The Pinnacle Of What Interactive Storytelling Can Do
Since The Witcher series is based on a series of books by Andrzej Sapkowski the game already has well-developed lore to explore and cherry pick from to create a narrative based game that, for lack of a better phrase, does feel like you're playing a great fantasy novel.
Though this game was released worldwide in May 2015 and despite me pre-ordering it on the PSN store I didn't get around to playing it till August 2016 when I was two weeks vacation from work and poured myself into the game, spending easily eight to ten hours a day playing it for twelve days straight. The first time I've really got lost in a game since playing games on the PS2. So most of the performance issues I heard about when the game launched were thankfully patched out by then. Please note that this review is only on the main game itself, I will review the two DLC add on's separately.
You play as Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter known as a Witcher, who is looking for his missing adopted daughter on the run from the Wild Hunt: an otherworldly force determined to capture and use her powers.
While the main story quest is engrossing, the Witcher 3's real trump card is how amazing the side quests are. While most games will use side quests purely as a way to gain experience points or get a rare item. The Witcher 3 uses them to world build and introduce you to fascinating side characters. From taking part in bare-knuckle boxing, racing horses to finding a lost goat, it's these side quests that really make the game stand out. I do feel most developers have used side quests in the past to pad out their games and make them feel bigger than they actually are.
Geralt walks, runs, rolls and dodges, and (for the first time in the series) jumps, climbs and swims. He has a variety of weapons, including bombs, a crossbow and two swords (one steel and one silver). The steel sword is used primarily to kill humans while the silver sword is more effective against creatures and monsters. Players can draw out, switch and sheathe their swords at will. There are two modes of melee attack; light attacks are fast but weak, and heavy attacks are slow and strong. Players can block and counter enemy attacks with their swords. Though swords do have limited endurance and require regular repair, so always keep an eye out for a sharping stone or blacksmith.
In addition to physical attacks, Geralt has five magical signs at his disposal: Aard, Axii, Igni, Yrden and Quen. Aard prompts Geralt to unleash a telekinetic blast, Axii confuses enemies, Igni burns them, Yrden slows them down and Quen offers players a temporary, protective shield. The signs use stamina, and cannot be used indefinitely. Players can use mutagens to increase Geralt's magic power. They lose health when they are attacked by enemies, although wearing armour can help reduce health loss. Health can be restored with meditation or consumables, such as food and potions.
And then there is Gwent, The Witcher 3's mini card game that proved so popular that it has since received a standalone release. I'm not the biggest fan of card games so I didn't spend a whole lot playing Gwent. It is something that I now regret and I do plan to give it the play through it deserves when I play this again as a New Game+. I think I was just so caught up in the narrative that I didn't want to stop and play cards. Now that I have played through the narrative I will take the time to properly learn Gwent.
I've never felt so connected and like I had so much power over a virtual world before. The dilemmas are some of the best in the series. You have plenty of ways to solve them, like brute force, doing favours, and using Witcher powers, but I never felt judged for any of my choices. Nor did I ever feel that the game was trying to handhold me down a specific narrative path. While most of the quests do feel like information fetch quests, i.e. Geralt does some a favour to get information about Ciri's location, it never feels repetitive as a gameplay mechanic.
It’s not easy to articulate just how huge and open this world is: beautiful lush green rolling fields liberally dotted with swaying foliage of every shape and size fill the space between loosely connected, flimsy townships/villages where people struggle to survive. There is a full day/night cycle and beautiful dynamic weather pull it all together, cementing The Witcher 3’s landscape as one of the most authentic-feeling open worlds I’ve ever played in.
When it comes to graphics the fidelity matters less here than the scale does. As storms approach, and gales rustle and bend tree branches, and as the deer's run for cover, it’s hard to dispute this is a gorgeous game. The lighting and weather effects are breathtaking. It’s difficult to resist stopping to stare into the distance at times, especially at sunset.
One of the reasons games are such an amazing medium of narrative storytelling lies in their ability to prompt stimuli in players to manipulate their mental states and make them vulnerable to emotive situations. The Witcher truly sets itself apart from other RPG's is the voice acting, yes studio's like Bethesda, Obsidian Entertainment, BioWare, Naughty Dog and Quantic Dreams have done great voice acting in games; but for such a fantastical world all the speaking roles (even small side characters) felt grounded in a believable reality, from different accents, to use of language by people of different social classes. These small little details are what add to a world and build it in a way that really draws the player in on a subconscious level.
This game is scored beautifully by Marcin Przybylowicz (who scored a few cues for the second game) and Mikolai Stroinski, who you might know from The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter, which also had a pretty good score. One of the reasons The Witcher 3 achieves pure gaming immersion is by making most of its sounds diegetic. For example, when Geralt walks into a bar, the non-diegetic soundtrack fades into the diegetic soundtrack being played by the in-house musicians, seamlessly altering the mood of the game.
When I did finish the main game after about two weeks of playing, I did find it hard to get into another game. As if the game gave me gamers fatigue as a way to make me stop and think about I had just played and experienced. Because of this, I waited two months before I play the first DLC add-on and a further three months after completing that to play the second DLC add-on. I would play small indie games in-between as a way to cleanse my gaming pallet.
This is a must own game for any RPG fan and one that shouldn't be looked over. If you're still having doubts about buying this game, then do your research and you will realise what everyone else has already told you. It's a must play of this generation and the finest example of what RPG's can do.