Update: I’ve now finished the game. The review below now reflects this.
My time with the Witcher 3 was beautiful, strange and addicting. It can be summed up in three different stages:
- Wow this is beautiful
- Wow this guy controls like he’s drunk
- Wow, maybe just another game of Gwent..
Firstly, I had never played the Witcher 1 or 2, I didn’t know the world, the lore, the characters or the gameplay mechanics, so this was a brand new experience for me. Secondly, this was the first proper open-world RPG available on next-gen consoles (I play on PS4 myself) so I was itching to see what it was like (Dragon-Age doesn’t count).
Opening the box I was surprised to find a hand-written note from the the developers CD Projekt RED thanking me for purchasing the game that they have lovingly made. There was also an actual multi-page instruction manual, a mp of the game world, a soundtrack CD and a book of ‘lore’. Very decent, especially these days.
Anyway, the first thing that struck me about The Witcher 3 was just how horrible Gerald (our white-haired Solid Snake impersonator) moves. I was coming fresh after sticking 60 odd hours into Bloodborne and the movement and physics of our dear friend Gerald and his extremely scatty horse ‘Roach’ left me feeling pretty dissatisfied.
The second aspect of the game that I immediately hated was the size of the UI. My TV is located at the end of the my bed, and I couldn’t read anything. Picking items up off the floor was a guessing game as I had no idea what anything was. Then, having finally found the small square icon that represents that particular item in my inventory, I discovered that I couldn’t read the descriptive text there either. It started to feel like I needed to have a portable magnifying glass on me, and I ended up using the PS4’s zoom feature constantly. Not ideal.
The third thing that struck me was that despite the world being ABSOLUTELY HUGE and looking glorious, the frame-rate dips completely took me out of the immersion. This proved especially prevalent when navigating the boggy areas of the world, with the game become exceedingly choppy. A nice article discussing this is available here.
So an hour into the game and there were three strikes against it, I honestly thought at that point that I had wasted my time and money.
But then 2 incredible things happened.
- CD Projekt RED patched the game multiple times.
- I played Gwent.
I can’t stress enough how much performance of a game matters to me, it’s ridiculous in this day and age that games come shipped with 15gb day 1 patches that don’t even address half the issues, in addition to hundreds of pounds worth of DLC available from launch. On this note I have to stand up and applaud CD Projekt RED for everything they have done. Multiple patches fixing the framerate (for the most part), Geralds movement, the tiny tiny text, quest bugs and the usual RPG teething issues whilst then also adding in a whole load of absolutely free DLC from day one. Amazing.
So after spending a week or so being incredibly frustrated, i decided to have another stab at it post-patching.
I class Skyrim as one of my favourite games of all time, but the sheer number of fetch quests and ‘go kill this thing and come back’ quests do let it down a little bit. So with the Witcher 3 I was curious to see how they approached it.
Many many hours later I can say with complete confidence – these are best designed quests in an RPG (that I have played anyway). Everything has a back story, the characters are memorable and unique, and most importantly your actions actually have repercussions in the world. These actions aren’t black and white either, it’s never quite clear in the way you approach a quest whether you are choosing the ‘bad morality choice’ or the ‘good morality choice’. I enjoy that, as it gives a feeling of organic growth for the character. Believe me as well when I say that Gerald is definitely a character than you want to be, he’s an expert monster hunter, an expert tracker, an expert ladies man and he’s gruff, grizzled and glorious – what more could you want?
For example I had a quest active where I had to clear a curse from an island. The Wraith that was the cause of the curse looked a bit shifty to me and wasn’t keeping her story quite straight, so I decided against a certain action – the end result is that everyone died.
My housemate then did the same quest and decided to trust the Wraith, the end result was the Wraith being ‘set free’ and terrorising everyone. Other characters then remarked how old Gerald might be ‘losing his touch’ because while the curse was lifted, Gerald didn’t truly get to the bottom of it. It’s the little details in this huge world that really make the difference as I really felt like I had a choice to make, and it wasn’t immediately clear what was going to happen.
Speaking of the world, it really is bloody massive. But not massive and barren, it’s massive and literally brimming with secrets, enemies, loot, hidden areas and all sorts. You genuinely need to use your horse, boats and fast travel points to get about. Although using the travel points does mean that you might miss out on quite a lot of things… Apparently it takes 45 minutes to ride from one end of the map to the other… I’ll just leave that there… But often when playing The Witcher 3 I have had to stop, pause and take in the visuals, it really is that stunning. I wouldn’t be lying if I said the lighting on this game is the best I’ve ever seen.
Gwent is a collectable card game played between characters in the game. As Gerald you start with a deck of cards (there are 4 different ‘races’ you can be, Gerald starts with the Northern Realms), over the course of the game you will expand your deck by buying cards from merchants and innkeepers and winning them from other players dotted around the world. Each race playable in the game have advantages and disadvantages depending on who you are playing, this requires a certain degree of planning for each game of Gwent you play.
Essentially think Hearthstone, but with a few big tweaks. I won’t bother explaining the complexities of the game as it’ll bump the word count of this review up to around 5,000, instead here is a video from IGN:
I can’t stress how addictive it is to wander around the world, collecting cards and battle townsfolk. I only hope CD Projekt RED see how popular it is and make a mobile game *hint hint*.
So we have established that the developers really care about this game, the world is massive, beautiful and filled with stuff to do, the main protagonist and supporting characters are engaging, varied and unique and the Gwent is probably the greatest thing in the world.
But what about the combat?
The combat again took getting used to, mainly due to my Bloodborne hangover, but as it turns out it is incredibly satisfying. As a Witcher Gerald’s job it to roam the world and pick up contracts from people to kill monsters that they can’t kill themselves. Sounds simple right? Not quite, as first of all you need to talk to the contract giver to find out what the monster might be and pick up any clues that might be useful for the hunt. These clues are discovered mostly using your Witcher senses (holding L2 will make certain items and spots on the map glow red, indicating that Gerald needs to examine things more closely). Once Gerald figures out what the monster might be and where it is, it is time to actually get involved and kill it.
There are multiple ways of killing enemies, as a Witcher, Gerald is equipped with two swords (steel for humans, silver for monsters) of which both can be coated in specially made oils to increase attack against certain types of monsters. These swords can be upgraded, socketed and replaced entirely with better weapons that Gerald finds, crafts or is given throughout the game world. Gerald also has 5 different magic signs to aid him in combat. They are fairly typical (a shield, a fire spell, a stunning/mind control spell, a trap and an AOE spell), however each can be upgraded and levelled up to the point of dealing huge damage and affecting the flow of battles drastically. I would be remise to say that that upgrading the Firestream ability is enormously fun (and quite a bit over powered).
This all sounds pretty sweet, but in practice it’s even better. An example I’ll give is when I had a contract to kill a Mourntart that was located in a graveyard. It was a quest around my level so I felt fairly confident, however upon seeing the Mourntart I promptly got destroyed. It was then I looked into my bestiary and determined that this particular monster was weak against Black Blood, Necrophage Oil and Yrden and Quen signs. My next go didn’t last long before the monsters head was mounted on my horse. The game rewards you for planning and strategising, yet it isn’t essential. Yes I could coat my sword in Necrophage Oil to kill this group of Drowners, or I could use magic to make them fight each other, or I could create a huge flaming gas cloud of doom, or I could drink a potion to give myself upgraded strength, stamina and adrenaline and go absolutely mental. Every battle feels like their are multiple ways to approach it, and that is a very good thing.
The fact that this game actually makes me care even slightly about alchemy is a testament to how well it has been thought out.
So now having finished the game where does it rank? I would suggest that it goes straight into my top ten of all time list. It really is that good.
If you haven’t got this game already, then what are you doing? Go buy it. Buy it now.
In the mean-time I’m off to play to some Gwent…
+ Vast, beautiful open world
+ Engaging, varied quests
+ Deep combat and rewarding combat
– Fairly buggy