MONSTERS UNDER YOUR BED
The footprints bigger than an adult male wolf's were leading to the cave in front of him. Of course that wasn't enough to confirm the cursed one's lair but he could smell the same stench coming from the torn shirt he found in the woods few meters away from the savagely killed stag. He was dealing with a werewolf, a cursed soul that turns into a ferocious monster blinded by bloodlust under full moon, according to the peasants' half true half exaggerated stories. Those peasants, hypocrites who cursed witchers as abominations except when they become prey to a demonic monster. But he didn't mind those fools at all as long as he was paid the right amount, that was his job after all. He entered the gloomy cave drawing his silver sword coated in a special oil produced from a werewolf's heart. Normally this could prove a challenge even for a witcher but not for the white wolf. The victor was decided the moment he took the contract.
There are few game studios that produce excellent AAA titles and even fewer (credit goes to Stannis Baratheon ) that can keep up the good work. Fortunately for us gamers, the Polish company CD Projekt Red is one of the latter. At last we have the final chapter in Geralt of Rivia's adventures in our hands and it definitely worth the wait. Believe me when I say the talented guys at CPR delivered us a classic.
In Witcher 3 The Wild Hunt, we are again in control of Geralt of Rivia aka the White Wolf, one of the most famous and few remaining witchers who undergo a secret training and genetic mutations to be able to hunt down the creatures that came to their world from other planes during the catastrophe known as Conjunction of Spheres. The game starts with Geralt and his friend (and former mentor) Vesemir following a letter from Yennefer, Geralt's long lost lover, leading them to a post-battle field and a small town in war torn Temeria invaded by Nilfgaardian forces from south. These names won't ring a bell if you haven't played at least one of the previous titles. Although it's not a must to play the first two games, you can get more from the game's plot and relations between characters if you know what happened. You can read the next section for a brief summary of witcher game universe.
PREVIOUSLY ON WITCHER
Warning: Skip this section if you plan to play Witcher 1&2. This part contains HEAVY spoilers for the first two games.
The first game starts as Geralt who was thought to be dead along with his lover Yennefer since 5 years, suddenly appearing sick, wounded and without any memories of his past. He is founded by Triss Merigold and other witchers near Kaer Morhen, home to witchers of wolf school, and taken to the castle to tend to his wounds. Shortly after, Kaer Morhen is surprise attacked by a group called Salamandra led by a mage named Azar Javed and they steal the secrets of the mutations that grant witchers superhuman agility, strength and resistance.
Geralt goes to Vizima with the mage Triss Merigold to track down Salamandra while trying to regain his memory at the same time. During his travels he meets Alvin, a mysterious orphan who can travel through time and space although he can't control his abilities yet. Geralt gives him a medallion to help Alvin control his powers.
While pursuing leads to Salamandra Geralt finds himself caught in a battle between Scoia'tael (guerilla army of nonhumans led by Yaevin) and Order of the Flaming Rose (knighthood of humans led by Jacques de Aldersberg). After a long pursue and a great effort to maintain his neutrality in that battle Geralt finally disperses Salamandra and kills Azar Javed only to find out that Aldersberg is the mastermind behind all this. Aldersberg somehow travels to future with Geralt and shows him that Ithlinne's Prophecy, an elven prophecy which tells the end of humanity will happen. Aldersberg's aim is to create and rule an enhanced human race that will survive the end days with the help of the secrets to witcher mutation. Geralt shrugs off this madness and as he defeats him suddenly king of the wild hunt appears to claim Aldersberg's soul. Depending on player's choice Geralt either let's or fights him. Either way Geralt returns with Aldersberg's body and gets bewildered when he notices the medallion he gave to Alvin on Aldersberg's neck. After everything, Geralt returns to Foltest (king of Temeria) to collect his reward only to get another surprise as he accidentally prevents an attempt on king's life by another witcher.
Witcher 2 picks off where the first game ended. Geralt is now the personal bodyguard of Foltest and lover of Triss (still no clue about his own past). Geralt becomes fed up with the military life and as he was about to go on with his own life another witcher named Letho assassinates Foltest and flees, leaving Geralt at the scene to be the only suspect. Geralt gets arrested and thrown to jail.
During his interrogation Geralt tells everything to Vernon Roche, commander of a special forces in Temerian military. He believes in his story and sets him free with only one condition: Geralt will help catch the kingslayer. Geralt left with no other option sets on another journey with Triss to hunt down Letho and clear his name. During his adventures he learns that Letho was working together with two other witchers and they were now after King Henselt's life. After a while Triss gets kidnapped by Letho and Geralt finds himself caught up in a battle at Pontar Valley between humans led by Vernon Roche and non-humans led by Iorveth. (guess that's in his fate)
After a long adventure he finally faces Letho and learns that everything was Nilfgaard Emperor's scheme to drag northern empires into chaos by assassinating kings and invade them. Letho also tells him that they've met before and Geralt saved his life. At that moment Geralt regains his memory and remembers that Ciri who is Geralt's adopted daughter and possess innate magical abilities, saved them by teleporting all to another plane resulting in others believing they were dead. But after a while Wild Hunt came and kidnapped Yennefer. Geralt went after the Wild Hunt and offered himself to its king instead of his love. The king accepted this offer without hesitation. After riding with the Wild Hunt for 5 years Geralt somehow managed to escape and return to Kaer Morhen with his memory lost. (This is where the first game begins)
After Geralt joined the Wild Hunt, Letho and Yennefer (who also lost her memory as a result of riding with them) took refuge in Nilfgaard Empire and got caught by Nilfgaardian soldiers eventually. The Emperor let them be and promised reestablishing of the School of Viper (where Letho was raised to be a witcher) only if they helped him take down northern kings. Letho left with no option accepted his offer. Geralt either kills or sets Letho free depending on player's choice and the game ends with Nilfgaardian invasion.
WHERE IS SHE? WHERE IS MY LOVE?
As I mentioned before the game starts with Geralt and Vesemir following Yennefer's trail. After an encounter with a small group of bandits, the game sets you free in its enormous open world. The first thing I noticed as I set foot on Northern Realms was the excellent quality of graphics. From plates and candlesticks on a dining table to distant mountains everything is drawn beautifully on the screen. I was able to play the game with ultra graphics settings but even when they aren't maxed out the graphics still appear really nice. Slowly moving mist on a forested mountain, a piece of armor shining under first lights of the day, thunders and lightning on a stormy night, elaborately modeled and perfectly animated characters and monsters, shiny runes on an ancient relic, crowded streets of a large town or a small village turning dark after sunset, the game is a feast for the eyes. There were times when I would just stop playing and watch the scenery. And it's not only the environment that is beautiful, the detail in facial models and animations is just stunning. I remember playing old school role-playing games in which developers had to put every emotion of a character on dialogs so that players could understand their reactions. In W3WH the animations are so realistic that you can tell if someone is frightened, in shock, mournful, excited, angry, bothered, any feeling in short from looking at their faces. The level of detail is amazing, even the wrinkles on a forehead get deeper when a character raises his or her eyebrows.
Another effect that adds to the eye candy is Nvidia Hairworks. When turned on facial and normal hair is modeled much more realistically. Not only they look better but also wind or sudden movement affect them like in real life. Although I must say this part is a bit exaggerated on Geralt, sometimes his hair dance even in interiors like he is modeling for a shampoo advertisement . But nevertheless turning on Hairworks makes the game even more appealing on the eye.
AN OPEN WORLD
The detail and hard work isn't only in the graphics. During my playthrough I felt like I was in a living world. Time wasn't only passing for me but for every other life around me. You can see birds flying in sky, townsfolk minding their own business, a bit of arguement and bullying here and there, farmers taking care of their crops, children playing around, packs attacking other animals for entering their territory... The list can go on. The world of W3WH is alive and going on just like you. NPCs follow their daily routine and get affected from others and changes in their environment. For example when it downpours people start running around looking for a shelter, when a simple peasant encounters a wild life or monster he/she runs away, guards don't like it if you walk around your sword drawn or an NPC's attitude can change according to your choices. Small details like these really adds to the atmosphere.
Of course it's not only the NPCs that get affected from you, your friends' and companions' behaviour towards Geralt also change depending on your actions and choices. A simple example is either having a romantic time (Geralt can be a womanizer) or remaining friends forever. Also their interactions and dialogues with Geralt are really well written. For instance the sarcasm in Vesemir's words and tone are just how they should be between two old friends or when Triss and Geralt meets the first time after breaking up you can sense the caution between them. These all add to the game's great atmosphere which is crowned by top-notch voice acting and excellent music.
In addition to dialogues between Geralt and other important characters, the storytelling in the game is also supported by comics-like scenes during loading screens and well done cutscenes. Overall W3WH surrounds you and draws you into its world, excellent job CPR!
Side quests are also excellently designed and written. In most of the role-playing games I've played so far, side quests were usually repetitive and interested me no more after completing several of them. However in W3WH all of the side quests have their own story. Eventhough they usually instruct you to slay a monster or lift a curse in basic, the stories behind are so well written and different from each other that most of the time I was curious to learn more and had fun in completing them. Also witcher contracts you get from messaging boards in towns reward you with trophies when completed which give a bonus to you. (Only one trophy can be used at a time)
There are several options for travelling through W3WH's vast and alive world: fast travelling between signposts you've come across before (which is extremely useful for not crossing same roads again and again), on foot, sailing or riding Roach a brand new 2015 model devil with 1 HP engine. Your horse I mean. Travelling on horseback is really fun and a great way to explore the world. It's both faster than running around like Forest Gump and much safer as you can easily avoid enemies you don't wanna mess with or lose time dealing with. Though there are some small bugs that can sabotage your lovely adventures with Roach. There was a time when my horse was suffering from passing-over-a-bridge-with-Geralt-riding-me-phobia. I would have to mount off, cross the bridge, call him to me and mount again... But nevertheless it's nice to gallop through towns, forests and narrow pathways. Another advantage is that you never know what you might encounter. A group of bandits holding a treasure or threatening travelers, someone in need of help, a rewarding cave, a powerful monster guarding ancient relics or a place of power. Places of powers especially are sources of joy as they grant you a free attribute point the first time you draw power from them. You can sense one in your proximity from the distinctive magical sound they emit. It's usually a good idea not to follow the main road and explore around as it can be nicely rewarding. Of course you may end up a meal for a mighty creature too so take caution.
Let me explain a bit sailing too. Throughout the map you can see ship icons where you'll find small boats. With using one, you can travel across rivers or lakes and gain access to islands quickly. Of course you can swim too but it'll both take more time and is quite dangerous as you can be attacked by monsters underwater. Be advised though your boat can take damage so try not to sail too recklessly.
Geralt has a handy ability called witcher senses which proves very useful when exploring. As a result of being a witcher Geralt can see or hear much better than an ordinary human. When activated witcher senses can hear distant sounds (warning Geralt of others), clues to missions, lootables and interactable objects. It proves especially useful when finding random chests through the wild (even underwater) which can reward you well.
BRING ME MY STEEL (AND SILVER)
In a world full of foul beings and cursed souls, fighting is inevitable and you'll occasionally find yourself swinging sword and casting signs (witcher spells) against your foes. The combat system in W3WH is really good, both tactical and fast paced at the same time so the sweet taste of action remains. You'll find yourself quickly overwhelmed even by weaker opponents if you just spam attacking button. But if you prepare for a fight and watch your enemies instead of blindly rushing you'll gain the upper hand and finish off those stupid enough to challenge you. (By the way Geralt does some kick-ass violent finishers) Combat is a combination of well-timed strong or fast attacks, dodges or parries. In addition to these moves Geralt has a pair of swords (a silver one effective against otherworldly creatures and a steel one effective against the normal inhabitants), a hand crossbow, several types of bombs with different effects like burning, preventing the use of abilities or simply exploding, various potions and 5 different signs in his arsenal. Though not all of them prove useful against all kinds of enemies. Knowing with what you're dealing before a fight (especially before a miniboss or boss) is strongly advised for a healthy and longer life. In bestiary screen under in-game menu you can see the weaknesses of monsters you've either fought (and most probably slain) before or read from a book. It's very useful as it shows which signs, oils or bombs are effective against which type of monsters. After taking a look at that information you can prepare the appropriate bomb or oil at the alchemy screen if you have the necessary ingredients and coat your sword. Also from your inventory you can assign two kinds of bombs and two kinds of potions to item slots. Then during combat you can open the quick access menu, during which time slows down to a snail's march, and choose which sign, bomb or item to use. Also Geralt has an adrenaline bar which fills as you land successful hits and diminishes as you take damage. The more adrenaline you have the more damage you deal, another good reason for not rushing in blindly. Also it's quite easy getting used to the controls.
Another fighting option is on a horseback. It's really fun galloping towards your opponents and cutting them down though you should keep an eye on your horse's fear gauge. Eventhough Geralt is trained in the ways of monster slaying and is quite used to gross sights, the poor thing is not and will throw you off his back if feared too much. If you want your ever faithful buddy to fight with you longer you should get him some horse blinders. (ignorance is bliss)
I observed only few flaws in the combat system. When facing multiple opponents if you lock onto an enemy, the game changes the locked on target automatically depending on Geralt's and enemies' positions. There is no manual target changing so sometimes this can leave Geralt's back open to enemies behind which results in a 100% critical hit (attacks from behind always land a critical). Most of the time I avoided using target locking mechanism. Another issue is enemies lose their aggressiveness towards you when you get far enough and this could be exploited to kill off groups one by one. When I got just far enough, only the foremost one stayed on me. Other than these the combat system is excellent, Geralt doesn't go flying 30 yards to strike an enemy with a single button press.
Other two crucial parts of the game which are also closely related to combat effectiveness are alchemy and crafting. At the alchemy screen you can see all the formulas you found during your adventures and create various bombs, potions, oils, decoctions and mutagens. Potions are short lasting formulas that improve a part of Geralt with a small toxic effect while decoctions are formulas which grant Geralt long-lasting powerful buffs with the cost of great toxic effect. When your toxicity reaches over 95% your vitality starts decreasing so be careful while drinking potions, especially decoctions which increase toxicity level to 100%!
Just like alchemy, on the crafting screen you can see all of the diagrams you found so far to craft armors, weapons, crossbow bolts and other crafting materials. But unlike alchemy you can't craft these yourself, you need a blacksmith or armourer with enough skill level required. Of course you can choose to be happy with only looted items but the best gear is acquired by crafting and it makes your time dealing with bandits or monsters thirsty for blood a lot easier. Mostly you'll find the necessary crafting materials by looting so my advice is loot everything because you may need them in the future. Another option is having a blacksmith or armourer breakdown an item to what it's composed of but this only helps in getting basic materials not the rarer ones.
Another nice mechanism in inventory and item system is sockets and runestones. Most powerful magical items contain 1 to 3 sockets to which runestones can be assigned to get various bonuses. Runestones can be found throughout the world, bought from merchants or crafted.
I'M GONNA BE A WITCHER WHEN I GROW UP
Character development is an important aspect of RPGs and W3WH's system is impressive, it provides a good deal of diversity and different combat styles. As you level up you earn attribute points which you can spend on different skills under four different skill trees. These trees are namely combat, signs, alchemy and general (Yes general, I'm not joking). Combat, alchemy and signs trees also contain five different paths that affect your play style. Combat has fast attack, strong attack, defense, marksmanship and battle stance paths. Battle stance improves usage and effectiveness of adrenaline, rest is self explanatory. Under alchemy you can choose to improve brewing, oil preparation, bomb creation, mutation or trial of the grasses. Mutation increases your toxic resistance, mutagen and decoction effectiveness whereas trial of the grasses grants Geralt special abilities while toxic. Rest is again self explanatory. Signs tree, as expected, improves your five different signs and provide alternate casts to them. Under general tree you can select different perks all of which have different improvements like directly increasing an ability or creating a synergy with certain types of armor used. Keep in mind though that skills do not activate when you spend points in them. You must assign a skill to an empty skill slot to benefit from their effects. Since the number of empty slots are limited to 12 in total you should think carefully before investing on one. Also there are 4 empty mutagen slots to which mutagens you found or created with alchemy can be assigned. Each mutagen boost a different skill group. Red ones increase effectiveness of combat skills and attack power, green ones effect alchemy and increase your vitality and blue ones effect signs and increase sign intensity. There are 3 empty skill slots under each mutagen slot so you should assign your mutagens and skills accordingly. In short W3WH has a great character development that supports many different play styles.
I tried to explain everything about this great game in this quite lengthy read so I'm gonna keep conclusion short. If game development is an art, Witcher 3 The Wild Hunt is a masterpiece that will be remembered and hailed as a classic by gamers for many years. Marvelous job CD Projekt Red!
- Engrossing story
- Excellent graphics
- Great voice acting and music
- Really good combat system
- Diversity in play styles
- Side quests don't get boring
- An open, alive world
- 16 free DLCs!
- Can remember your choices from Witcher 2 if you still have the save game file
- Almost everything about the game
- Several small bugs
- Last chapter in Geralt's adventures
Verdict: 95 / 100
Minimum System Requirements:
OS: 64-bit Windows 7 or 64-bit Windows 8 (8.1)
Processor: Intel CPU Core i5-2500K 3.3GHz / AMD CPU Phenom II X4 940
Memory: 6 GB RAM
Graphics: Nvidia GPU GeForce GTX 660 / AMD GPU Radeon HD 7870
Hard Drive: 35 GB available space
Recommended System Requirements
OS: 64-bit Windows 7 or 64-bit Windows 8 (8.1)
Processor: Intel CPU Core i7 3770 3.4 GHz / AMD CPU AMD FX-8350 4 GHz
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Graphics: Nvidia GPU GeForce GTX 770 / AMD GPU Radeon R9 290
Hard Drive: 35 GB available space