You’re not ready for this.
This is what I told myself upon launching The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for the first time. When I bought into the idea that I’d be giving up a significant portion of my adult life to go on this journey, I resigned myself to the fact at first, I’m not going to be good enough to get anywhere with this. This game will beat me before it even begins.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a game that’s designed to test your brawn. If you don’t bow down and surrender yourself to its challenges, you’re not going to get what you want from it. Ever. If you’ve consigned yourself to a life of yearly CoD and FIFA purchases and nothing more, get out now. Wild Hunt will kick your ass and it will do it with indistinguishable pleasure. The game made me feel that if you can’t handle the truth that you’re only an above-average gamer and nothing more, then it has nothing for you. Get out before you’re eaten alive.
However, if you’re ready to take it on, with nothing standing in your way – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will likely be the best gaming experience you’ve had this generation.
The world of Wild Hunt is a masterpiece, it’s as simple as that. From the Witcher training ground of Kaer Morhen to the snow-capped peaks of Skellige, every nook and cranny has been impeccably designed, created for you to get lost in and discover its secrets, in the same vein as Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto V. It’s an environment that’s unquestionably mesmerising. The swamps, the mills, the farms and the villages of White Orchard are stunning, surrounding you with beauty from head to toe. It’s a world created to be yours to experience, especially once you arrive of No Man’s Land, which has to be the most beautiful creation of a city this side of Assassin’s Creed Unity. The crumbling fortresses remind you this is a broken world, haunted by the fear of the Wild Hunt, a ghostly enemy preying on the innocent of this land, giving you that extra incentive to make everything just that little bit better for them. It’s a world that you want to explore and having to remember that you have an option to Fast Travel, I found myself never really having much of an interest in using it, purely because I wanted to explore everything I possibly could. It was almost as if using the Fast Travel was doing a disservice to the game. It’s beneficial yes for time, but time is most assuredly not something you’ll be thinking about whilst playing through this gargantuan campaign.
In a world full of magic, monsters and mystery, it’s wonderful that there’s an authenticity to the world you surround yourself in. The cities and sprawling and feel vast, dangerous and well, real. The reality of this magical game world is its most mysterious wonder of all.
By far the most astonishing aspect of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the sheer beauty of it all. It’s simply the most beautiful game we’ve played this generation, which by default makes it the best looking game of all time, right? Well, it does in our books anyway. From the moment you take control of Geralt you’re transported to a world full of such magnificent art and untouchable creation, it’s a rich and vibrant world with colour as its strongest asset. The palette is used to its absolute fullest, the aforementioned vibrancy none more impressive than tearing it across White Orchard with Broach under you, it makes the nastiest swamp look like something Van Gogh wouldn’t toss out. It’s weird to say but even the sun, the sun is undoubtedly the best sun in any game ever. I’ve said it now, no going back. You’ll be throwing your camera around trying to catch the best kind of sunrays to showcase the beautiful world of Wild Hunt. As I did below.
— Ross from PSGamer (@RosskoKeniston) May 19, 2015
The biggest cities and the smaller villages and settlements have a real distinction between them. The paved streets are cleaner with a greater sense of law and order, particularly in places such as Oxenfurt, with more culture surrounding the area. There’s always something to look at in The Witcher 3 and it’s a testament to CD Projekt Red that this is the case. Damn, I wanna kiss this game.
Even more impressive? Just how much CD Projekt Red have been able to stuff into this game. It’s ridiculous.
This gargantuan world and the sense of logic harks back to authenticity. Everything is there for a reason. The activities – of which there are many. I mean, MANY – the quests that are great fun and the colourful characters – of which we’ll meet a metric fuckton – bring life to this already deeply immersive experience. It all seems to make sense as you venture forward throughout the game. The world has been designed and it’s as intricate and as detailed as anything you’ve ever seen this side of Westeros. The diamond is in the details.
If you find yourself wandering off a particular path, you’ll discover the horrors that the Wild Hunt has left behind in the wake of their devstation. You’ll find remains of horses and farmers torn apart by Griffins. Wild dogs and wolves eating the battered corpses of the fallen, who aren’t content with the free meal bestowed upon them by a higher power which makes them turn on you. It seems everywhere you visit has some kind of connection to the overall arc. You’re visiting these places and each time another branch of the bewilderingly enormous story comes to life. You learn a history from a survivor or come across the battlescars of a small town for yourself.
The fact that some of more interesting quests are discovered on a notice board in a village that you will spend mere moments in to discover the whereabouts of your next objective says everything about the detail and thought that has gone into each and every quest found in Wild Hunt.
Give a watch of our playthrough of the first two hours of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
So, what pre tel, are you going to be doing for most of your time in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt?
If you want to break the game down to its bear essentials, it’s near enough a missing person hunt. Everyone’s favourite long silver haired fox (Brian May? – Ed) goes from village to village, town to town wanting to discover the whereabouts of Ciri, a young trainee Witcher captured by the Wild Hunt many moons ago, which we see play out near the beginning of the game. Geralt spends the majority of time trying to discover where on earth she could be, she’s linked to an ancient prophecy, you see – so she’s rather important. Sadly, information in Wild Hunt comes at a hefty price, namely, having to do something for someone else in order to acquire such information. Really, you can’t threaten fuckers with your two giant ass swords and your fire creating/mind bending magic powers, you have to go and rescue goats or perform in a play. It’s quite bonkers how far you have to go just to find out some small details. This could prove frustrating for certain players as it does almost feel like you’re going to get absolutely nowhere the more you power through. It’ll be simple enough to give up and forget about Ciri and her whereabouts, but don’t if you can help it. You’ll think you’re getting close in certain areas only to be knocked back again by someone who tells you to bring back their spouse. You’re a Witcher, you’re not liked by – well, anyone. Despite doing all their hard work for them, you have next to no respect from the general public. I found myself saying out loud certain phrases along the lines of ‘do it yourself you lazy prick. I have two swords’ or glorious word sentences such as ‘stop fucking goats and tell me what I need to know. I’m missing The Blacklist’.
Your thoughts carry on in such a way throughout the game, and it’s fortunate that the characters you meet are developed very well, richly written with solid back stories and performed brilliantly well by a top class voice cast – certainly more alive and interesting to listen to than Geralt himself, it should be added. Really, the one thing hugely letting this game down is the performance of Geralt himself. Not to crap on his voice actor Doug Cockle, but a bit more heart could have done Geralt the world of good. The character naturally developers throughout the game and he’s no doubt a strong, interesting, conflicted character, it’s just the performance doesn’t really sell it. He’s a very ‘blank canvas’ kind of leading man.
His relationship with Ciri is played out over flashbacks, dream sequences and the like, however the overarching story isn’t as prominent as the self-contained plots than run throughout the campaign. You get to play as Ciri in certain situations and she’s a dream to control and play as. Could have done with a few more sequences of this really. We first meet Ciri when she’s very young, and to meet her again when she’s older is a great touch to see just what happened to her as a character and as a weapon for the Witchers. It may not be the biggest plotline in the game but it’s perhaps the most fundamentally interesting. Personal relationships are a big plus for massive stories like these. Certainly makes the madness of it all seem far more grounded.
The narrative as a hole can come to a grinding halt when old friends and thrown into the mix. If Witcher 3 is your first Witcher game this can be difficult to figure out – although the game does a nice job of easily explaining who these people are, if you’re willing to read bios and go for each individual conversation option. Certain references will go over your head but hey, this is to be expected if you’re starting a book on Chapter 3.
Is there anything in this game that isn’t perfect? Aside from a questionable leading voice performance, not really. Only perhaps the combat which in the beginning is pretty jarring. It’s functional but not particularly consistent. At the start of the game you have a tutorial to run through to get to grips with the combat but you can’t really die here unless you do something very wrong, which I didn’t, thankfully. Swordplay isn’t quite as satisfying as it is in, say, Bloodborne. You can feel the weight of the sword and the power of the attack. Here it can be quite erratic, especially in bigger fights with more than a couple enemies to take down. The target system is understandable but a complete hindrance in larger group battles. Don’t be picking them off one by one, you’re left defenseless against those you aren’t currently attacking. We’re not going to go off and suggest that you button bash until you finally throw in that mortal stab to the heart your enemies deserve…but yeah, it certainly isn’t a bad way to go. Throw in some dodging and some L2 parrying along with some magic and you should be good. At least initially, the games difficulty ramps up somewhat monumentally so make sure you’re ready. Side quests are a must at the beginning of the game, make sure you have enough XP to crack on with the main campaign. The game will even warn you, essentially telling you that you’re far too rubbish to be dealing with those big bastards and recommends you to go back and jump into side quests to upgrade your weapons and yourself by crafting weapons and buying armour. It’s wise advice, that’s for sure. Quite simply, you won’t stand a chance otherwise.
It’s all find though, you don’t want to rush The Witcher 3 and the game doesn’t want you to either. Take your time scouring the land for the resources you require and so long as you have a steady combat hand you shouldn’t have much of an issue taking down the scourge of No Man’s Land. It’s a slow process but most assuredly worth it. Every single inch of this game deserves your attention. It’s been made for you to explore, you can’t power through this game on hope alone. You’ve got to build up to each fight, be ready for each campaign mission. If your sword isn’t strong enough to take down your next enemy the game will literally tell you. If you’re about to jump into a campaign fight and you haven’t got what you require, as I’ve said already – you’re fucked. You don’t want to be seeing the loading screen too many times after you die. It’s one damn long loading screen.
So then – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is spectacular. If you’re already picked it up, no doubt you already know this. The game is practically endless, you’ll never run out of things to do which, for the money you’re paying for these damn next-gen games, is a damn good thing indeed. Fans of the original games are going to go absolutely crazy for this, as the continuation of the story of Geralt is one you simply can’t miss out on. As a character he’s still a little ‘bare-bones’, but it’s here we see new corners to his ever growing hexagon of personalities and it’s a glorious ride to be on from beginning to end.
No it isn’t perfect, but there’s more than enough good – nay, GREAT – here to dismay any differential issues, Wild Hunt emplores you to keep going, to keep exploring, to keep learning and to keep remembering why games are such an important medium. It’s an experience currently unlike any other, and has smashed Bloodborne of the top of the ‘ESSENTIAL’ gaming perch already by being a game that’s simply more fun and more involving than any other we’ve had the luxury of playing so far this generation. And we’re not even two years into yet, just imagine where we’ll be in three or four. Shivers.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a nigh-on essential purchase for your Playstation 4. With a world that’s begging you to get lost in and a story weaving in so many – really, SO many – different directions, it will keep you on edge and hooked from beginning to end. In a world where there’s so much to see and do and even more after that, we’re going to be remembering the impact Wild Hunt had for a long time to come. It’s a fundamental experience that reminds you why the series as a whole is so universally loved, and it begs the question of what could CD Projekt Red possibly do to top something as magnificent as this.
How’s about a game of Gwent? Anyone?
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Available now on PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One and PC
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we purchased a digital copy of the game.