The Witcher 3 comes with a lot of expectation attached. The first game was a flawed gem of intense fantasy storytelling. The second game really came into its own, fixing the rather bad combat of the first game and enhancing the story elements to new heights. It’s hard to imagine how CD Projekt RED can top their previous offerings, especially if they had been tethered to current generation console tech. Luckily, they’re not, and CD Projekt have all but confirmed that The Witcher 3 will be a next generation console release (their exact words – “high-end platforms”).
Released for PC in 2007, the first Witcher game was an ambitious indie title built on a modified version of Neverwinter Nights’ Aurora engine. Featuring a narrative of massive scope, it introduced the character of Geralt of Rivia, based on Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s fiction series. The Witcher produced one of the most interesting and mature stories to be seen in games, and is loved by many for its nuanced approach to intricate storytelling. Geralt was a complex character, who could be either moral or ruthlessly single-minded, but he always had his own motivations for following the events of the game. He put us in this complicated, often morally grey world, and made us live with our decisions – the results of which could affect the world in unforseen ways many hours on. A widespread criticism, however, was the game’s bizarre combat system, which felt clunky and removed the player from the world. Despite the flaw, The Witcher still manages to present a rich and immersive RPG experience unlike no other.Geralt returned to PC in 2011 in The Witcher 2: Assassin Of Kings, however it would not be until nearly a year later that the game would make its console debut. The first and most noticeable change was the appearance of the game. By all accounts, The Witcher 2 was truly spectacular to look at. Built on CD Projekt’s own RED Engine 2, it allowed the team to create perhaps the most gorgeous RPG to ever grace our screens. Narratively, it offered a new and branching storyline – players could experience whole chapters completely differently depending on the choices they made early in the game. This brave move to separate content so dramatically payed off for the developers, with critics and fans delighting in the complex narrative of political intrigue that Geralt and his companion Triss were embroiled in. Several key gameplay systems received a complete overhaul, with levelling and alchemy becoming more streamlined. Another area to be tweaked was the combat system. Gone was the strange clicking rhythm timed mess of the first game, and in its place was a more engaging, freeform combat system that blended Geralt’s silver and steel swords, heavy and light attacks, and magic signs into a smooth and enjoyable experience. It was a smaller game than its previous instalment, but more focused and polished.
Which brings us to The Witcher 3. Not much is known about the title at this point, but we do know that it will be the last Witcher title handled by CD Projekt RED. The games do not necessarily follow the same narrative thread form that is usual of the sequel structure, instead preferring a more separate and distinct story telling approach. The narrative from the first game is acknowledged as part of the universe, but is not directly related to the story of the second game. Instead, the previous fiction adds to the characterisation of Geralt and texture of the world. The name of the new Witcher game – Wild Hunt – suggests a more intimate link to previous titles in the series. Fans of the series will recognise the Wild Hunt and immediately recall Geralt’s previous state of amnesia from the first game, and the reason behind it. Of course, right now the exact role the King Of The Wild Hunt and his posse will play in the next game, but it’s fair to assume that the reason behind Geralt’s memory loss will be explored. If comments by CD Projekt about this game being the last in the Witcher storyline made by the studio are indicative of this game’s narrative, it’s likely that this game will conclude the Wild Hunt storyline and reveal what exactly happened to Geralt before the events of the first game. It’s still early stages, but fans can surely look forward to an end worthy of Geralt’s deeds.
With all the rumoured next generation console tech specs flying around the internet at the moment, it’s easy to speculate on what will be capable for The Witcher 3 to create. Chief among this is the fact that The Witcher 3 will be open world. Huge claims are being made about the immensity of the world. CD Projekt head Adam Badowski is saying that the world is 30 times larger than The Witcher 2, and it’s reported to be about 20% larger than Skyrim, and to take up to 40 minutes to cross on horseback. If these claims are true, we’re looking at a gigantic world to explore. No separate areas, no loading screens, just pure, unadulterated Geralt goodness. Unleashing the titular monster hunter on the world to explore as the player wishes is a veritable dream for Witcher fans in love with the fictional universe. To think that Geralt of Rivia can go where he pleases when he pleases, travelling from village to village slaying monsters for money is a real dream – It is a Witcher’s purview, after all. Excitingly, the move to open world has the potential to further develop the strong link between character and place that the series is renowned for, giving players the authentic Witcher experience.
Personally, I hope that the increase in available space for assets on disk (since both new consoles are supposedly sporting blu-ray players) will allow for the delivery of the massive world that is being promised. Not to be a snob, but the Xbox 360’s disk capacity has been a big factor in limiting the size of multiplatform releases – an even playing field in this regard (if the hardware rumours are correct, of course) should open up the size of games above what we currently can experience over multiple platforms. It should also allow for more voiced NPCs with actual personality – something which The Witcher series is known for. Essentially, I want The Witcher 3 to have a real, living world, above what we saw in The Witcher 2. More life, more critters scampering at Geralt’s feet, more supernatural enclaves, more spectacle.
Increases in graphical grunt should allow for a nicer look to the game across the board. I’d expect Textures, lighting, and animations to improve. Facial animations that improve on those already displayed in The Witcher 2 would go a long way to enhance our experience of the characters. And we all know Geralt’s distinctive hair – it would be wonderful to see accurate physics applied to Geralt’s grey locks. And beard. Most significantly for an open world game, however, is that more power could potentially equate to longer draw distances, meaning spectacular mountaintop views would be possible. I’d love to see the huge world sprawled out below me, knowing that I can go wherever the light touches.We will have to wait until 2014 to receive Geralt’s final adventure, but we’re positive that it will be unlike anything we’ve played. With the new capabilities of next-gen consoles around the corner, and a proven history with pushing the technical capabilities of high-end PCs, CD Projekt RED are perfectly positioned to deliver a spectacular next-generation offering.
Next gen is coming, and with it will come new ways of telling stories. Let’s meditate on that potential, and the coming trials of Geralt of Rivia.
First trailer and screenshots from GameInformer.