The Witcher III: Wild Hunt Review: A New-Gen Masterpiece

I’ve never played a Witcher game before, and that’s probably a good thing. The series began in 2007, and I shudder to think how much of my life would have been lost had I been playing from the start. As I began my journey as Geralt of Rivia with the eyes and mindset of a noob, I quickly fell under this game’s wonderful spell and haven’t looked back since. This is a world fully realized and developed, with a mythology that compares to that of Tolkien and George R.R. Martin (The Witcher is based off a series of novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski). There is history — steep history — in every step I take, and even though I’ve never played a Witcher game before, I find myself just as in love with the story had I first taken up the controller back in 2007. And for CD Projekt Red, that’s a solid win.

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt isn’t just a game that you sit down to play — you actively contribute. It’s quest-based, like an MMO, but the quests — whether they are main story or side quests — are organically presented here. It never feels like you are putting one off for the other. Each mission that Geralt takes on and accomplishes has ramifications to other aspects of the game, and they are all seamlessly intertwined. There are even multiple endings to the quests and the game as a whole. And this isn’t a simple “choose right or left” structure. Everything in Witcher III‘s story is in a gray area. Geralt can be played as a straight-edged badass, or a jerk, or a soft-hearted hero, or a mixture of all these traits and more. Dialogue choices matter and dictate the outcomes of not only the conversation, but how the quest is resolved. It’s downright pleasant to feel like I’m actually contributing to how the story plays out, and not just in a few key moments, like certain Bioware-developed RPGs.

The Witcher 3 Review

And the quests are not simple “hunt x number of wolves” or “find a rare flower.” There is a much deeper resolve here. Case in point, early on in the adventure, Geralt enters Velen, a marshy area in the midst of war commonly called “No Man’s Land.” Instantly, we learn of the “Bloody Baron,” named that way for his brutality. The Baron’s presence is everywhere, from the terrified chatter of the townsfolk, to the key actors in smaller side-quests. I fully anticipated to have to deal with the Baron in a classic RPG way, meaning I would confront and kill him. When I finally got face to face with the man, the story that unfolded and how it unfolded was a pleasant surprise. The Baron is a complicated man, besieged by past tragedy. A self-proclaimed drunkard, he sends Geralt on a mission to find his missing wife and daughter. But what Geralt finds is something else entirely.

The level of storytelling here is usually reserved for fiction, or possible episodic television. But here, I helped this man — good or bad — and found myself caring for the character, who was well-written and superbly acted (The Baron was voiced by James Clyde). This simple quest told me all I need to know about Witcher III, and the series as a whole. In short, I’ve never played a game like this, and I have loved every second of it.

The Witcher 3 Review

Geralt is a badass, no matter how you play him.

Story and game structure aside, The Witcher III: Wild Hunt is also one of the best looking games I have ever played. On the PS4, the visuals are stunning, and I’ve not experienced any lag, stutter, or framerate drops. The lands are unique and vast and the day/night cycle highlight the incredible artistry that CD Projekt Red has created in a video game. And yes, there are times that I have to remind myself that this is a game that I am playing and not a movie. Even Geralt’s hair (which can be altered during the game, and has to be maintained as it — and his facial hair — will grow back when cut/shaved) flows in the breeze and whips in the strong winds.

The various character models (and I mean various, as there are quite a few unique models at play here) look amazing. Aged characters look aged. Children have round faces. Geralt’s various lady friends, including the gorgeous Yennifer and the stunning Ciri, among many, many others, are some of the best female representations I have ever seen in a game. The flora and fauna of the Northern Kingdoms looks and acts realistic from afar, but in extreme close ups (which happens during certain cinematic scenes), the grass and leaves begin to look digitized. Luckily, this happens rarely and the true beauty of these lands, from lush green fields to swamps to the cold, hard snowbanks, give a perfect setting for an epic story like this.

The Witcher 3 Review

The character models are stunning in The Witcher III.

Cities and towns are heavily populated and the residents are constantly talking — to me and to each other, sometimes giving Geralt information (inadvertently) and other times just working as exposition to the greater mythology of the game. And these cities and towns actually looked lived in. Geralt can enter most structures (there are a ton of locked doors, and as much as I loot, it’s no wonder that the owner locked the door), and even the interiors are wonderfully constructed, right down to the placement of the bed (or sleeping pallet in smaller, poorer homes) and cooking area. The attention to detail in the environment has caused me to pause on my journey just to soak it all in. And unfortunately, that happens often.

When there is action, Witcher III goes to a whole new level, as Geralt has a mixture of weapons to use, including two swords (steel for business, silver for the supernatural), a crossbow, bombs, and even magic spells that deliver telekinetic blasts and fire and more. The DualShock 4 controller is perfect for combat, as the button layouts make fighting simple, yet intuitive. And there is a lot of combat. Geralt will fight and fight and fight again. Being prepared for the battles ahead is a key component to the game.

The Witcher 3 Review

Investigations are a huge part of what a Witcher does, and Geralt is a master.

Crafting plays a huge role here, and it’s not terribly complicated. Geralt can mix potions and oils that can be applied to his blades to aid him in his battles. He can even collect materials to have new weapons and armors crafted for him.

Geralt is a Witcher, a man raised from his youth to hunt the supernatural and right wrongs — for a price — and he is well-trained and well-armed to carry out his missions. In addition to the story quests and side quests, Geralt can take on Witcher contracts, which tasks him with ridding the world of a particularly bad thing, whether its a restless spirit, or a monstrous griffin or much, much more. Each contract comes with an investigation, as Geralt will interview various people and use his Witcher sense to find clues to know what he is about to face and how best to take it out. These witcher contracts could have been a game in and of itself, but here, it’s just one aspect of an already epic adventure. And for the most part, they are optional. Again, The Witcher III: Wild Hunt is all about choice and the ramifications of those choices.

The Witcher 3 Review

Hunting huge beasts for money is an important part of the game.

As previously mentioned in regards to the Bloody Baron, the voice acting in Witcher III is incredible on all fronts. Geralt, voiced by Doug Cockle, is a fully realized person because the actor portraying him sells it with his voice. And with so many characters (and trust me here, there is a cast of hundreds), to keep that level of voice artistry going for 100 hours or more is inspiring. In addition to the voice work, the sweeping score by longtime series composers Marcin Przybylowicz and Mikolai Stroinski fits this world. Each region has its own theme and when the music changes tempo, the player knows stuff — good, bad and/or fun — is about to happen. After so many hours, I’ve actually found myself humming these tunes outside of the game. That says it all.

Also, if players need a break from hunting monsters and solving conflicts, CD Projekt Red has added an addictive card game called Gwent. Its a simple game that can be played with various people in and around the game world. Beating these people will earn Geralt special cards, so there is incentive to seek out and play, and new cards can be purchased in the in-game shops to build better, stronger decks. Gwent just adds another level to an already spectacular game. If CD Projekt Red was smart, they’d make this a stand alone app-based game, as it’s the best in-game card game I’ve played since Final Fantasy VIII‘s Triple Triad.

I can sit here and write word after word heaping praise on The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, but this review should not be as long as the game, which can take well over 100 hours to complete. And as I sit here going over my notes and reflecting back on the in-game events that I’ve had my hand in, and the things I’ve experienced while playing as Geralt of Rivia, one thing has become perfectly clear. The Witcher III: Wild Hunt is the first new gen game that is worthy of a perfect score. As I’ve stated multiple times in this long-winded review, I’ve never played a game like this, seen a game like this, or lived a game like this. I’m invested in the characters and their stories, and I’ve completely bought into the Witcher mythology. CD Projekt Red and WB Games have unleashed a true masterpiece onto the world and it is one that will stick with me long after Geralt’s story has ended.

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt is available now for Playstation 4 and Xbox One. This review is based off a PS4 review code provided by the publisher.

out of 5

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