The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is an accomplishment. Never before has such a vast world teemed with so much life and character. Main quests, side quests, and witcher contracts may drive the story forward, but it’s the overarching universe that makes the game special and unique. It does have some shortcomings, but they pale in comparison to the brilliance of the rest of the experience. The Witcher 3 isn’t just the best game of 2015, or of the generation, but possibly of all time.
The story of the Witcher 3 is perhaps its most defining quality as there exists a simply amazing amount of depth. Choices matter, affecting how the story plays out not just immediately after a decision is made, but sometimes dozens of hours later into the game. And those dozens of hours barely scratch the surface; developer CD Projekt Red boasts that there are over 200 hours of content in the main game, and that is not an exaggeration.
You may think to yourself, 200 hours? Who wants to play a game for that long? That line of thinking is understandable, but once you immerse yourself in the witcher universe, it’s hard to let go. The game features not just breadth of content; quality content abounds. Just having a single branch path in this world would be a feat in and of itself, but to offer so many intertwining storylines and options is incredible, accentuated by the fact that all of this content is actually really good.
Writing in video games almost universally leaves something to be desired. The Witcher 3’s main storyline is astonishingly captivating, but the quality doesn’t stop there; the side quests are actually interesting as well. The excellent writing is furthered by fantastic voice acting. All of the dialogue exchanges, of which there are seemingly thousands, are incredibly fluid. They just feel natural. The way the ambitious main story is woven in such a way as to complement all other stories is nothing short of masterful.
Only on one occasion did it seem like a voice actor didn’t quite match the character in question (Triss), but every single other voicing fit characters like a glove. An occasional side quest devolved into a fetch quest, but these were few and far between, and most compelled the player to feel attached to the outcome apart from just seeking experience points or gold. They provide interesting excursions into the depth of the witcher world, which seeing as how it’s hard to get enough of it, were most welcome.
The majority of the game is set in the open air as you ride from town to town and undertake various quests, and scenes from the great outdoors are simply stunning. Little touches like having your horse navigate roads through the simple holding of a button help immerse the player in the environment, also allowing you to take in the beauty of your surrounding. Riding at a slow trot on your horse while panning the camera around in a 360 degree circle can quickly become a recurring experience, just to soak in the world. The music perfectly complements your entire journey through the game and is just as masterful as every other detail that CD Projekt Red obsessed over in molding a complete experience. It expertly lends atmosphere to key situations, and backs off in just the right way to facilitate a grand adventure when riding through the hills and valleys of the world.
Some sections relegate you to towns for long periods of time. This makes perfect sense, but the sense of majesty isn’t as great in those settings, and riding through open fields makes for a better experience. Some later parts in the game feature more bleak, gray environments, which again, while fitting for specific situations, just doesn’t feel as grand as being in the wild. That being said, in keeping with the rest of the game, the towns that CD Projekt Red have created feel like a living entity that you participate in and create a different (albeit not as enthralling) environment that still feels authentic.
The level of detail, from random rooms in a tavern to the shrubs of the outdoors, astonishes the player at every turn. Given the incredible scope of the game, you shouldn’t expect such detail, but it’s there; from dressers to cooking stoves to tapestries, they all look fantastic. Even Geralt’s beard grows in real time, which, given the quality of the rest of the experience, it would be surprising if it didn’t.
Your main quest is to find your “daughter” Ciri, and this takes you through a variety of different locations that all feel like their own unique ecosystem. You’ll gamble with townspeople, slay monsters, unite families, and play cards along the way. That’s right; on top of everything else, Witcher 3 features its own card game called gwent which could almost be a game in and of itself, as it is fleshed out and entertaining all on its own.
Throughout this main objective, you’ll spend a lot of time in menus, dismantling and crafting components necessary to strengthen your character and facilitate progression in the story. You also have access to a beastiary that helps categorize and keep track of enemies you face so that you know how to approach them in the future. This becomes especially important as you face stronger enemies, as you’ll need to know what oils to craft and apply to give you an advantage in battle. On top of those notes, there is a truck load full of notes and writings that provide further backstory for those interested in learning more about the lore of the universe.
Your main journey is supplemented by side quests and witcher contracts, which you can pick and choose from notice boards in each town you discover. Shockingly, most of these are interesting and add to the experience, and in comparison to other large RPGs, feature a very small amount that could be classified as mundane filler. In fact, many of these quests are meaningful in determining your relationship with various characters from the main quests.
Aside from structured quests, you sometimes stumble on towns that have become inhabited by monsters. As choice is the name of the game, you can simply ride on by, but if you choose to stop and slay these squatters, the townspeople will return, sometimes bringing manufacturers of unique weapons or armor. Because clearly, the game needs more things for you to do.
On top of all its other achievements, The Witcher 3 manages to be a comedy at times. Seeing Geralt crack a wise one, “Do you really have an imp problem? Or is that just an imp-perfection in your contract?” is absolutely hilarious. Exchanges like this are made so much more funny by virtue of the fact that you have an incredibly serious, badass witcher making the joke. The game intersperses exchanges like these throughout in masterfully orchestrated intervals; seeing these quips too regularly would become annoying, but they come into play with just the right level of frequency.
As should be evident by the date when this review was published, several patches have been deployed and fixed many of the issues that accompanied the game upon release. However, there are still some frustrating features that remain. For example, the game constantly redirects you to the main quest objective, sometimes when you’re smack dab in the middle of a side quest, necessitating a trip to the menu screen and a reassignment of objective. Sometimes when you have multiple main objectives marked on your map, the game isn’t clear which one needs to be visited first, which can lead to spending time traveling to an objective that you can’t yet begin.
Combat isn’t bad, but it just isn’t as good as it could be. The addition of oils and signs (magic spells Geralt can use in and outside of combat) add depth, but the basic hack and slash mechanics aren’t as interesting, and it’s tempting to sometimes just rely on dodging and slashing. Sometimes it seems like button presses don’t register, and it can be quite frustrating to experience a loss at the end of a big fight due to conditions outside your control. Thankfully this has improved considerably after patches, but it still leaves something to be desired.
It’s highly recommended to play this game on one of the two harder difficulties to add some complexity to the system, as you’re not really required to use things like oils and potions if you play on an easier difficulty, which further oversimplifies the experience. If you do however play on the harder difficulties, as you progress you learn the value of using oils, runestones, and other enhancers. The level of detail and customization as you level your character, while overwhelming at first, ends up being an empowering experience that makes you feel like you’ve crafted Geralt in your own image.
The main problem is that most combat with overworld monsters and humans just involves spamming light and heavy attacks. Tougher enemies require extra attention and consideration of tactics, but those occasions aren’t as frequent as the smaller time enemies. Playing on the harder difficulties helps with this and makes the experience much more enjoyable and rewarding; regardless, the somewhat bland combat on easier difficulties is a very forgivable blemish given the scope of the game.
You occasionally play as Ciri, but unfortunately this does little to mix up the fairly straightforward combat. Ciri has special powers, such as a quick dash attack and health regeneration, that make her borderline invincible, effectively reducing the level of excitement. That being said, it’s fun to occasionally jump into her shoes and play through her parts of the story.
It’s almost comical that Geralt can die from excessively short drops in elevation. You may have just had an intense battle with a gigantic monster and survived a brutal onslaught of attacks, only to have all your health wiped out by a tiny drop over the side of a cliff or railing. These cheap deaths then require waiting through a loading screen and sometimes necessitate repeating some of your work, and just don’t seem necessary.
Speaking of repeating your work, it is a nice feature that you can pin items you wish to craft in store menus so you can clearly see which ingredients you need. However, there wasn’t any way to see if you could have produced some of those ingredients from dismantling other items you already had, which led to a lot of extra work repeatedly checking your inventory and seeing what you could dismantle.
Finally, the candle extinguishing is worth noting. At first, this seemed like a neat little trick using one of Geralt’s signs, but it quickly became frustrating and annoying within the very first room in the game. As with most RPGs, you spend a lot of time looting, and the button for looting is the same as the one for extinguishing a candle. This resulted in a countless number of times where Geralt would switch to extinguishing and reigniting a candle when you’re simply trying to loot a bunch of crates, unnecessarily stalling progress.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is quite possibly the best video game ever made. It’s that good. It constantly amazes at every turn. Just when you think you couldn’t be more smitten with the game, a character named Callonetta serenades you with a mournful but incredibly beautiful ballad. Detail detail, detail; at every turn, The Witcher 3 impresses with its attention to detail. Superb writing, gorgeous worlds, interesting characters, and the ability to completely envelope the player in the witcher universe makes this a must-play game. It’s the most immersive, quality experience ever created, and deserves your attention.