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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt review

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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
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  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
  • Witcher 3
  • Witcher 3
  • Witcher 3
  • Witcher 3
  • Witcher 3
  • Witcher 3
  • Witcher 3

Summary

Our Score:

10

Pros

  • Huge, coherent and immersive game world
  • Game systems and storyline both engage
  • Beautifully rendered characters and scenery
  • Crammed with interesting quests, side-quests and activities
  • Geralt a more mature and sympathetic lead

Cons

  • Long loading times
  • Occassional framerate drop

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Available on Xbox One, PS4 (version tested), PC

With the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, CD Projekt Red’s saga has grown into something magnificent. It’s a game of truly epic scale that still displays an eye for every minute detail. It’s one that sees its hero, Geralt of Rivia, fully transformed from the sword-swinging Mr Loverman of the first game into a mature, reflective hero, and one where story, systems, art, music, action and lore all seem to mesh together into one dazzling whole. It’s the best fantasy RPG of its type since The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and sets a new benchmark for the genre. To be honest, that’s all you really need to know.

Related: Witcher 3 Blood and Wine review

All the same, you’re probably expecting more from a review than breathless hyperbole. Well, imagine a game that takes everything you love from The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings, Skyrim, The Legend of Zelda from Ocarina of Time to Twilight Princess and Red Dead Redemption. That's pretty much Wild Hunt. With the third Witcher, CD Projekt Red is playing in the very biggest leagues.

Witcher 3

The Red Dead comparison might seem strange, but there’s something about Wild Hunt’s free-roaming gameplay that keeps bringing Rockstar’s western masterpiece to mind. It’s not just that Geralt spends a large proportion of the game on horseback – his faithful steed, Roach, rarely further than a whistle away – but that the focus on exploring the wilderness, discovering characters and missions gives it a similar kind of feel. Both games share a dark, cynical tone leavened by sardonic humour and a dash of hope. Both are tales of killers who, in some sense, yearn to be something more.

Related: No Man's Sky review

Wild Hunt has almost endless possibilities, but it’s smart enough not to swamp you with them all at once. The initial section of the game threatens to hit you with the same mild disappointment you felt when you discovered that Dragon Age: Inquisition wasn’t doing one seamless world, but a series of linked, large-scale landscapes. Even Wild Hunt’s starter area is packed with story missions, beasts to slay and side quests, on a map we would have called huge ten years ago, but it feels a little constrained. Is this what an open world Witcher really means?

See also: PS4 vs Xbox One

Witcher 3

Yet CD Projekt Red is just getting you used to the systems; to finding noticeboards and taking on pest-control contracts, to getting from A to B on horseback and discovering what perils and hidden treasures lie en-route. You’re being eased into the game’s combat – fast, smart and tactical – and into its research and crafting: two things that other games make a chore, but Wild Hunt makes an integral part of the fun.

There’s been a lot of talk recently amongst the gaming literati about whether systems engage players more than storyline, but Wild Hunt binds the two together in ways that make the question seem nonsensical. Geralt has evolved from a surly young blade to a would-be father figure, on the trail of the woman he once loved and the closest thing they have to offspring. To find them, he’ll have to battle men, beasts, spirits and otherworldly forces, while getting involved in intrigues that affect the fate of nations, yet it’s always clear what you’re doing and how it contributes to your aims overall. And if that means collecting herbs to brew potions to give you a fighting chance of taking on a murderous griffin, then that’s something you’re willing to do.

Related: PS4 Neo vs PS4

Witcher 3

Even levelled up, Geralt is a professional rather than a superhero. While you can win some battles just by wading in, hacking away and dodging quickly, you’re more likely to succeed if you go in prepared, stocked with potions and with your target’s weaknesses in mind. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Wild Hunt is how it makes light work of its most mundane elements.

It still has the classic hook of every RPG – fighting monsters to gain experience and loot to level up and upgrade to make you even better at fighting monsters – but it has other pleasures too, with incredible scope for exploration and quests that are well-scripted, varied and full of personality. Your faithful steed works brilliantly both as a transport and as a means of charging headlong into combat, and even here the game shows intelligence, both by limiting its effectiveness in battle through a fear gauge, and in having what’s effectively a cruise mode for gently cantering along the paths.

Related: Xbox One S vs Xbox One

Witcher 3

Yet it’s just when you think you’re getting the measure of it that Wild Hunt pulls the veil away, then tells you that you ain’t seen nothing yet. This still isn’t quite one single open world, but the largest areas are so huge that it effectively doesn’t matter, and each one comes crammed with so many story quests, side quests and incidents that you’ll spend half your time trying to prioritise what to tackle next. And while you’ll be happy to spend hours trotting through the scenery on horseback, the fast travel options that seemed unnecessary in the prologue section now seem vital. Ditto for boats – an essential for getting from the main landmass to explore far-off islands. Words like sprawling and massive don’t do The Witcher 3 justice.

There’s a real balance here, too, between the narrative-led gameplay and the more explorative, emergent stuff. The story missions don’t simply take you from one point on the map to the next, but give you threads to tease out and follow, so that you’re always in touch with the central storyline no matter where you are. The only limitation comes down to your current level – each quest and side-quest has a recommended level, and we’ve found that you ignore these at your peril. Yet when Wild Hunt does put you on a story mission, it feels as detailed and cinematic as any linear action game. Dialogue scenes, set-piece action sequences and boss battles all seem to flow naturally into the gameplay, with a potency we haven’t always seen in previous Witcher games.

Related: Best PS4 Games

Witcher 3

Throughout, it’s held together by great music, strong voicework and an impressive consistency of tone. Fantasy doesn’t get much darker than it does in Wild Hunt, where the ongoing war between empires is constantly in the background, where the ordinary folk are clearly suffering, injustice runs rampant, and even a hero must sometimes turn a blind eye. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference. There’s a real feeling that what you say and what you do is changing things for worse or better, even if it’s simply clearing a farmstead or a small port of monsters and letting the locals get back to their grubby, impoverished lives.

The visuals, meanwhile, are just astonishing. The game’s landscapes are epic, atmospheric and believable, making superb use of vegetation, light, fog, cloud and colour. It’s the kind of game where you want to explore for the scenery alone. Yet the up-close detail is equally impressive, with textures and surfaces you can almost feel and facial animation that leaves Dragon Age: Inquisition’s in the dust. Wild Hunt delivers a world of magic that you can believe in and characters you can believe in too. And if the series’ predeliction for dubious sexy stuff hasn’t gone away entirely, at least the needless cleavage and soft-porn groping doesn’t look so ridiculous or Thunderbirds-like this time around.

See also: Upcoming PS4 Games

Causes for complaint are spectacularly few and far between. CD Projekt has done a fabulous job of all the basics, from inventory and quest management to crafting, that the interface barely bogs you down, but two steps to get to the map screen seems one step too far. Loading times are a little on the long side, though only a problem when you die or use fast-travel, and the frame rate falters occasionally on the PS4 version tested, particularly when you’re wandering around the world’s big cities.

Speaking personally, I’m also not a huge fan of having to repair weapons regularly, and having to travel back to the nearest blacksmith to get my gear fixed up is one chore I could do without. Still, repair kits are easily available, and some people like that sort of authenticity. In fact, Wild Hunt makes it palatable by placing accessible limited-time weapon and armour buffs for you to use while you’re there. In short, I’m only sweating about the smallest small stuff.

See also: Upcoming Xbox One Games

Witcher 3

And that’s just silly. The big stuff here is absolutely brilliant – and brilliant in a way that leaves you wishing that more games could be both this ambitious and this well executed without failing one way or the other. Sure, The Witcher 2 isn’t something you can pick up casually, requiring time, commitment and – well, a lot more time – but it’s hard to imagine anyone without a hatred of RPGs and fantasy regretting the countless hours they’ll put in.

Verdict


With commiserations to Bioware and Bethesda, Wild Hunt is the new RPG by which all other RPGs should be judged. Not only has CD Projekt Red deliverered the largest and most convincing fantasy open-world we’ve ever seen, but a storyline, quests and systems that make it an incredibly compelling place to run, ride and sail around in. It’s the GTA 5 or Red Dead Redemption of sword and sorcery sagas and the biggest, most breathtaking time sink you’re likely to play this year.

Overall Score

10

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icurafu

January 27, 2015, 2:28 am

I'm not sure about anyone else, but Skyrim was a massive disappointment to me. It was basically just a wonderful world full of generic quests with the main quest being not much better.

If Witcher 3 even slightly lives up to Witcher 2, it will be game of the year for me again. Bring on the real story driven RPGs.

LeeTronix

May 12, 2015, 7:52 pm

I have never played witcher but willing to give it a try.

Mr.Private

May 12, 2015, 10:15 pm

I actually agree with you, i recently finished skyrim clocking 39 hours and felt let down with the quest, the main quest being pretty poor imo. I'm currently halfway through Act 2 on witcher 2 with 28 hours so far on steam and love it. Honestly i didn't know it looked so good either (i'm on the enhanced edition).

Really looking forward to w3 now ;)

Mr.Private

May 12, 2015, 10:16 pm

I believe they (W1 & w2) are on sale now, on the gog galaxy client.

LeeTronix

May 13, 2015, 7:34 am

Just out of interest do I need to start with 1 & 2 or can I jump straight into 3. What I mean is, is there an on going story line with this series or is each game a new story line.

For me a good story line/plot much like what makes a great book is the main factor of a game not just the graphics but something that captures you which I hardly find on any game these days.

Just going of topic I expect the graphics to be top notch as standard because of the tech we have at our disposal but if the story is rubbish or lacks any depth then for me its a no show.

I just never understand why game companies tout their game as the best this and that when most of them are shooters running around without any real purpose and they want to charge expensive prices for much of the same. Surely what is the point of a game if it means nothing more than point click shoot. The plot then does not have anything to offer.

Take destiny for example if I want an hour or so of pointing the trigger and having all this gear given to me because the more I play the more I get then its a good game for the brainless. But if I want a great story line that makes me truly enjoy I am shaping the game and thinking about my actions the plot is good then destiny is an very expensive dust collector on my shelf.

I wonder if it is me or do others share these thoughts about games today.

Johnny Walker

May 13, 2015, 5:16 pm

I just have to ask, does the controls still feel sluggish? I played the start of the Witcher 2 and couldn't get beyond the first 30 mins. It didnt feel so much I was controlling a nimble battle harded hunter than controlling a drunk one eyed peasant with a limp. I did not like the way the controls felt at all and gave up.

Matthew Bunton

May 13, 2015, 6:04 pm

The long loading everytime I went through a door in Skyrim drove me nuts.

tweenk

May 13, 2015, 7:06 pm

In Witcher 3 there is no loading when walking into buildings.

Edgecrush3r

May 13, 2015, 9:44 pm

You will be fine without playing the other games or reading the books. I do recommend the books and games - however CD Projekt Red has done an excellent job in TW3 introducing new players into the world of The Witcher.

Edgecrush3r

May 13, 2015, 9:46 pm

Let's put it this way - in TW2 there were something like 20-30 animations for Geralt in combat. In TW3 there are over 90. He's much more agile and responsive this time around. Actually from what I've seen it looks downright fantastic.

Matthew Bunton

May 14, 2015, 3:35 am

Yes I know thank goodness.

I used to play the old Gothic series, 2 and 3 were excellent the levels were huge but designed with such care that you didn't need a map due to the memorable landmarks.

Furthermore there was no loading screens even when entering buildings it was all seamless any that was years ago now.

Which is why I found Oblivions and Skyrims constant loading screens so annoying. However I still enjoyed the games but not as much as the Gothic or Witcher series.

LeeTronix

May 14, 2015, 7:58 am

Thanks for the reply and the info I will go check it out :)

Matthew Bunton

May 14, 2015, 1:18 pm

I actually found the books to be badly written and thus difficult to read. This is probably due to the poor English translation where often the tone and tempo tend to get lost.

Matthew Bunton

May 14, 2015, 1:24 pm

I must admit i'm about 10 hours in and doubt i'll bother finishing it.

The first game was great but since the series has been poor.

Furthermore where the hell do they get these writers from? Most game stories are terrible and could have been written by anyone with a modicum of talent.

jaja

May 19, 2015, 5:46 am

I am enjoying the witcher 3 atleast, one of the best game i have play the past 5 year after the red dead, if you like RPG then this is the game for you. I dont know what to said about this game, beside try it becouse even the side quest of this game is fun to play. Mind you i have only play for 10 hours, but its seems this game only get better and better. Its a beautiful game and deserve to be play with.

Matthew Bunton

May 20, 2015, 2:01 pm

Last night I had a nightmare time with the PS4 version.

1 complete crash whilst
playing Gwent for the first time which would seem common. 3 Further
freezes in the inventory which all required returning to the dash and
closing the game. 2 cases of loading that never completed needless to
say I just turned it off after all that.

This all happened within the first 3 to 4 hours of gameplay on version 1.02 on a brand new PS4.

Mephisto

May 22, 2015, 1:16 pm

I read the books in Czech (which is very close to original Polish) and found the writing excellent - very easy to read, very hard to put the books down

Themostunclean

May 24, 2015, 6:52 am

Wow, that really sucks. I haven't had a single crash or freeze in over 30 hours of play. Both my friends and sister that are playing it (over 20 hours each) haven't had any problems either. Did you buy digital? If so you may need a re-install.

Themostunclean

May 24, 2015, 7:01 am

It's also odd that you say you're playing 1.02. PC is on version 1.03 but consoles are still 1.01.

Matthew Bunton

May 24, 2015, 6:09 pm

Thanks for trying to help. No in the end I needed to shut the console down disconnect from the mains for a while and then start everything up again. It all seems to be ok now.

Matthew Bunton

May 24, 2015, 6:09 pm

Uk consoles are on 1.02 whereas US are 1.01 i think.

Themostunclean

May 24, 2015, 8:23 pm

OK. I figured maybe you were in another region or something. Glad it's working for you now.

Hope you're having fun. Coming from Bloodborne to this I've almost become a shut-in!

druout1944 .

May 25, 2015, 3:01 am

Not sure what's up with the Emperor's New Clothes hype about the underwhelming watercolor environment and horrible grass/water.

druout1944 .

May 25, 2015, 3:03 am

Yes, TW3 is not a single player MMO like DA:I. DA:I has better environment visuals though.

Jeff

May 26, 2015, 4:10 pm

You apparently haven't played many games if you think DA:I is one of the worst ever made.

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