Developer: CD Projekt Red
Publisher: CD Projekt Red
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
Release Date: May 19, 2015
ESRB: M for Mature
When compared to names like Bioware and Bethesda, CD Projekt Red is not a developer that most role playing game fans will immediately recognize. Whether this is because most people lacked the hardware to even play their titles upon release (thanks, Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings) or the generally esoteric feeling of its first RPG debut in 2007, previous The Witcher RPG incantations have had difficulty reaching those outside of its fervent, but limited, PC ranks.
Yet, CD Projekt Red brandishes their steel resolve once more towards the world of the ashen-haired monster slayer — Geralt of Rivia. To close out the would-be trilogy, and to reach a newly found PS4/Xbox One audience, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt saddles up to reach greater expanses in more ways than one.
"The world is rich with detail and you can easily get wrapped up in it by when exploring, reading various lore entries, or listening to the immense amount of sharp, well-written dialogue."
It can certainly be intimidating to delve into a series like The Witcher. With two lengthy RPGs and multiple novels by the same Polish writer, Andrzej Sapkowski, it can be daunting to know where to even start. Regardless of the dense amount of internal lore within its fiction The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt manages to be surprisingly comprehensible even for those uninitiated. The baseline setting premise is not terribly complicated. Geralt is a Witcher — which is essentially a mercenary that slays monsters — and he travels from one contract to another. In want of more than just coin, however, Geralt's journey brings him in search of someone he cares deeply about after new rumors resurface.
Still, simple explanations are anything but what populates Geralt's world, which is outright vast. There is a real strong sense of various cultures, wildly differing philosophies, and a thoroughly immersive sense of world-building throughout that feels grounded despite the presence of the fantastical. You have the corrupt city of Novigrad with witch burnings in the streets and various criminal strata influencing its underpinnings, the Skellige Isles with Viking-esque sensibilities, the expansion of Nilfgaard territory causing a strong divide in social standing within conquered lands, or the seemingly immortal cavalry called the Wild Hunt that kidnaps various people and then disappears without a trace. The world is rich with detail and you can easily get wrapped up in it by when exploring, reading various lore entries, or listening to the immense amount of sharp, well-written dialogue.
A compelling setting has almost felt in contention with inconsistent gameplay when it comes to The Witcher series, however, and the third entry is no exception. Each title has felt like it has had an identity crisis in what it wanted to be in regards to gameplay. Wild Hunt smartly sidesteps its combat-heavy predecessors by focusing more on the breadth and depth of its open-world, but even it has its problems. The most basic of which is that — at launch — The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt honestly played quite poorly since Geralt“s basic actions felt rather unwieldy.
Combat, horse riding, swimming, navigating boats — just about everything you did to felt like a half-second behind from what you wanted to do. It was somewhat possible to get used to but the unresponsive nature of it all was made worse by an unreliable framerate on PS4 in particular. But, surprisingly, most of that was remedied from a pure control standpoint and Geralt plays like he should nowâ€¦ after a couple of very necessary recent patches.
That said, patches don't quite fill in for all of its gameplay gaps but they at least make the road through it smoother. Combat primarily is more interesting in context than actual execution. For example, reading the dense witcher bestiary can contribute to knowing how to easily fell a monster or not. Perhaps using a crossbow knock harpies out of the sky, using a silver sword to fight wraiths, or even facing shield-bearing human foes that can be staggered with the gust-like Aard magic spell add little strategic details to combat. Unfortunately, the actual act of swashbuckling or throwing spells just isn't very satisfying even with the controls being more responsive due to simple, clunky general feel of it all.
Yet, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt somehow gets away with its many of its gameplay shortcomings due to how handcrafted every other individual aspect of it feels. Noticeable shortcomings and all, this is likely the best open-world RPG you can find to date. It may not be as huge as Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in raw scope, or boast the conceit of Dragon Age: Inquisition“s character customization, but it outclasses both, or pretty much any other RPG for that matter, by being populated with so much more purposeful content that you can do from moment to moment with a captivating huge world to complement it.
"The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt demands a lot of your time, and frankly, it more than earns it for those who can give it."
These strengths come across most prominently due to its quest design and constant points of interest throughout even after the game's somewhat slow intro. The most distinct early instance of this that most will notice in their playthrough is during â€œThe Bloody Baronâ€ series of quests. Now, the "Bloody Baron" himself is not exactly a respectable individual, having done some heinous actions in his past. Yet, you hear what he has to say to get the information you want while also learning more about him.
From then on the quest structure sees several rather noticeable permutations, both in how you choose to be or not be empathetic with him (actually made plausible to go either way on due to the incredibly strong writing and voice work), as well as how you react to some truly morally grey choices in-between that yield very unpredictable consequences. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is full of moments like these that are generally self-contained in nature but are wholly fascinating regardless because of the finely-tuned storytelling and characters that propel them.
More impressive is how many of these intricate questlines are quite missable despite how deep their stories may be. Not just that but quite a few have genuine consequences in how they can come into play later on or their strong callbacks to previous Witcher titles by closing certain long-lasting narrative threads, making the allure of doing everything and anything that constitutes as a â€œquestâ€ all too tempting. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt demands a lot of your time, and frankly, it more than earns it for those who can give it.
It is honestly quite overwhelming how much there is to do in its world. Focusing primarily on the main story can easily last players upwards of fifty hours and if you are distracted by anything else — which you probably will be — it can more than double that. Hundreds of engaging quests aside, one could also certainly find themselves lost in the simple act trying to uncover the huge world on horse/boat, searching for treasure/materials, or going down the rabbit hole that is fan-favorite card game Gwent, aka Witcher 3's version of Final Fantasy VIII's triple triad and it is all pretty seamless.
I wish I could say the same about the overall presentation. Don't get me wrong, Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is generally a visual treat with finesse towards environments specifically, and I'm sure it is also breathtaking with higher PC specs, but its technical foibles are quite noticeable on console. They aren't nearly as severe as problems you'd encounter from Bethesda releases, but I have seen no shortage of framerate hitches, odd bugs, and some long load times that rival even Bloodborne's during my playthrough that were present throughout.
The audio is certainly easier to praise unabashed with the great soundtrack that has a distinct Celtic-flair and features vocalized gems like "The Fields of Arg Skellig" that stand out the most. Additionally, the voice work is quite well done, complemented further by the smart script with plenty of well-timed humor, even if they take a few too many liberties with re-using certain voice actors for NPCs.
CD Projekt Red sets an incredibly high bar that most open-world RPGs are unlikely to even come close to rivaling for quite some time. For as many flaws as it has (or had prior to certain patches) both technically or gameplay-wise, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a borderline masterpiece with its awe-striking world and storytelling. Newcomers to the series or not, as the best open-world RPG this console generation The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt should absolutely not be missed by RPG fans.
+ Sharp writing and highly engaging storytelling/characters
+ Vast open-world populated with lots of fascinating, intricate quests to partake in and areas to explore
+ Thoroughly engrossing world-building with a very high attention to detail
+ Good voice acting and strong, moody musical score
- Combat does not feel particularly satisfying
-Framerate hitches, long load times, clunky interface, and noticeable technical bugs
- Slow start
Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10)
Much like a fine wine, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt's shortcomings are most noticeable in its earliest state. Yet, given time to refine its palate, as CD Projekt Red is seemingly actively doing, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt more than has the makings of a genuine role-playing game classic almost purely through its bewitching world and storytelling.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.