About 2 months back, I finally bought a PS4 and joined the current generation of gamers enjoying the best console currently available. Therefore, to mark the occasion, I had a choice to make: which game to get first? Without much hesitation, I chose The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt created by developers CD Projekt Red. The following review will be free of all but the minutest of spoilers.
The Witcher 3 is a western-style RPG based on a series of fantasy novels written in the early 90’s by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, set in a world influenced heavily by the great J. R. R. Tolkien as well as traditional fairy tales, creating a distinct identity that avoids plagiarism.
Regarding the game itself, this instalment (the 3rd in the series for those discerning people blessed with the ability to count) was my first foray into the world of The Witcher and engrossed me from the very first minute.
The player takes control of Geralt of Rivia, the titular Witcher (Witchers being a group of highly trained monster hunters imbued with arcane knowledge, potions and spells; men inexplicably shunned by the civilised world) as he searches the Northern lands for his former ward and adopted daughter Ciri, in an effort to protect her from the deadly Elven race known as the Wild Hunt, who require Ciri’s unique abilities to escape their dying world. During his quest to locate Ciri, Geralt encounters a prodigious cast of unique and interesting characters, including his two love interests; the sorceresses Triss Merigold and Yennefer of Vengerberg. Geralt’s journey leads through numerous side-plots that focus on different aspects of Sapkowski’s world; tales of political intrigue, persecution and love are just a few of the themes explored in these branching narratives.
The gameplay meanwhile, is a brilliant blend of hack-and-slash combat (a style I usually avoid) and strategic, tactical gameplay. Unlike titles such as God of War, however, The Witcher 3 requires the player to master both parrying and dodging, placing as much emphasis on these skills as attacking – simply mashing the attack buttons won’t work. Additionally, two distinct fighting styles and sets of equipment are required, depending on your opponent; should you come up against one of the mythical creatures, such as a drowner, your silver sword and the dodge command are mandatory, whilst the combination of your steel sword and a well-timed parry is the recipe for success when faced with mortal enemies. This simple feature, when combined with a fulsome bestiary of foes, keeps the game interesting and challenging until the end credits (assuming you play on a level above the easiest setting) in a smooth and fluent manner. Complementing the combat system is a comprehensive skill tree, which allows each player to fine-tune Geralt in a way that best suits the individual’s combat preferences. Though, unlike many RPG’s, only 16 of your unlocked abilities can be equipped at any one time, increasing the importance of strategy, especially when fighting tougher foes.
That’s not to say the gameplay is perfect. A moderate number of minor and serious glitches hinder The Witcher 3 on a consistent basis, including one or two rare, quest-breaking errors. There are some systemic issues too. Looting chests and fallen foes can be unnecessarily tricky in certain situations, due largely to the over-sensitivity of the analogue sticks, leading to some rather fiddly and frustrating manoeuvring.
Minor issues aside, arguably the most impressive feature of the game is its sheer vastness. There are dozens upon dozens of quests, tasks and contracts to complete inside a world which dwarfs almost every other game made to date in terms of its complexity, resulting in a purported 160 hours of playtime. Of especial note is CD Projekt Red’s attention to detail; the broad landscapes are thickly populated with an array of flora and fauna which helps immerse the player in the story and bring the world to life. Beautifully vivid graphics that push modern hardware to the limit and high-quality voice acting increase the sense of immersion.
Lastly, there are various small touches that demonstrate the effort expended on The Witcher 3. The sixteen pieces of free DLC available to every player and Gwent, an exquisite card-minigame, are but two examples that suggest CD Projekt Red genuinely appreciate their audience – something FIFA creators EA and other prominent developers could learn from.
To summarise, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a phenomenal game that is sure to be discussed by gamers for generations to come. Though I wouldn’t say this is the best game I’ve ever played, it is nonetheless a masterpiece that deserves nothing less than a 10/10.