Gaming: Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Warning: I’ve tried not to spoil the game, but if you haven’t played it, or finished it, you may want to stop reading now. 🙂

I’ve been looking forward to Wild Hunt since I finished Assassin of Kings. I was keen to continue Geralt’s story and to see what CD Projekt Red could do to improve on an already superlative gaming experience.

I came to these games in a roundabout manner. While fully immersed in the world of Dragon Age (BioWare), I ran across a comment likening the Wardens to Witchers. A little research unearthed a series of novels and games loosely following around The Witcher, otherwise known as Geralt of Rivia. I ordered the first game and book and the rest, as they say, is history.

The first game is a “fans only” experience, especially now. Think Neverwinter Nights. The interface is clunky and the story is a bit too. The second game, Assassin of Kings, is a much cleaner, livelier gaming experience. This last installment, Wild Hunt, is glorious. It’s beautiful, eminently playable and completely absorbing.

witcher3_poster_bonusLG

What makes these games work for me is the story. If you’re familiar with the world, you’re playing the epilogues to the books. Sort of. You don’t necessarily need to know all the lore to become enmeshed in the game of politics, magic and monsters, however. Geralt is, despite his reticent nature, a very accessible PC (player character) and serves as the perfect guide to the world. He’s translated faithfully from Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels, with all his sarcasm, blunt wit and evaporative humor intact. So, too, the playable region of the unnamed continent—the Northern Realms—and all its inhabitants.

It’s the way CD Projekt Red tells the story that gets me really excited, though. Open world games are both fabulous and dangerous. I’m not sure there’s a person alive who can definitively state they’ve finished Skyrim. Over a hundred and seventy hours in, I’ve completed the main quest line and uncovered most of the continent, but I know there are countless hours of quests remaining—and that’s without touching the expansion packs. Same with Inquisition, Black Flag and just about any game I’ve touched in the past five years. These games are endless, which just about justifies the exorbitant entrance fee. So often, however, I become lost on the way to the main goal. I forget what the main quest is and/or the urgency and potency of it is diluted.

This doesn’t happen so much in the Witcher games—especially Wild Hunt. I might have thought I was side questing, and happily so until later, when I realise a decision made on a whim—whether to rescue that merchant from rabid wolves, or offer a potion to a sick woman—has consequences. Nearly every quest I embarked upon came back to haunt me in some way.

Honestly, this kinda blows me away. Not only is it a little disturbing to hear rumor of Geralt’s deeds has reached a tavern in Skellige before he has, but to have a merchant rebuff him in a market place because he lost his family to <insert dire circumstances here> can be a little shocking. I felt bad! I remembered riding past him on the way to somewhere else and thinking, oh well, just another poor NPC meeting his fate. But…he didn’t die. He lived to tell the tale of my and Geralt’s lack of heroism in that particular instance. Bastard.

Another aspect of the story telling that rocks, totally, is the left or right decisions you must make. A lot of games include these and, on occasion, they actually mean something. When you turn left, the path to the right actually closes. Forever. Often enough, however, the consequences aren’t truly regrettable.

Meanwhile, in Wild Hunt, my decisions were killing people. Strolling into an area to find a former quest giver swinging from a tree—by his neck—is quite shocking, especially when that story is seemingly at an end (of a creaking rope) and it’s time to pick up your reward and move on. Except…he’s dead. And after having already invested forty hours in the game—over twenty in that area—I didn’t want to backtrack.

I’m not even sure how far back I’d have to go…and that’s the beauty of it.

With the help of walkthroughs, you can actually pinpoint the moment a quest is going to go sideways on you, but I generally like to face my first play through of any game blind. What will be, will be, and sometimes it’s very, very wrong. And sad. I replayed the ending of Wild Hunt three times—and we’re not going to talk about the first one.

But…

The impact of the first ending I got highlights perfectly another amazing aspect of this game: the emotional punch. I’ve mentioned the humor. This world is full of it, from silly quests to lively banter, to jokes only those who have played through from the beginning will get. These are necessary elements because this world is Dark.

One of the recurring themes in Sapkowski’s writing is the question of what makes a monster a monster. Is it nature or nurture? His world is full of monsters and many of them are human. The scene that greets Geralt upon first arriving in Novigrad is a sore reminder of this. It’s gruesome and I’ll admit I mashed the buttons on my controller in frustration and horror as the scene played out without allowing me to intervene.

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Balancing this, however, are the moments with Geralt’s companions that brim with humor and heartfelt emotion—showing the depth of their friendship and/or love. His interactions with Yennefer and Ciri show the complexity of his relationships with them. The snowball fight with Ciri is a wonderful example. Then there is the quest with Yennefer called The Last Wish. Oh, this made my heart hurt!

So, too, the moment when Geralt finally finds Ciri. I cried.

Wait, I was talking about happy things…

There are plenty of opportunities, even during mission critical quests, to poke fun at the story, the world or Geralt, himself. Honestly, the game is just fun.

So, how does it actually play? Well, I had to upgrade for this one. I needed a new video card for it. I’m now running a GTX970 with nary a hitch. It’s lovely. I’d upgraded my motherboard and processor to play Inquisition, so I’m currently running a Quad Core i5 processor with 32Gb of RAM. I use a 120Gb SSD for gaming, so the load time is very fast. I want to upgrade that this year as I can only reasonably hold two games on the drive, meaning I have to prioritize.

Not sure what minimum requirements for Wild Hunt are, but it’s running well on my current build. I had a couple of clipping issues, which were more amusing than annoying, and only one instance of falling through the world. The game did develop a bug (missing items and stash) on me when I was over a hundred hours in, but a patch rolled out to fix it before I got really steamed. The path-finding could be a little odd at times, but never truly annoying—and it might have been me playing with an Xbox controller instead of mouse and keyboard. Not sure.

As for the Xbox controller, I generally prefer to play RPGs with a mouse and keyboard for quick access to menus and hot buttons. Due to problems with my neck, I find using an Xbox controller less, um, painful. I can play for longer. Combat was fine, but it took me a while to figure out the menus and pockets (hot buttons). The frustration of not being able to tap a single key to bring up key screens like the map and quest journal never quite wore off, though.

The soundtrack is lively and I didn’t tire of it after 150 hours.

Gwent—I could write a whole separate post on Gwent. It’s a card collecting game that stole about twenty hours from the main quest. Oh, and if you’ve already killed someone or completed certain quests, you can’t collect every card. Frustrating as that is, it again highlights the fully realized consequences to your actions throughout the game.

Finally, a note on the endings. There are three main endings with, I think, thirty-six possible permutations, which take into account your decisions from the minute you start playing. I rolled back twenty hours to explore two main endings and then played a little with some of the other epilogues. Some end goals need to be embarked upon very early in the game.

All in all, Witcher 3:Wild Hunt is a fantastic game. It’s one of the best I’ve ever played. The best Witcher game, certainly, and I enjoyed it more than I did Inquisition and Black Flag, which are my most recent comparisons. I found the story more immersive (and cohesive), the gameplay more enjoyable and the world easy to navigate in terms of realistic movement and roleplay sense.

It looks as if it’s going to be a few years before we get see Witcher 4, but there’s a very encouraging quote from CEO Adam Kicinski regarding the future of the franchise:

“It’s too early to talk about it, but it’s not like we’re forgetting about this brand – that’s understandable. It wouldn’t be fair towards the fans.”

In the meantime, have you seen the trailer for their current project Cyberpunk 2077? Holy gaming goodness, Batman. I seriously cannot wait for this one. For now, I’m going to leave you with some art which pretty much sums up my favourite ending conditions, and the position I like to think I left my key players in. Be sure to click through to visit Shalizeh’s gallery. It’s gorgeous!

Good Times by Shalizeh
Good Times by Shalizeh

 

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