The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has been out for awhile now, and while we offered our first impressions a few weeks ago, our The Witcher 3 review takes another look as we’ve had a chance to dive more fully into the game. I have to say, our first impressions were pretty bang on.
As I mentioned in our first impressions, I hadn’t played the first two games in the series. As far as the story goes, at most it may have filled in some background and insight into Geralt of Rivia, the main character, but I really don’t feel like I’ve been thrown into the middle of the third part of a story and am lost as to what’s going on.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt focuses on Geralt of Rivia and his search for Ciri, a young witcher with whom he has a past with, after he has a bad dream about her being kidnapped by the Wild Hunt. Throughout his search, he comes across old friends, foes, and of course the Wild Hunt which is a phantom army whose presence indicates the beginning of the end of the world.
I’m not going to go into any more detail so as not to spoil it, but the story is well written, and the dialogue between the characters is outstanding. I’ve yet to complete the main story due to the abundance of side quests which make it very easy to get sidetracked. That’s not a bad thing though as the side missions don’t feel out of place and allow you to flesh out Geralt’s character a bit more.
CD Projekt RED has indicated around 100 hours playtime to complete the main story and side missions, but I suspect I’ll be playing this long over that estimate, especially with the DLC coming later this year.
As with open world games, The WItcher 3 lets you go pretty much anywhere you want, any time. While some areas are easier to travel to if you follow the main story line, you can reach anywhere on horseback or via boat. You will run into enemies that you have no hope in defeating in some of these areas if you aren’t the appropriate level, and I found that doing the side quests located near the main mission story line is the best option. That being said, I did take the time to travel to Novigrad early on to access the bank (more on that in a bit). The map is quite extensive in size – said to be 30 times bigger than Witcher 2 and larger than Skyrim, and it takes quite a bit of real time to get from one end of it to the other. You can quickly travel back to areas you’ve previously discovered by visiting a signpost or boat and using the fast travel option.
The main story and side quests require a mix of combat and detective work, often using a mix of your witcher senses to track or detect important items, and melee/spell combat to defeat enemies – both human and creature. One of the components I really like about the combat system is you can’t simply rely on brute force and you often need a combination of weapon, weapon oils, and signs (spells) to defeat your enemies.
After you complete a mission, you gain XP which allow you to level your character. With each level you gain an ability point which you can use to unlock skills in the skill tree. You can also seek out Places of Power which also award an ability point the first time you use each specific one. You can then return to the Place of Power to receive a temporary boost to one of your signs. Most games which use skill trees simply let you unlock skills to your hearts content and stack the new skills on top of each other to make your character more powerful. With The Witcher 3 however, you can have an unlimited number of unlocked skills but you can only have a certain amount active at any given time. This makes for even more interesting gameplay as you will find yourself swapping out skills depending on your situation. You’ll also find mutagens which you can upgrade and equip – match skill colors with your equipped mutagen and you get a bonus on those active skills. Skill are categorized into 4 categories – swordsmanship, magic/signs, alchemy, and other.
The Witcher 3 features an extensive crafting system, both in potions, weapon oils, armor, and weapons. Not only do you find blueprints and recipes by looting bodies and chests throughout the Northern Realms, but you can purchase them off of merchants, herbalists, armorers and the like. One thing I really like about the crafting system is once you craft a specific potion, weapon oil (which you apply to your silver or steel sword to increase its effectiveness against specific enemies), or bomb, you simply replenish your stock by meditating. If you have certain types of alcohol in your inventory, your potions and bombs will be replenished without needing to gather the required crafting materials.
The game comes with a fun little side card game called Gwent, which is easy to overlook. Once you figure it out however, it can be a lot of fun and if you’re the collector type like me you’ll spend entirely too much time playing Gwent and trying to collect all the cards you can in order to build up your decks. I won’t go into much more detail here, but you can check out our previous article about Gwent. If you are playing The WItcher 3 and are passing up Gwent, you might want to give it a second chance.
In our first impressions, I mentioned that the graphics were a mixed bag. With the various patches that have been released to date, a lot of the graphical and frame rate issues have been resolved. CD Projekt RED has been working hard on fixes and are currently working on patch 1.07 for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.
The game runs at a fixed 30fps on the Xbox One, and it looks absolutely fantastic. Gameplay is smooth, and I haven’t noticed any glitches or stuttering since the patches have started rolling out. The attention to detail is mind blowing in some cases, everything from the characters to their armor and the surrounding environments is very well done. CD Projekt RED has done a great job as well with the subtle differences between the various armor pieces, unlike some games which fall back on a default appearance for items that are similar in level.
The weather effects are well done as well, visiting the same location during a bright sunny day only to return later during a rainstorm or at night definitely adds another level of realism to the game. I know I said it before, but I still find myself taking time to just sit and take all the detail and environments in, I’ve even caught myself lighting and snuffing out candles only to light them again just to watch the lighting effects appear and disappear.
The sound design in a game can help make or break a game. There’s no worry here as everything from the music to sound effects and dialogue in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is top notch. The sound effects fit and sound awesome, the voice acting is great and offers up the right mix of seriousness and humor without getting to cheesy – which of course is a credit to the writing, but the actors chosen for to voice the characters pull it off well.
I’m not one to buy into the hype of video games anymore, I’ve been burnt before but I admit The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is everything everyone else is saying it is. It has lived up to the hype so far, and with what I’ve experienced to date, this just may be one of the best open world adventure RPG games I’ve ever played and I can’t wait to finish the story and hit the two planned DLC content packs when the first one hits later this year.
***We were sent a review copy of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for the purposes of this review.