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Review

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review

The hunter becomes the hunted.

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.

WitcherCiri

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.

WitcherMountain

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.

WitcherFire

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.

What’s Good

  • The best looking open-world game.
  • Quests are varied and well detailed.
  • Characters are complex with interesting stories.
  • Voice acting and soundtrack is fantastic.
  • Gwent!

What’s Bad:

  • Roach won’t stop spawning in idiotic places.
  • Horse combat gets tedious.
  • Button prompts need to be better.

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.

Score: 9/10

Version tested: PS4

16 Comments
  1. Kennykazey
    Member
    Since: Mar 2010

    Sounds like a great experience. I’ll definitely pick this up over the summer.

    Comment posted on 22/05/2015 at 09:35.
  2. Andrewww
    Member
    Since: Jan 2010

    Very good, thanks for the review. I’ll definitely get this at some point, especially as I finally manage to move on from Alien: Isolation, which kept me from playing anything else for months now.

    Comment posted on 22/05/2015 at 09:38.
    • Andrewww
      Member
      Since: Jan 2010

      I’ve actually just found out I’ll get it tonight..! :o)
      Am excited and can’t wait..!

      Comment posted on 22/05/2015 at 13:28.
  3. double-o-dave
    Member
    Since: Nov 2008

    I’m probably going to make enemies with this. :)

    Having not really played any AAA RPGs, I took a gamble on The Witcher & pretty much regret it. It seems that these are not my type of games which is pretty much my fault I guess. There are however several issues that bug me…

    Little rant coming up…

    *The first initial thing I’ve noticed is the character animation/movement. He’s probably the most wooden like & clumsy character I’ve seen this gen. In fact, he walks like he’s got a wooden pole stuck up his arse. Geralt’s movement is bloody AWFUL!!! I’d go as far to say, a major flaw which is ruining any immersion I have going into the game.

    In most games nowadays, the main protagonist seems to interact with his surroundings, weather & health etc, as far as Geralt is concerned, it feels like a step or leap backwards to me. There doesn’t seem to be any momentum or weight. Its just move – stand still, no slowing down / speeding up or inertia etc.

    I nearly threw the disc away after the very first scene where you have to race Ciri. I couldn’t control Gerald at all. I must have ran off a balcony and fell to my death about 10 times, then I couldn’t even get in the correct position to climb a bloody ladder.

    Secondly, as soon as I went to turn the camera with the right analog stick, I almost did a 360, its that sensitive. Hours later, I still can’t stand the feel of the camera.

    Thirdly, in my opinion, that is in no way the best looking open-world game. The graphics are ‘alright’ & impressive regarding its size, but not half as amazing as a lot of people seemed to make them out to be. They seem to excel in certain area’s, like trees in the distance, or the odd pretty sunset etc, but… I was amazed last night and even took a screenshot. I couldn’t believe how poor the graphics were in one of the chapters where you climb out the bath tub and wear a towel after first meeting up with the woman you’ve been tracking. There’s hardly any texture on Geralt’s skin and the lighting in the room is terrible. I’ve seen far better on the PS3. I’ll even go as far to prove it & post some screen shots when I get home tonight. :)

    Obviously it can’t compare to more linear games as it’s an open world, but I’d consider Assassins Creed Unity to be pretty big and filled with objects etc, and to me, it looks far superior when compared to The Witcher (although it is only 900p). Especially materials on the main characters outfits when you’re controlling him & so forth.
    I also thought GTA looks a hell of a lot better too, especially when you’re in the country side or desert.
    I almost forgot, Infamous as well, that seems far better looking too. The playable character models seem on another level to me comparing to The Witchers.

    Thats all I can comment on so far. I’ll give it another whirl later, but so far I’m not impressed, which is pretty much the norm with all these high scoring games.

    Comment posted on 22/05/2015 at 09:50.
    • BryOnRye
      Member
      Since: Jan 2009

      There is a slider in the options that allows you to reduce the sensitivity on the camera, that might make it a little easier to control for you.

      Comment posted on 22/05/2015 at 10:15.
    • JustTaylorNow
      Member
      Since: Oct 2011

      100% agree with everything you said!!!

      Comment posted on 22/05/2015 at 10:53.
      • double-o-dave
        Member
        Since: Nov 2008

        I’m glad it’s not just me then! ;)

        Comment posted on 22/05/2015 at 11:06.
    • Jones81
      Member
      Since: Mar 2010

      Please try to be more careful with spoilers. Maybe put the word SPOILER before talking about specific scenes/missions

      Comment posted on 22/05/2015 at 14:04.
      • double-o-dave
        Member
        Since: Nov 2008

        Sorry, point taken. Luckily it’s near the start & I wouldn’t of thought it will impact anyones experience. I did try and pretty much word it so only people who have literally got to that part know what I’m talking about.

        Very mild accidental spoiler alert – above ^

        Comment posted on 22/05/2015 at 16:22.
  4. BryOnRye
    Member
    Since: Jan 2009

    I’m only around half an hour into it but the stuttering on the cut scenes (which the start is mainly made up of) has put me off enough to wait for the next patch to come out.

    Comment posted on 22/05/2015 at 10:16.
  5. JustTaylorNow
    Member
    Since: Oct 2011

    “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.”

    That alone made the game poor & probably the first review I read to touch upon the combat. It’s a pretty game but far from a 9 (my opinion) skyrim is better. It reminds me of watch dogs you can’t get far without someone needing help. The health depletes quickly & when you eat the help only goes up a bit not a lot. I could go on but I will put more time as I am off today to see.

    Comment posted on 22/05/2015 at 10:50.
    • Carrot381
      Member
      Since: Dec 2013

      I had the same issue with the health until I realised that using potions not food is most effective. It took me a bloody hour of dying at the hands of a golem to work it out. Use potions then meditate to replenish :)

      Comment posted on 22/05/2015 at 11:15.
  6. Carrot381
    Member
    Since: Dec 2013

    I pretty much agree with the review.
    So far I’m loving this game, in fact it’s the first I’ve played since having my PS4 that has given me that ‘I’ll just do this then turn it off, oh bugger it’s 2am already’ experience.

    Comment posted on 22/05/2015 at 11:28.
  7. TSBonyman
    Member
    Since: Dec 2009

    Good review, sounds great and hopefully the patch will sort out most of the issues by the time i pick it up.

    Comment posted on 22/05/2015 at 11:58.
  8. matthangzhou
    Member
    Since: Sep 2010

    I am loving it. Couldn’t progress Gwent with the first character as it continuously crashed my game. Had better look with another character later on and enjoyed it.

    Got a week off work now and will plow some serious time into this!

    Comment posted on 22/05/2015 at 18:07.
  9. B_Cambo
    Member
    Since: Oct 2012

    Could not agree more with this review! I recently called Dragon Age Inquisition the best RPG that i had ever played because of the combat, open world and detailed side quests and charactors. But after sitting for the best part of 30 hours over the last two days consumed by The Witcher Wild Hunt it has really opened my eyes on what we should be looking for in RPGs. The majorly vast open world really puts DA Iq. To shame

    Could be here all day writing about everything that make this game great but even as I write now I feel compelled to stop and return to the witcher! Anyone who hasn’t bought this game are seriously missing out on a true gaming experience

    Comment posted on 24/05/2015 at 08:42.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
  • Developer:CD Projekt RED
  • Publisher:Bandai Namco
  • Platforms:PS4, Xbox One, PC
  • Release Date:19/05/15