called “signs”) that feature offensive, defensive, and crowd control effects. Unlike other games where I find myself exclusively using one or two different spells, I used pretty much every spell at Geralt’s disposal to dispatch whatever stood in my way.
One thing I need to point out is how challenging the game’s combat is. I died so many times, even at the hands of basic enemies and monsters. Managing a battlefield, your potions, and other consumables is just as important as the combat. If you’re used to running head first into battle, you will find yourself dying quite a few times. This level of challenge is refreshing, with games these days catering far too much to the player, I love it when a studio isn’t afraid to punish us on normal difficulty.
Crafting and alchemy play just as integral part to the gameplay as does combat. Creating various potions and bombs (provided you find the recipe for it) and employing armorers and blacksmiths to craft various custom weapons or armor pieces are important aspects to Geralt surviving the next encounter with a Ghoul or Bandit. Eventually you can equip a crossbow, mapped to one of the shoulder buttons you can either let the game auto-aim for you or take an over the shoulder view. While combat felt fluid, using your crossbow felt more so cumbersome. This is further enforced when you go on diving expeditions. Underwater you can also be attacked by various water-based monsters, and of course using your sword or signs don’t work underwater, leaving only that super cumbersome crossbow as your sole defense against whatever goes splash in the night.
Traversing the world can be done either on foot, mounted on your horse “Roach,” or via fast travel points you unlock as you travel the world. You’ll find yourself using these fast travel points or your horse quite often. The world around you is huge, I thought Dragon Age: Inquisition had a huge world, but the world of Witcher III is massive in comparison. By the time the ending credits rolled, there was still much of the world I haven’t discovered yet.
The game’s visuals were just as impressive as the gameplay. Everything in the world looked gorgeous, everyone in Witcher III was wonderfully rendered with meticulous care. From the main ensemble cast to various NPC characters and “Generic Quest-giver C” the game’s visuals stay consistent throughout the entire campaign. The game’s monsters are some of the best I’ve ever had the privilege of dismembering, some of the game’s most inspired art come at the business end of a pair of fangs.
Every mission in the game holds a weight to it, from political espionage to saving a small commune from bandits. Never did I feel bored with the missions whether main or secondary. The sheer variety of missions is staggering, from the mission type to the content, it’s immense and slightly intimidating to tackle. But I think that’s what makes the game’s mission system so strong. One mission in particular that sticks out to me wasn’t even a main mission in the game, investigating an abandoned and haunted tower in the mission “A Tower Full of Mice” still stick out to me as my favorite secondary quest in the entire campaign. The fantasy RPG turns into a spine tingling horror game for this small slice of gameplay. Listening to the terrified memories of ghosts and exploring a dark tower with a creepy lantern emitting a green light set the ambiance for scares that never go so far as to feel cliché. Moving chairs, doors opening and closing, and spectral figures made me regret playing this mission alone in a dark room at 1:45AM.
With all the glitter and gold, there are a few gripes. I don’t know if its buggy or what, but there are moments when Geralt would be in a fight and he fails to automatically draw his sword, leaving me susceptible to a few hits until I realize that I can’t kill a Drowner with my fists alone. While having Roach is a bloody godsend in this huge open world, controlling him is a chore. His responsiveness is uneven at points and the decision to map jump (tap the button) to the same button you use to get off the horse (hold down the button) was a mistake. I would find myself holding it down too long during frantic runs, forcing Geralt to dismount rather than jump the fence. Gwent also didn’t appeal to me much, in the game you have the option to play a card game similar to war, a nice little distraction but when playing Gwent matches tie in to secondary missions, it feels like the developers were forcing on the player to play these matches or miss out on a slice of the story, at least they didn’t force Gwent sequences into main story missions, that would have been a big thumbs down in my book. I feel like mention the underwater mechanics, but underwater gameplay suck in ever game… so it would feel unfair to dock it points for this. But yeah, swimming underwater sucks… nuff said.
The game runs butter smooth save for very sporadic moments when the fps drops. From combat to riding around, I rarely found myself pulled away from the immersion and this is playing on a PS4, which granted wouldn’t run the game as reliably smooth as it would on say a high end PC running ultra settings.
The Witcher III: Wild Hunt has made me want to play previous games in the series, even prompting me to pick up the first novel from Andrzej Sapkowski to get more of the world’s lore. While I wasn’t onboard for all of the games in the Witcher series, even with only playing this final chapter in the tale of Geralt of Rivia, I found myself immersed in this epic fantasy tale… wishing I took the time to play through previous installments of the series. This is an absolute must play for any fantasy RPG fan, and hell… for any video game fan. This is one game you don’t want to pass you by, else you may find yourself jumping into your own Tardis to jump back to meet your 2015 self to deliver a smack and a “play this damn game!” Batman-esque demand.
+ Robust combat mechanic
+ Varied mission types that never felt boring or cumbersome
+ Beautiful, jaw dropping visuals
+ A strong narrative that keeps the player hooked for 40+ hours
- Controlling Roach
- Slightly buggy at times
Story 5/5: Rich and robust story telling make this 40+ hours well spent
Graphics 5/5: Gorgeous visuals and sprawling scenery with a near endless draw distance
Audio 5/5: Great musical score and fantastic voice acting
Level design 5/5: The whole world was well designed without many forced boundaries
Polish 4.5/5: Nothing gamebreaking with slight bugs that can be easily patched out
Controls 4/5: Easy to pick up combat, robust mechanics, though feel I need to doc it a bit for Roach
Gameplay 5/5: A satisfying package through and through
Extras 5/5: So much to discover, I haven’t had this much fun roaming around a game since Fallout 3
TL;DR: An absolute must play, don’t rent… buy!