Witchers, mutated warriors; created to counter the threat of supernatural beasts against mankind. These monster hunters roam a medieval land, slaying creatures for coin using their mastery of blade, alchemy and magic.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, sees the return of the witcher Geralt of Rivia, in the concluding installment of his three-part tale. I’ve just spent the last week locked away with the PC version of CD Projeckt RED’s latest opus.
Every now and again along comes a game that surpasses expectations. A game that lives up to the hype and, dare I say it, surpasses it. I’d been looking forward to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, having enjoyed the previous two games, but I wasn’t quite ready for this.
The game started with a scene-setting prologue that introduced me to the game’s combat before thrusting me headlong into a world on the brink of war. The harbingers of doom, the titular supernatural army of the Wild Hunt, are on the march.
They are in pursuit of Ciri- the witcher Geralt’s estranged foster-daughter. News of Ciri’s plight sends Geralt on his greatest adventure yet as he embarks on an epic journey across the huge continent with me, the player, in tow.
The game’s story is told via a series of varied and interesting multi-part quests that really draw you into the game. Often with multiple outcomes, as determined by the player, the quest system provides a unique gaming experience every time.
As Gerald roams the world, we watch as he enters the lives of the local people; becoming involved in the trials and tribulations of day-to-day life in a medieval fantasy land. The game really presents itself as believable, living, breathing world that is easy to get lost in.
The more you play the more The Witcher 3 enchants you and pulls you in. When I wasn’t playing the game I was thinking about playing the game, such was its hold over me.
As well as the superbly crafted main story quests, side quests and contracts can be undertaken to gain extra coin and experience points. Ranging from monster-slaying to sorting out domestic issues (such as a notable werewolf love triangle), these optional quests are fun and exceptionally well written.
Geralt’s witcher-sense can be used to find clues and loot, reveal tracks, smells and sounds. This adds an investigation element to some of the quests as Geralt examines his surroundings and follows trails.
Even with plenty of quests to complete, it’s easy to get distracted on route as you are accosted by bandits or creatures.
The game’s combat is frantic, but precise, a huge refinement from the last game. Geralt can dodge, block, parry and roll away from enemy attacks whilst attacking, himself, with either fast or strong attacks.
Throw in the use of his Igni spell to unleash a wall of fire on his hapless opponents and you have a combat system that is smooth, logical and a joy to use.
As well as Igni, Geralt can cast four other spells, or signs as they are known in the game: the telekinetic blast, Aard, Axii, which stuns enemies, the protective shield Quen, and finally the mind controlling Yrden.
The game world is full of marvellously modelled muddy villages, opulent castles and sprawling cities. As I wandered the land there was always some tower, structure or something on the horizon begging to be explored.
The developers have given Gerald some better transportation options this time out. His trusty steed, Roach, can gallop at speed; whilst he can also navigate waterways by small sailboat.
To really get about, the game’s fast travel mechanic is just the ticket. Visiting each major location reveals signposts that can be used to quickly travel to another unlocked signpost.
As you’d expect of any good fantasy RPG, The Witcher 3 has an in-depth crafting system. Players can manufacture potions, oils, weapons and armour. Looted items found lying around and on the bodies of the deceased can be sold, used or broken down into raw materials.
The Witcher 3 features some relatively complicated game mechanics and I wouldn’t say that it is an easy game to get to grips with. It’s packed with features and can be a bit daunting, especially at the start.
Thankfully, developers have learnt a lot from the initial launch of The Witcher 2 on PC. This time players are thoroughly catered for with a comprehensive tutorial system, something that needed to be patched into the game’s predecessor post-launch.
A word of warning: the game’s save system is brutally unforgiving. Whilst the game saves at pivotal moments, the rest of the time it is up to the player. And with a game as engrossing as this it is all too easy to forget, until it is too late. My advice is to save often.
Tonally, I didn’t find the game quite as stone-cold serious as its predecessors. Geralt has a dry wit subtly conveyed using some very well animated expressions. But it is the supporting cast of colourful characters that often lighten the mood.
The way one of Geralt’s former lady-friends announces, rather matter of fact in her aristocratic English accent, “If I’ve got my knickers on straight, this looks like the elf’s laboratory”, make me laugh out loud.
The language is fruity and the gore gratuitous. This is not a game for the kids. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt makes Game of Thrones look like an episode of friends.
The Witcher games are renowned for their ground-breaking graphics and The Witcher 3 is no exception. With access to the PC version of the game and a reasonably-spec’d machine, I was looking forward to playing the game with some console-beating visuals.
Whilst not quite the photo-real experience that the developer’s early trailers alluded to, the game’s visuals are still breathtaking. To be honest, considering the scale of the game, The Witcher 3 has most definitely raised the bar when it comes to open-world graphical fidelity. It looks absolutely gorgeous.
From jaw-dropping sunsets to the god-rays through the trees on a sunny day, The Witcher 3’s atmospheric effects are out-standing. Add a full day/night cycle, dynamic weather featuring wind, rain and storms and I’m not joking when I say that the game’s visuals are currently peerless.
Whilst reviewing the PC version of the game, my test rig afforded me the ability to adjust the visuals to a level far exceeding those of the game consoles. Of course, even on a high-end system, there is a need to offset performance against visual fidelity based on the player’s preference.
On a 32GB i7-3820 equipped machine running with a GTX980 video card I could easily secure a framerate of around forty frames per second, with the occasional peak to late 50s and dip into the 30s with everything set to Ultra and V-Synch switched on. It was rock solid at the console’s 30 fps.
Over the last week, the PC version has been patched four times, drastically increasing performance, allowing me to tweak the settings only very slightly to achieve that all-important 60fps.
On the PC, Geralt, creatures and other characters’ appearances are all augmented using nVIDIA’s Hairworks technology, giving them all flowing locks and manes. The character models are some of the best I’ve seen in a game engine, but sometimes still have that jarring unreal “uncanny valley” look about them.
The game isn’t without its faults. Some of the animations are bit robotic, and some of the dialogue – not helped by the use of some odd-sounding regional British accents, comes across as a bit awkward. Also Roach, Geralt’s horse, has nasty habit of getting himself stuck.
Whilst I’ll confess that I didn’t play the game on the hardest setting (because you wouldn’t be reading this for a few weeks if I did), the enemies are a bit lazy. Whilst they will attack with ferocity when you are close, as you move away from their assigned location they turn their backs to you and walk away- the perfect time to run up to them and start slicing them up.
By dancing about, luring them apart and rolling around enemies it is possible to best opponents a considerable amount of levels higher than you. Takes a bit of patience, but the enemy AI can, unfortunately, easily be played.
But these are very minor issues in a game that may just be the best I’ve ever played.
Away from the gameplay, the game’s presentation is slick and polished. The world of the Witcher is explained to new players via an animated intro at the start. As a nice touch, similar animations are played as you return to the game, recapping your adventures with Geralt thus far.
Complementing the superb visuals, the game’s orchestral soundtrack, is quite rousing, especially the vocal theme played during battle. It sounds exotic, and very fitting.
To say I had an amazing time with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is an understatement. With so much to do, questing, exploring, monster-hunting and even horse-racing, bare-knuckle brawling and playing the card game Gwent, I had serious trouble putting the game down.
But the story, with its open questing system was, for me, the game’s stand out success. The ability to choose my own adventure, knowing that my experience is going to be very different from anyone else playing, made my game special and increased my level of immersion into the Witcher’s world.
With The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, CD Projekt RED have given us the Witcher game that we always wanted. With this release the series has gone from being a must play for fans of the genre to a must play game for fans of games. I can’t recommend this game highly enough to anyone with a PC man enough to handle it. Xbox One and PlayStation 4 fans are in for a treat, as well.