The original Witcher game flew somewhat under the radar on its release in 2007. As a debut title from an unknown Polish developer licenced from a niche but popular fantasy novel series, it received decent reviews, but was not widely known. But it soon became a cult hit when the free Enhanced Edition update overhauled almost everything, making the game much more accessible and widely available.
The 2011 sequel, The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings, however, captured a whole bunch of public imagination and became a critical and commercial success with its strong writing, gritty fiction and intricate world. Now, after three years of development, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is poised to redefine the RPG genre with its strongly characterised protagonist Geralt — this time in a massive open world.
Departing from the previous games, developers CD Projekt RED have made the final instalment of Geralt’s saga into a vast open world game. Part of the previous games’ strength was in its directed narrative, and open world games tend to inherently conflict with directedness. However, keeping Geralt as a defined character, and strongly characterising the world and imbuing it with mythos, CDPR have kept the essence of The Witcher series and adapted it to a modern RPG expectation.
CD Projekt RED are using the latest iteration of their proprietary engine — REDEngine 3 — to create their vast open world. Rendering at 1080p on PS4 and 900p on Xbox One — both at 30fps — The Witcher 3 puts the new console hardware to the test. Its visuals are stunning, with massive draw distances and intricate character and object detail. On PC, it only gets better.
Already in development for three years, its recent delays from Q4 2014 to Q1 2015, and then another delay to May 2015, are about nailing down the fine details, according to CDPR. This final delay is solely dedicated to bug squashing and polish, with all of the gameplay and story in place.
Core gameplay has not changed drastically from its direct predecessor, The Witcher 2. Geralt’s steel and silver swords return, mincing natural and supernatural enemies with either rapid or strong strikes. Signs return, giving you an edge in combat when needed. Conversation and decision making plays its part, shaping the story and Geralt’s skills through his RPG-staple skill tree. Geralt still has to collect ingredients to mix into bombs and potions to take down the strongest of enemies. This will all be familiar to fans of the second game.
The Witcher 3 keeps what works, polishes it, and then adds on top of it. Geralt gains a long range weapon in the crossbow. Hunting big game takes several stages — an investigation, preparation, and combat phase is not unheard of for larger hunts. Tracking, using Geralt’s Witcher senses, helps keep tabs on enemy movements and solve quests. And there are plenty of quests, all unique and crafted by the game’s designers. It’s all wrapped up in a massive open world consisting of several zones and areas, chock full of secrets.
Geralt also gains a companion: Roach. A useful horse that appears at a whistle, Roach acts as both transport and storage, giving Geralt greater reach in the wild. Gameplay additions like this make the shift to open world much more comfortable and sets the stage for Geralt’s final adventure.
The Witcher 3 takes place in the political wasteland that resulted from Temerian King Foltest’s assassination and the subsequent war. Nilfgaard now occupies Temeria, and there is a palpable sense of recent post-war triage. In the settling chaos, Geralt of Rivia sets out to find his lover, the sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg.
While it begins as a more personal quest, Geralt soon gets drawn in to the daily struggles of the common people, as well as the intricate political dance of nobility. All the while, the shadow of the ghostly Wild Hunt that has haunted Geralt grows, casting its pall over the ravaged north. The reportedly final chapter of Geralt of Rivia’s story, concluding the trilogy of games, brings Geralt’s ward Ciri into the mix, although exact details are being kept tightly under wraps for now.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt looks so far to be the apex of the series. Evolving into total open world exploration, with massive areas to explore and intricate quests to complete — all uniquely hand-crafted — The Witcher 3 feels huge. I played a preview build last week, and it had me convinced. Bigger, better, more polished, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt feels like it will be the perfect conclusion to Geralt’s saga.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is coming to PC, Xbox One and Playstation 4 on May 19.