Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - Game of the Year Edition has been and always will be one of my favorite games of all time. As some one who was completely new to the Witcher Franchise I was very hesitant to immediately jump to the 3rd installment. Also not knowing any of the lore from the books made me feel as though I wouldn't understand anything or anyone in this massive open world game. A few of my friends had mixed reviews on the game as well. It wasn't until I saw the Game of the Year edition on sale that I decided to take the plunge and I am beyond glad I had. The game is simply amazing and I truly believe it has a little bit of everything to appeal to a large market of gamers. From monster hunting, to horse races, to playing cards (GWENT) and troubled romances, this game truly has it all. The open world format truly gives you the freedom to explore every nook and cranny it has to offer. In this review I will look at a few major things that I believe made the game worth every penny and why I invested over 500 hours in play time.
The Main Storyline - This is the very first time I met Geralt of Rivia and within minutes I was already intrigued by this character. He is by far one of the most unique protagonist characters I have played and you can tell a lot of thought was put into the character design. His reactions, his troubled romances and his countless misfortunes made him feel human. This made the main story line a lot more enjoyable to me. I enjoyed the main storyline right up until the rolling credits. The fact that every action you choose can cause altered events and endings within the game really compelled me to see how the events would unfold. Every character you meet within the main story are all unique and make lasting impressions. It also did a nice job of easing in new players such as myself who had never played any of the past witcher's to not be completely lost where the story picked up. I have read that playing the past witcher games and knowing the lore sometimes made other players appreciate other things a little more but I found that not knowing anything prior to this game didn't alter my experience at all. Overall the main storyline is a good length in completion time and I found that due to the difficulty I was playing on (Deathmarch) I couldn't simply progress to each part of the story. I had to do additional quests, get additional loot and acquire certain items to actually be successful in advancing in the main story line. This increased the overall completion time and truly made me dive deeper into the open world around me. As for the cutscenes, boss battles and choices made throughout the story line, they all blended in nicely and I was pleased by the ending I got. Overall the storyline itself would receive a 5/5.
Open World Aspect - I personally love open world based games. The freedom to do what you want, when you want and how you want makes gaming experiences extremely enjoyable. For Witcher 3 Wild Hunt - GOTY edition the open world was absolutely beautiful. There were so many things to do that it was almost overwhelming at times as you simply wanted to do them all right now but had to pick which one to focus on. Whether you wanted to hunt additional monster to acquire loot, or raid a bandits and ransack their camps. Whether you wanted to enter horse races, play GWENT, own a house, or charm and pay for some womanly companionship this game had it all. There was never really a moment where I had nothing to do and where I was bored. I was always on to the next thing, soaking up every ounce I could get from this world. I was blown away by GWENT and played countless hours acquiring new cards with in the game. Ironically enough I said that GEWNT could be it's own game and who would guess that later it would become a stand alone game. The mix of gambling, strategy, luck and collectible card game made GWENT a lot of fun for me. By the time I completed my first walk through I had completed every single side quest available. I strongly recommend completing a few of the side quests to truly get the full Witcher 3 experience. Overall the Open World Aspect would receive a 5/5 from me.
Graphics, Game Play, Controls, etc - When it came to the graphics I was simply blown away. They are smooth and there is some great detail given to make the world around you come alive. One of the highlights from this game would have to be the execution graphics. There was nothing more satisfying then cleaving a bandit clean in half or watching their head roll. The various monsters you encounter have very distinct features that truly make them unique. I remember first seeing a water hag and thinking to myself "there's a face only a mother could love". I loved encountering new monsters and looking at some of the gruesome and grotesque features that brought them to life. The actual details of the world, environment, weather and towns were up to my standards. For being a such a large world to explore I was more than pleased with the design. From caves, to castles, to semataries, there were some hidden details here and there that made exploring the furthest, darkest areas well worth it. When it came to the detail on the swords I found them to mostly be very slick and smooth in designs, however it was the armor that took me a while to get used to. I wasn't blown away by the armour at first but eventually I was able to find armour that pleased me both aesthetically and stats wise as well. The game offers countless pieces of armour and weapons to choose from so the chances of you finding pieces of loot that you will enjoy is extremely high. When it comes to the overall game play I felt that the controls worked as designed and it was not too complex to actual perform the action I wanted on screen. I enjoyed the concept that you couldn't simply walk up to a monster and slash and hack it to death. I remember having to always look at the in game Bestiary which has plenty of information on how to tackle the countless different monsters you encounter. Some key tips is always apply the right oil to increase your damage output on certain monsters, ensure your using a silver sword (as your steel sword is for human enemies/beasts (wolfs/bears/etc.) and apply the right sign as well (basically simple spells the Witchers all learn). When your first learning the game and depending on what difficulty your playing on you might find yourself dying to monsters that are "easy". I remember dying from a simply drowner within minutes of completing my first quest simply cause I was not used to the gaming mechanics. That and having two more drowners pop out of the sand and come running at me didn't help either. However after a few more successful quests later I finally started getting the hang of the game and learning the monsters behaviours and patterns which allowed me to become a full fledged monster hunter. There is a fairly large skill tree which allows you to build to your play style. I was more of a weapon and silver sword combat player. So i focused most of my points in upgrading my sword abilities so I could deal massive damage with my melee attacks. However you can build Geralt in a few different ways depending on what you want to focus on. I know I had a friend who enjoyed using the Signs (spells) so he focused on building Geralt to deal massive damage and unique abilities from casting the upgraded signs. The one flaw I did find with the game play was the ranged attack. You are given a crossbow in the game and I found it was useless in most situations. It wasn't easy to use and many times trying to use it caused me to take damage or die before I could even get a shot out. But other then that I am fairly impressed with the game. I never encountered issues with the game freezing and for the most part their were never really any glitches that I came across. The only one a remember ever encountering was a Gargoyle that refused to believe he had died. I one hit killed him and I believe the monster was so stunned that he just stood there rather then fall over dead or crumble to rocks. Overall the Graphics, Gameplay and Controls get a 4.5/5.
DLC and Game of the Year Content - With the DLC's that come when you purchase the GOTY edition you get both the expansion packs: Blood and Wine as well as Hearts of Stones. I must say that these were some of the best expansions I have ever played. Both stories were so widely unique and enticing. I won't get into to much detail with both of them as I don't want to have any spoilers in this review. Just know that the few extra dollars you pay to get these two expansion packs are well worth it. Both expansions provide completely different stories that take Geralt into new realms and new places to explore. Both offer a few new monsters to slay as well as some very new and fresh characters. The quests and story that comes with both expansions offer a whole new experience and never once did I feel as though the game got overly repetitive. You can expect to log a few more hours into these expansions as the offer plenty more game play. I don't remember my exact logged hours into the expansions but I can say it was definitely more the 20 hours. Both have very compelling stories that take both you and Geralt for a wild ride. I would strongly give both the expansion packs a 5/5.
Achievements - Overall I found most of the achievements to be fair and rewarding. There are only a handful of achievements that were truly long and a boring grind (Master Marksmen I am looking at you). However with that being said I was pleased with that rate that I unlocked achievements and the challenges I had to overcome to get 100% completion for this game. I highly recommend playing the game first and not stressing over achievements and simply enjoy the game. You will unlock most of them simply by playing the game and progressing in both the main storyline as well as the side quests. Once you've done your first walk through go back and make this your achievement hunting run. Start by going after all your GWENT cards. If you decided to go after the GWENT based achievements you must dedicate many hours towards the game. You must also make your life GWENT and focus on retrieving every card available as some characters can get killed off or some events can be missed due to events from quests you complete. That being said, the minute you get that last GWENT card and the achievement pops up you can't help but feel a wave of accomplishment. In addition to that completing the game on deathmarch is also a very rewarding achievement and in my opinions is truly the only difficulty to fully appreciate Witcher 3 - Wild Hunt GOTY edition. I was able to get about 98% of the achievements in my first walk through and only had to reply the game to get a few of ones I missed out on to get 100% completion. I would rate the achievements a 4.5/5.
Conclusion - In conclusion the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt GOTY edition is a pure masterpiece. I spent countless hours getting lost in the world around me. Geralt has become one of my favourite characters I've ever encountered and I have become fully intrigued to learn more about the ways of a Witcher. In addition to having such a strong base game the expansions push this game over the top with content. I assure you that you will never be bored in this game as there is always something new and exciting to do. If you have not bought this game yet or a you are on the fence of buying this game, take the plunge. It goes on sale a few times every year and it is well worth it. I myself got it on sale but would have gladly paid the full price. You do not need to play any of the other Witcher games nor do you need to know anything about the lore to still enjoy this game. With all things considered I believe this game receives a strong 5/5.