The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has literally ruined games for me. Overwatch? Move aside. Fallout 4? What’s that? In my entire gaming life (which is technically my whole existence), I have been fortunate to play most of the best games ever released. From classics such as Contra, Double Dragon, Street Fighter and Super Mario to the evergreen titles like Grand Theft Auto, Kingdom Hearts, Pokemon, StarCraft, Diablo and Monster Hunter. I have also played games that have been touted as the holy grail of gaming, namely Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy 10, Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, and Shadow of the Colossus. Subsequently, I am going to add Witcher 3 into that list, and at the very top of it, if I might add. Read on to find out why.
The Witcher 3 revolves around Geralt of Rivia, our beloved protagonist who is always calm and emotionless, as he pursues his ward and daughter-like figure Ciri. Geralt must find Ciri before the Wild Hunt, a group of deadly specters, capture her and use her hidden talents for their selfish desires. The Wild Hunt and Geralt have a long history, as Geralt once used to serve the King of the Wild Hunt…
Graphics wise this game looks like a next gen game. Minor details have been taken into careful consideration as you can see your horse’s mane blowing softly against the gentle breeze of the wind. As you explore the rolling hills on your trusty steed, enjoy the view of the rich red and orange sunset that is as beautiful as the blood sodden meadows beneath it. The saturated green and brown of the lush foliage that encompasses your journey in the Maribor Forest is bound to make you halt, as you see claw marks of wild animals against sturdy, old trunks of trees amidst the slivers of sunlight breaking through the dense canopies.
Walk on the pavements of a grey concrete jungle known as Novigrad, where buildings are common place and filled with all sorts of characters. Don’t be afraid to take a swim by jumping into the nearby river, or be adventurous as you go on a sailing voyage into the unknown isles of Skellige. You will spot multiple shipwrecks along gorgeous cliffs and beaches, as you take note of the dark stormy sky and the pitch fork like lightning illuminating the sky. As you begin to enjoy this sense of wonder, don’t be surprised if a screeching wyvern decides to blindside your peaceful journey without prior warning. Or if a bloated drowner decides to latch onto your boat, trying to drag you deep underwater as violent harpies assault you from all directions, breaking crucial parts of your boat with each swipe. The game is as beautiful as it is dangerous, so don’t let it lull you into a false state of security.
Every scale and appendage of the monsters in this game have been rendered to perfection to make them stand out from other games. The movement and attack animation of all monsters vastly differs, especially the wraiths, where they vanish without a trace and surprise attack you from behind. However, the biggest satisfaction I get from the fluid animations is when Geralt crunches the bones of highway bandits as he brings them down to their knees through his elaborate martial arts combination and it all culminates gloriously in a clean, unceremonious decapitation
The only thing I enjoy more than that is pulling out my trusty crossbow and placing a crossbolt right between the eyes of a flying dragon, tenderize the massive frame of said dragon with my flamethrower-like spell after it crashes to the ground, deliver some quick debilitating slashes with my steel sword to weaken the beast and then finally plunge my shiny silver sword deep into its heart, twisting it twice for good measure. Yeah, I am not ashamed of myself
Cinematics are clean and the facial expressions are on point. There is also a sense of visual evolution involved with Geralt, as he slowly progresses from the leather paddings of a rogue wanderer, to the light plated armor of an experienced swordsman to the intricate chainmail of a seasoned war veteran. It really feels like you are evolving alongside Geralt, though stoic as he may be, as the game progresses from one storyline to the next. You can also shave and cut your hair. That last feature really sold the game to me. No, really.
Verdict: The best graphics I have seen on any game I have played. If you are running this on the PC, you need to SLI two Titans to fully experience what this game is capable of achieving.
The background music is gentle and relaxing as you stroll about doing what is necessary, like escorting a goat to its pen and leading a narcoleptic dwarf back home. Yes, I am serious. The music of the game is elegantly designed, with great thought put into the instruments used and the entire composition of the symphonies. The pace of the music quickens into a very uplifting beat as you engage the wandering monsters, and sometimes this battle music even prepares you for unexpected sneak attacks by wraiths, which can attack you out of nowhere, consistently. The euphoric melody accentuates all the situations you will be in, be it as you are exploring a deep cave filled with hidden caches of treasure, or attending to a request from a villager to vanquish the evil spirit that lingers at the nearby graveyard.
The sound effects are crisp and clean to a fault. The howls of werewolves are clearly audible at night, branches beneath you snap and crackle as you tread through the dense forestry, where you might come across the deep rumbling of a slumbering woodland spirit. The clash of steel swords, the quick woosh of a cross bolt, the soft humming of a magical barrier and even the trotting of your horse is presented in all its glory. The screams of beasts and the wails of spirits are lullabies to my ears after I make quick work of them. Marvelous work indeed.
The voice acting is nothing short of amazing. Yennefer’s seductive yet imposing voice suits her domineering personality well, while Triss’s more jovial and laid back voice suits her demeanour too. The game boasts a strong cast of voice actors, namely the hoarse monotonous tone of Geralt of Rivia himself, as he doesn’t seem to change his tone of voice no matter how bleak the situation may seem. The game is peppered with Irish and Scottish accents everywhere, and it may actually inspire you to go down to the local bar to grab a pint or two.
Verdict: Great sound effects, beautiful background music and even better voice acting. Very, very solid.
In my opinion (which soon shall be yours too), this is the best aspect of the game yet. I have not come across a storyline this deep and delicately woven into the overall gameplay of any game, and your actions always has one form of consequence or another. I came across a group of villagers trying to kill a poor man, and me being the righteous figure that I am, I swiftly decided to kill these mad villagers, ignoring their crazed pleas and setting the man free. 50 hours into the game later, I am stopped by a group of bandits who demand payment from me in order for me to cross a bridge.
Turns out the poor man I saved is now the head of said bandit group, and he is willing to give me a generous discount on the passage fee, as a show of gratitude for me saving him earlier in the game. Needless to say, I showed them no gratitude as I killed all of them in a way that would have made the The Red Wedding (Game of Thrones) pale in comparison. Though in the back of my head, I clearly wondered if I should have just minded my own business when the villagers tried to kill the now dead bandit leader.
Almost each side quest is an untold bittersweet story waiting to captivate you, and more often than not, the judgements you make will define the game completely. Sometimes the ramifications will stare you right in your face, while other times it will be inconspicuous but the developers go to great lengths to make sure you notice them. Be amazed at the twisted stories the game throws at you as the premises range from a master elven swordsman who has suddenly become – of all things – a dumpling seller (not that there’s anything wrong with the profession, I love dumplings), to a fake witcher that is ruining the already ill reputation all witchers already possess. One side story that clearly stands out is a seemingly ordinary quest of a husband posting up a manhunt notice for his missing wife. What follows closely is a dark tale of dual identities, overbearing passion, a life shrouded in mystery and emotional turbulence. That and a werewolf is involved somewhere in all of that.
Geralt, Ciri, Yennefer, Triss, Vasemir, Dandelion and Eredin are all intriguing characters with great backstory and you will genuinely take interest in what they have done as well as what they will be doing in the future with great fervor. Politics, women, family and love are some of themes that root themselves deep into the progression of each character. These themes, while supplemented by other more pressing issues, are constantly recurring in the main arc of the story. The central storyline is slow and may seem cliché at first, but it develops quickly to a deep narrative of choices and its repercussions. Ultimately, everything that you do in this game affects the storyline outcome and no two people that I have talked to made the same choices as I did. Without spoiling anything much, it is going to be legend – wait for it – dary!
Verdict: Best aspect of the game. This is the real gem that you want to take note of.
The icing on the cake is the incredible gameplay mechanics that CD Projekt Red has painstakingly designed to entwine with the overall story. Geralt is like a medieval age Batman, with a very vicious tendency to maim everything in his path as he investigates the seemingly normal and much to everyone’s delight, the paranormal too. By activating his witcher senses, Geralt is able to follow scents and hidden trails to unravel the truth clouded behind each contract he undertakes. Sometimes the trails lead you to a nest of a basilisk, in which case you will have to do the necessary preparations in order to combat it, such as applying attribute enhancing oils on your swords and engineering special explosives. Other times, it will lead you to a disfigured dead body, in which you must identify the wound types and eventually figure out what monster is responsible for the said wounds.
Customization is the keyword here when it comes to combat mechanics. Do you like casting powerful long range spells and stay out of harm’s way like a wizard? Or do you prefer to concoct potent potions that push your endurance and strength to superhuman levels? Or maybe you would prefer to trap your foes and unleash a barrage of explosives on them till they cease to exist? I played pretty much as a Jedi in the beginning of the game, employing some mind tricks to manipulate simple beasts, a force push of sorts to keep monsters at bay, a projectile deflection ability and some quick steel sword slashes thrown in for good measure.
However, I found it too much work to keep all that up and I quickly delved into the shell of a close combat specialist, employing fast strikes with critical hits as well as bleeding cuts. Quen was my stalwart spell, a magical barrier that absorbed damage from incoming blows and reflecting them back at the enemy. These skill sets were further augmented by my armor, which were light (weight matters a lot in this game) and allowed me to parry heavy hitting blows from colossal monsters.
Locating treasure has never seemed like a chore to me in this game, though it feels mundane in other grindy RPG games. The inventory management and crafting system is intricate and nuanced. Your obsolete equipment can be broken down into basic parts to be used to upgrade other aspects of your adventure, such as your horse’s saddle. Currency is very relevant and how you manage your finances dictate whether or not you can get that brand new silver sword you have your eye on. Combat is immensely fluid as monsters are challenging and not impossible to defeat, it just takes patience and a lot of preparation. There are many side activities for you to participate in, such as horse racing and playing Gwent. Gwent is an in-built card game that is easy to play and hard to master, and very, very addictive. There is a trophy for collecting all the Gwent cards in game and you can battle almost anyone in the game for a chance to get a rare Gwent card. Hearthstone can learn a thing or two from this card game.
However, there are sporadic glitches that will disrupt your play experience such as your horse not arriving when you call for it, minor frame rate jitters when entering big buildings, certain tasks that end in a continuous load screen and a few others. Depending on your level of patience, this can really distract you but I found it tolerable to say the least, and most of the released patches have fixed all these bugs.
Verdict: Fun, unique and satisfying. Need I say more?
Boasting an expansive, gorgeous open world concept that is coupled with a phenomenal detailing and unique customization options, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a game that everyone should play at least once before they kick the bucket. Reinforced by a stellar, enthralling storyline that juxtaposes grayscale politics and personal struggles, this game has truly raised the standards for all other games to come (looking at you FF15). The phenomenal cause and effect system is meticulously designed and it really showcases what a true next gen game should look and play like. You must be suffering from permanent brain damage if you were to even think this game isn’t one of the best, if not the best RPG created in the history of gaming.
With that, I am very grateful to everyone at CD Projekt Red and they have now become my favourite game developer of all time. Play this game even if it means you have to cut ties with some of your not so important family members. Now, if you will excuse me, it’s time for me to play some Gwent.