Developer: CD PROJEKT RED
Publisher: CD PROJEKT RED
Platform: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: 18th May 2015
Note: Review may contain plot spoilers.
All good things must come to an end. Most of the time a game series will go out with a whimper, The Witcher 3 however went out in a blaze. CD Projekt Red’s highly ambitious follow-up to their 2011 hit RPG The Witcher 2 stars our hero Geralt of Rivia once more on the most important adventure he will ever undertake.
Set not too long after the events of the previous game you start out on a journey to find an old friend, your search leads you to a small town and its surrounding forests and farms that serve as the game’s extended tutorial area. You will learn to hunt monsters, brew potions, craft and repair equipment as you explore this area as the game prepares you for the long journey ahead.
Upon completing this area of the game, you will be thrown into Velen, one of the three major regions of the game, from this point on you are free to go and do as you please. The game makes the urgency of your quest apparent but also gives the player a plentiful amount of in-dialogue excuses to justify these side-ventures.
The game is split up into three major regions; Velen, Novigrad and Skellige, with some minor regions available for exploration too. The three major regions are where you will be doing most of the main quests and side quests. Some side quests in an area will trigger events during main quests that occur in that same area. These events can make quests more interesting or may change the circumstances of that quest.
World building and story telling are this game’s strongest assets, with every road, cart, building and fence feeling like it is exactly where it should be. Every side character’s story feeling genuine even though my only experience with the world of the Witcher is with the video games I somehow felt as if I knew what each character was talking about even though I actually had no idea.
The moment I started the main quest proper in Velen I was intrigued, I kept getting same feeling of exciting and I just had to find out what happens next. The game generously gives you a warning that doesn’t break immersion before you are about to take part in a major part of the story that will have consequences on quests you may not have done yet. Giving you an in-story excuse to run about doing side quests for the villages and towns scattered over the map. There is one moment where the game breaks immersion to give you a warning of no return but it’s far enough into the game and during an event in the plot that makes it obvious you wont be able to explore again for a while anyway.
A lot of Geralt’s friends make their return in this game as well, and the quests that include them are some of the best in the game, these characters genuinely seem to be Geralt’s friends and not a bunch of filler NPCs like in many other titles.
If you are new to the Witcher series it is worth noting that although it is a RPG you don’t play as your own character, you will always be playing as Geralt of Rivia and as such the choices the game offers you during dialogue are written specifically for this character and the story that CDPR are trying to tell.
A Witcher’s work is never done and you will have an abundance of quests to fulfil if you wish to distract yourself from the dread and urgency of the main quests. If you are ever looking for something to do to pass the time, have a read of the local notice board and see if any jobs fit your fancy. From killing monsters to fist fights and horse races there is a lot of stuff to do in this game’s world and even if you fail an objective the game offers an alternative path to completing your tasks.
Early in the game you may find yourself short on change, this is where the side quests come in, especially Witcher contracts. These contracts are your bread and butter, allowing you to negotiate a for a better price up front as well as offering some valuable loot from the monsters you slay.
Combat in the Witcher series has always been a divisive subject, some people swear by the simple rolling and backstabs of the second game and there are even some that defend the confusing and repetitive rhythm based combat of the first. I assure you however once you have played the Witcher 3 you wont want to return to the previous titles. With smooth animations and a simple to understand yet tricky to master combat system, the Witcher 3 improves on every aspect of the second game’s content to the point where it seems like a completely new system.
You still have the roll, parry, block defences with the addition of dodging and reflecting. You still have the heavy, light, thrown and magical attacks too but transitioning between them to adapt to the changing circumstances of each fight has never been easier. There is also power attacks that you can unlock in the character development screen. Geralt can now use crossbows too, it’s effectiveness as a weapon is useless but it’s usefulness as way to bring flying enemies to the ground faster than a sack of bricks is a godsend in some situations.
Although the combat is a massive improvement over previous games in the series it can still be a chore against some enemies that act as damage sponges. The game more than makes up for this however with the inclusion of some of the most badass execution finishers I have ever seen in a video game. That one bandit that kept shooting you in the back? Cut him in half! His buddy with the really annoying shield? Cut off his head and send it flying!
During some quests you will be given control over another character, these quest sections change the style of play from careful calculated sword swinging and spell slinging to what is essentially ripper mode from Metal Gear Rising but turned up to eleven. These sections are some of the most enjoyable combat encounters in the game.
Unlike some other RPGs where levelling up gives you the opportunity to make your character stronger in a chosen area your power level in The Witcher 3 is determined by your level itself. This means that your HP, damage and damage resistance all increase with your level.
Levelling up and discovering places of power will grant you points that you can spend on skills and abilities on the character development screen. Some will give you a static boost to a particular stat, others will unlock new abilities altogether such as the Rend and Whirl attacks that allow you to spend your stamina on sword techniques instead of spells.
The bestiary has advice and tips on how to defeat any opponent Geralt has read about in books or has had the experience of fighting before which is a great help if you are struggling to defeat a familiar foe that you haven’t come across in a while.
Unlike other RPGs you will find that quests involving the tracking of an enemy don’t have a handy pointer on the map and instead you must look for tracks on the ground, investigate them and follow them to your target. This is a more immersive and roleplaying friendly alternative to the more mainstream minimap and compass markers of other open world titles.
New weapons and armour can be equipped as you level up and meet the requirements to use it, you must also maintain the equipment you have equipped to ensure it doesn’t fail on you during a fight. In addition to acquiring new equipment for yourself you can also outfit your horse Roach with a new saddle, blinders, saddlebag and a monster trophy.
Crafting is also handled in an immersive and meaningful way too in comparison to other mainstream RPGs, you will find craftsmen all over the world that can assist you with creating a new sword or a new set of armour but if you want to craft the master recipes you need to find the master craftsmen and help them out. There are many recipes that can be found in the game but the only ones you should care about are the Witcher school sets, specifically the one that matches your play style. These are without a doubt the best pieces of equipment in the game and to acquire them you must search for their recipes, gather the ingredients and find a craftsman good enough to assemble it.
A more convenient Alchemy system also plays a huge part in making sure Geralt is prepared for combat, you can make oils for your swords that increase your damage to certain enemy types, bombs that have lots of unique effects and potions and decoctions to consume that can change the pacing of combat and other areas of the game. Similar to crafting armour and weapons, you will require recipes to create alchemical items however you only need to craft them once as they will be recharged using alcohol from your inventory. Unlike equipment you don’t need a special craftsman to create these, Geralt is a mater alchemist himself and can easily create all of the recipes you can find so long as you have the ingredients.
If you are looking for a game to put your gaming rig to the test then this is the game for you. The Witcher 3 is gorgeous, it has the most in-depth and accessible graphics option menu I have seen in a game in a long time with options to adapt every part of the game to the exact setting you desire or require. As well as having an impressive range of graphical options the game also features a menu that allows you to disable elements of the HUD such as the minimap or equipment hotkeys, this is great for players that like a minimal HUD for immersion or if you want to set up that perfect screenshot.
The Witcher 3 has been the first game in quite a while that I have played from start to finish and genuinely enjoyed every moment of it. The areas of the game that I did have issues with are mere inconveniences at worst. It may seem like I am being generous with praise for this game but it deserves every ounce of praise it receives.
For me this game has been one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling gaming experiences I have ever had.
Rating: Worth its weight in silver swords.
- Available DRM Free and free DLC releases.
- Balanced and rewarding gameplay.
- Great writing and variety of content.
- Stunning visuals and great performance.
- The best horse customisation in an RPG.
- Occasional bug or glitch may break immersion.
- Tutorial and extended tutorial area aren’t very exciting.