Review – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the latest release by Polish developer CD Projekt Red, and closes out the trilogy of games featuring Geralt – a white-haired monster hunter with a knack for becoming embroiled in political intrigue – with style. As a Witcher, mutated and trained from youth for the purpose of hunting down monsters, Geralt enjoys a number of advantages over normal humans: enhanced strength and speed, durability, longevity, and access to magic, but he’s still in tough against the likes of golems and werewolves.
This time out the story focuses on Geralt’s struggles to protect Ciri, his Witcher protégé, from the titular Wild Hunt – a band of specters that Geralt has encountered in past games. Longtime fans will be delighted to see faces from past games make a return, and choices made in The Witcher 2 come into play. Those without a save game (on PC) or who are playing on console will run through a series of questions that set their world state for the purposes of continuity. Fortunately, you don’t need to have played the previous games in the franchise or read the books to enjoy The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. You’ll get more out of the story and the supporting characters if you’re familiar with the history, but it’s not necessary thanks to a well-written plot that can stand on its own.
I enjoyed my run through the story, but was most impressed by how CD Projekt Red implemented side missions, the kind of missions that are normally mindless filler in an RPG: fetch this, kill that, bring (x) amount of (y) to (z), that kind of thing. Instead I found myself getting backstory on the life of people in the little collection of huts that constitutes a town, then playing medieval Batman and sleuthing out clues as to what really happened.
The story is backed by gameplay that offers significant challenge at the highest difficulty but is still very approachable for gamers with lower ‘action game’ skill levels when set at the lower end of the difficulty curve. At the outset Geralt has fast or strong attacks, an array of defensive and offensive magic, and the ability to parry and counter incoming melee attacks – an impressive arsenal that grows more powerful as you level up and put points into your choice of skills.
As in past games, Geralt will do fine in regular combat but you’ll need to do your homework before taking on major battles against monstrous foes. Taking out a group of Nekker, small goblin-like creatures, requires some battlefield awareness but not much more than that, but if you’re going up against the likes of a griffon – an early major encounter – then you’ll want to brew up some potions to bolster your body and prepare oils to augment your swords.
Visually, The Witcher is a delight – with vast expanses of grasslands, thick forests, and fantastic skyboxes. Adding to the immersive effects, there’s movement everywhere. Grass and trees alike move with the wind, a particularly impressive effect when riding your horse towards a setting sun, and it’s rare that you’ll find an environment that doesn’t have something roaming through it. From bears to wolves, there’s a good variety of creature types to slaughter for their alchemical bits and pieces, and little touches like a bunny hopping along really help bring the world to life…at least until a wolf comes along and tears that bunny to pieces.