The Witcher 3 Review
“If that’s what it takes to save the world, it’s better to let that world die”
This may indeed prove to be CD Projekt Red’s final Witcher game, but it’s legacy will surely ripple through the industry for many years to come. It represents the pinnacle of what an open-world RPG represents to its players, uncompromising freedom splashed with rich storytelling. It ignites a sense of precious wanderlust whenever you delve into this phenomenally dense world. Moreover, The Witcher 3 is utterly remarkable in how it effortlessly entwines intensely personal tales of grief and sorrow, to wider themes of political intrigue and prophecy. It’s fantasy yes, but make no mistake this is a world bathed in brutality and one that seems to revel in twisting conventional morality beyond all recognition.
This is a monumental adventure, but it harmonizes its scope with an intimacy in a way no other game has achieved. The result is a game where every aspect feels authentic and meaningful, and an entire experience that is consequently unmissable.
The central story has you once again assume the role of returning protagonist, Geralt of Rivia, a master Witcher who is seeking his lost ward, a young woman named Ciri whom he essentially raised as his own daughter as well as a skilled monster-slayer. However she’s not only valuable in terms of personal attachment, she also holds a sacred power that could hold the key to defeating an ancient prophecy. Geralt is not the only figure searching for her however, with the formidable Wild Hunt also on her trail, a group long thought to be merely confined to myth and superstition, with only terrified peasants whispering their name in the night as village populations continue to vanish.
It’s a journey that takes Geralt to all three major regions in the world, from the rural swamps and thick forests of Velen, which is engulfed by perpetual monster infestation and merciless banditry led by deserters from war. Giving way to the criminal intrigue and urban sprawl of the city of Novigrad, the dark alleys providing the perfect shroud to the growing organised crime syndicates, while racial tensions boil among the population with magic-users and minorities ruthlessly persecuted under a fanatical regime. Then there’s the enchanting island surroundings of Skellige, a beautiful frozen landscape where rival clans view it as tradition to murder and pillage in an attempt to achieve recognition in local folklore. Skellige is my personal favourite; it has a mystical aura about it, the breathtaking vistas are ethereal in comparison to your early struggles in Velen, an unmistakable purity emanates there.
The wilderness of Skellige
Furthermore, each of these locations feels like a real place, with differences between them going far beyond obvious cosmetic details, local politics diverge in their conduct as do the attitude of the people toward Geralt himself. There’s a subtly to the environments that make it feel practical, intriguingly creating a sense of warped normality, which renders the appearance of a fantastical monster all the more disconcerting. To echo this strain of thought, the geography and architecture come together naturally, it may be painstaking game design in reality but it crucially gives off the mirage of being effortless; the way crumbling roads meander into forgotten footpaths or thick foliage covering the remains of a monster’s lair, it feels lived in and such a considerable achievement must not be underestimated.
Indeed, it certainly must not considering the game looks absolutely stunning as well, as previously mentioned the enormous open-world is characterised by intimate details, providing an unprecedented layer of authenticity into a fantasy world. The breadth of unique NPC’s is similarly staggering, with so many of them also giving out unique quests if Geralt cares to speak to them. Each character is adorned with realistic facial expressions, engaging camera angles and lengthy cut-scenes. A supreme level of effort has been poured into each passing moment, no matter the significance of the scene, there’s a care in the production rarely seen and it enriches the game greatly. A detailed day/night cycle and dynamic weather caps it all off, cementing The Witcher 3 as one of the best-looking games you can play right now.
Getting back to the main narrative now and Geralt’s quest to find Ciri is certainly gripping, containing a maturity sorely lost in so many other games in the genre, after all it’s about finding a loved one first and foremost, rather than saving the world. Hence the scenario is deeply personal; having the effect of making the player an active participant rather than a detached spectator, it’s a triumph in scriptwriting.
It helps enormously that Geralt himself isn’t merely a blank slate for the player to shape at will, undoubtedly you have real freedom to tailor his approach, be it his moral code or activity in politics, but he’s an established personality regardless. Whether it’s responding to a guard with dry sarcasm or getting drunk with his fellow Witchers, Geralt is certainly an engaging lead and he injects the narrative with genuine charm.
The quests you take on meanwhile are so impressive; indeed this is where Wild Hunt becomes something rather extraordinary. It achieves a perfect balance between giving the player content, and making that content feel like an organic extension to your primary activities. You travel to a village and look through the noticeboard; often you’ll discover a contract for a Witcher concerning a monster that’s been terrorizing the local people, you don’t have to take it of course but it feels natural that this content be available to the player, tapping into Geralt’s noted monster-slaying skills. Furthermore, monsters are just an everyday part of life, these aren’t be-all and end-all, but a regular occurrence in a chaotic world, making Geralt feel less like a hero born into prophecy, and more a guy flourishing in his profession.
Indeed, the quests have been constructed so carefully that everything you find is uniquely attached to the area; each one has a crafted story attached no matter how trivial they may initially appear. For instance in one intricate tale, you become involved in the plight of a family that’s been torn apart by grief and anger, exploring themes such as domestic abuse, infidelity and miscarriage, and you only went there originally to check on a lead on Ciri. For me this aspect is the most remarkable achievement of Wild Hunt, the quests expand organically mirroring the circumstances of the world they live in, life is never cut and dry and consequently quests rarely are as straightforward as they seem. By taking this approach, the game forges a strong connection with its sprawling fantasy world. There is natural intrigue ahead of taking on a quest, invigorated not by the desire to earn some extra XP but for the tales they may tell.
Morality plays a principal role in navigating these stories too, in the Witcher’s world right and wrong is forsaken for cause and effect. The many decisions you make will have consequences, some may be crucial to the narrative, others more veiled in their impact. But in a complex world such as this, doing the ‘right thing’ can often have disastrous consequences while being more ruthless can yield a better conclusion. It all depends on the circumstances of course, thus expansive implementation of player choice and a level of dialogue so natural and fluid that few can measure up to renders Witcher 3 the leader in storytelling in the genre.
A sense of narrative seeps into the combat too, with Geralt needing to understand exactly what monster it is he intends to fight. So for example, in a ‘Witcher Contract’ the game tasks you with talking to witnesses and investigating areas of previous attacks, it’s highly unlikely the survivors know precisely what type of monster it is, after all they’re not a Witcher. Therefore, you have to tap into your ‘Witcher senses’ to uncover clues to discover its identity, this mechanic highlights tracks, bloodstains and other significant objects of interest in a lurid red making it easy to figure out exactly where you’re going. Using this knowledge, Geralt will eventually pinpoint what the creature’s weaknesses will be as displayed in your handy ‘Bestiary’. You can craft oils to apply to your sword which will give you a notable attack boost provided you’ve used the right one against the appropriate monster, this is the same for bombs and potions too. This process of investigation, preparation and confrontation is wonderfully realized, not only having the effect of making every encounter feel unique, but also fully immersing the player into the role as a specialist monster-hunter.
This layer of strategy encompasses the general combat; the swordplay is intense and visceral no matter if you’re facing man or monster. Geralt’s an expert swordsman so he’s got a lot of moves for the player to exploit, be it the traditional light and heavy attacks, separate dodge and roll buttons and magic abilities as well. You can’t just expect to dominate your enemy however, you will be punished for making mistakes, indeed it’s all about identifying the right time to attack, dodging just before an enemy makes a lunge and going on the offensive when they’re stunned. Magic abilities offer more flexibility in terms of approach, the magic signs vary from fire, shield and mind manipulation. For instance, if you’re facing a particularly powerful monster, you may want to consider using the shield ability to give yourself a bit more protection, but if you’re against a group of bandits, setting them all on fire would certainly go towards ending the conflict quicker. All this comes with practice, and the flow of battles will click once you’ve studied enemy attack patterns and familiarizing yourself with the bestiary.
With regards to traditional RPG elements, enemies don’t scale to your level in Witcher 3, thus you may find yourself stumbling across foes that you are plainly ill-equipped to fight. You may of course take on a challenge that far out-ranks your level, and victory can be exhilarating. However this structure allows the game to breathe, the player is elegantly eased into the world, it’s an invitation to savour the entirety the world, not simply the areas that yield the most gold or gear.
It’s a real shame then that after all these accomplishments that technical shortfalls threaten to dampen the experience. Playing on PS4 the frame-rate plummets when navigating the city of Novigrad, textures often don’t load up in time for buildings and NPCs when you pass them by and loading screens are too long. Oddly enough, the performance issues were largely confined to Novigrad, roaming the other regions is far more stable in this regard and these problems may indeed continue to be ironed out in further patches. Nonetheless, there were substantial technical issues present in my playthrough of the game, and it did detract from the overall experience.
Overall, The Witcher 3 is an incredible game, one where the passion from the developers is etched everywhere you look in this wondrous world. It offers so much content yet everything you do feels part of something painstakingly crafted. It undoubtedly has technical issues, but its vivid storytelling and remarkable ambition make it easy to endure. It’s such a richly rewarding experience and one that sparkles as a true labour of love from its creators.
+Every piece of content feels meaningful
+Outstanding quest design
+Beautiful world to explore