Slayin’ it | The Witcher 3 Review
The folks over at CD Projekt RED have been carefully crafting the tale of Geralt of Rivia since The Witcher, the first entry into the series in 2007. While it did have some issues with its pacing and various other qualms, it did more than enough to take away hundreds of hours and supplant you into the world of The Witcher. With the release of “Assassins of Kings,” we were given tighter gameplay with an even more beautiful world. And, as it should be, “Assassins of Kings” was better in just about every aspect. The issues with The Witcher’s combat were quickly dismissed in its second offering. While “Assassins of Kings” was great, there was still much improvement to be had. And improvement is undoubtedly what we were given with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
What’s instantly apparent when firing up The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is that the title is absolutely gorgeous, which should come as no surprise. The vistas are as breathtaking as you’d hope as you peer out over the politically torn land below, and the weather changes will have you in awe as you watch the sunny day turn cold and stormy. Each area is vastly different from the last. From the woodlands of Velen, to the sprawling city hub of Novigrad all the way to the scattered frozen islands of Skellige, each location has its own environment. Further fleshing out the world are the very real NPCS.
The folks in the cities are surrounded with an aura of privilege, whereas those in Skellige give off the hard-working cold vibe; the feeling that perfectly encompasses where they reside. It feels as if each character actually lives within the city and not just a place marker. The power of choice further develops the believability of the lands where you’ll spend upward of 100 hours. But, an RPG can truly only excel if its combat is up to par. And, without a doubt, The Witcher 3’s combat is exciting, bloody and most importantly, it’s fun.
If you’ve played the series up until now, you’re sure to understand just how far the series has come in this department. The Witcher had pretty boring combat, mainly utilizing a two click combat system, which was the more aggravating thing in an otherwise fantastically large title. The Witcher 2 presented us a smaller world (smaller being a relative term because it was still huge) but a more refined combat system. It was quite a leap over the previous system, but it was far too rolly for me. Diving in and out of combat felt weird as the supposed all-powerful Geralt of Rivia. But finally, The Witcher 3 created a great combat system for those that favored swords or sign casting.
Parrying finally makes sense in this title, and while some have problems with the targeting system, I played with a controller on PC and didn’t even need to use it once. SImilar to other titles, though, getting swamped by a handful of drowners can prove deadly, especially early on. Using oils and potions is essential, and thankfully CDPR made the change where we didn’t have to mediate to use them. You can use potions at will and oils when out of combat, a nice change from the previous entries.
The most obvious change, however, is once you start progressing through the skill tree on either signs or blades. I chose the blade since I favored the signs in the last title, and boy what a treat it was. When your adrenaline points went up, which occurs from doling out damage and not being damaged yourself, you can automatically perform limb-splitting moves. We’re not talking simply an arm or a leg, more like splitting a guy completely in two or watching a nice-quick animation where Geralt spins around and slices an enemies head clean off. Visceral is a word used far too often in video game media, but it perfectly describes what takes place when you level up your blade skill, even ever so slightly. At the later tiers you get a move for your fast attack where you can hold it, if you have enough stamina, and Geralt will whirl around and slice into anything and everything in his path. The strong attack tier allows you to thrust downward with a powerful blow completely mitigating an enemy’s defenses, oh and usually splitting him in two.
The signs, of which I didn’t level-up much, were similar to previous titles. But, they did come along with some nice animations, especially for Aard and Igni. Aard is the closest to a Jedi push that we will ever get outside of a Star Wars title, and it comes with a nice woosh. Igni lights enemies on fire, causing them to lower the defenses while screaming in agony. But, it’s how the signs work together that makes the combat so exciting. You can use Igni to light a barrel on fire and then use Aard to catapult it into a group of enemies. Such a fun and unique way to add a little strategy into combat.
Although you will only spend maybe 4-5 hours controlling her, it’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Ciri. As revealed leading to its release, you get to play as a character other than Geralt for the first time in the series, and what a first time it was. Ciri, with Elder Blood flowing through her veins, has some almighty powers. She can “blink” across the battlefield and slash through her foes. She also has the ability to charge and strike, as well as channeling her entire stamina bar in a flurry of slashes as she slices through any enemy within her radius. The juxtaposition between her battle style and Geralt’s was a nice change of pace, and hopefully it makes a return in a much larger capacity in the future.
The story in The Witcher 3 attempts to be as grandiose as previous titles, which is quite the hefty target. It doesn’t necessarily reach those heights; although, it is still better than about 95% of “campaigns” out there. The search for Ciri becomes a continent spanning epic that weaves in and out of various storylines from the past. With Geralt one step behind, the cat and mouse game is further emphasized when you get to play as Ciri, a serious first. Let’s just say that playing as Ciri was so fun that I sincerely hope that they make a title where she is the lead. The main quest line features a hodgepodge of old characters and new, and for the most part it is exciting up until its end; although, it isn’t flawless.
But, the reason I felt the main story took a hit is how great the majority of the secondary and other minor quests are. CDPR has always been great at implementing quests the run alongside the main story, but they’ve taken it to another level here. Whether it’s finding sunken treasure for your Skellige mates or deciding whether to kill or run off a Leschen, each of these quests are engaging and lengthy. Certain secondary quests can last a good 15-20 minutes. Fully-fleshed out scenarios bring the world to life and make you want to veer off the beaten path and tackle some monster hunting on the side. But, the only “issue” with this is losing focus on what is happening with the main quest line.
There’s something about what CDPR does in the graphics department that is just so exciting. Yes, the pure visuals are stunning, but what really make me giddy and forces a stupid grin around my face is the way that sound is incorporated with the visuals. A crescendo occurs as you become closer and closer to battle and comes full on as the conflict ensues. Just running across the terrain, you hear various sounds in the distance. Walking through the politically strained novigrad you can hear its citizens spit in disgust. While venturing through a village you saved, you are greeted with cheers. But, one song in particular is so quality that I will post it below. The idea that CDPR took so much time in the sound department shows their ability to craft an entire world that is only matched by a developer or two.
It’s really something when you search down a song featured in a video game. Yes, after 85-90 hours, certain songs can get a little droning, but I’m certain just about anything would after that time. If you love music in games, you can’t go wrong with what CDPR developed for The Witcher 3.
Now, we come to the open-world discussion. The first title was the most open-world type of each of these games (Note that I didn’t say the largest). The Witcher 3 easily feels like the most grandiose of the trio, but it’s important to note that you can only travel so far until a map comes up, prompting you to fast travel to a location of your choosing. Personally, this didn’t bother me one bit as it would take far too long to even try to travel from one hub-ish location to the other. Also, the fact that loading times don’t exist when traveling within the same region makes this a non-issue. While it would have been nice for them to make it completely traversable, their decision to make insanely large hubs was easily the correct one.
A feature that, while not necessarily new, that was greatly expanded upon is Geralt’s Witcher sense. Whereas in The Witcher 2 it would simply help you devise the location of certain objects, now it’s a legitimately great mechanic. The Witcher sense is introduced extremely early on and was shown of to those of you that watched the first Girffin encounter promos. Geralt becomes a Sherlock Holmes of sorts and now uses his Witcher sense to follow trails and uncover clues to complete quests. The further development of the Witcher sense could have gone horribly awry, but it worked perfectly and was a great mechanic that worked to enhance the quests.
It’s one of those games within a game that can honestly be pulled out and sold as its own product. Yes, it’s that good. I would fast travel to locations just to play Gwent against opponents to help build my deck. Often times, I would search out and play game after game after game. And this is really saying something, especially considering I generally don’t enjoy PC-based card games.
The game is setup where each person receives 10 cards (11 with a certain faction perk) and the goal is to beat your opponent by having a higher score on the board. But, you must win two rounds in total, therefore, sometimes it’s best to throw the towel in for one round to capitalize in the next two. Gwent is relatively straightforward for the first few hands, but once you get to opponents later in the game, they have some devastating cards that provide some serious strategizing to overcome. But, after a win, you do get the spoils of a new card to play with. Check out Rafael Jaki and Damien Monier of CDPR explain the ins and outs of Gwent.
So how does it run?
PC titles vary wildly from sublime ports to being tossed out there with little to no polish. But, I’m happy to say that The Witcher 3 runs extremely well. The title very rarely creeped below the 60 FPS mark at 1080p with the majority of options on ultra (a few on high), sans hairworks which is a resource hog. As for crashes, I only had two in my 95 hours with the game. One was a complete freeze up where I had to restart my PC; the other only forced me to close the application. However, both of them occurred before the most recent patch. I can’t mention on how K+B and mouse are as I used my DS4 via DS4Tool. The awesome part was being able to map 4 signs to swipes on the touchpad, quick save to a click on the left side of the touch pad and the map to the right side.
CPU: Intel Core i7 4790K @ 4.00GHz
Motherboard: AsRock Z97 Anniversary
GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970