The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has been one of the most anticipated next-gen games since the first gameplay footage was released back in early 2013. While this is the third game in the series, The Witcher 3 marks the series' debut on Sony's console. And what a debut it is. Without spoiling too much it's safe to say this game is one of the best RPGs ever released on a console and should be an easy purchase for all RPG fans over the age of 18.
Before we get started it's worth pointing out that The Witcher 3 is rated R; a rating it thoroughly earns. It's extremely violent, features plenty of nudity, allows you to have sex with many female characters in the story (as well as courtesans if you simply must scratch that virtual itch), and has a vocabulary set similar to the Game of Thrones. You'll hear more ‘c' and ‘f' bombs than you're used to in a game, that's for certain. All of which is to say this is not a game for kids, or one to play in front of them.
The Witcher 3 kicks off with a gorgeous cinematic showing your character, Geralt of Rivia, and his close friend Vesemir following the trail of the sorceress Yeneffer, who is also Geralt's love interest. Yeneffer's flight took her through a battlefield and within seconds you'll see a horse beheaded and a soldier lose his eye to a crow, which gives you a good idea of the tone of the game (i.e. violent).
Once the cinematic ends we get an introduction to the world of Witcher 3 through a dream sequence. Geralt is lazing in a bath ogling the lovely (and naked) Yeneffer, who is worried about Ciri, a young girl who's training to be a witcher. You set out to find her and get a brief tutorial in how to run around the map and climb objects, as well as how to wield your sword. No sooner have you gone through these tutorials than the Wild Hunt – something akin to a demonic version of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse – arrive and kidnap Ciri. While this is just a dream, Geralt awakes sure he needs to find and protect Ciri from the Wild Hunt, and thus our quest begins.
Into this mess steps Geralt, a witcher with greatly enhanced (and equally misunderstood) powers. He's a master swordsman who wields two swords – steel for humans and silver for monsters – equally well. He can launch fast or powerful attacks at the push of a button, and string these into fluent combinations. Parrying attacks with a precisely timed press of L2 opens up enemies for counter-attacks, making Geralt even deadlier.
Geralt has also mastered five Signs (magic) that have various effects. Igni sends out a wave of fire that ignites enemies or objects, while Aard is a powerful telekinetic blast that staggers enemies and breaks weakened objects (like doors or walls). Quen casts a shield over Geralt, protecting him from the next one or two hits. Yrden is a magic trap that makes previously untouchable enemies vulnerable to Geralt's sword, and Axii gives you brief mind control Obi-Wan-style, making people follow your suggestions.
As you level up you earn Ability Points which can be used to buff Geralt in whichever way you like. If combat is your preference you can buff Geralt's fast or strong attacks, reduce damage while evading, or improve your crossbow's damage. If Signs are more your thing you can enhance them, not just for increased damage but also for alternate effects. For example you can send Aard blasts out in a circle instead of a straight line, or make Igni fire stream out of your hands in a continuous wave.
If you think crafting is more your style you can enhance your alchemical abilities too. Going this route allows you to carry more bombs, as well as increase their power and effectiveness. Alchemy is more than just bombs though, so investing in this tree also increases the potency of various beneficial potions Geralt can make, while reducing any negative effects.
The Northern Realms are huge, so it's good to know you have a horse to carry you around and don't have to rely on your own two feet. As an added bonus your horse won't lose stamina when you're riding along a path. Additionally if you don't direct the horse manually he'll stick to the path on his own, giving you plenty of time to look around and admire the view. As you discover more of the world fast travel points open up, allowing you to travel from one to another instantly via the map screen. Later in the game you get access to boats which you can sail yourself, or use to fast travel to any port.
If you're worried about getting bored roaming around such a big world, fear not, there are literally hundreds of “areas of interest” for you to explore. These areas comprise all manner of things, from bandit or monster infestations that need to be cleared out, lost or guarded treasure to loot, requests from people to find an object or defeat a monster that is causing trouble and so on. All too often you'll find yourself heading to a mission, only to get side-tracked by one, or multiple others along the way. I've lost many nights of gaming to this very phenomenon.
There's also a fist-fighting tournament that spans three continents (and has some surprising opponents), as well as horse-races to get involved in. And then there's the card game Gwent, which is an excellent diversion from the main game. In Gwent you assemble a pack of at least twenty-two cards relevant to a particular faction – Nilfgaard, Northern Realms, Scoia'tael (an Elven race) and monsters. Cards can be bought from local merchants or won by defeating other Gwent players. Gwent is easy enough to learn, but has enough depth that you'll want to keep playing to earn the best cards out there.
The Northern Realms is choc-full of enemies in all shapes and sizes, human and non-human. Much of the populace consider Geralt and witchers in general to be mutants, so you'll find yourself battling more than a few. Deserters, bandits, soldiers and ill-informed guards are a small sample of what you'll have to deal with.
Keeping track of all these types of enemies and their weaknesses would be a chore if not for the comprehensive bestiary provided in-game. If you know you're going to be fighting a particular monster, simply consult the bestiary and plan accordingly by having the correct Sign ready to go, or by applying some nasty oil to your sword for extra damage.
The Witcher 3 is a thoroughly enjoyable game but it does have a couple of issues. The first is that, like many RPGs, a large number of the missions are fetch-quests or busy work. There's no easy way around this and Project RED do a great job of disguising these by making their characters so interesting and believable (even in small side missions), but eventually the grind sets in.
Visually The Witcher 3 is genuinely good looking, with a wide variety of locales and excellent use of both colour and lighting. The day-night cycle provides ample opportunity for the game to show off beautiful sunsets and sun-rises, and the dynamic weather means you'll explore in driving rain as often as sunshine. Major cities display opulent mansions and stores with paved roads, while just around the corner you'll find peasants living rough and have to traipse through mud and straw. There are hills and forests in Velen, but the hills and forests there look considerably different from the hills and forests you encounter in Skellige, which makes the game feel fresh and more interesting for longer.
The music was very mixed – some of it is catchy (like the tune when you're playing Gwent), but some others are painful and repetitive after only a few listens. Unfortunately due to the massive nature of the game you're going to hear the same songs over and over, so be prepared to turn the music right down. On the other hand the sound effects are spectacular. There were times where the rain pounded so heavily and the wind had such bite that I was reaching for a jumper. Character voices are brilliant, and bring life to the world you're exploring.
The Witcher 3 is a big and beautiful game that is deep, engaging and a whole lot of fun to play. While there's nothing revolutionary here, The Witcher 3 delivers everything an RPG fan could want in an extremely polished package and comes highly recommended to all adult RPG fans.
Review By: Dave Warner