The Witcher 3 Impressions
As of this moment, I have logged 25 hours into The Witcher 3. I have saved numerous villages from monsters that have plagued their towns, I helped a singing troll named Trololollo defend his territory by painting a sign, I even found a cross dressing elf that insisted he craft my next shirt (the answer was no). The point is, I am 25 hours in and I am not even close to seeing the end of this monstrous adventure. I feel like I have just scratched the surface on the possible adventures to be had. It is for those reasons I’m leaving this as a first impressions, rather than a full review. To say that this game is large, atmospheric, and engaging would be doing it a major disservice. So while The Witcher 3 is not without its minor hiccups, it is still one of the finest achievements in game development.
For the uninitiated, The Witcher series, based on a Swedish book series of the same name, follows Geralt, a witcher, which is a mutated human specializing in monster hunting. While the first two games were about tracking down a crime indicate that stole from you, then tracking down an assassin who targeted kings, The Witcher 3 follows Geralt’s attempts to track down his sort-of adopted daughter, Ciri. Those who have not played 1 & 2 get a series of questions posed to them early on in the game that help you choose some critical choices that occurred in those games. There is also a massive character journal giving background on just about everyone written by Geralt’s friend, Dandelion. However, while the opening prologue establishes a fantastic understanding between Geralt and 2 freshly introduced character’s, Yennefer and Ciri, new players might be a bit lost when it comes to some of the prominent characters from the last two games, such as Triss, Zoltan and Dandelion. Even veteran players might go ‘who?’ every now and then, simply because Geralt is written like a living person, one who has memories that haven’t been portrayed in the game. So when early on Geralt meets a sorceress named Keira Metz and sais “nice to see you again”, you can be forgiven for feeling like you’re missing something. Your level of immersion in the Witcher universe is entirely up to you, but should you choose to delve deep, you won’t be disappointed.
While the last two games took place in a series of medium-large environments, Witcher 3 takes the full step towards completely open world. One can’t help but think of Skyrim in this situation, and it’s very easy to see similarities. However, the game never feels like its stealing concepts. I can set my marker 300 m away and still encounter a guarded treasure, a monster with a bounty on its head, and a woman in desperate need of her lost frying pan on the way. It’s a game that rewards those that discover exploration and curiosity. Yet despite running around and doing those secondary tasks, you never quite feel like you’re just grinding, its genuinely engaging to walk into a new town and discover the people and their problems. I myself have yet to find a single ‘go to the forest and kill x amount of x’ quests. Often times these secondary quests get so large that you might end up mistaking them for being part of the main quest. The writing may not always be on top for these side quests, but overall the tone and quality remain high, and you may even start picking up Geralt’s demeanor and speaking patterns by the time you’re done. Along the way you pick up recipes for various bombs, materials, swords, armor, and mutagens that can enhance your abilities. These come together in a crafting system with a massive amount of ingredients. The problem that can occur is that few hints are given on where to find particular plants or materials. Even further unexplained is the dismantling system, where you can break down materials into smaller, different pieces. At one point I needed 3 monster claws for a sword, but it wouldn’t take my 3 water hag claws. Turns out, you had to dismantle them to get monster claws and poison.
The big feature that the Witcher series got known for was its choice and consequence system, which went the extra mile to make sure that you were constantly never truly sure if you were making the right decision. To prevent you from simply reloading the game upon making a bad choice, the game is written so that often times you won’t know the consequence of your actions until you encounter them much later on. One early quest featured a man being attacked by monsters that was asking to be saved. 9 hours later, I discovered he massacred a local village. The game also features a Sherlock Holmes/Batman style ‘Witcher Sense’, which highlights special objects in the environment that you can use. Many times when you pick up a bounty against a monster, it starts at the scene where it last attacked, it’s up to you to figure out what did it, and to pick up it’s trail. Personally I found this feature to be a little bit overused, but it is still engaging nonetheless.
The combat varies heavily on what difficulty you set it on. On the lowest difficulty, you may just get away with hacking and slashing, however on anything higher and you have to rely on your tools, movement, spells, timing and more. Geralt is extremely mobile and on top of parrying attacks he can also roll and quick dodge, albiet the controls for quick dodge can be a bit awkward. With upgrades put into the right skills he can even deflect arrows back to who shot them. The brilliant thing about the monster design in this game is that no one is given visible weak points to exploit. No big glowing eyes to say “Hey I have a problem with my eyes so I really hope you don-oh my god you shot me in the eye” In order for Geralt to be most effective, witchers need to prepare. There’s a bestiary that keeps track of the various weaknesses of each of the monsters. Being able to survive comes down to playing smart, and preparing beforehand. Higher level play demands patience and knowledge of your opponent. That’s not to say that the lower difficulty levels ruin the game, it’s just that they feel like two separate experiences.
The way Witcher 3 handles encountering these monsters is filling the map up with question marks, basically points of interest. These points can be various things such as guarded treasure, monster nests, bandit camp, or a place of power that grants a skill point. These places also may contain a monster much, much stronger than you, one that you wouldn’t stand a chance against. I personally love that feature, I don’t like open worlds where the monsters scale up with the player, it takes away from the sense of danger. You get around this world with your horse Roach, which you can call with a quick button press at any time, you also find sign posts that serve as fast travel points that can warp you from place to place, which you will need due to the sheer size of the map.
In previous Witcher games, there was always a game that served as a side quest. Witcher 1 & 2 featured dice poker, which didn’t have a whole lot of strategy to it but wasn’t a chore to play. Witcher 3 adds in a card game named Gwent in the mindset of Hearthstone to play, with 4 separate decks to build and use to compete against dozens of NPC’s. This is a massive step up from the previous games, and is definitely a worthwhile side quest that takes much more skill and understanding of the game to succeed in. It should be an enjoyable game, however a bug prevented me from activating my leader card’s ability after the first couple rounds of Gwent, so I haven’t been able to play it as much as I want to.
As far as the graphics in the game go, it is absolutely stunning to look at, albeit a very difficult game to run with the settings maxed out. NVIDIA’s hairworks, originally featured in Tomb Raider, make a return for the better, this time allowing for the hair on not just Geralt but the monsters to be flowing as well, albeit at a very steep performance cost. Many people have brought up the downgrade, if you look back at the original game play trailers for this game, it looks quite different, and much darker in terms of atmosphere. It’s true that the devs initially aimed too high and ended up having to tone it down, which is disappointing. However, The Witcher 3 still manages to be a very stunning looking game. The character detail stands out the most, and the main characters in the game have a noticeably higher quality level of motion capture compared to the village NPC’s. When two of these mo-cap’ed actors have a conversation it’s a treat, as the subtle details in their facial expression really come across well, just don’t expect that level of detail all of the time. Even small things like Geralt’s beard can astound, which grows overtime unless you have it shaven.
However, the game is not without its faults, most of these are minor however, since this has been one of the better launches I’ve seen recently. Falling damage in the game is massively overpowered, taking away large chunks of Geralt’s health for dropping down 1.5 stories. Your horse can get stuck on odd parts of geometry. The swimming /diving controls can be very awkward. Sometimes during the Witcher Sense, Geralt can run, other times he can’t. There’s the aforementioned glitch in the Gwent game that I experienced, as well as the rare crash or two. The soundtrack, while amazing, can get a bit repetitious during combat. There’s a vocal track that sounded amazing in the trailers but when you hear that lady frantically singing for the 30th time on the way to the nearest town, you really wish you could tell her to just calm down. But as I mentioned, the games faults tend to be more on the minor side, and even those that are there could be patched out.
So if you’re looking for an absolutely massive RPG with an engaging world and characters look no further than The Witcher 3, and while you’re at it, pick up 1 & 2, which are often on sale for $5 and under. This is CD Project RED’s magnum opus, their ultimate build up for the franchise that PC gamers have loved since 2007. You will absolutely get your moneys worth with this game, and will not be disappointment with the sheer amount of treasures to hunt, people to kill, sorceress’s to screw, and frying pans to be found.
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