The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a huge game and, due to that, our review isn’t quite ready for launch day. I’ve spent the first portion of my time with protagonist Geralt exploring the different activities there are on offer, as well as some of the more random events that occur within the world. And what a world it is full of intrigue, interesting characters, and well designed but occasionally revolting monsters.
One of the first things you’ll notice is how beautiful The Witcher 3 looks. There has been a recent controversy revolving around downgrading from the original trailers, but even if that is the case, this is one of the best looking open world games I have seen. The foliage is incredibly detailed with trees and plants swaying in the wind, and bodies of water shimmer as the sun hits them. I was impressed with Dragon Age: Inquisition but this beats it in the looks department.
It isn’t just the looks that the game deserves merit for; while the story so far is entertaining it is truly the draw of exploration that pulls you in. Riding around on Geralt’s horse, Roach, or just walking through one of the many villages, you never know what event will draw you in, regardless whether you can interact with it or not. Geralt isn’t a well loved hero come to save the world, but just one of many individuals making their mark on the land. The regular people are more concerned with their own problems, be it the Nilfgaardian demanding more from farmers or someone in the family passing away. You’ll only see snippets of these events and maybe an outcome if you happen to pass through the area again, but Geralt won’t get involved.
This makes The Witcher 3 a compelling place to wander in as a problem solver that the majority don’t like or appreciate. Much of my journey so far as Geralt has been spent walking the wilds, killing small beasts and destroying nests. Now and again though something will catch your attention through Witcher mode, activated by pressing L2, where Geralt’s senses are heightened. Important clues will appear in red while other items that can be interacted with appear in yellow.
I entered Witcher mode in a relatively quiet place where I didn’t expect anything to appear, but something caught Geralt’s eye. I walked over to find the body of a dog that had been mutilated by something. A moment later a new quest started called Contract: Shrieker. There was no need for me to go to a notice board in a village and find out more information before proceeding. Instead I began looking for more clues as to what did this, with Witcher mode highlighting some tracks to follow allowing Geralt to figure out what creature had caused the dog’s death.
In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, it is often inadvisable to run into a fight without preparation, as Geralt usually needs to concoct the right oil for his blade cause extra damage to the beast or drink potions to gain advantage in a fight. This requires reading the beastiary to get a better idea of what to expect, but I was caught up in the moment and drew the beast straight out of the place it hid without taking the required steps.
It was only by pure luck and a vast quantity of food consumption to restore health that got me through the fight, with a some usage of a crossbow too to stop the monster from flying around. Afterwards I looked at the quest entry and discovered the recommended character level was 7, and at the time my Geralt was only level 4. Each enemy and quest has a level. You can try and tackle a level 14 bandit with a level 5 Geralt, but in that instance the best course is to run. Geralt isn’t a powerful hero who can just take on anything – he may be more capable than most in this world, but there is a very real sense of danger.
I found myself in quite a few situations where a fight looked easy but was quickly overwhelming because enemies will attack you all at once if they get the chance. One example was stumbling into a fight between bandits and wolves. At first I didn’t notice the wolf pack bearing down on the camp, and when I did I ran. Some fights just aren’t worth losing a bit of progress over. There are quite a few bandit camps and monster nests dotted around, and you’re never too far away from a potential fight. Compared to The Witcher 2, the combat itself is much smoother and refined: Geralt moves faster and performs successive actions quicker. In fact fighting is one of the stand out improvements over Wild Hunt’s predecessor.
There’s another fun side activity outside of helping people and hunting monster, Gwent. Gwent is a card game in which you collect different characters and abilities, using them to battle opponents. There are four decks to build within Witcher 3, and you can win cards off merchants or other characters too. I’ve spent quite a bit of time scouring the land for rare cards to build my deck with, and everytime the option to play a game comes up I take it. A few games of Gwent can be pretty relaxing and also lucrative if you place the right wagers.
There are some issues that I’ve run into during my first foray into The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on PS4, which includes frame rate drops in a few areas. Swimming is also a bit tough to get a handle on due to the camera swinging around quite a bit underwater. Prompts to perform actions also only seem to appear at certain angles even when standing next to something that needs examining, which can be a little frustrating.
The opening hours of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt have started to convince me that the rest of the game will be a truly remarkable experience. This is a game where I have the itch to get back to it as soon as possible, letting it take my attention only to release it a few hours later when I realise how much time has passed. Just looking at the map fills me with both excitement and dread, because there is a ridiculous amount of locations still to explore and even more powerful monsters to fight. I’m ready to get lost in it all.