Press Start: 'The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt' earns spot among top RPGs
Disclaimer: “The Witcher 3” is such a massive game that I've yet to beat it; however, I've experienced enough of the game to give what I believe to be a fair assessment of its quality. “The Witcher 3” was reviewed on the Xbox One with a retail copy provided by the publisher's PR firm, Evolve.
To call the third and final game in CD Projekt Red's open-world fantasy series “ambitious” would be selling "The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt" short.
Wild trees and foliage sway in the wind when dynamic weather strikes. Cities come alive with the hustle and bustle of their denizens. Stories intertwine and flow seamlessly into each other, creating an experience that feels less like a game and more like a living world in which the player plays a pivotal role. From the music to the combat to the writing, everything in “The Witcher 3” has been crafted with meticulous care, resulting in one of the greatest fantasy role-playing games in recent memory.
“The Witcher 3's” careful attention to narrative is what caught my attention first. The game starts with a cutscene that immediately establishes player character Geralt of Rivia's relationship with the powerful sorceress Yennifer, which then segues into a clever tutorial. After that, the world opens up, and players are free to explore as they see fit. This is a daunting task considering how much content has been stuffed into the robust landscapes.
What kept me motivated to continue moving through “The Witcher 3's” almost intimidatingly huge venues wasn't the desire to see what's around the next bend while on the back of my reliable yet sometimes hard-to-control horse Roach, but the need to know what will happen next in Geralt's adventure. In his quest to find Ciri, Geralt's adoptive daughter whom he believes is in danger, the witcher runs into old friends and new acquaintances alike. Despite only playing a couple hours of “The Witcher 2,” I immediately understood Geralt's relationship with others, which is encouraging for series newcomers. I especially liked how each time I loaded the game up, a comic book-style cutscene would summarize Geralt's recent exploits.
When the main quest got too heavy to me, I found just as much pleasure in tackling side quests, each of which acted as its own mini-story. Geralt's biggest influence isn't his dual swords—a steel one for fighting men and normal creatures and a silver one for downing monsters—but his status as a witcher, a powerful and influential monster hunter. True to the RPG genre, there are plenty of missions that require Geralt to go to a location and kill or collect something. I am grateful for the quests that strayed from that formula. It wasn't uncommon for me to go hours without ever unsheathing my sword, instead uncovering mysteries and following leads and talking to people. CD Projekt Red made interacting with characters and experiencing the story just as engaging as fighting enemies—a necessity many RPG developers fail to accomplish.
“The Witcher 3's” unwillingness to disregard dark and uncomfortable themes grounded in reality and instead treat players like adults with mature content further cements its brilliant storytelling. One high point features the discovery of why a group of orphaned children live alone in a swamp. Another reveals the truth behind why a powerful man's wife and daughter left him. Players constantly find Geralt in the middle uncomfortable situations—ones he must help solve.
When it comes time for Geralt to stop reasoning and start swinging, the swordplay becomes equal parts strategic and mindless button mashing. While it's a breeze to dispatch a group of ghouls with a few quick button taps, monster contracts act as boss fights and require planning. To defeat a wraith near the beginning of the game, I had to investigate a town to discover why its spirit was so hostile; gather necessary items to call it from its ghostly plane; concoct a specific oil that the wraith was vulnerable to so I could coat my sword with it; and discover which bombs and spells—both of which are, thankfully, easy to use in the middle of combat—weaken the creature. Preparing for fights became as enthralling as the fights themselves. While difficult near the beginning, I recommend playing “The Witcher 3” on at least the second-hardest difficulty to fully appreciate the more nuanced combat.
Without a level cap, players have the ability to max out all of Geralt's many skills, but only a few can be activated at once, forcing discretion and experimentation. In an unusual yet welcome twist, things called mutagens boost Geralt's passive stats depending on whether they're combat- or magic- based, encouraging a careful balance of skills. Though it felt restrictive at first, the system is actually a brilliant way to keep combat fair and fun while still tailoring to fans' play styles. Navigating the messy user interface can get tedious quick, making it a chore to find necessary items to advance quests or sell unwanted junk. Crafting and having to repair weapons and armor becomes annoying, so I mostly ignored the feature, fixing my gear when I had to. Long load times and glitches that caused me to lose progress and hard reset my Xbox several times soured my experience, but CD Projekt Red can (hopefully) address those issues in future patches.
With challenging and satisfying combat, excellent quests and brilliant writing and characters, all contained in a gritty and realistic fantasy setting, “The Witcher 3” rivals the greatest role-playing games of the last several years. The desire to see Geralt's daunting quest through to the end and the sheer amount of side content will keep me busy for several weeks, even if some minor hiccups tarnish an otherwise fantastic RPG.
Final Score: 9/10
Video game columnist Jake Magee has been with GazetteXtra since 2014. His opinion is not necessarily that of Gazette management. Let him know what you think by emailing [email protected], leaving a comment below, or following @jakemmagee on Twitter.