The immediate aftermath of slaying the Griffin sees Geralt entering a large city with his trophy, and here CD Projekt Red say that you’ll “fight with wits more than swords”. It’s a living, breathing city, beautiful and vibrant and sprawling a large area, which will react to the time of day, populated with dynamic AI. The entire world of Wild Hunt is similar, with stunning vistas and varied environments across a lively land.
Geralt has come to this town to claim some information, handing over the Griffin’s head in order to find out the location of a mysterious ashen-haired woman who he appears to be on a quest to find. He does not find his answers here, but is told of a childlike creature named Johnny who lives in the woods, and that he may know more of the mysterious girl.
The woods are a 15-20 minute ride away “at full gallop” according to CD Projekt Red which shows the immense scale of the world, filled with incredible attention to detail and impressive visuals, even if this was an optimised PC build rather than the console variants. Traversal also plays a big part in Wild Hunt, and aside from moving around on foot, Geralt is able to ride his horse through towns or even use basic climbing abilities to scale mountains, with no barriers. This should make getting around the massive world easy, but it’s not ideal in every situation.
Fast travel is available here, thankfully, so Geralt arrives in the wooded area in no time, and can immediately use his Witcher abilities to track down the creature. This creates a motion blur effect and highlights scents in red, and can actually be very useful as well as visually enticing.
Tracking is soon disrupted by bipedal swamp creatures, and the fluid combat comes into play. Although we’ve seen Geralt take on a large Griffin previously, the ground combat against beings of a similar size flows extremely well and seems quite different to tackling a large beast. Finishers are brutal, with limbs being sliced off and enemies being decapitated. Magic spells (known as Signs) can be used, or the environment can even play a part, where a beehive may be broken apart to distract enemies with swarming bees.
The Signs, as well as the swarm of bees, are used with stunning effect, with countless particles surrounding Geralt and his foes. It’s a really beautiful game, with no hint of slowdown and combat which flows brilliantly, compared to the clunkiness found in certain other RPGs.
In between bouts of combat and exploration, a story is weaved, with Geralt finding Johnny and leading to more mysterious encounters and choices. We don’t want to go too in-depth for fear of spoilers as this is clearly a very story-orientated game, but the use of branching narrative and tough choices seems to be a key point, and one which could be quite successful in approaching the same base narrative in different ways.
This leads onwards to Geralt tackling a Werewolf, which shows a more tactical side to the combat. Werewolves are strong beasts, and any attacks can be quite damaging, but by using a silver weapon you’ll be able to stop them from regenerating health and eventually take them down. This section of combat, atop a hill, looked quite incredible too, with the beast’s glowing eyes leaving light trails at close range, and the long-range view being just as impressive, with trees and mountains as far as the eye could see.
It’s clear that this is going to be a massive open world, with plenty of side quests alongside the main quest, which appears to revolve around this Ashen-haired girl. It will be a more personal story for Geralt, with a backdrop of war, which could be quite a fresh approach to an RPG of this nature. That won’t get in the way of the RPG elements though, as those – which include inventory customisation and upgrading of spells – remain a core part of the experience.
From what we’ve seen so far, The Witcher 3 appears to encompass a rich and expansive world, which could make for some fantastic storytelling that should appeal to newcomers and series veterans. With distinct creatures such as Johnny alongside a talking tapestry and more traditional beasts such as the werewolf, Wild Hunt is populated with creatures which are as exciting as the world they inhabit.
Full disclosure: Everyone who attended the demonstration for The Witcher 3 was presented with a free limited edition statue. We tried to fly ours back to the UK, but some foolish baggage handler managed to break Geralt’s arm off. RIP.