The Witcher III: Wild Hunt: An Alpha Ahead of the Pack

DJ Arruda ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

In bringing an end to the saga of Geralt of Rivia, CD Projekt Red has pulled out all the stops. Following the success of the last entry in the series, The Witcher II: Assassins of Kings, the Polish studio has spent the last few years crafting a sequel worthy of its legacy. The end result is a massive game in scope and story, following the witcher as he tracks down his adopted daughter Ciri—well known by readers of the source material, Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels—pursued by the titular Wild Hunt, who seek her Elder Blood for untold evil. Though the game series takes place after the novels, there are plenty of callbacks for faithful readers throughout the series, and especially here, yet the game is also accessible enough for players who are experiencing the world of The Witcher for the first time. In making a game that is both rewarding to loyal fans and welcoming to newcomers, CD Projekt Red creates a living, breathing world with a full day and night cycle, dynamic weather, and a variety of environments from swamps to mountain peaks with a vibrant ecosystem of animals and monsters, throughout which the human and nonhuman population is settled. Never has a game world felt more alive as players ride their trusty steed, Roach, through the war-torn No Man’s Land of Velen, the sprawling city of Novigrad, and the hearty islands of Skellige, taking on witcher’s contracts and other side quests, all while in pursuit of Ciri.

(c) CD Projekt Red
(c) CD Projekt Red

What stands out the most about the narrative in The Witcher series is just how grey the decisions players make are. Often times, players must choose between two evils, forced to decide which devil to work with, or whether they wish to follow the witcher’s code of neutrality, or instead, stand up for an oppressed individual. Rarely is there a right or a wrong choice, but instead the subjective morality of the player. And what is most astounding is how the consequences of these decisions fluidly affect the world. Even the most seemingly innocent choice can come back to haunt the player, or more simply, the merchant saved from bandits is found later on, grateful and offering a discount. Player agency is paramount in any RPG, and The Witcher series has always been a step ahead of its competition in allowing players to shape the world in ways big and small. From the very opening area of White Orchard, players are forced to make decisions, firmly showcasing this aspect of gameplay, no matter one’s experience with the series. The main quest itself takes Geralt throughout the world in search of Ciri, bringing in faces both new and old to aid in this endeavor. These characters are what truly make the world feel alive, as they are each complicated and diverse, and above all, feel like they actually exist in this world CD Projekt Red has created.

One of the complaints with previous entries in the series has been the learning curve with the gameplay. Combat in the series is heavily focused on evading enemy attacks by either dodging or rolling, and then mercilessly punishing any opening the opponent gives you. Here, the combat has been refined to more naturally fit the controller, yet there is still some learning to do. Thankfully, the game is able to pull double duty in its opening scene by both giving a tutorial of the basics of combat while also giving exposition as to Geralt and Ciri’s early years together. Combat is composed of light and strong attacks with two swords, steel for humans, silver for monsters, and Witcher signs, magical spells of sorts which are both offensive and defensive. Players are given the freedom to choose which area of combat they wish to focus on, but it is wise to fully upgrade a few skills than try to master them all, as players are limited in the number of active abilities they can use at one time, which adds another layer of strategy to the already cerebral combat. Knowing which build to equip depending on the situation takes some trial and error, but thankfully, the game allows a relative amount of adjustment in the first area before sending players to higher level areas.

(c) CD Projekt Red
(c) CD Projekt Red

The four difficulties are meant to help in this, as expected, but the first two seem particularly mild even if players are unfamiliar with the controls. The latter two offer a more challenging take, and particularly, the highest Death March setting has its growing pains, but if players stick with this hardest difficulty, they will find it rewarding to level up and be able to master enemies once too powerful to slay. In this, the combat could be seen as similar to the Dark Souls series, though not nearly as cruel; players are punished for mistakes, and it takes time to know when to parry, dodge, or roll. Saving often is particularly important in this game, as checkpoints are only granted while questing or fast traveling, and to get lost in the wilderness and fall to a single mistake can be frustrating. Luckily, potions of various kinds exist to help make combat more manageable and work with an intuitive alchemical system for those inclined to master it. The aforementioned signs are also helpful in a pinch, even un-upgraded. The shielding Quen is always welcome, and the offensive Igni keeps opponents away with a burst of fire. A crossbow and grenades are also available to the player, so in the end there are plenty of ways to play, depending on preference and the situation at hand.

Exploring the world and leveling up is the key to success in this game, as each quest has a suggested level at which to tackle it. Numerous points of interest serve as destinations for Geralt in search of XP on an easy-to-use world map, which can be filtered to player preference. Fast travel from sign posts allow for a break from riding on horseback, but the game is so incredibly beautiful that sometimes it is preferable to take in the world the studio has so lovingly crafted. Your steed can be upgraded to have more stamina, hold more inventory, and be less spooked by threats in the wild. Using Witcher Senses to track down a monster after negotiating pay makes players truly feel like a monster hunter, and the exhilaration of encountering a higher level monster or enemy encampment serves as motivation to level up and return for a fairer fight. There is a staggering amount of content in the game, to be sure. From numerous secondary quests and witcher contracts to Places of Power which grant additional ability points, there is no shortage of adventure to be had in this world. On top of that, there is horse racing, fist fighting, and the wildly addictive card game Gwent to pass the time, as well. At times such freedom can be overwhelming, but the game mitigates this by tracking quests with detailed descriptions from the bard, Dandelion, as well as a glossary that keeps track of the characters and beasts the player has encountered.

(c) CD Projekt Red
(c) CD Projekt Red

Overall, this game represents a truly new-generation RPG and game in general, delivering a visually stunning and thoroughly entertaining experience. A robust achievement list keeps the game fresh as well. Some graphical issues, especially in pre-rendered cutscenes, are at times distracting and discouraging, as well as times when audio stutters in cutscenes, but for such a massive game, it is surprisingly limited in bugs. Though an issue with the system’s Instant On feature results in the corrupting of save files, a large issue to be sure, the studio seems to be on top of fixing this issue, as well as the others. Small, hard to read text and a confusing inventory are also valid complaints, but again these issues do not detract from the game as whole. With sixteen free DLCs available to all players at the pace of a two a week, as well as two larger expansions planned for the future, an already full-to-bursting game will not grow stale anytime soon.

With the success of Dragon Age: Inquisition at the end of last year, now has not been a better time for RPG gamers. Though both games are fantasy adventures bearing some similarities, at their cores they are fundamentally different games. They cannot ignore each other, and each have their merits, and together push the genre to greatness as the new generation continues. CD Projekt Red took the time to release the game they wanted and continue to listen to fans and feedback just a week after launch. To say this game is a crowning gem in the RPG genre is an understatement, and if any games wish to top this one, they will truly have to step up their game. In a time of the year with fewer games coming out, Geralt of Rivia’s swan song easily steals the spotlight. As it should. Whether you have been with him from page one to game screen, or are simply intrigued by the idea of a monster hunter searching for his daughter, take a chance and try it. The Wild Hunt waits for no man…

Final Rating: 10/10

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