There’s a lot of competition in the open-world fantasy genre. Going up against the likes of The Elder Scrolls and Dragon Age series is a very daunting task, and most rival titles get crushed under the weight of these juggernauts. With two critically acclaimed titles under its belt, The Witcher series aimed to step up to the throne with its third instalment, The Wild Hunt. The history of greatness is there, the hype is definitely there, but does it deliver?
Continuing the story based off the original Polish fantasy books of the same name, you take control of Geralt, a white-hair warrior who was mutated by magic at a young age, turning him into what is known as a ‘Witcher’. With lightning fast reflexes, higher range of senses, and the ability to harness various magic, spells known as ‘signs’, Geralt is a force to be reckoned with. Currently on the trail of an old friend, you will travel the world looking for clues and picking up contracts on the side. Everything from finding a missing package, to hunting Griffins and other monsters fit for a Witcher.
The main story quests are very complex and lengthy, even to the point of being perhaps too long at times. The story is well written, well-acted, and I personally found it much more engrossing than I did other titles in the genre. While you aren’t required to know the story of the previous two games to enjoy The Wild Hunt, characters and topics from the previous entries do make appearances, but nothing so substantial as to confuse newcomers. You are given the option to pick choices you made, or would have made, in previous titles during an early section of the game. One problem however, is the choices are presented in a simple question rather than showing a cut-scene or any sort of imagery allowing the player to visually understand what they are about to choose. If you’re a new player to The Witcher series, you literally need to Google search the options to even remotely understand what they are asking you.
Opposed to most games where side-quests are usually collect-a-thons or simple fetch quests, The Witcher 3 mixes it up a bit by throwing in more investigative quests, challenging the player to study the whereabouts of the monster they seek, learning their weaknesses, and eventually defeating said monster. The first few side-quests feel varied and refreshing. It’s only until you repeat the same process of tracking something or someone down for the fiftieth time that you start to feel the tedium of it all. While the missions still remain somewhat interesting, it can start to feel uninteresting and boring sooner rather than later.
Another point to go along with side-quests and exploration is the sheer amount of things to do within the game. There is an overwhelming amount of things to investigative and quests to complete. It’s safe to say you’ll be getting your money’s worth if you play the game to one hundred percent completion. On the flip side, some may find the amount of icons, question marks, and exclamation points on the map overwhelming which in turn may kill the incentive to explore anything. Personally, I love the amount of things scattered over the map. It makes the massive open-world feel alive and thriving, unlike some open-world games which are plagued with the feeling of a dead, empty world.
One problem I had with the game was the controls; moving feels floaty and imprecise. You’ll find yourself getting stuck on corners or small objects on the ground. While it doesn’t hinder the actual gameplay or disrupt the combat, it can break immersion and suck you right out of the game when you find your Geralt stumbling around a sign post like someone who just downed a bucket of vodka and popped some sleeping pills.
The combat itself isn’t the greatest either. You are able to do either a light or heavy attack, and mix in short spells in between your strikes. While it’s far from broken, it just feels unpolished and unsatisfying. When compared to the combat in games such as Bloodborne for example, there’s just no contest. You are able to dodge or roll away, which adds a bit of strategy to the battle, but not much. I really felt as if the combat was greatly downgraded from the second instalment of the game. I never thought I’d say this, but I wish The Witcher 3 has just a small touch of combat style from the Assassin’s Creed game. No I don’t want the combat to be as bland and auto-pilot as it is in those games, but a bit of fluidity would be nice. I do, however, love the dynamic finishing moves that happen every now and then. You’re sure to see arms, heads, and torsos flying off into the sunset amidst a flurry of blades and blood. Call me sick, but I gotta admit some of the deaths are extremely satisfying to witness.
One positive thing about the combat is how you are forced to seek weaknesses in monsters. Some are vulnerable to certain spells or certain oils and bombs; this adds a level of strategic planning required in order to succeed. On the harder difficulties, exploiting these weaknesses is an absolute must.
The game looks and sounds fantastic. The visuals are well detailed, the lighting is excellent, and the world itself seems to be bursting with life. While the NPCs usually aren’t much for conversation, they do seem to live their own lives while you pass through small villages to massive cities. The soundtrack is wonderful and fits the gameplay and visuals on screen. The battle music that starts during a random encounter comes across as a bit overly epic, but that’s being picky. The voice work is fantastic as well. Characters are voiced with feeling, personality, and soul. While Geralt himself comes across as a bit emotionless, I feel this is, and always has been, a design choice. It gives the job of emotion to the player himself, and I personally didn’t find his performance distracting in the slightest.
The biggest downside to the game is the loads of graphical and performance bugs. Pop-in is rampant, frame rates drop every now and again, characters fail to load at times, and many other minor glitches happen in regular intervals. There are even times when the mini-map itself takes its sweet time to load. Overall the game seems very poorly optimized. While I’ve yet to run into any that flat-out break the game, these little gremlins pop up and ruin the otherwise beautiful world and visuals. While they have stated to have a patch in progress to fix these bugs, they were still present at the time this review was written and it shipped with these problems so I’m going to include it.
A few other flaws I found with the game are the loading times and how the interaction with the world itself works. The loading times seem much longer than they need to be and are borderline nonsensical. For example, the original load into the world takes around one to two minutes, while a checkpoint load after dying can take up to three or four. You would think the original loading of the world would take more time than simply going back a few yards and resetting the characters world. The interaction prompt, in my opinion, is broken. Instead of the X button prompt working whenever you can see the prompt, you must have the camera and the character be facing the interaction in order for the prompt to work. Essentially it tells you to press a button, but won’t accept the input despite telling you to do so. While this may sound petty, after you force yourself to move around a bit at every lootable bag or NPC, you’ll quickly grow tired of that little lying button prompt.
In the end, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a different, and perhaps the best, take on the free roam fantasy genre. With a massive world with what feels like unlimited activities and quests, the game packs a huge amount of content for you to get lost in. While a few glitches and design flaws trip the game up a bit, it’s still one of the best RPGs ever made. If you have any desire to fight monsters, ride a horse, or explore a massive world, then pick up The Witcher and prepare to not leave your house for a month.