The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015)

At first, I was a bit reluctant of picking up The Witcher 3, as after trying to replay the previous two games I noticed that I didn't actually like either of them very much. Both games had felt great on the first playthrough, but on second attempt they felt just flat and uninspiring. I loved the setting, but as games, they felt like disposables. Surprisingly enough The Witcher 3 doesn't feel anything like that, and in the end, why should it, as it is a huge, open world game, whereas the previous were more tightly constructed gauntlets in comparison.

Let's get this straight from the get-go though: The Witcher 3 has its own share of issues. It's somewhat buggy, with NPC's getting caught on objects, which might force you to load a previous save if it happens during a quest, or Geralt just dropping off the map through the landscape. And a horse ridging system that feels at times a bit too clunky despite being a big part of the gameplay. Yet, despite all the little flaws, it still is among the best, if not the best, open world RPG I've ever played.

Sure, The Witcher 3 doesn't try to convince you with an unnecessary amount of world tinkering in the form of lumbermill or baking food on a fire. No, that's not what it tries to do. The grand narrative is what it does. The world and the people in it. In a word, it's an open world game, which is filled with actual stories that feel important whereas games like Skyrim are filled with things that feel randomly generated.

This is what the Witcher 3 tries to convince you with. Skellige is one of the areas of the game and it's dotted with points of interest. All the ? are non-plot essential, but filled with treasures, bandits, monsters and other kinds of little side missions you can do if you feel like it.
I must admit, that as the story of The Witcher 3 continues the tale of the Wild Hunt while including the search for Geralt's ward Ciri, there are occasions where I wasn't always certain who the people I encountered were. The previous games were full of people and a lot of them, even secondary characters, have passed over to W3 and CD Projekt Red hasn't been afraid of just throwing them in there, without any bigger introductions. And considering it has been some time since I played either two of the previous ones though, I've noticed a question of "who the hell is that" has been on my mind a lot. Thankfully the game has a glossary, which goes through people, so it's fairly simple to refresh ones memory.

It is a bit of a shame really, that The Witcher 3 does rely so much on the previous games, as that might make picking up the game a bit harder for total novices of the series. But in the end, that should not be an obstacle, as W3 does stand on its own feet as far the story goes. It just might take a bit more effort in order to figure out from where some of the things are coming from.

As said, Witcher 3 is fairly big game. It has multiple larger regions, which are filled with cities and smaller villages, all bursting with plot and non-plot related missions. You can find things to do from notice boards or stumble on them on your own while rummaging the areas. There's treasure hunts, horse racing, boxing and of course monster hunting, which this time around actually feels more like witchers work, as you really need to prepare for the more serious encounters by researching the monsters and then by brewing potions and oils in order to be able to defeat them. What comes to the game size in terms of quests, the main quest itself is roughly 50 hours and the side quests add an another 50 hours. And then there are the DLC packages.

The world map. Novigrad and Velen are actually one, bigger map area with a couple of bigger cities.
Also, the game doesn't have level scaling turned on as a standard, so levelling up actually means something. There are places in the world, where your best option is to run, not stay and fight. Only after you've gained more experience and better equipment it's wise to return. Though CD Projekt RED did introduce a new patch, which allows level scaling if that's your thing. But personally, I like the feeling of having achieved something after clearing a place I was too weak to be in before.

The combat is fairly similar real-time slashing as in the previous games. Geralt deals blow with one of his two swords, depending on if he's fighting men or monsters. There are three methods for evading: a block, side step and a quick roll. So not really a tactical battle system, but a fairly decent one in the end. You can enhance the weapons with runes and different kinds of potions in order to add more punch to them, but other than that there's nothing really noteworthy about the system.

The final outing of witcher Geralt of Rivia is an open world RPG that does one thing better than any other open world RPG before it: it has a vast, sprawling storyline, that flows with the game world. More often than not, the main story in most open world games tends to disappear, but not here. It's always present, while not always the most pressing matter at hand. You can roam the lands as you see fit,  return to the main plot and go somewhere else again, yet never does it feel like you've lost the story thread. Instead, it feels like you really are doing witchers job at the same time you're trying to save Ciri and defeat the wild hunt.

The man with a ! over him has a small quest for you. There's also the notice boards you can skim in order to find things to do if running randomly around isn't your thing.
My game timer showed me around 65 hours of play time. To that time I did beat the main story and did do a good deal of the side missions as well. But the world itself is still full of all kinds of quest markers and secret locations I haven't even glanced yet, not to mention all kinds of treasure hunt missions as well as witcher contracts. And then there are the DLC expansions, which promise an additional 30 hours more. So while there's no more Witcher games promised, for now, there's still plenty witchering left to do.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and it's DLC packages are available through usual suspects GOG and Steam and many other digital stores. Go nuts, it's only one of the best games of its kind, despite it might not have the greatest combat systems around. And one of the best looking as well.