You know, I wasn’t really hyped at all for Witcher 3 until it came out. Seeing everyone talk about it definitely grabbed my attention. I’d played a little bit of the first Witcher game, but it was a bit… stiff to me. To say the least. So I was a tad hesitant to get on board the Witcher hype train once again. But I also needed something to entertain me throughout the summer. So I decided to jump in and see how things fared. Alas, two weeks later I have completed almost everything there is to be done within the Witcher 3.
So you could say that I enjoyed the game. A lot. It isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly a game worth playing. It might be the game that gives you most bang for you buck you’ll get all year. I wish the game had a counter, because then I could tell you how many hours I put into it. But I played the game on PS4, so I’m not sure if something like that exists.
Speaking of the PS4, it’s worth getting it out of the way now, there are some performance issues. As of the writing of this review the game is on version 1.04. It definitely helped things, but the game still crashed on me at least five times throughout my playthrough. Thankfully the game autosaves very often, so I never really lost any progress. There were also some framerate hiccups in spots. It never lasted very long, but you can certainly notice them.
At times the game wouldn’t load as fast as Geralt would run, so when I needed to talk to an NPC or a merchant, I would have to wait for the game to catch up to me. It was only a few seconds, but it happened very often. This was especially the case in Novigrad, the large scale city in the game.
But issues like these don’t take away from the rest of the game, which is incredible. The look of the game feels lived in. The characters and their facial expressions are wondrous, especially in the unique characters like Triss, Yennifer, and Ciri. From Geralt – who you’re staring at all the time – to the lowest of peasants, the faces and body language of the characters are awesome. You’ll occasionally see repeats in the faces, but that’s not such a big deal when they all look so good.
Combat in the Witcher 3 is a bit odd. At times it feels a bit like button mashing the fast attack over and over and using the Ignii (fire) spell until your foe dies. But when it comes to fighting certain monsters, it gets a bit more interesting. Throughout the game you’ll take on various witcher contracts, quests where the villagers or other NPCs will ask you to hunt down a specific monster that’s “haunting their woods” or “raiding the trade caravans”. This usually involves a bit of tracking the monster. Using your “witcher senses” (which is very much like detective vision in the Batman games), you can spot tracks, scents, and other markers leading you to which kind of monster it is, and then the lair in which it resides.
It might not seem like it at first, but the bestiary is very important. More than anything it gives you a list of weaknesses to help fight the monster with. These are essential because more often than not, the monster you’ll be fighting will be a few levels higher than you. Sometimes you won’t be able to hit the monster without using the correct kind of magic or potion. So it’s definitely a major part of how you play the game.
Aside from your sword and bestiary, Geralt also has access to small amounts of magic. Called signs, these little bits of magic can slow enemies, give you a shield, blow fire, or even influence the minds of your foes. They help liven up what’s more or less a simple blow to blow combat system. You can even upgrade them to have alternate modes, helping change it up a little.
The world of Witcher 3 is populated so densely it’s hard to go off the main road without coming across something new and interesting. Some times it’s a bandit camp, or a camp of deserters. Other times its a monster nest or a terrifyingly strong monster guarding some really good treasure. You might even run into a quest that wasn’t available until you came across the marker. It’s also entirely possibly you’ll run into a group of monsters – or a single wandering beast – that is too high level for you. The world is not built in a linear fashion where you’ll always be up against something that’s around your level.
In fact, one of the first witcher contracts I picked up was for a level 33 character. I was exploring the world, looking around at whatever little markers appeared on my map, and stumbled upon a cave. Curious as to what was inside – usually treasure – I went in. Geralt vaulted over a small ledge and the ground shook beneath me. Geralt says “Something just woke up.” and I get an update for said level 33 contract. At the time I’m level 7. To say I ran away in a hurry would be an understatement.
That’s just one example of the type of thing that can happen to you while you’re exploring the world. There are three major sections of The Witcher 3’s world. There’s Velen, where most of your exploration will take place, Novigrad, the main city I mentioned above, and Skellige, a collection of islands made up of what are essentially vikings. So there is plenty to explore throughout the game.
Aside from the random areas to explore and the witcher contracts, there are a multitude of side quests in the game. Many of them are assigned by random people you’ll meet out on the streets or the occasional notice board will give you a quest. But you’ll also get a bunch of quests from major characters. These quests are more important than you think as they will definitely influence the ending and other events later in the game. You can also fail quests, which I found out the hard way. So it’s best to do the side quests as soon as you get them. Their significance isn’t immediately apparent, and that’s a fun thing. Some of them will only give you the resolution far down the road, after any chance of repairing the damage is gone.
Some of the side quests involve a bit of romance as well, which helps broaden the scope of the characters and their relationships. My only issue with these quests is that the game’s main quest makes it apparent you’re more or less supposed to romance one particular character over another. It’s weird then, that you have multiple options. But it isn’t a huge deal and doesn’t exactly have a large effect on the overall story.
After a thousand words, it’s about time I dive into my thoughts on the main story. For the most part the story maintains a rather small scale. The war between the two large factions is more of a backdrop, and while you have dealings with the leaders of both sides, they aren’t your main concern. Far from it in fact. Most of the time they only serve your end goal, which is to find the woman Geralt raised as his daughter: Ciri.
Speaking of Ciri, you will be able to play as her in various linear sections throughout the story. Her abilities differ from Geralt in a few exciting ways. She’s actually more fun to play as than Geralt is sometimes. She moves a much faster pace than he does so you’re constantly flashing around enemies, practically unable to be hit.
The pacing of the game could be divided into four different acts. Each act corresponds with each major area: Velen, Novigrad, Skellige, Kaer Morhen. The last act spans a great deal more than Kaer Morhen, but that’s the major location you’ll visit that kicks off the last few quests of the main story. Each act has a set of main story quests that usually branch into two different areas. By the end of that act, they’ll have come together in one way or another. The problem is that this isn’t initially spelled out for the player. I had to find out why I couldn’t continue a quest line by looking it up in a guide. Not exactly what you want players doing.
The quality of the storytelling, both for main quests and the side quests ranges from incredible, to a downright collectathon. Even Geralt complains about all the nonsense he has to deal with in order to get people to work with him. It’s nice that he’s referential about it, but it doesn’t excuse how boring some of the quests can be.
But when the story shines, it really shines. People may look at Geralt as something of a cipher, and emotionless character in which the player is supposed to project themselves on. But that’s not what Geralt is. While he may appear bored by the events around him, it’s only because the game expects the same of the player. Why would he be excited to escort a lost goat back its owner? (That’s a real quest by the way) He’s more the world weary gunslinger than anything else. And like all those who are world weary, there are those they have soft spots for.
For Geralt, those soft spots are for his friends and loved one. Characters like Triss and Yennifer bring out a different side of Geralt. You see the warmth of friendship with people like Zoltan, Lambert, and Vesemir. But Geralt is never happier than when he’s with Ciri. He’s warm, fatherly, and hell, he even smiles. There are some wonderful character moments in the fourth act of the story. They easily make up some of my favorite moments in the entire game.
Overall The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is more than worth your time and money. It’s a journey and a world you’ll want to be a part of. I can give it no higher praise than that.