The Way We Were Is How We Will Be
Do you ever start playing a game and right before you start, you wonder just how the next three to five minutes are going to play out? There’s excitement, dismay, fear, fandom, rage, and numerous other emotions that play in you head in the one second before you start. We’ve all felt it before playing certain games, or perhaps even reading a game review. I definitely had those feelings right before starting The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt .
My lack of experience with the series, the fact there is literally nothing engaging to play right now, and the amount of hype surrounding this title all rolled together in that one second before playing (ok, more than a few seconds due to load times). So to say The Witcher 3 had a lot riding on its shoulders before I even started the game. The real point isn’t the obvious one that this is a huge game, it’s that The Witcher 3 delivers in a way I was not expecting, and after years of doing this, I still find these pleasant surprises the best part of the work I do.
For those unfamiliar (yes, all two of you), The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt centers around Geralt of Rivia and his personal quest to reunite with those he holds dear, while also dealing with the powerful and mysterious Wild Hunt that pursues them. Yep, it’s really that clear cut. Some critics have commented that the depth of The Witcher 3’s plot is a bit thin. Here’s the thing though. The beauty of this game, and most RPGs in general, is that you can find the most depth in the stories of the other characters you encounter.
I remember a few years ago when I was playing through Mass Effect 3 . At the time I felt that the engagement and depth to the surrounding characters was the best you can find in gaming. I was really wrong. While the main story for Geralt is not as original as some people might have wanted or expected , the stories you encounter out in the world are the kinds of moving, character driven tales that most television shows and movies fail to do appropriately.
For example, there is one story that starts out as a simple missing person quest (in fact most of them start out as simple-looking Witcher contracts), but as you peel back the layers of the story you start to discover the darker motives behind that person’s disappearance. Then it goes an extra step. Instead of making things black and white, to have you hate or simply kill the person who appears to be the “bad guy,” you have the choice to humanize them and hear how things got so out of control. Yes it is easy to just damn that person for what they did, and most games would simply have you kill them. But in The Witcher 3 , it’s up to you to decide on how Geralt will address the twisted situations he encounters. Should you take a side and fight for what you think is right, or should you be the dispassionate monster hunter and let everybody stew in their own juices? It’s this type of powerful engaging story that seems to be missed in a lot of today’s decision-based games.
No matter what you choose, the ultimate story is laid in front of you as though your choice was exactly how it was intended to be. It is a masterful stroke by CD Projekt to make you feel like you are in ultimate control of even the small side stories in the world. For another example, you come across a hunter who has been searching for his wife for nearly five days. All the townspeople are saying if they were lost in the forest they are dead, hell, even the hunter says this, but you agree to help. Here’s the thing though, while on your quest to find the wife, her sister shows up and tells you to call off the quest. You get the feeling that there is something between the sister and the husband, but in the end you can choose to call off the hunt or learn more… and that more leads to a situation in which you’ll have to choose whether to damn the sister or the husband. All three solutions to the quest are potentially the right choice, it’s all up to how you’re role-playing Geralt and which choice you feel is best. It’s these nuanced choices that I feel The Witcher 3 excels at more than any game I have played before.
Of course, there’s more to this huge open-world game than just the stories. You’ll be getting into plenty of fights with monsters and belligerent humans alike. Overall the combat is very fluid. It’s a fast-paced action system with fast and strong attacks, but without complicated combos. Geralt seems to be more Erol Flynn than a steeled combatant who has lived for nearly a century, but it still works. The mixture of magic (“Witcher signs”) being so readily available also spruces things up quite a bit. In short, it lives up to the kind of fast and furious combat that gamers tend to love, but looks can be deceiving, especially for newcomers (more on that later).
Geralt’s adventure goes from good to grand thanks to the excellent audio and visuals found throughout the game. In particular, none of the story’s nuance would be possible without the excellent voice cast. Everyone seems to be at the top of their game, and I even had to look up whether the voice of Geralt was David Hayter. It isn’t (it’s Doug Cockle, a less prolific voice actor), but I still pretended that I was Solid Snake in Medieval times. Couple this with the excellent music and stunning graphics and there’s really no reason not to be enchanted (see what I did there?) by The Witcher 3 . Well there’s one other reason, and it’s called Gwent.
Gwent is a little collectible card game you can play with an assortment of characters throughout the world. I know that sort of thing is popular in RPGs, but here’s the thing: I actually wanted to learn how to play, and master Gwent. It’s like Magic the Gathering except you have no mana, and you only have a limited number of cards to play with for three rounds (so if you use 9 of your 10 cards in the first round, you only have one card to last the other 2 rounds). It’s simple, addictive fun, but it requires clever strategy if you want to beat the toughest opponents. Most card games within games feel throwaway, but I found myself talking to everybody in every town just to see who wanted to play Gwent with me. I want it to be a real thing, so get on that, CD Projekt!
There are a couple of complaints I have about The Witcher 3 . It champions itself as a standalone game meant to welcome newcomers to the series. While this is mostly true, I faced a couple of issues as just such a newcomer. The first was the combat. Yes, it is fast-paced and for the most part there are no issues with that itself. However, I don’t feel the system itself is fully explained. You really do have to grow accustomed to reading the bestiaries in order to research your foes, using oils, your spells, and various other tactics in order to come out on top. It’s easy for newcomers to just assume that swordplay can be the main focus of combat (heck, Geralt carries two swords!) and therefore magic and other tools are optional outside of major battles. In most games that is the case, so personally I wanted a little more explanation of how important it would be to utilize what you had at your disposal instead of just grinding through weaker monsters as you can do in other RPG titles.
This actually brings me to another one of my issues with the game. Grinding, or farming as the kids are calling it these days, is not really an option in The Witcher 3 . Yes, you can ride around slaying this enemy or that as they appear, but ultimately the piddly amount of experience you get from killing them just doesn’t balance out with the time you put in. Don’t expect a single level to make a large difference in your power, either. You’ll need to use strategy and either find or craft improved equipment to survive even ordinary fights. This is, of course, a design decision by CD Projekt and I can’t fault them for that, but from a personal standpoint, level grinding is something of a staple in the genre and to have it lacking seems punishing for the quests you’re assigned, especially early in the game. For example, when I was around level 6 and was fighting level 3 or 4 enemies, they were still damaging me for a quarter of my health points and it didn’t feel like my damage had gone up much, if at all. If anything, this isn’t a complaint about the game’s design, but about the need to better ease new players into the unique systems found in The Witcher series.
Even with these complaints, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of the best RPGs I have ever experienced in gaming. There’s so much to this adventure, you’d be missing out on a great experience if you pass it up. It’s absolutely perfect for the current gaming drought, but even if it had hit with a handful of other triple A titles, I would still stand by this being the best game of the year so far, and it’s going to be a tough one to beat.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.8 Graphics
This game is gorgeous to look at. There are a few “issues” but those seem commonplace with open-world games. 4.0 Control
I am torn about the controls. They are fluid, but at the same time feel awkward at times, even a little repetitive. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music, voice acting, and everything in between sound fantastic. It is really easy to lose yourself in this game. 4.5 Play Value
There’s so much depth to this game, you will be playing for a long time and won’t even realize you are. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best