I don’t know where to go next as the land stretches out before Geralt. I could follow the path I’m already on accompanied by my faithful horse, Roach. Or I could make Geralt get in a boat and sail towards an island that sits off the coast, with mysteries yet to uncover. Another option is to walk into the woods and hunt down a monster that has been terrorising a local village; putting an end to it for a fee of course. In the end it doesn’t matter where I choose to take Geralt because there will always be something waiting.
I mentioned in my Road To Review that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a huge game, and even after spending days in the boots of Geralt I still haven’t come close to discovering everything that the vast map holds. With a lot of open world games there can be a feeling that a lot of the space is empty, used to pad out the size and playtime. That feeling is not present within Wild Hunt because of how the world has been crafted by CD Projekt RED, and the density of the little villages, swamps and woodland that populate it.
Nor do any of these feel empty, with villages having their own problems playing out, some that you can get involved with by, for example, helping to solve an arson case. Others you can’t have direct influence over but they’re still fascinating to observe as they play out, like seeing a husband and wife argue over whether they should comply with an order laid down by the army. Instances like this transforms the game’s world from an open playground to a place where events matter, and choices have real consequences.
This is down to the characters of Witcher 3: Wild Hunt; both the main cast as well as the smaller side characters. Each one I’ve interacted with so far has been memorable and has more depth to them than first impressions would give. I’ve made judgements of characters only to be surprised about the secrets and emotions they hide underneath the impression given to the wider world. There aren’t cartoon villains and unambiguously morally-just heroes, but individuals who you may agree with on one thing then disagree on something else straight after.
At the centre of all of this is Geralt of Rivia, witcher for hire. Though Geralt has a reputation he isn’t seen as a hero by the majority of people. Instead some see him as welcome help while some as a necessary evil to keep even worse things at bay. You won’t walk through the land with people shouting phrases of adulation, but instead a lot of the time people will be hostile and outright xenophobic. Geralt doesn’t really let such attitudes get to him because he is used to it, and besides there are jobs to do and people to find.
The side quests are just as well crafted as the main plot, where some will require Geralt to interrogate people to solve a mystery, such as one about a missing frying pan which in turn uncovers a far bigger plot, or you can get involved with a lover’s tiff that turns ugly. Even the instances that pop up within the world have their own mini stories that can be crafted for them. For example you’ll see a broken cart with bodies around it while some people pick at it. It isn’t a big leap to realise that a group of army deserters have hit a supply cart and killed everyone to get the provisions.
The whole world is littered with events that occur due to the fallout of the major war that is the backdrop for everything else. They also shed more light on the issues that occur such as elves being persecuted or a monster not realising he is a danger to people, with his goal wanting to be part of the army to help out in anyway he can. No two side quests repeat a generic formula, or at least they don’t feel like they do.
Geralt is an interesting character in his own right but he is not the most mysterious. Instead that title falls to his old ward and daughter by choice, Ciri, who disappeared long ago. The main plot of the game focuses on Geralt searching for Ciri who herself is on the run from The Wild Hunt, a group of spectres that take people and curse them to join the Chorus of the Damned. You don’t learn much about Ciri at first but as the plot moves forward her story is told through flashbacks.
Instead of cutscenes filling the story in, these flashbacks have you take control of Ciri which allows you to form a better bond with her. She’s a stand out character amongst a cast of exceptional co-stars, and is fun to control in the brief moments her life is directly placed in your hands. Her running animation is a bit odd though, almost dainty, which clashes against her personality of someone who is anything but. In a fight she is much quicker than Geralt, in part thanks to her ability to teleport short distances, making Geralt’s own roll dodge seem a bit cumbersome.
Combat is a vast improvement over The Witcher 2, with moves being easier to execute and manoeuvuring considerably faster in general. That isn’t to say it is perfect as there are problems when involved in a fight. Locking on isn’t a requirement but doing so makes a battle feel easier to control. Enemies will attack from all sides though so locking on will mean sacrificing the ability to see an enemy charging at you from off screen. Normal fighting is fine in its own right but it can sometimes be hard to judge a distance between Geralt and an enemy, leaving his sword cutting through the air.
You can’t just rely on your sword to kill these beasts either but instead will be advised to read the beastiary Geralt carries. This encyclopaedia of monsters gives you information about where they come from and their weaknesses, so you can prepare better for a fight. This will mean crafting gear and also mixing up ingredients to create potions and oils in alchemy.
The potions help to improve Geralt’s stats or abilities but also contain amounts of toxin. If you drink too many potions they will poison Geralt and sap away at his health eventually killing him. Oils are used to make weapons more effective against monsters, with different oils being useful against different types. You only need to craft these items once, and these can be replenished by meditating. You will have to find the ingredients in the wild, by looting places, or buying them from merchants. Some items are incredibly hard to find though and others will be out of reach of Geralt’s finances for a while.
Melee weapons aren’t all you’ll need in a fight. Geralt can craft bombs to stun enemies or a crossbow to hit a flying foe, though these aren’t as important as Signs. Signs are abilities activated through a witcher’s minor affinity for magic. Witchers are nowhere near as powerful as sorceresses but the magic still helps. The signs allow Geralt to set things on fire by way of Igni, cast a protective shield using Quen, blast objects and enemies down via Aard, set a magical trap by casting Yrden, or take control of someone’s mind via Axii.
Spending ability points on these early, especially Quen, helps to give an edge in a fight which can be decided by effective casting should your sword fail or break. Yes, your weapons and armour can weaken from over-use so carrying some repair kits is advisable. Otherwise you should hope there is a blacksmith nearby who can repair your equipment, though you’ll need money to pay for that. Money is actually pretty hard to save up within Witcher 3 as you pay for better equipment, food to restore health, or repairs. Even Witcher contracts aren’t as lucrative as you expect.
While Geralt will collect small rewards for odd jobs the Witcher contracts are his main income, and there are a lot of creatures people will pay to have rid of. Far from being outright linear missions such contracts can either be picked up from a notice board, or you may run into a dangerous creature activating the contract anyway. In each area of trouble you’ll hunt for clues using Witcher mode, which highlights clues in the area be it a body, a noise, or a scent. At the end of these trails is a creature of some kind that either has to be killed, or made to disappear in another way.
All missions and creatures have a level with some low and easy to kill, while others will prove way too much early on in the game for Geralt. For example just the other day I was riding along a path and noticed a griffin in the distance circling above the road. At first I saw opportunity for a potential contract and quickly regretted it as the creature’s level was almost 20 above my own stat. It killed Geralt within two hits. Even low level enemies can be dangerous if there is a group of them charging at you, and they can cut you down just as well as any griffin.
As mentioned in my previous article about Witcher 3: Wild Hunt there have been issues with frame rate dips, especially in cutscenes. The text also appears a bit small and hard to read at times too. However CD Projekt Red has confirmed it is working on a patch to fix these issues. Outside of those The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is easily among the best looking games to have released this generation, with the lighting being spot on, the character models looking detailed with brilliant expressive faces, and the world itself looks seamless.
Watching as the day turns to dusk with the sun’s light casting an orangish glow on everything it touches is mesmerisingly beautiful. Even the actions and results of a fight are visually pleasing, if gory, for example seeing Geralt cut a monster in half with one swing of his blade and then moving straight on to another without giving that move a second thought. The enemies themselves range from looking monstrously elegant to revoltingly horrifying, with everything in between. You may find an enemy design disturbing but you’re not going to forget it in hurry.
The soundwork is also fantastically composed within The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The voice acting is expressive with the actors able to expertly convey anything from joy, sarcasm, excitement, to sombreness. Couple this work with the expressive faces and the characters become people you either care for or revile. The environmental sounds are also well done from the sound of hooves clacking on stone, to the wind blowing or rain crashing down into the ground. Animals and monsters keep you on edge with noises they make, even if you can’t see any nearby.
The soundtrack itself is memorable too providing battle music that adds tension to fights, and more upbeat folky music in areas that you can relax in. I actually found myself halting in such areas so I could hear a particular song play out. The music activates at perfect times and fades outs to play quietly in the background. The soundtrack is definitely a contender for best of the year.
Outside of your time killing monsters, chatting to individuals, or helping an old lady find a frying pan, Geralt can indulge in a game of Gwent. Gwent is a card game that takes cues from things such as Hearthstone, Magic The Gathering, and the Pokemon card game. There are four decks to build, done so by buying cards or winning them off opponents. Games of Gwent follow a best out of three round structure with the rules quite easy to follow.
At the beginning of a game you choose which deck to play with and ten cards will be randomly drawn, two of which can be re-picked if you so desire. Cards fall into close combat, range, siege, and special cards. Each of the cards, bar most specials, have a strength rating and to win a round you need to have the highest strength total. You can only use the ten cards that were drawn throughout the rounds, unless an ability allows you to draw, making it a very tactical game. It’s also incredibly fun and every time the opportunity comes up to play an opponent I take it.
A major issue I do have with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the way horse riding works, or in some cases doesn’t. There’s a mechanic in the game that allows for Roach to follow a path automatically, but sometimes he will just veer off into a random place. You can also summon Roach to you but this doesn’t always work well either. On quite a few occasions where the horse has spawned only to get stuck in a place unable to navigate out. In these moments I’ve had to walk away then summon again so Roach can respawn in a better area.
The on-horse combat isn’t as exciting as it could be either due to the almost random luck of being able to hit an opponent as you gallop towards them. Such fights start out exciting but quickly become tedious as you and the other horse riding enemy pass each other again, unable to strike once more. There is also an issue with button prompts not always registering or not appearing unless you’re looking at a thing from a specific angle even if you’re standing right next to it. Hopefully CD Projekt RED can fix that in a later patch.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is easily one of the most engrossing games I’ve had the chance to play. The story and characters are well worth the experience alone, and the world expertly draws on the desire to explore with its massive scale. You never know what will greet you or beat you just a few seconds down the path, and that’s what is exciting about this game. There are some issues that will need to be improved. The combat is better than the Witcher 2 but isn’t quite there either, but The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the first game in a while that has held my attention for so long that I don’t notice the time pass. CD Projekt Red haven’t just created a great game but a modern gaming masterpiece.
Version tested: PS4