The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
I played the game with an AMD Radeon HD 6850 1 GB VRAM, which is even below the minimum system requirements, so I’m feeling quite lucky it ran at all. I had no idea if it would, but I had to find out. ;) I deactivated pretty much every effect and set the rest to low, it wasn’t a problem for me though, as soon as I started playing I was fully immersed and forgot all about it, I’m only mentioning this so people don’t see these screenshots and think this is what the game generally looks like on current hardware – it really doesn’t. I’m sure many other places have screenshots and videos with everything cranked up.
In the time after finishing Dragon Age Inquisition I grew more and more unhappy with the decision to buy it, because only then it became impossible to deny that it wasn’t the game I had hoped it would be. They decided to make a game that just differs from my preferences and that’s obviously still fine for many other people, but after finishing it, I could no longer hope it would be able to somehow redeem itself, which is what I had done up until that point. The ending of that game wasn’t just boring and disappointing, it became proof that the game (to a too huge degree) just wasn’t what I’m usually looking for in an RPG.
When I heard Witcher 3 would be “open world”, I wasn’t exactly pleased, because (while nothing against the concept in general) it’s not something automatically positive to me. There are some games that do open world really well (or benefit from it), like Sleeping Dogs or Batman Arkham City, but enough others feel IMHO mostly soulless and empty. I never understood why running around for hours or backtracking all the time is supposed to be fun all of a sudden. This is usually the most boring part! While some exploration is usually good, hours of it can kill the mood. Dragon Age Inquisition is again a wonderful example for this, without the countless running around and collecting things, you’d be done with that game after 10 hours (or at least its main story). Now the implication of that realization is not actually that great, is it?
That’s why I’m so glad The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt got it right. I actually want to explore this huge world. It fits thematically. Geralt of Rivia is this monster hunter who often tracks his prey – it makes sense to place him in such an expansive world. Witcher 3 isn’t just a huge map, they thought about what makes sense in it, what would work well and then built just that. Not every developer does that. Some literally just have the goal to create a huge map and then drop the hammer once it’s simply bigger than the other open world game which sold many copies. The horse was useful here and I actually rode to several locations, other than in DAI, where I used the mount once or twice and then never again, because it was hardly faster than I was on foot and also the banter was turned off while mounted – terrible. Of course in Wild Hunt it’s also possible to save however many times someone wants, instead of having the number of save slots limited for no reason.
Now, I truly believe that Witcher 3 is one of the best games I have played in my whole life, it’s like a sum of everything people missed in previous games and an improvement upon earlier elements. The game contains a lot more than I expected it to, that’s a damn nice surprise and pleasant departure from the usual outcome…
The things I didn’t like, or perhaps missed, where minor and few, which is why it’s easy to list them all. What they didn’t fix/change from Witcher 2, is that dialog choices are often very short and it’s not always obvious to tell beforehand what Geralt is going to say (it still feels like something they inherited from Mass Effect). It happened to me once or twice, that I ended up choosing the option I didn’t want Geralt to say, because I just couldn’t recognize it as the option I didn’t like. Because the choices are so short (I guess they are afraid that players don’t want to read anything), Geralt sometimes seems to say something, that has little to do with the selected text.
In Witcher 2 I fought with Iorveth and Saskia for Vergen and a free Upper Aedirn, that would be home to all the outcasts in the region, I believed this to be a worthy cause – with Geralt himself being mostly “a freak” to the rest of society. So, despite being able to import a savegame in the beginning, none of this was even mentioned let alone had any significance. I guess I now know how the people must have felt who chose Shani over Triss in Witcher 1.
I didn’t expect this to be a huge thing in Witcher 3, but some sort of closure/epilogue to that should have been in the cards for this game (btw I loved playing Gwent!). I worked hard to free the dragon and everything – I cared about all that. Of course I like Roche as well, but just a line if Iorveth is alive/what happened to him, would have been nice and honestly doesn’t sound like overkill in such a massive game.
Dropping characters from earlier games (think Adda – did Radovid somehow get rid of her – if Geralt saved her?) is the sole noteworthy downside to an otherwise almost completely epic and fantastic masterpiece.
Many other parts feel like giving at least some closure to stories and characters at the end of a trilogy. Dandelion seems to settle down in his own establishment, which is a nice place for this character to end up (come to think of it, the game ends without revealing what happened to Priscilla – I’m interested in learning if she did recover). I really hope the planned expansion contains some additional information about at least some of these characters. I don’t need more monster contracts and the like. The game could use a lot more epilogue slides at the end!
As mentioned, everything else is just awesome. The quests are, despite their quantity, of usually higher quality, even minor quests feature unique dialog, there are no dumb “deliver 10 x to character y” and then y says the identical phrase no matter what x you are delivering – another drawback of the typical “open world”. Wild Hunt is the first Witcher game, in which I almost always properly prepare for a fight, I have the right oils and bombs ready, because for the longest time I wouldn’t have been powerful enough to win without all this gear. At the end of the game I was an expert, having learned all the ways to defeat specific monsters.
The character screen was very remarkable, I thought, right now I can’t recall any other RPGs which already did this. I fully expect many other games to steal this from Wild Hunt and use it too in only minimally changed variants. The typical RPG lets players level some skill tree, which almost always leads to a massively overpowered character towards the end, especially for players who finish all side quests too. CD Projekt RED apparently realized this too and didn’t want this to happen in their game. Their solution was to allow players to level abilities like in other games, BUT then only unlock a certain amount of slots for those abilities. So even if some players have finished all quests in the game and have the highest amount of skill points possible, they still can’t have all unlocked abilities active at the same time and are forced to choose. This too ties further into the aspect of having to prepare for fights. It often pays off to think what will be most useful and then equip Geralt accordingly. That’s great!
I’ve read all seven books (several comics too) and am playing these games since the first one came out in 2007, it’s been a long road, this is certainly a big part of my reason for liking this game so much. I’m so very familiar with everything in this universe. I had some expectations, this being the first game to include Yennefer and Ciri, for one. I don’t think any other game so far ever managed to make characters feel so alive and unique like Wild Hunt does. This is better than BioShock Infinite‘s Elizabeth and she is truly great. Their faces, mimics and all that… I was especially impressed with the fact that they have all distinct models. They all have different heights, body… shapes and so on. I don’t think anyone else has really done this on this scale so far. For the most part they really seem to have put their resources into things that matter. Lambert was so well written I had to laugh in most of his scenes – the drunken evening at Kaer Morhen was a highlight.
They also made many different faces even for the smallest side characters. There are some doubles, of course, but overall there is no clone factory here. I also thought that they look like “real people” and not like these archetypes that seem to inhabit most games. They kinda started with that in Witcher 2 (to this day I remember Anezka‘s face because it seemed so unique and like an actual, “real” person) but they improved upon this a lot in their new game.
At the end I felt all “empty” and sad for a while, because I would have loved to go on but couldn’t/game over. After the ending credits Geralt is placed in a chapter before the last one and whatever quests left can still be pursued. I thought that was odd, because at least my ending would have allowed for Geralt to just go on right where he was.
It goes without saying that I’m going to play this game again at some point, there were 2 decisions that I regretted (a lot) and I’d like to correct (at least) that in a future playthrough.
Last but not least I’d like to mention that I encountered no significant bugs in my playthrough (nothing major stuck in my mind), which is super impressive in such a vast title and their talk of postponing the release to further polish the game appears to have been more than just PR talk for once. Bravo!
I don’t think there were ever more magnificent RPGs released so close to each other like right now. I’m glad that I’m not someone who tries to pick “game of the year” or anything like that. I wouldn’t be able to put one above the other and Torment isn’t even out yet… Whatever the case may be, if someone only has the chance/time to play one game this year, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt would be the perfect candidate.