Another day, another open-world RPG! It feels like we’re seeing another of these every few months or so thanks to the immense success of titles like Dragon Age and The Elder Scrolls. Hey, that’s not a complaint – these are some of the best value for your money, offering an insane amount of things to do for the same price as something like, say, The Order: 1886. The latest addition to the genre is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the latest in the renowned series from CDProjekt Red.
The Witcher 3 follows our hero, the professional monster slayer Geralt of Rivia, on yet another journey. This time he seeks his adopted daughter Ciri, who is being pursued by the wraiths known as the Wild Hunt. As always, the Witcher runs into plenty of adventure along the way and the tale takes a number of twists and turns. There’s monsters to slay, coin to earn and women to bed as awkwardly as only a video game can – it’s all in a day’s work for Geralt.
We can easily compare The Witcher 3 to the recent Dragon Age: Inquisition – they’re both open-world action-RPGs with a focus on packing an overwhelming amount of content into the game. Geralt controls much as he always has, so he’s still got that slightly awkward turning radius, though there’s a bit more of a focus on vertical movement this time around. You can jump at will and climb around on cliffs, for instance; it’s worth keeping in mind that Geralt is absolutely brutalized by fall damage so it’s best to be careful. There’s also a horse available for quick travel, as well as mounted combat. The odd quest here and there even allows you to play as Ciri herself, though these segments tend to be fairly short and Ciri is usually fairly overpowered compared to Geralt so they’re over quickly.
Speaking of which, combat is the focus of the game and it plays out in a manner largely similar to the The Witcher 2, though things have been simplified a bit with the removal of traps. Geralt now has a crossbow for long-ranged combat; while the damage on this is abysmal without specialization and crafting, it’s a great tool for bringing flying foes down from the sky and for self-defense during the new underwater segments. The aforementioned mounted combat is a nice addition to the series, though it can be a little awkward to aim your slashes until you’ve gotten the hang of the trajectory of Geralt’s swing.
The usual array of Witcher Sign magic is available as well, as are upgradable forms of the various spells. The usual Igni fireblast can now be converted into a flamethrower, for instance, while Quen can be changed from a personal shield into a defensive bubble that heals Geralt when he’s attacked. Meanwhile, traps might be gone but bombs certainly aren’t, and these tend to be hilariously destructive affairs that reduce foes to chunky salsa.
As we’ve come to expect, Geralt battles both human and monstrous foes, wielding a steel sword for the former and a silver sword for the latter. Battles against larger monsters are easily the highlight of the experience here. These are no joke; it behooves you to read the ingame bestiary and study up on your foes’ weaknesses before going hunting. Fighting creatures like wraiths, griffins and wyverns ends up playing out a bit like the Monster Hunter series, and much as in those games the odds against you aren’t even remotely fair, so preparation and smart play are key to victory. Putting the alchemy and crafting systems to work is a must as well.
There’s an absolutely mind-boggling number of quests available that lead you to these giant monster hunts, as well as plenty of other dark fantasy fare that we’ve come to expect from the series. I’m not even remotely exaggerating here. The first area alone, intended as a sort of introduction to the game, contains at least four or five hours’ worth of things to do – and that area’s simply dwarfed by those that follow. You certainly won’t run out of interesting quest lines to follow, and I rarely ran into anything that felt like a dull “kill ten rats” sort of experience. It’s also interesting that the game’s leveling curve is fairly slow and the upgrade tree is fairly extensive, so you won’t be capping out long before seeing everything there is to see as is the norm for this sort of open-world RPG.
While there’s certainly plenty of content and it tends to be a joy to explore it all, there’s still the odd hiccup here and there. This primarily takes the form of technical issues. I found The Witcher 3 to be a fairly unstable game (at least on my fully capable gaming rig) and had to do quite a bit of tweaking to get it running well without crashing, vomiting up timeout detection recovery errors or just hardlocking my system. I’m not the only one, as a glance at any of the game’s forums will tell you, and I’m running a rig well above the game’s suggested specs.
There are also plenty of bizarre physics bugs, along with more than the game’s fair share of questionable bounding boxes on objects leading to Geralt getting stuck on things and having to squirm out of a tree or such. Despite all this, I still felt lucky I wasn’t playing on console – there are reports of Xbox One players finding their previous save files vanishing without a trace.
One would think this instability would be related to the system-crushing graphics this game offers, as it’s pretty clearly pushing some limits. This is one of Nvidia’s flagship games of the moment for a reason, after all. Everything is absolutely gorgeous, as one would expect, and the sound and voice acting are top-notch as always. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is one of the best-looking video games on the market today, so if you’ve got the gear you need to run it, you’re going to be impressed.
Basically, if you’re able to get the game running at an acceptable level and minimize the amount of technical nastiness that you encounter – a hint: save very often – then The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a solid RPG experience. Fans of the series are bound to love this one, as is anyone who dumped hours into Skyrim or Dragon Age: Inquisition. A more polished release would have been nice, but it’s still worth your time to battle the Wild Hunt.