Roaring through the countryside of Velen on my trusty steed Roach, I jump off my horse after beheading a bandit as he attempts to kill a poor farmer and his family. Two more bandits approach from the bushes. I roll to the side, cast my fire spell Igni at the taller one, flames erupt from my hand, he clutches his burning face as I tear into the smaller one, cutting him in half. As the burnt bandit starts to collect himself, it’s too late. I chop his left arm off and drive my blade into his chest. The farmer approaches me and asks my name. “Geralt, of Rivia.” I reply. “I am a Witcher.”
Witcher 3 is almost the near perfect adventure. The flaws are few and minor and barely stay with you during the 120+ hour journey. Not only was this my favourite game of 2015, it might very well be my favourite game ever made. It’s just that good.
Released during May of 2015, I’ve had quite the time to enjoy my adventure with Geralt and his companions, some of which return from the previous entries in the series, and some that are new to the franchise. With Hearts of Stone, the first expansion pack recently made available, I wanted to make sure I had a review up of the main adventure, The Wild Hunt, before I dived into reviewing Hearts of Stone.
Witcher 3 is superb in everything from its storytelling, its characters, the locales you will visit on your journey, to its adult themes and its carefully crafted set pieces. Each cog in the machine of Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is precision cut and well oiled. You can tell that everything in Witcher 3 has a purpose and a very hand crafted approach to its detail.
The visuals in this game are astounding. The game has some of the best looking characters and environments so far this generation. You can get lost in the beauty of your surroundings, making racing through them almost painful as you just want to stop and take it all in. The main characters in the game easily have the best models and detail, but even smaller role characters and those in the background are extremely well modelled. This is truly a benchmark title for visuals considering the sheer scope of the game. Day and night cycles drastically change the way you traverse through the lands, and the weather effects are just downright gorgeous.
The acting in this game is some of the best voice work in any medium. I came across an overturned cart on a random road on my way to an objective when I saw blood all over the ground. After finding a note on the nearby body, I found her next of kin to relay the sad news. Even for the few lines of dialogue the poor man had, the sadness in his voice was so well conveyed. I don’t know who ran their voice work studio over there, but they are easily the master of their craft. Another strong case of solid voice acting is the Bloody Baron. His voice fits beyond perfect for this character and is a huge stand out for this game. Geralt’s voice actor is fantastic as well, and despite Geralt not having a lot of emotions, due to being a Witcher, you can see the subtly in to what he can convey emotionally. Other characters like Triss, Yennefer and Ciri are fantastic and a joy to listen to.
While the game does rely on you having a bit of the history of the past games or books to fully understand some of the events or characters from the series, it does do a fine job of guiding you through the dense history of what came before it. Characters are fully explained, their back stories packed, and with the stunning voice acting, you genuinely care for them at each and every turn. There is also a feature packed glossary built in the game that does a great job of explaining quite a bit of who these people are. I’ve recommended to people unfamiliar with the series to catch up via videos on YouTube that take you through the first 2 games in a few minutes, that or just go play them, they are both fantastic. The first game is only available on PC, where Witcher 2 is available on PC and Xbox 360. If you have the retail copy of Witcher 2 for Xbox 360, it is backwards compatible with Xbox One.
This game comes stamped with a mature rating for not only its use of violence and adult themes, but for its vast use of sex and nudity. There are a few characters in the game that Geralt can have relations with, and the nudity is pretty much limited to the chest or the rear. It’s a lot tamer than how Game of Thrones approaches their adult content and not something nearly as gratuitous as Grand Theft Auto. Its mature rating is just that, mature, as the game treats you like an adult. It’s refreshing to see a game take its intended audience seriously and treat them as so. I often felt the Fable series could have been something truly amazing had it not had the childish humour it often leaned on.
The main story in Witcher 3 starts with Ciri, the surrogate daughter of Geralt. She has gone missing, and you start out on an adventure to track her down. As you trek across the absolute massive world that the game offers you, you’ll come across some of the most detailed and well executed characters and locations ever produced for a game. The Bloody Baron, a particular favourite of mine, has easily the best side quest in the game. His quest is deeply emotional and depending on the choices you make, heart breaking. It’s also worth noting that this side quest is longer than most entire games. Witcher 3 allows you choice in a few key areas of the game that lead to drastically different outcomes. Unlike most games that boast this as a key feature, Witcher 3’s choices actually lead to very different endings that leave the world and its characters in very different states.
A few times in the game you will swap to play as Ciri, showing the side of her story that Geralt is trying to piece together. Ciri is vastly over powered, so access to her is very limited. Later on near the completion of the campaign, you really get to cut loose and just explore the pure chaos that she is.
As Geralt, you’ll have access to silver and steel swords. The steel sword is more effective against people, where the silver sword is designed for killing monsters. One feature that is built into the fiction of Witcher, is oils. You can find various oils to apply to your sword that assist in the damage output of whatever creature the oil is made for. I had some trouble with an ancient vampire in a tomb, and after applying an oil that was made to hurt vampires, he fell with ease. On harder difficulties the oil is pretty much essential.
You’ll be able to use a crossbow and various bombs that you can craft that each have devastating effects. Dragon’s Dream bombs are fun as they release a gas that ignites when combined with fire for explosive results. You can jump back, roll, and use various spells to your advantage. I normally swapped between Igni, which is a fire spell, and Aard, which is like a force push attack. When I would get swarmed by groups of bandits, I usually used Axii to take control of one or two of the bandits to turn them temporarily to my side. Quen allows you to create a force field around yourself. I never really used this one as much, but I can see that it could be useful for sure. Rounding out the spells is Yrden, a magic trap that harms anything that steps into it.
The combat is extremely fluid and easy to master. Pulling off a spell to roll into another enemy to attack with your sword is super simple. You’ll see visual queues from some monsters in regard to what attack they are about to do. Fighting a huge spider in a damp cave, I was able to roll out of the way at the last second each and every time I needed to. While you don’t roll over enemies or attack them with their own weapons like in the Batman games, I found this combat system to be far superior and more rewarding. Fighting on a ledge and using Aard to force push enemies off the cliff is extremely fun and satisfying.
You’re able to gather crafting materials and various ingredients to create items, gear, and potions. Most of the items you’ll find are either at shop-keeps, on the bodies of the fallen, or by dismantling items in the crafting menu. You’ll also need to seek out craftsmen in villages to craft armour and weapons for you. There are side quests in the game that allows you to level up a pair or tradesmen to master status, allowing them to create far better gear for you.
Another great piece of content in the game is the addictive card game called Gwent. Using a 3 lane system to set your cards up for attack, it’s extremely well designed. I’ve never been one for card games like this, but Gwent is a lot of fun. The 3 lanes are designed for either close range, mid range, or far range. You can use weather cards to shut down the attack power of a lane, or a power card to boost your cards attack power. These simple concepts can lead to some close matches and some great nail biting final rounds. If you were lucky enough to get the collectors editions offered, the Xbox One kit came with physical cards for some real life Gwent matches. The current expansion pack also includes a set of physical decks should you be able to get one.
CD Projekt Red has also made available over a dozen free downloadable goodies in your various game shop. Everything from variety in your gear, to more hair or beard styles, to some new quests to complete, all free. There is an expansion pack pass for $24.99 that offers 2 side stories that total over 30+ hours of game-play. Hearts of Stone is out now and I am currently playing through it, with a review to come shortly after this one. Spoilers, ut’s really good.
I can’t get enough of this game. The combat is fast, fluid and easy to get the hang of. Riding around the countryside on Roach is a blast, and I found I rarely wanted to use the fast travel option as you experience so many random events on the road that I’d take the long way just to see what I could stumble across. Witcher 3 isn’t perfect, there are some subtle movement issues, minor glitches, and getting caught on parts of the level geometry is annoying. I also wish your horse, Roach, could jump over fences. For a game that can be fast paced, the 3rd person camera keeps up really well and was rarely an issue.
There are just so many great quests and characters in this game. Everything from killing ancient vampires, bringing a lost goat back to its master, to creatures playing practical jokes and forest children who want you to track down their lost voice. You’ll stop in every village and talk to everyone looking for some new adventure to tackle, play a game of Gwent, or you’ll stumble across a crying child only to be set up for an ambush from the trees. Poor Bandits though.. I tend to just set them on fire and then cut off a limb or two.
It’s tough work being a Witcher, but the pay is good. Mostly.