Fans of Game of Thrones
will no doubt recall a scene from the first season/book where a certain character is compelled to eat an entire, raw horse heart in one sitting. The act of eating this massive mound of sinew, muscle, and warm, raw flesh was meant to show the character's inner strength and resolve and prove them worthy of the graces and fortunes that were to be placed upon them. CD Projekt RED's Witcher
series holds many things in common with Martin's world: an ambivalent/dark world where terrible things are par for the course, the notion that absolute good and evil are false, and a mature story full of nuance, sex, and violence. Much like the horse's heart, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
presents an immense, daunting feast for players that occasionally features chunks of displeasing gristle and sinew. Unlike the heart, the majority of this feast is a sumptuous bounty that has been prepared with care and needs to be savored and enjoyed.
Witchers are vagabond monster hunters that serve as both pariahs and saviors to the people. Cast out and discriminated against at almost every turn, they are seen by many as heretical monstrosities due to the mutations and mystical alterations they undergo in order to hunt the beasts of the wild. The only time the sight of a witcher is welcome is when a town has a monster that needs slaying or an odd supernatural problem that needs solving. When in such need, these small hamlets welcome a witcher with (more) open arms and a small purse for dispensing with their problems. This central foundation of a character that is both feared and reviled but ultimately needed is what sets Wild Hunt
apart from other games. Progressing through the hundreds of hours of content that are on offer, the feeling that you are both a welcome sight and an abomination to morality permeates the experience. Entering a new town is both a source of joy and foreboding as you never know if you'll be accepted as a hero, run out as a villain, or sometimes both.
While you will do your fair share of monster slaying, contract taking, and side questing in Wild Hunt
, the main story revolves around Geralt's search for his pseudo-daughter, Ciri. A "Child of the Elder Blood", Ciri is being hunted by the otherworldly Wild Hunt who hope to use her special powers to bring about the end of the world. While the whole "save the world" trope that runs rampant through most epic RPGs is present and attached to the search for Ciri, this larger plight takes a back seat to the more personal story of Geralt searching for the daughter he never had. Unlike many other games, this world is full of incredibly interesting and well-written side quests, stories, and characters, and feels like a real world that is worth saving... warts and all. While there is the open-world compulsion to go everywhere, explore everything, take every contract, and talk to every person, the drive and desire to find Ciri is so strong that it will keep you coming back to the main quest.
The search for Ciri is deeply personal and affecting.
The story, as amazing and affecting as it is, still suffers from the stereotypical RPG hangup of being everyone's errand boy. Rather than give Geralt a straight answer to his constant question, "Where is Ciri?" virtually every person you encounter will have some kind of task they will need you to complete before the information is handed over. Invariably these tasks will take you to another person who will have a different task for you to complete before they will help you with the first task. This task within a task structure is repeated ad nauseam throughout the game, so much so that it is even remarked upon by one of the side characters during one such questline. Fortunately, almost every one of these tasks brings you in contact with another amazing character to speak with, monster to slay, or problem to solve. Taking on each mission also peels back narrative layers that add complexity and depth to the story and reinforce the notion that no one is a pure saint or a total sinner. Being an errand boy has never been so satisfying.
Side quests occasionally rival the main story for excellence.
On top of this excellence in story and character, the game looks positively gorgeous. As the first game developed with their new REDengine 3, CD Projekt RED's work looks, sounds, and feels like a true next gen experience. Spanning an entire continent, the engine is put to the test by taking Geralt through a wide range of climates and weather conditions, each looking as glorious as the next. Furthermore, the depth of thought that went into the programming carries throughout the experience as NPCs and enemies behave and adapt to their surroundings, weather, and time of day. Supplementing the amazing visuals is an incredible voice cast and luscious score that further deepen and enrich the experience.
Sunsets have rarely looked so good.
It's not all amazing story and aesthetics, however, as the game currently has enough bugs to make an Orkin Man blush. Frames will hitch in and out of cutscenes, loading screens can get stuck and freeze, collision issues run rampant through the world, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Graphics and icon pop ins occur when moving too fast through the world resulting in situations where quest givers/receivers often are missing the conversation prompts above their heads, meaning you have to either reload your last save or wait and hope that the button eventually pops in. While I didn't encounter any major game-breaking issues during my playthrough, there are reports that such bugs do exist. CD Projekt RED has already released one patch
for the Xbox One version with more to come that will hopefully smooth out and squash many of these bugs, but they definitely do cause frustration in the experience.
More frustrating than bugs, however, are the game's maddeningly bad controls. In theory, Geralt is a nimble witcher who is able to dart in and out of fights and take down monsters with superhuman reflexes, but controlling him feels like trying to drive an old land yacht with flat tires. He is slow to start, slow to stop, turns abruptly (and usually either too much or not enough), and has trouble navigating the open world at times, especially in close spaces and when on horseback. While I am loathe to compare one game to another, Wild Hunt
basically suffers every bad movement problem that has plagued the Assassin's Creed
series since day one. Oddly enough, these control problems seem confined to the exploration of the world, as once Geralt enters combat the controls seem to respond better, but trying to get him to loot that one chest that's right there
or get the prompt to climb the ladder that is right f***ing there
will drive you absolutely bonkers.
The game also suffers from the vestigial problems of being a franchise that started on PC. The text is a bit smallish and the menu screens are overwhelmingly complex, featuring way too many items in too little space with less reason as to why they should be either kept, dismantled, crafted into something else, or sold. While none of these crafting items take up a ton of space in your inventory, they do bog down the experience and make scrolling through the menus take eons on top of the already sluggish control inputs. Furthermore, with no in-world stash options, you're left to either carry all of your materials or sell them off to make space. Like the control foibles, you "get used" to the menu screen miscarriage, but its still maddening nonetheless.
Robert Irvine would blush at the size of the menus.
The massive game is equally massive when it comes to its achievements. At this time the game sits at over 5k TA score and while that number is sure to go down the longer the game is in the wild, it will certainly retain a hefty ratio. With achievements for beating the game on its two hardest difficulties (both currently sitting at ratios over 10) as well as ones for completing all witcher contracts
, reaching level 35
, and collecting all of the game's Gwent cards
, you're going to be at this game for hundreds of hours if you want to put it in your trophy case. Furthermore, it's not all grinding achievements as there are multiple pops for performing challenging combat combos
and being an opportunist in combat
The quality and quantity of the content in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
are beyond compare and without peer. It is now the gold standard to which all other RPGs will be held. With hundreds of hours of rich, detailed story, a plethora of side quests, incredible aesthetic design, deep combat systems, and unprecedented sense of place and character, it checks off all of the boxes for excellence in the genre. Those plaudits come at a price, though, as the game can be a technical grab bag of minor (and major) bugs and glitches. While there is little doubt that CD Projekt RED will be giving the game consistent patch and DLC support to smooth out the majority of these marks, you can only buff out the dents in the horrific control scheme so much. Fortunately, these technical gripes and moments of mechanical frustration are easy to overlook when examining the experience as a whole. This is a game that should not be missed by RPG fans, should be tried by curious gamers, and will be looked back upon as one of the best ever. Consider it a must play and say goodbye to your summer.
- Massive, dense, open world full of amazing content
- Captivating story and characters
- Aesthetically gorgeous for both eyes and ears
- Tons of upcoming free DLC
- Terrible character controls
- Bugs a-plenty
- LONG completion
The reviewer spent approximately 65 hours riding through the wilds, cities, mountains, and sailing the isles, slaying monsters, helping citizens, and doing anything Triss asked of him. He popped 17 of the game's 52 achievements. This review was produced from a pre-release digital copy of the game provided by the developer's North American Press Agency.