One of the most anticipated games this year has been The Witcher 3, and it was expected that it would raise the proverbial bar in many ways. The game series, as I’m sure you are already aware, is based on the books by Polish fantasy author Andrzej Sapkowski, and since the games have introduced the west to his world and characters, his books have become popular in parts of the world where Polish isn’t the natural language. Thankfully, you don’t need to have read the books–nor, for that matter, have played the prior games in the series–to understand the events of the game. But if you’re still sitting on the fence about the game, let me leave you fully enlightened after this review.
I suppose you’re not going to leave this review with just the words “It’s a bloody amazing game, just get it, alright?”, are you? No, figured not. Well, if you must… The Witcher 3 tells the tale of Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher–someone given super powers of a sort, and then unleashed on the world to hunt monsters and, more importantly, survive those encounters. There are plenty of lore primers around the net–there’s way too much to fit into one little review here, and if there’s no need to reinvent wheels… In any event, Geralt is seeking his adopted daughter, Ciri, and she in turn is being chased by the Wild Hunt. This means that everyone seems to be leading everyone else a merry chase around the countryside.
If, like me, you’re playing the game on PC, then the first thing you’ll notice about it is that the system specs are demanding. Almost ridiculously so. And for good reason. I was able to crank up the detail on my system for a short bit just to see what the brouhaha was all about, and my gosh, the game is beautiful. I don’t use the term lightly, either. I think I can solemnly attest that the most breathtaking sunsets I’ve ever seen are actually in the game. There were times I stopped adventuring just to sit and watch the scenery. The crepuscular rays from the sun dappling through the trees, with the light playing here and there on the grassy knolls about Geralt are the kinds of things you don’t expect to find in a game. For just about the first time ever I’ve gotten the sense of actually being in the fantasy realm that Geralt inhabits.
If you’re experiencing the game on console, your mileage may differ. It’s still a beautiful game, even though the framerate drops somewhat every now and again. However, you’re not going to see the kinds of glorious visuals that high-end PC gamers are experiencing. On the other hand, you’ll need to shell out at least 1.5x the amount of money on a decent GPU than on a current-gen console, so there’s that. Either way, it’s a magical place.
You could just sit around and watch the scenery, I guess, but there’s just so much to do in this game that it’s almost unbelievable. The game is noted to be significantly larger than Bethesda’s Skyrim, a game noted for having a ridiculously huge map. Thankfully, many of the points of interest are already marked on your map when you enter each region, and this I feel encourages one of my favourite aspects of the game: exploration. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as much wanderlust and that sense of “what’s over that next hill?” as in this game. And I’ve played my fair share of games. All of this is before you even get into the quests and the main story. Like many RPGs, you can happily ignore the main story and just go after sidequests until the cows come home. The Witcher 3 also has a collectible card game called Gwent, which I understand some people really really love. This gives you another reason to want to scour the lands because finding those Gwent cards can be quite a task. Some you’ll buy from merchants, but others you’ll have to win off other Gwent players.
In some ways, this is very much an “RPG-lite, action-and-story heavy” affair, because there are no stats to manage, and you only get one point at a time, which you can put into extra abilities. All the regular RPG stats–strength, health, etc–are managed behind the scenes. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on whether you’re the kind of person who enjoys mucking about with character stats. I, for example, enjoy it, because whether you dump your points into magic or into strength can change the way you experience a game. High Lord Prawn, on the other hand, hates stats, and prefers to just get straight to the “hit things with the sharp end of a stick” parts of the game.
A game this huge has its share of problems, of course, but the QA process at CD Projekt Red must be pretty darn good, because the glitches I’ve encountered were relatively minor. Most of the issues you’ve seen before, with character models behaving weirdly, and so on. One problem on console (which I’m told will be fixed by the time this review goes live) is the tiny text size. Obviously, PC players don’t have this problem because they’re closer to the screen. The lesson here is that, if you’re playing on console, make sure your game is patched! There was only one gamebreaking problem I ran into, and since it had just saved before the glitch occurred, recovery was easy.
Which brings me to a small matter of saving. The game doesn’t autosave very often, so if you’ve gotten used to games saving for you, prepare to spend lots of time doing things over and over again unless you’re fastidious about saving. You get used to it, of course, but a save after every cleared sidequest or every cleared point of interest on the map would have been nice.
Combat in the game is a fairly simply matter. It’s more satisfying than, say, Skyrim, but not as deep as Batman. There are two kinds of attacks–light and heavy–and Geralt carries two swords, one for monsters and one for humans and non-monsters. Thankfully, he draws whichever sword is relevant by himself, so you seldom need to make that decision. What’s nice is that game semi-pauses whenever you want to change Signs (Witcher-speak for spells). There are only five Signs, too, meaning you’re not poring through pages of spells and effects to find the exact one you want.
By the way, did I mention that the game is beautiful?
One of my favourite portions of the game is having to use your “Witcher Sense” to solve mysteries, although that’s not the only use for it. The Spidey Witcher sense also highlights chests and sacks that you can loot, as well as amplify and visualize sounds. It’s useful, for example, to know whether there’s a pack of wolves just over the next hill so as to better prepare yourself (and the damned place is veritably infested with wolves). But back to the mystery solving. Some of the side quests involve solving murder mysteries, and it’s like playing CSI: Witcher. My problem here is that the clues turn up as red. Not an issue under some circumstances, but then you enter a forest, and it’s red and green, the two colours most confused by colour blind people. Guess who couldn’t follow the clues? (Edit: As of the latest patch, there’s now a “colour blind witcher sense” option. I strongly urge colour blind people to enable this, because it really, really helps a lot!)
Still, those niggles aside, The Witcher 3 remains one of my favourite games ever (after Okami, natch). My poor wife has had to deal with me starting to talk like Geralt, which is one of the many side effects of playing this game. Many games can’t seem to straddle the line between driving narrative and riveting gameplay without delving into the pit of rehashed and reused sidequests. Somehow, the wonderful folk at CD Projekt Red have avoided this pitfall, and made a game that always seems to have something interesting to get up to.
And also, have I mentioned how beautiful the game is?Seriously….look at it!
Final Score: 9.5 Witchy prawns out of 10
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Publisher: CD Projekt Red
Distributor: Megarom Interactive
Platforms: PC (Steam, GOG Galaxy), PS4, Xbox One
Age Rating: 16