The Witcher series has been a bit like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the first one had too complex and clunky combat, the second had complicated menus and targeting issues, but it seems that CD Projekt Red got it juuuust right with the final game in the trilogy, The Witcher III: Wild Hunt.
Look Forward Without Looking Back
Some have purposely overlooked The Witcher III because they never put the time or effort into beating the first two games in the series. However, as some fans discovered with The Witcher II: Assassin of Kings, the series presented an accessible story that those with even moderate intelligence could figure out without difficulty.
The Witcher III is the same.
Players can read up on the lore beforehand, including the long series of Polish short stories and novels that the games are based on, or they can dive right in and look at The Witcher III as a standalone story. While some of Geralt’s history with reoccurring characters from the lore is never fully explained, it is presented in such a way that the connections are easy to make. This leaves players able to understand the overall story and explore the expansive and content-rich world within the game.
A Story for the Ages
In The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, players once again take the helm of Geralt of Rivia, a breed of monster slayer known as a witcher that has been altered by mutagens to skillfully kill the dangerous creatures that prowl his world. The tale opens with Geralt looking for a woman after recovering his memories from the amnesia he suffered in the previous two games.
At its core, the story of The Witcher III is always about Geralt looking for a woman, but not always the same one. While the main story quests follow the same pattern of having Geralt go to a different area in search of someone, only having to do a favor in return for the next part in a long tale. While sounding tedious and repetitive, it is presented in such a way that leaves players engaged, interested, and, at times, emotionally conflicted as everything in The Witcher III has consequences.
Even on side quests and Witcher contracts that has Geralt going out and killing monsters for much-needed coin, players can expect every cause to have an effect. Just one of many examples is a minor side event in which Geralt finds a man tied up next to a river, left to be ripped apart by drowners, monsters that dwell by the water. The man claims to be a survivor from the recently crushed army of Temeria, but the group of refugees he fell in with took him for a deserter even though both the army and nation are no more.
If you choose to free him, it won’t be the last time you encounter this man. The next time you meet him, he has started a group of bandits and slaughtered innocent refugees. That blood is on your hands. However, there are plenty of good people in bad situations in the world of The Witcher, yet enough bad people to give players Day Z-level trust issues again.
CD Projekt Red has always had a talent for dark tales and god-tier characterization. Everyone in The Witcher III, from characters crucial to the main story all the way down to the lowliest NPC has a story to tell. They were written with emotions, secrets, and daily lives that have the ability to make the player both hate and empathize with a character at the same time. As such, every quest in The Witcher III is enthralling in its own right, leaving players eager to see what will happen next.
No matter how ensnaring the story of The Witcher III is, like the previous games, it means nothing without interesting and accessible combat. Unlike the previous games, CD Projekt Red has finally gotten the formula right. The combat is fluid, fast-paced, and with a difficulty that actually scales with the game’s difficulty settings.
In the war-torn nations of Velen, Novigrad, and Skellige, there is a lot of fighting to do. Not only does Geralt have to contend with a wide array of different monsters, but the men in the world of The Witcher are just as dangerous. However, each require different tactics to deal with. Silver swords, dodging, and monster-specific Witcher potions are best for dealing with challenging beasts while men beg to be bit by a steel blade and a well-timed parry to avoid the attacks. However, both types of enemies can be weakened, trapped, damaged, influenced and defended against by Geralt’s manageable array of Witcher signs that can be improved by leveling up.
The combat, at its core, is similar to previous games, but has been streamlined so that there are no longer any complicated menus or buttons to hold down. However, the awesomeness that is Witcher III lies in its small details.
Wearing light armor lets Geralt dodge and strike as nimble as a cat while heavy armor, though making him slower to dodge, allows him to shrug off Royal Griffin acid like it was a refreshing summer rain. Utilizing the array of different bombs can help with subduing magical enemies, blinding sizable hordes of bandits, or exploding enemies in a graphic display of severed limbs and flying eyeballs. Yet, even when just using his blade, every strike Geralt hits feels as graceful as it is brutal, made even more satisfying with occasional slow motion enemy deaths that feature a visceral spray of blood when Geralt removes a head or an arm in one smooth, fluid motion.
On easier difficulties, players will be able to get by without fully utilizing all of Geralt’s witcher abilities or tools, but don’t expect to get by with the same tactics on The Witcher III’s highest difficulty setting, Death March. With higher damage and no health regeneration, the damage shielding Quen sign, keeping health regeneration food on hand, crafting better gear, and using Witcher potions becomes a necessity rather than just a handy convenience.
A World, Alive
One of the most impressive features of The Witcher III: Wild Hunt is its world. With an expansive map that dwarfs even Skyrim in sheer size, there is plenty to see. However, a large map means nothing if the world feels empty with no reason to explore, yet the world of The Witcher III feels more alive than any game. NPCs go about their daily lives around you, storms blow in slowly from the distance, and there are plenty of dangerous enemies to slay.
The Witcher III took a page out of the books of games like Skyrim in and Fallout by not just creating massive maps, but adding things to do on them. From notice boards in town, players can not only find lucrative Witcher contracts and other side quests, but they can learn about points of interest that show up as question marks on the map. These areas may contain treasure guarded by tough enemies, bandits with their own treasure horde, or places of power to enhance your witcher signs and give players bonus ability points to level up.
Each area looks unique and beautiful, often in its own rustic simplicity, with rewards that entice players to explore as much as they can.
However, The Witcher III is a world that is not yet done growing. With the two paid DLC that CD Projekt Red has already released, players can delve into new places and new stories still. Yet, not all of The Witcher’s bonus content is gated behind a pay wall. After release, CD Projekt Red wooed fans by releasing fifteen items of free DLC that are still available to this day. This DLC ranged from new armor and cosmetics to new quests to tackle as well as a New Game+ mode that takes the difficulty to a new level. While a small token of their appreciation towards their fans, in this world of Day One DLC, such an amount of free DLC is a refreshing change.
This video below may seem long, but the senior designer at CD Projekt Red does a great job of introducing Geralt and some basic game workings.
Why Does it Have to End?
Even the surliest critics have piled on the praise for The Witcher III: Wild Hunt for doing almost everything right. However, the only real problem with the game is that it is the end of a series. The Witcher III and its multiple endings left players feeling satisfied with the end of Geralt’s tale (or lamenting their choices), but it also created a thirst for more.
The Witcher III’s brilliant story, characters, smooth combat, and living world captured our hearts and reminded us what an awesome game looks like. Its popularity and consistent Game of the Year awards for 2015 may sway CD Projekt Red from abandoning the world of The Witcher, but only time will tell.
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