As I mentioned in my running review, The Witcher 3 is a huge game, both in terms of landmass and content, and it takes advantage of this in order to keep side quests and combat fresh throughout the experience. The main story leaves much to be desired, however.
Taking control of Geralt, a witcher, or monster hunter for hire, I spend most of the story of The Witcher 3 searching for Ciri, a woman who is like a daughter to Geralt. This story quickly becomes tedious, however, as a large part of it involves simply finding people who saw Ciri, then completing quests for them before they tell me where she went. This cycle then repeats as I move to a new contact who demands I help them. On their own these missions are enjoyable, but they feel more like a series of loosely connected side quests than a singular story.
The lore isn’t kind to newcomers of the series either, as things like the background of characters often go unexplained. This leads to confusion and frustration as I’m forced to make decisions about characters I don’t know anything about. For example, certain decisions made in The Witcher 2 can be carried over to this entry of the series, or, if there’s no save-file for the game to read, the player can select what choices they made. New players are left in the dark, however, as the choices being made are at best confusing due to a lack of explanation. There’s an in-game glossary offering information about characters, but with no way to access it during cutscenes, I’m still left in the dark far too often when making decisions. Longtime fans of the series won’t face this issue and will likely enjoy the coming together of characters from previous Witcher titles, though in this entry characters seem to already be set in their ways, trading character development for conflict between one another.
The characters I meet along the way offer much more varied quests than the main one. The game encourages completing side quests such as these by making them one of the best ways to level up, unlocking perks, weapons and armor. After completing a few I realized they’re where the heart of The Witcher 3 really is, as they almost never feel tacky with each being a unique experience with a realistic storyline. The ability to complete them in nearly any order I want, given I’m at least relatively close to the recommended skill level, gives the freedom an open-world role-playing game should offer.
This freedom lets the player experience every region of the game world, from the rolling fields of White Orchard to the mountainous tundra of the Skellige Islands. The diverse landscapes keep the game fresh for the many hours of quests, treasure hunts and monster hunting contracts the game offers. With a world this large and populated, I expected loading screens would be common, but I was pleasantly surprised after realizing loading screens really only occur when loading a save or fast-traveling to a location. Being able to go from a dungeon to the wilderness to a city and into a tavern to play a card game with the bartender, all without a loading screen, is an amazing feat.
Cutscenes are plentiful in the game, and they aren’t afraid of taking too long, either. This leads to some frustration as I have to click through the same lines of dialogue each time I wish to buy or sell an item, but it also allows for some amazing stories to unfold as cutscenes often go on for five minutes or longer, only stopping to let me chose what what Geralt’s going to say or do.
My largest gripe with The Witcher 3 is its movement issues. Riding horses is frustrating as they often randomly stop for a second before continuing, something which is extremely frustrating during any of the many horse races offered throughout the world. Still, using my horse, which is always just a button press away, to explore is made easier by the many interlocking paths around the world that require only the holding of a button to follow. This mechanic is something I suspect many games will borrow.
Walking offers nothing new to make up for its flaws. Tight corridors prove extremely irritating as my character tends to keep moving a bit after letting go of any movement buttons. Combining this with an overly painful fall-damage system makes stairs with no handrails more dangerous than many of the enemies found in the game. Looting is also made all the more difficult by the finicky turn and movement controls, as I have to wrestle Geralt into just the right position in order to click on items left on the ground or in chests.
Combat is where the game really shines. The game’s Assassin’s Creed style combat, in which I lock onto individual enemies, really shows the effect of each blow from my sword. In battle I’m forced to keep an eye on all of my enemies as it’s easy to become overwhelmed if I allow them to flank me. Rolling out of the way of their blows, I knock enemies back while switching between quick and heavy attacks, powdering in a few signs, or weak spells, as well. The game doesn’t offer much variation in the ways I take on enemies, however. Unlockable perks allow for the improvement of different signs as well as crossbow effectiveness, but these always play a backseat role to swordfighting. Thankfully, the swordfighting is nearly perfect.
The Witcher series has always focused on a need for planning and strategy when preparing for battle. This means not only brewing potions and oils that improve my sword before combat, but using them beforehand as well. Some players might enjoy this aspect of strategy, but I find having different concoctions for each type of creature burdensome and confusing. Combined with an already cluttered inventory system that should really have a search bar, I tend to either forget about or not bother with anything other than the most simple potions.
For a large open-world game, the number of bugs in The Witcher 3 is manageable, but not ideal. Bugs I ran into ranged from the game crashing, to people’s heads floating sideways five feet from their bodies to a boss randomly dying just seconds into the battle. Some lines of dialogue appeared different in text than how they were voiced, and a button prompt seemed to be labeled as a piece of code at one point, but no bug was game-breaking and most were just a bit bothersome if not humorous.
The Witcher 3 offers hundreds of hours of entertainment, centered around an exciting combat system and immersive stories to delve into beyond the main one. It still suffers from problems seemingly inherent to games similar to it, but it also improves upon the open-world role-playing action genre in many ways.
Final rating: 9
Note: I played The Witcher 3 primarily using an Xbox One controller on my PC at maxed out graphics settings (including Nvidia Hairworks).