It’s been a long time coming, but I finally got some hands-on with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
For well over a year Polish developer CD Projekt RED have been teasing me with snippets from Geralt of Rivia’s next outing.
At E3 I saw the now famous griffin hunt demo during a special behind closed doors preview. At the Australian EB Expo I was treated to an expanded live demo of the same griffin sequence during a special theatre presentation.
After many delays, in May this year players are finally going to be able to play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Last week I was invited over to local distributor Bandai Namco’s Sydney HQ for a go on the first three hours of the game.
For the uninitiated, The Witcher games are based on the Polish novels by Andrzej Sapkowski. They follow the adventures of Geralt of Rivia, the White Wolf- a witcher. Basically, witchers are mutant monster-slayers that are part warrior and part monk. Using potions and heightened senses witchers roam the medieval fantasy land hunting fearsome beasts for coin.
Whilst The Witcher 3 is coming out on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, my hands-on was with the PS4 version.
The game starts similar to the others with an animated comic-book inspired sequence setting the scene and explaining the history of the company of wraths known as The Wild Hunt. This is followed by a CGI intro-movie showing Geralt and his mentor, Vesemir, tracking
Geralt’s true love, Yennefer of Vengerberg. As the pair discover her tracks, the movie flashes back to show the sorceress riding desperately through a battlefield. As the movie ends it seamlessly switches over to the in-game engine.
Geralt has been dreaming of Yennefer and their adopted daughter, Ciri. Just as their blissful life is interrupted by the spectral members of the Wild Hunt, Geralt awakens. With Vesemir, the two witchers resume their search. Following Yennefer’s trail they arrive at the village of White Orchard, a settlement that’s got a bit of a griffin problem.
In exchange for information on Yennifer’s whereabouts Geralt is asked to slay the griffin terrorising the locals. Without going into details, there is a reason why the creature isn’t happy and it is details like this that, for me, set the quest apart from the usual “bring me the creature’s head” sort of mission.
The Witcher 3 introduces a new hunting mechanic which has Geralt using his witcher sense to see the footprints of his prey and detect sound sources. Using this ability I was able to track some Nilfgaardian soldiers to a griffin’s nest.
Of course, this being a witcher game, Geralt can’t just go and kill the beast outright. First he needs procure the ingredients required to bait the creature.
Whilst the previous games have hardly been linier affairs, for this outing players are treated to a huge open world to explore at their leisure. This also means that quests are not necessarily constrained to the local area. I soon found myself riding across the landscape collecting items and carrying out tasks.
In order to help player traverse the map’s vast distances, Geralt is accompanied by his steed, Roach. I found controlling the horse a bit twitchy, but the way Roach automatically keeps to a path when the X button is held, makes life a bit easier and stop him from getting caught up on the scenery.
The game also has a rather smart fast travel system, using signposts, which are unlocked as players discover them. This removes the need for long, repetitive (and sometimes dangerous) journeys. It’s very easy to get about, which is handy considering the size of the game world.
The combat is similar to that of the last game with light and heavy attacks plus parrying and counterattacks. Being a witcher, Geralt also has a range of spells at his disposal. New for this game, is Geralt’s crossbow, very useful against flying monsters. During my preview I had Geralt going up against wolves, drowners, bandits and finally the griffin. The combat is very satisfying, to the point that I found it difficult to resist slaying random monsters be as I trekked across the land.
Indeed, baiting, wounding, hunting and finally confronting the griffin was exciting, engrossing and a rather epic experience. Made all the more satisfying by the lengthy build-up.
Visually, the PS4 version looked very good, but did suffer from some very noticeable screen tearing, especially during the cutscenes. This is usually as a result of the v-synch being switch off and done to improve framerates at the expense of visual fidelity. I hope that this is sorted out in the final build.
The graphics in The Witcher 2, particularly on the PC, blow me away at the time. Whilst the graphics in The Witcher 3 are very nice, with lot of detail, they are a bit too clean, with the lighting and general appearance not quite up to the level of some of the other PS4 games out there. We are still a while from release, so hopefully the developers are still tweaking the game.
During my three hours with the game I kept to the main missions, although I continuously came across characters keen to talk and likely to ask a favour of Geralt.
The three hours went so quickly. I was totally engrossed in the story, the characters and the rich world that they inhabit. The quest system and overall game mechanics seem to have been polished up from the last outing, enabling me to get immersed in the game, rather than fussing about in the journal.
Whilst I’ll save my verdict for a full play-through of the retail game, from what I’ve played so far and CD Projekt RED’s previous form with the last two games, I’m pretty confident that The Witcher: Wild Hunt is going be very special indeed.