To think that I wasn’t even supposed to get The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. I tried playing the first 2 games but there was always something making me stop. I never really got if it was because of the weird UI or the clunky combat, but I could never enjoy those games and stopped playing after only a few hours. But fate, or my PC hardware addiction, dropped a free copy of The Witcher 3 in my lap with the purchase of my new video card. Heck, even then, I wasn’t sure if I was even going to play it. But then a lot of my favorite game reviewers came out with their opinions on the game. Rarely had I ever seen such enthusiastic applause for a new release. So I stepped over my preconceived ideas, and decided to give the game a try. Here are my thoughts.
The story so far…
For those who are not familiar with the Witcher series, taking on the huge storyline and understanding the lore can be quite daunting. Most characters are already established and have a rapport between each other that I didn’t follow at the beginning. Characters often reminisce about the old times and in order to understand their reflections, I found myself reading through paragraphs of character bios in the game menu. Although it did help me understand better what was going on, you are very much just thrown out there, assuming that you already understand everything that’s happening in the world. However, it did not diminish my enjoyment of the game. If anything, the cleverly placed hints and previous story references make understanding the story behind the story actually quite fun and rewarding. To make things even easier, the premise for the first 20 or so hours of the game is rather basic: you are looking for your daughter (or not really) called Ciri, who is running away from a band of supernatural, dimension travelling beings called The Wild Hunt. Simple, but effective. Soon however, we discover that there’s a lot more to it and that the story is much more complex that we might think. One of the most interesting things I noticed is the seemingly non-existent “main” quest. Don’t get me wrong, you have a main goal, but there’s many quests to do in order to achieve that goal. But the genius resides in how you complete those quests. There’s no set order in which you need to do them to advance the story. The game seems to adjust itself and its story, depending on the choices you make and which quests you decide to face first. This caught me off guard at some points, and I actually had to load up old saves and try different paths just to see where it would lead me. The end result remains the same, but how you get there is totally up to you.
The story and how it’s told wouldn’t be anything without the characters. The voice acting, even for the smallest role, is delivered in an interesting and meaningful way. Never did I think to myself, “Well, this guy is clearly phoning it in today”, and that’s quite rare for a game this massive. Each of the main characters that I have played so far, are interesting in their own way. Though I don’t know the characters as well as someone who has played the first 2 games, I’m still already attached to most of them. The character of Ciri in particular was designed masterfully to have just enough innocence and power that you love her and respect her at the same time. As for the main character, Geralt, you can kind of manipulate the personality he has. Choose between a heartless Witcher looking for his reward at the end of a contract, or a more kind-hearted person, who refuses money, for the benefit of others.
So many things to do, with so much time to do it
There’s plenty of things to do in the Witcher universe. The map is quite large and filled with many points of interests that are marked as a question mark (?). The points of interest vary from bandit camps to clear, to full on dungeons, each offering rewards based on the difficulty. Completely clearing the map is a massive undertaking, as they are hundreds of them scattered throughout the map. Simply finishing the ones in the tutorial starting zone took me a good 7-8 hours of work. The good thing is that you will never run out of things to do and places to see, but the downside is that you might be immensely over leveled for your main quest, making them almost trivial to complete. There’s 3 different types of quests in the game. You have your main quests, which advances the storyline. There are secondary quests, that simply serve as filler and offer interesting rewards. Lastly you have the contracts quests, where a villager hires your service has a Witcher to take down a particularly difficult foe. I feel contracts tend to get a bit redundant, mostly following the same pattern of ask questions, scout a designated area using your Witcher senses (not unlike detective mode in Arkham games) and then defeat the named creature before collecting your reward.
However, defeating said creature can prove difficult. Geralt has quite an arsenal of weapons, crossbow, and magic signs that vary from telekinetic blast to mind influencing enemies, but the issues doesn’t reside there. The thing is, controlling Geralt can prove difficult and sometimes downright impossible. He has the slowest, most unnecessarily long turning animation I’ve ever seen in a video game. I understand that CDProjekt Studio wanted to keep the motion realistic, but in doing so, they made Geralt very hard to control. During some of the inevitable underwater portions, it’s frustratingly hard to make him go where you want to. You are often being attacked underwater and you have no way of defending yourself. Combine this with some janky controls and you have a very frustrated Simon wanting to throw his controller out the window. However, I did notice a huge difference when playing with an Xbox controller, rather than mouse and keyboard. So if you are playing on PC, plug in your PS4 or Xbox controller and give it a try, I think you’ll find it’s much easier to deal with.
Even though it has its flaws, the Witcher 3 is a wonderful game, one that has got me hooked from the first few minutes of playing. Marathon gaming sessions into the wee hours of the morning have been quite rare for the past few years for me, but as I finish writing this, it’s currently 2:30 AM and I just finished killing a Wyvern. It’s easily my favorite RPG to come out over the last few years and is, in my opinion, a very strong contender for game of the year, even though we are only halfway through. So go ahead, do yourself a favor and get this game, it’s worth every penny. Damn it feels good to be a Witcher.