RUNNING REVIEW: The Witcher 3

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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a huge game, and rushing through it to get out a review to you would make it a completely different experience for me than it likely will be for you. You deserve better than that. But you also deserve something immediate, so these are my initial impressions. Once I finish the game (and believe me, I’m trying to), I will round up my thoughts with a final opinion of the game.

Seriously, this game is huge. Image courtesy of CD Projekt RED

Seriously, this game is huge. Image courtesy of CD Projekt RED

At around a dozen hours in on the PC version, it already seems the folks at CD Projekt RED didn’t allow the size of the game to get in the way of the way it plays. As a gamer, I’ve come to expect many flaws in massive, open-world role-playing games. Loading screens are often never more than a few minutes away, “combat” means wildly flailing your weapons through an enemy whose only reaction appears in their ever decreasing health bar, traveling is a hassle and the game is very unpolished at launch. The Witcher 3 has managed to minimize all of these problems.

Loading screens are so rare, I would expect them to take massive amounts of time when they do occur, but I would be wrong. The game loads smoothly as well as quickly, and being able to transition from a dungeon, to the wilderness, to a city, to playing cards inside a pub all without a loading screen is nothing short of amazing for a game of this scope. Combat feels like that of Assassin’s Creed, with enemies reacting to your every swing, kick, shot, bomb or blast of magic. You’re expected to react, too. The game punishes you for allowing a band of bandits or wild dogs to flank you and attack from where you can’t defend. This leads to immersive combat situations as I try to keep an eye on my health, the strength-boosting oils on my weapons as well as the positions of my enemies so I can roll out of the way before they hit or surround me. Combat is both immersive and challenging, but manageable.

My Horse, Roach, makes a trusty companion. He is always a button press (or a whistle in the game world) away. The landscape is easily traversable by horse, as all I have to do is hold a button while on a road or trail, and Roach will continue to follow that trail until I stop holding the button or veer to the side to go off-roading. The fast-travel system in the game only allows for travel from one road sign to another, forcing players to actually walk at least a little bit and keep an eye on their surroundings.

My trusty steed, Roach, is always just a button push away. Image courtesy of CD Projekt RED.

My trusty steed, Roach, is always just a button push away. Image courtesy of CD Projekt RED.

I’ve run into a number of bugs so far, causing everything from button prompts being mislabeled, to game crashes, to me winning a boss battle almost instantaneously. While these bugs exist, they are extremely rare, especially for a game as large as this. Still, I think the game could have used another few weeks of polish. These things will inevitably be taken care of in future patches, and, luckily, none I have run into are game-breaking.

The game’s voice acting takes a bit of getting used to, as many of the characters have over-the-top voices which can be hard to take seriously. On top of this, character’s mouths do not synch up well with the voices, and all too often their lips barely open at all. For a game with so much time dedicated to cutscenes (seriously, it’s not rare for them to be more than five minutes, and there are a lot of them), I would have expected them to spend a bit more time on vocal animations.

The controls also take some getting used to and are especially bothersome when navigating tight areas such as towns, as your character continues to take a few steps even after letting go of ‘forward.’ The controls make many things much more difficult than they should be, from getting off of your horse during combat, to looting sacks of food. I find the Xbox One controller works better than the mouse and keyboard for everything except navigating menu screens, but that seems to be true for most third-person action games.

As for the story so far, having not played much of the previous two games, they kind of leave me without a lot of the specifics of who people are and how I know them. This is typically fine, as I still get an overarching idea of what’s going on, and the story makes enough sense so I know why I’m doing what I’m doing from quest to quest. There is one scene in which they ask me to choose what decisions I made in the second game, as they effect this game (similar to Mass Effect), but they didn’t describe the situations well enough for me to really know what I was deciding on, which was extremely frustrating. Fans of The Witcher will love this entry of the series, however, as it is packed full of lore in the form of books, quests and simply talking to inhabitants of the world.

Prepare to spend a lot of time watching cutscenes in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Image courtesy of CD Projekt RED.

Prepare to spend a lot of time watching cutscenes in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. | Image courtesy of CD Projekt RED.

An extremely helpful thing that anyone who took months to complete Skyrim will love are short graphic novel style recap videos of what’s happening in the story each time you load a save. This will hopefully solve problems with people forgetting what’s happening in the game, and it also does a good job of masking a loading screen.

So far The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has been an amazing experience, and it shows no signs of changing. Still, no final verdict will be made until I finish the game. If anything drastically changes as I continue playing, I’ll update this post, so check back often. Otherwise, you can look forward to my full review in the coming week.

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