The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review
Everyone’s on that Witcher vibe right now. Netflix dropped their new TV show last week to much audience acclaim and much critical dismay. The concurrent player count on Steam is higher than it’s ever been. Between this, the Mandalorian, and Stranger Things, monster hunting dads are very hot right now.
Personally, I am 2 episodes in to the show and so far, not bad. I’ve read about half of the first book, the Sword of Destiny, and have not played the first or second game. I completed the main game last summer, but thought I’d come back to it while the iron is hot. I started the Blood and Wine expansion but am only a few hours into it, so this will really just be a review of the base game from someone who knew nothing about the Witcher going into it.
If you are in the video game sphere at all you have heard about The Witcher 3. I don’t care if the only game you’ve ever played is Super Mario 64 remaster for the Nintendo DS, someone somewhere at some time has demanded you play The Witcher 3. It’s god’s gift to mankind! CD Projekt Red single-handedly saved the industry with this game! It has broken relationships, forged friendships, and dominated internet conversation for five years now. Why is this one so revered, and hailed by video game snobs as the greatest of all time? Let’s dive in.
Because of the Netflix series, you’re likely familiar with the premise of this world by now. Geralt is a Witcher, essentially a contract monster hunter imbued with magical enhancements. He was raised from birth to kill monsters after going through a painful transformative process, The Trials of the Grasses. The story of TW3 catches us as Geralt is on the tail end of middle-aged, starting to feel weary of adventuring. The first scene of the game makes a splash, dunking you the classic “Penis in a Bathtub” scene, setting the tone magnificently.
Ciri, Geralt’s adopted daughter, is on the run because a gang of hooligans (the titular Wild Hunt) is trying to chase her down. He goes on a quest to get to her before the baddies, retracing her steps across the beautiful lands of Nilfgard and beyond. You’ll meet love interests Yennefer and Triss along the way and choose between them. Let’s be real, this game is a dating sim that has a bonus 100 hour RPG to hide how horny it actually is. Geralt does actually get around quite a lot, and what’s not to like? The ladies love his demon cat eyes, long, unkempt hair, and monster-juice smell. This is not the fault of the game as it’s quite present in the novels as well, but there’s definitely a catering to the audience of 13-year old boys living vicariously through Geralt as a big, physically dominating man who has hot sorceresses fighting over him. That’s not necessarily a criticism, just an observation.
THE BAD STUFF
Why is this game only pretty good? Why would you say that, you heathen? Well my biggest and really only complaint is that it feels like ass to play. The first thing you need to do in the options menu is switch movement to Alternative, which makes it feel better but still awful. Trying to move Geralt the way you want him to move is one of the major challenges of the game, to be honest. He accelerates and decelerates seemingly at random, can’t jump in half an inch of water, and dies from falling 8 feet. Roach (his horse) controls better than the horses in a lot of games, so props for that.
Combat ends up being a mix of smashing R1 (fast attack) and using Quen (the shield spell) every time your mana gauge fills up. Dodging is almost useless, because Geralt never rolls the way you want him to. You get five spells right out the gate, but Quen is the only one that is useful for about 90% of it. You could use Aard (wind blast) or Igni (fire) for fighting, but you’re just wasting mana. Quen is infinitely more powerful, especially once you upgrade to the exploding shield. Basically, combat is a slog, Geralt does not react to control inputs in a smooth way, and spells are totally unbalanced giving you no reason to diversify your fighting style.
THE GOOD STUFF
Now that I’ve gotten that stuff out of the way, everything I have to say from here on out is glowing praise. I won’t give away more of the plot, because the story is the best part about this game. Not just the main story, either. Almost every side quest is written with the depth and care you’d normally never see in a giant open-world RPG like this, because the development team just doesn’t have the time. Well, CDPR made time. For any other complaints I may have, I’ll attest to TW3 having consistently the best-written side quests in any RPG I’ve ever played. Again I will avoid spoilers, but the quest with the Bloody Baron and the baby made me cry real human tears, which is something that has only happened two other times in video games (the endings of Nier Automata and Final Fantasy XV).
Even as I’ve described how much I hated the gameplay of TW3, I kept playing it for ~50 hours and finished the story. Because it was that damn intriguing. All of these characters are so well crafted, each of them feels real. Again, it sounds basic, but the fact that each character has identifiable goals and takes action to reach those goals consistently is the highest praise I can offer a writer. The most basic part of character design is often the most forgotten one.
This world is incredible. The City of Novigrad is a technical masterpiece. There are thousands of NPCs in it, each with a daily routine, each going about their business. This is the closest a video game has ever gotten to putting you into a city from Dungeons and Dragons. Many of the NPCs have something to say, but most do not. That’s okay, that’s the exchange you make for having an appropriate number of them. This world feels alive in a way that puts Skyrim and Fallout to shame.
Outside of Novigrad, you’ll traverse dozens of distinct environments and biomes. Lush jungles, freezing tundras, salty marshes, and precipitous crags dot the beautifully rendered landscapes and their vivid colors. If you’ve read my other reviews, you’ll know the quickest way to my heart is bright, distinct, vivid colors in a game. I cannot gush enough about the artwork and design of these villages and natural environments.
The creatures are designed with astounding skill and are somehow both memorable and varied. I’d currently say the Fallout series has the best roster of enemies in video games, but the Witcher 3 cuts a close second. Just take a look at some of them!
The music is excellent. It takes hints from modern fantasy styles but leans more heavily on traditional Polish instruments and styles to create a strange new kind of sound. Something that reminds you you’re in another world but still keeps you grounded to the gritty, immersive open world and the danger within it. The barbaric calling and deep throat chanting resonate with the heavy use of plucked strings to create something real and distinct, something you haven’t heard before but will feel. I will easily nominate The Witcher 3 for top 5 game soundtracks of all time.
I haven’t talked a lot about the finer RPG points of this game, but that’s because I didn’t find them to matter much towards my enjoyment. There’s a pretty deep crafting/alchemy system, but I literally never used it because I didn’t care about it. That’s a plus from me. It’s there if you want it, but if not, no problem. The upgrade trees give you small boosts here and there, but ultimately won’t influence your fighting style because Quen + Spam sword attacks is your best bet no matter what. I loved the idea of applying special oils to your sword to fight specific enemies, but these oils were rarely found in the wild and mostly required crafting, which I don’t enjoy. You can also upgrade your weapons and equipment as you progress through the game, and equip weapons with stones that slightly alter their abilities. Again, I’m glad it’s there, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it. On higher difficulties you will need to utilize enchanting and alchemy to survive, but I played most of the game on easy mode so I could experience the world without too much confrontation.
There are also some UI problems that I need explained to me. Why can’t I consume food from the menu? I have to equip it to Up or Down on the D-pad and then exit the menu and consume it there. Sometimes I eat the wrong thing, and I’ve got no idea why. The writing is tiny as hell, and if you’re on a TV you’ll need to use a mod to see it from 10 ft away. Luckily you can alter the HUD elements and hide them if you wish, because they really get in the way of enjoying the real treat of the game, which is the world around you.
Final Verdict: 8.0/10 — Toss a Coin to Your Witcher to Buy this Game
For all its shortcomings in gameplay, the Witcher 3 manages to be an artistic masterpiece. The monster designs are imaginative and mostly unmatched, both across video games and film/TV. The vivid colors that are used to create the varied landscapes are gorgeous, and there is always someone or something to see when you arrive somewhere new. I would not describe this game as “fun” to play, but I would describe it as a great game altogether. The deeper RPG elements are there to mess around with if you’d like, but are easily avoided for those like me that just want to explore a huge fantasy world. It ain’t the second coming of Jesus, but if you like open world, fantasy, or great stories (or all of the above), you owe it to yourself to walk in Geralt’s shoes.