Perhaps the greatest fantasy role-playing game in the history of the genre.
I can say with relative certainty that I have never played a game like The Witcher 3. I found myself trying to draw comparisons to things like Dragon Age or Skyrim or even some elements of Dante’s Inferno, but kept coming up empty. It is a very unique game: especially in lore, setting, narrative storytelling and the like. It seems that almost every facet of The Witcher 3 is handled artfully, skillfully and beautifully. I know that sounds fallacious, but let me preface this entire review by saying that this game deserves all of the credit that it receives. My job is to be as objective as possible. However, given how much I adore The Witcher 3, I guarantee that some subjectivity is going to leak through.
To begin with, I was initially hesitant to purchase the game as it would be the first in the trilogy for me to play. I had not read any of the books, so I was completely ignorant of the Witcherverse. The Witcher series hopped around on platforms, originally being a PC exclusive. Then it was released on Xbox 360 and PC for The Witcher 2. And finally it landed on a Sony console with The Witcher 3. CD Projekt RED has explained the reasoning for this. It seemed to be a mostly because of the financial difficulty it was for them to port the games over to the other consoles. This left countless people, including myself, without the opportunity to experience the series. There is quite a bit of source material comprising the Witcherverse, and it is easy to feel too overwhelmed to even dive into the rich, fantastical world. However, The Witcher 3 is presented absolutely brilliantly. It feels familiar enough that even a total greenhorn could be instantly comfortable with the characters and world–like the player is catching up with old friends and hearing of their exploits and adventures. The exposition is filled in by the characters with an adroitness that establishes a fantastical universe. There is still plenty of mystery and intrigue conducive to exploring with many secrets still to be learned. The Witcher 3’s plot follows the protagonist, Geralt, on his quest to find his beloved Yennefer and his adopted daughter, Ciri. Ciri is being hunted down by a crew of supernatural warriors called the Wild Hunt, as she possesses an extremely powerful latent energy that they want to use for their own intentions. While this is a story that I have heard before in some form or another, it feels wildly unique, and I think that that is due to the incredible storytelling done by the writers.
If I were to pick a standout aspect of the game, it would absolutely be how the narrative is told. Like most fantasy games, the plot is detailed through questing, whether they be primary or even secondary objectives. Quite a few games that are cut from a similar cloth (massive, open-world, fantasy RPGs) suffer from lackluster, meaningless side quests. Examples include stories that feel thrown together to grant easy experience, the illusion to give the game more depth, et cetera. This game is quite the opposite. The quests are unique from one another. There are monster hunting quests, where Geralt acts as some sort of a fantastical detective, investigating mysterious murders, livestock killings, supposedly haunted estates, and the like. There are also the typical fare of quests: gathering items for people, escorting someone to a specific location, and so on. It all feels fresh and different in The Witcher 3. An otherwise average quest is enhanced through dynamic dialogue choices, revealing more of the enigmatic protagonist and the multi-faceted characters within the universe. These give you reasons to care about what you are doing for the needy denizens.
Another unique feature of The Witcher 3 is in the expansive combat system. While it plays like a fairly run-of-the-mill action-RPG, there is a sizable amount of complex battle preparation options to make potentially difficult encounters significantly easier to handle. The basic battle abilities are varied and allow for several methods of taking on enemies. Geralt always has two swords on his back. One of them is made of steel the other is made of silver. The steel sword fulfills the duties of an average blade: beheading, severing limbs, stabbing, piercing and a whole bevy of sword-related verbs. The silver sword, on the other hand, is to be used on monsters, which plays into the folkloric adage that silver is powerful against supernatural beings. A nifty feature that The Witcher 3 has that you may not even notice is that Geralt automatically pulls out the appropriate blade given the fight that you come up against.
The other hugely important component to practically all battles in this game is the use of magic, or signs within the Witcherverse.) Geralt has access to a generous quantity of signs, each of them vastly different from the next and all of them incredibly utilitarian. One spell sprays fire from your hands like a nonstop flamethrower, devouring all of the horrific monsters in your wake. Another encases Geralt in an invisible forcefield that protects you from blows. You can also use a form of mind control on enemies to have them fight for you. Each spell can be upgraded and they can assume alternate forms that allows for even more variation in your arsenal.
Besides signs and melee combat, there are crossbows in the game which give you a ranged advantage over enemies. Shooting an enemy in the head with a crossbow bolt is super effective (successful Pokemon reference snuck in). You’re also given different types of crossbow bolts with magical or engineered properties: explosive, silver-tipped, et cetera. All of them have massive difference in the heat of battle. Lastly, there are a few different types of grenades that can be used to blow groups of enemies to pieces. Grenades are invaluable and completely worth investing time and skill points into for more damage and carrying capacity.
For a game with such a focus on glorious narrative storytelling, combat plays a pivotal role as well with Geralt being a paid monster hunter. Part of the beauty in The Witcher 3’s battle systems comes from the preparation for the action. Gathering and crafting is a major function of the game, as it allows for you to build and upgrade armor and weapons, alchemical elements used for making potions, sword oils, grenades and the like. You can find information about monsters you’ll face by any sort of means: scrolls on a bookshelf, NPCs, killing another type of monster within their classification and discovering their weaknesses and then you can use all of that to better formulate how best to take on your future foes. You can use specific sword oils to exploit the weaknesses of monsters, signs to further damage them or protect yourself, potions to safeguard yourself from poison, frost, fire, (fill in element here), or attempt to take on the enemies with more blunt tactics like grenades, swords, or crossbow bolts. The Witcher 3 greatly encourages strategic planning. And let me tell you, it is rewarding as hell to come up against a particularly fearsome opponent and being properly prepared for it and succeed in completely dismantling them. Combat in this game is dynamic; enemies change, become stronger and harder to handle and implement new techniques to maintain challenge in the game. You are given more than enough options to annihilate them in style. And once you start becoming comfortable with the fighting style and different techniques that Geralt has at his disposal, combat flows very smoothly and effectively. To say that the The Witcher 3 is an average action RPG, in regards to the combat, would be a cardinal sin.
The Witcher 3 has been described as the first true next-generation game from a graphical perspective. There was some early controversy that the developers had decreased the graphical quality prior to release. It was significantly prevalent when compared to early footage shown of the game. Nevertheless, the graphics ended up being wildly impressive at release. The game has a crisp, vibrant color palette breathing life into its colossal world. It is filled with gorgeous vistas, snowy mountain ranges, and vast swaths of open ocean. The universe in which The Witcher series takes place is based partially on medieval Poland and different Slavic cultures. CD Projekt RED is a developer based in Poland. I have never been to Poland, so for all I know, there are noonwraiths, witchers, ghost infants and all of that going on over there and this series is expository non-fiction. There were some occasional graphical bugs here and there. Sometimes I encountered jumpy frame rates and interesting moments during a cutscene like when my horse would hilariously slide through the floor in the background. It does potentially ruin the gravitas of a conversation or scene. Most of the major bugs in the game have been fixed by this point, as the developers occasionally release patches to fix issues that come up.
The Witcher 3 is supported by a tremendous, epic soundtrack that sounds akin to The Lord of the Rings series’ score. From the folky, acoustic guitar and female singer driven songs to the powerful, awe-inspiring battle songs that make you want to save the world in glorious, badass style, I found myself noticing the soundtrack constantly through the course of the game. Most people say that it’s more effective if a soundtrack does not catch your attention or distract you while you’re watching a movie or playing a game, but I have always thought otherwise. A truly effective soundtrack catches your attention and makes the scene more puissant than if something weaker had been included–or if it did not fit the scene as appropriately. I am of the mindset that music is a key component to the composition of a scene in both movies and video games. The Witcher 3 is blessed with a completely badass soundtrack that adds a great deal of depth to most aspects of the game.
The Witcher 3 can be almost solely described by the word “value.” Here is a video game that could have easily cost upwards of one-hundred dollars and a higher price tag would have been totally justified. The Witcher 3 is elbow-deep in things to accomplish: hundreds of sidequests, caches of loot to discover, rare monsters to hunt down, bareknuckle boxing tournaments to compete in, a huge map filled with secrets and mysteries to explore and solve, and Gwent. I would be remiss to not mention Gwent, a fully developed and intense card game that exists within the world of The Witcher. It’s pretty meta, as most of the cards are representations of characters that exist within the game world. So it’s kinda weird playing as Geralt, a C-list celebrity in the game world, and then having a Geralt card in your possession. It doesn’t seem like anyone notices it in the game. While gwent was not my cup of tea, a lot of people liked it and considered it better thought out and more fun than many popular real world card games of today.
There is a full “new game plus” mode that allows you to bring your items, skills and progression through the game at a heightened difficulty. Not to mention, there are two massive expansions for The Witcher 3. One of them is called Hearts of Stone. The other expansion, Blood and Wine, is set to release sometime in the first half of 2016. The two expansions together are said to clock in at around 30-40 hours of game play. That is absolutely absurd, given that they are only thirty dollars together. The two expansions for The Witcher 3 are longer than a lot of AAA games these days. Containing over 200 hours of quality gameplay is almost unheard of in most Western RPGs. The Witcher 3 gives an incredible amount of bang for your buck. I could not recommend a game more for any kind of gamer. Whether you only beat the main story, or obsess over every minute detail and try to complete the game in its entirety, it’s absolutely worth buying and experiencing The Witcher 3.