The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is a fantasy RPG available for PS4, Xbox One and PC. Based on the Polish novel series Wiedźmin by author Andrzej Sapkowski, Witcher 3 follows the story of Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter for hire who is on the trail of his adopted daughter Ciri, whose mystical powers have attracted the attention of the wraith like Wild Hunt.
Amazingly for a third instalment, this game is very accessible to new comers, like me. I hadn’t played any of the previous games and yet I didn’t feel lost at all. You could be forgiven for mistaking this game as the first in a series as opposed to what most franchises place at the end. The world is reminiscent of a Tolkien world, you know the one, with the gruff dwarfs that mine and get drunk, elegant and immortal elves and humans who are complete assholes to everyone and yet we spend most of our time interacting with.
Usually I don’t really get into these stories, since they feel really over done, like they are working from a template, but The Witcher 3’s glossary and optional world building really help flesh it out and give its own identity. You can just go through conversations if you so desire, but there is a lot of politics and history to get into if you like that sort of thing, which thankfully I am. It also has some of the best side stories, which each have their own lore and history behind them, forming interesting self contained stories.
Everyone in these worlds feel like they have their own distinct characters and appearance, which you can ask them about to get a better glimpse into their personalities. Well, everyone except Geralt that is. He comes across as kind of a dick at first, and even when I avoid dialogue options that openly insult the person you’re talking too. He’s not happy or sad or, well…anything. He’s just gruff, that’s it. He also has a voice that feels ripe for parody, but doesn’t go as far as say Solid Snake or Christian Bale’s Batman, though I suppose that helps keep some subtlety. But that’s kind of the point, since he’s supposed to be stripped of emotion, and he does grow on you over time.
You also play as Ciri at times to tell her story, though she feels like the more interesting character. The mystery surrounding her and her spunky attitude make her a much more engaging protagonist. Seriously, give Ciri her own game, or at least her own DLC. I want to see more of her adventures.
The strangest thing is the accents of some of the characters, namely Triss and Dandelion, have a really strong American accents. Geralt and Vesemir kind of have one, but it’s not so noticeable, because they have this subdued gravelly thing going on. But everyone in this world have thick, old English accents, with Scottish accents for Dwarfs and some…foreign, I think…accent for the Nilfgardians, but aside from that it’s typical Game of Thrones affair. So when a character shows up with such a different accent it feels very jarring. I don’t know Witcher lore, maybe these characters come from a place in this world where this accent is common. It’s just weird!
Combat is pretty simple; light attacks, mixed with strong attacks and magic attacks. Defense is comprised of parry for human opponents, dodge for monsters, and roll, which is basically dodge but more effective. You learn pretty quickly that the dodge does all of jack and shit against large enemies like the Griffin so I recommend keeping to the roll for these guys. Granted this whole different defensive styles thing may seem cumbersome and unnecessary, but it adds to games overall mood, which I’ll get to.
Magic and items are pretty easy to use; the quick select slows down the action and makes switching on the fly pretty easy, though potions need to be equipped from the menu, making you plan out before hand.
The controls do have a few quirks that irritate me. For starters the lock on ability seems to require pressing multiple times before the game recognizes that I want to fight the rapidly approaching enemy, which is especially annoying since a lock on is required to dodge. Even when you do manage to get the enemy in your sights, the game has an irritating habit of disengaging at the worst possible time. This becomes especially annoying when you deal with teleporting enemies who cause you to lose your lock on EVERY TIME and leave you unable to defend yourself, since blocking only saves you from the initial attack, and you’re unable to dodge the next attack because you forgot to say please to the right stick and HOW IS THIS GAME GETTING PERFECT 10’S ACROSS THE BOARD!?!
What’s more, the game seems to take flicking the right stick to change targets as more of a suggestion than a command; a suggestion the game tends to ignore during boss fights. It’s such a shame because without this issue, I could honestly say that everything about the combat works and works well, but this nearly ruins the entire game. It became easier when I realized that you don’t need to lock on, but that doesn’t change the fact that I keep mashing the L2 button in vain to have Geralt raise his sword to protect himself but keep activating the sense mode because the enemy isn’t close enough for Geralt to recognize the danger heading towards him. SERIOUSLY? PERFECT 10’S?
Also when your horse wonders into the battlefield, rolling away cause you to try to mount the horse. Slowly. And unable to move, unless the mounting is complete or you realize what you did by accident and mange to cancel before the freaking Griffin tears your ass inside out. You know, for a horse that runs away when you ride it into battle, it clearly has no problem wondering into where I’m fighting a freaking Griffin.
The biggest complaint I have regards the save system. I played this game on the hardest difficulty, which meant that I died a lot. That isn’t an issue with the game, but what annoyed me is how auto-saving works in regards to boss battles. Auto saves have a nasty habit of placing you before a cut-scene, which you can’t skip through a simple button press, so you have to skip through each individual line of dialogue.
As a result I advise players going for the hardest route to make a habit of saving before boss encounters, in the short window before the fight begins proper. On the subject of cut-scenes, a nasty trick of the game is to have a boss attack IMMEDIATELY after a cut-scene, when you are not locked on leaving you open to attack. Death due to my own incompetence is fine, it comes with the territory, but to have a cheap attack that I can not guard against is just plain dickish.
The character animation feels pretty stilted, which becomes more obvious during action packed cut-scenes and the sound feels weird at times, like a scene where Geralt is punching a guy with loud punching sounds but the victim isn’t reacting feels strange. But having great graphics that really emphasize the little details in the skin and clothing makes it up for it.
Music is either serviceable, but nothing to write home about, or downright epic. It’s a mixed bag in terms of aesthetics, but the acting is strong enough to carry the story driven game.
The Witcher 3 is a fantastic RPG, it’s world is vast and interesting and it’s gameplay is complex and engaging. It has a bunch of quirks that irritate the experience like issues with lock on, climbing feels awkward and the horse is freaking suicidal, and more than willing to drag you down to hell with him. I was surprised how self-contained The Witcher 3 felt, and was really easy to get into from someone new to the series. Most characters seem to know Geralt and have some history with him, but it doesn’t feel distracting to a new comer like myself.
The world is rich and interesting in that it reminds me of Spirited Away, which is filled with so many spirits and creatures, which have their own lore and mysticism behind them. I even came across a book in a random hut which shed a lot of light on a story I came across later. It’s not shoved in your face and is mostly optional, but the game is great at making you want to find out more and follow up on threads started during the story. You can start a mission which leads to a lead to finding Ciri, but also starts a side mission which doesn’t expand on the main story and is entirely optional.
It has some control issues, between the targeting and the inability to climb over rocks which aren’t marked with the mystical bird shit stain, making existing water a pain in your genetically modified arse. However its failures are quickly forgotten behind it’s shining strengths.