The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review


The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a thing that exists and that alone is a miracle. After everyone rushed to pile awards at the feet of Dragon Age: Inquisition, a game that was mediocre in every sense of the word, I was beginning to feel like no one gave a damn about stories anymore. After spending nearly a hundred hours in the world of the Witcher 3 though, I can say that this is one of the best RPG’s I’ve ever played. This game is everything Dragon Age Inquisition should have been, everything it promised and failed to deliver, was delivered in spectacular fashion by The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

The open world is mind blowingly huge, and unlike Dragon Age Inquisition, there are no artificial boundaries that turn the maps into a series of corridors. You can cut through the middle of a forest or swim across a lake, just beware what lurks within. You never know when Nekkers will crawl up out of the ground around you, or you’ll be sailing along minding you’re own business or riding along on your faithful steed when a Griffon will swoop down and rip off the top half your torso.

Your choices have real consequences, some that are immediately apparent and others that won’t reveal themselves until you’ve nearly forgotten about the choice you made…only to have the stark consequences slap you in the face. Every single choice yo make has a consequence. At the beginning of the game I met a scholar who wanted to write about the war between Redania and Nilfgaard. I told him to go for it, tell the real story of the war. The next zone I entered, I found that scholar’s corpse dangling from a tree; hanged on suspicion of being a spy.

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But most importantly, the story is one worth experiencing. It’s not about some evil sorcerer trying to conquer the world or finding a plot McGuffin, it’s about characters. There are no pointless side quests in this game and no collecting ram meat for nameless refugees. Everything matters and everything tells you a story, and they’re all worth the telling.

That concludes the spoiler-free portion of my review. If you don’t want the story spoiled for you turn back now, just trust me when I say this is a story you won’t regret having experienced. What Game of Thrones did for television (completely redefining what’s possible for the medium) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt does for video games.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the game I’ve been waiting to play all my life.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

A Storytelling Review

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The world of the The Witcher is George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones meets high fantasy. There are elves and dragons and magic, but this is no Tamriel or Middle-Earth. It’s a world of political intrigue and brutal warfare inhabited by monsters drawn from mythology of every culture. Yet of all the monsters you’ll fight in this game, none will be so monstrous as man himself.

The story follows Geralt, the titular Witcher, as he tries to find his old ward Ciri. The Witcher 2: Assassin’s of Kings made reference to Ciri, as well as Geralt’s former lover Yennefer, but they were so vague that none of it seemed all that important. The Witcher 3, however, does an absolutely astounding job with the characterization. Every single character feels alive and you’ll come to love each and every one of them, or love to hate them as the case may be. As you experience Ciri’s life through a series of flashbacks, you’ll become just as eager to find her as Geralt, if only because she’s so incredibly badass.

At first I was afraid this was going to turn into a “princess in the tower” scenario where you have to rescue Ciri from danger. But basically most of the story is spent chasing her because Ciri keeps rescuing herself  before Geralt can even get there.

This is no princess you have to save.
In Polish stories, the Princess rescues you.

Ciri is being pursued by the Wild Hunt, considered a legend by most  and a wraith by those who’ve seen him, but who Geralt and Yennefer know is very real. The Wild Hunt is a huge monstrosity of an elf from a parallel world, who is able to cross between worlds and is desperately seeking a way to save his world from destruction. Of all the characters, the Wild Hunt is the only cipher among them, he’s not really characterized at all and so he comes across as a bit of a stereotypical villain. He’s basically The Witcher 3’s Corypheus, only his boss fight is actually climactic and difficult, so even the weakest link in this game’s story is infinitely stronger than Dragon Age Inquisition’s entire chain. His part in the story is extremely small though, as it should be, and the focus is on the amazing characters you’ll meet.

Most of the game is spent trying to pick up Ciri’s trail and piece together her story from the peoples she’s met along the way. First all this is a brilliant way to do a story in an open world environment, because it lends itself to the exploratory nature of the game’s world. There’s an urgency to finding Ciri, but at the same time it’s not the same urgency as trying to stop an apocalypse. It makes sense that Geralt would choose to take on a monster contract while scouring a village for clues to Ciri’s disappearance. It starts making less sense once you find Ciri, but by that time I’d finished most of the side quests, and the main quest had become so intriguing that I rushed through to the end of the story. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In the Witcher universe, that phrase usually means the Emperor has literally taken your head.
In the Witcher universe, that phrase usually means the Emperor has literally taken your head.

The game has an impeccable sense of pacing, for instance after a long arduous journey finding Ciri’s trail and finally deducing that Uma is the key to finding her, you have a chance to get some real work done: Drinking. Along with your fellow Witchers, Lambert and Eskel, you get the opportunity to relax. I can’t tell you how fun this scene was, but after what must have been 20 or 30 hours spent hunting Ciri and witnessing terrible atrocities in that time, this was exactly what I needed. Most importantly you remain in control and in character the entire time. So if you’re playing Geralt as a straight up professional, you have the choice to go to bed early. The game doesn’t just jump to a cutscene, and by doing that you feel completely immersed in the experience.

Now I’ve never developed a taste for alcohol, it just tastes so awful I can’t drink enough to get drunk, so I have no idea what it’s like to get drunk. Thanks to the Witcher 3 though, I feel like I really did get blind drunk and dress up in a frilly frock, because the scene was just that expertly written and presented. I felt like I lived it myself, it was that good. I also nearly broke a rib laughing.

The writers know how to craft a story, because after every major event and heart rending moment, there was moment to balance it out. The Battle of Kaer Morhen was quite possibly one of the most intense battles I’ve ever played in a video game. It’s just a handful of defenders against dozens of the Wild Hunt’s warriors, and yet the small number of combatants did nothing to detract from the pure epicness of the siege. In fact the small number of defenders made me feel like everything I was doing was absolutely vital.

More importantly, I knew the who each of the defenders was. There were no faceless, nameless defenders being killed in a failed attempt to raise the stakes like most video games. No, I knew the face and name of everyone fighting by my side, they we’re people to me, and that made every moment of the siege feel real. My heart was in my throat the entire time. And when Vesemir gave his life to save Ciri, I felt the same rage Ciri felt.

Burn them all, Ciri.
Burn them all, Ciri.

But back onto the point of pacing, directly after this incredible scene, the writer’s wisely decided to give us an opportunity to laugh. This is absolutely vital to any good story, because if it’s all horror and death the audience will grow numb to it and eventually bored of it, that’s something the Witcher 3’s writers understood. After a somber funeral scene and a few days to recuperate, we’re treated to a snowball fight between Ciri and Geralt. Again the incredible people at CDProjekt knew the best way to tell this moment was to leave the player in charge, so it’s you charging around exchanging snowballs with Ciri.

And when you’ve slain the Crones of Crookback Bog and avenged Vesemir by killing the Wild Hunt’s general Imrelith, you share a tender moment of peace while watching the sunrise. That’s the other great thing they did with Ciri’s character, they didn’t fall into the trap of making Ciri a badass by draining her of emotion. She laughs, cries and rages like every other person in the story. She’s human.

And it’s in these interactions with Ciri that Geralt is best revealed. Once again you remain in complete control, you can choose to not have a snowball fight with Ciri and play it cool and distant. But though you may not know it now, even these small moments have huge consequences on the story.

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My friend also played through the game and played almost the exact opposite Geralt, a pure professional who did only what was necessary. He didn’t have a snowball fight with Ciri, he didn’t gleefully smash up Avallac’h’s lab, and he didn’t let Ciri lay to rest Skjall (the man who led Ciri to safety in Skellige). In his ending, Ciri had disappeared and was presumed dead.

In my ending, as my Ciri stared into that strange energy field from which the White Frost was coming, in her mind’s eye flashed all the great moment’s we’d shared throughout the game’s story. The snowball fight, the lab, and the visit to Skjall’s grave where she told the villagers of his heroism. The moments that reminded her that there were things worth living for.

And she came back.

Together again.
Together again.

Again the brilliance of the conclusion is that I still retained control, I was the one who had “Sparrow” inscribed on Ciri’s new silver sword, and rode to meet her at the Inn in White Orchard where this whole story first started. When I talked about emotional closure and the importance of resolution in the Story Arc in my Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age Inquisition reviews, this is exactly what I was referring to. A few brief moments when we can relax and allow the story to come to an end, like the last trailing notes of a grand symphony.

“Well then, let’s try it out…” – Ciri to Geralt 

Then of course we’re also given the slideshow ending that answered any unanswered questions and gave us resolution to the interesting, yet ultimately unimportant subplots such as the Nilfgaardian invasion. Much like Game of Thrones, The Witcher 3 dangles fascinating political stories for you to focus on that ultimately have nothing to do with the actual plot. This is a story about characters, and the slideshow tells you what became of the people you came to love.

Geralt spent a few months with Ciri teaching her all he knew of the ways of the Witcher, and then they parted ways, with Ciri going on to become a Witcher even more famous than Geralt. And as for Geralt himself?

He retired to Kovir with Triss, taking on occasional monster contracts, but for the most part living out the rest of his life in the peace that had eluded him for so long.

That was my story. My choices in the game led me to an ending that left a warm glow in my heart, and was one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve ever had in a video game. And if you haven’t already, get out there and start your Geralt’s story because no matter how it ends up, you’ll never forget the experience. 

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Hard to believe it all started years ago with a game so rough I can barely believe it got a sequel.
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12 thoughts on “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review”

  1. It was a wonderful story – I had bit different angle than you, because I’ve read the books that lead to the Witcher game series and they describe the relation between Geralt and Yennefer and Ciri. This game made a wonderful closure to that story: My Geralt retired with Yennefer, woman that was always in his life but this time not because of some spell, but because of his conscious choice. And Ciri… well, for me she has made ultimate sacrifice and became an Empress of Nilfgard.
    But if you look back at the books, there are two things that I’ve found irritating: in original story Ciri believes that her parents are dead and Emhyr officially wants to marry her (which would give him rights to many Northern Kingdoms). In the end, the only other person that knows that he is her father was Geralt – even Ciri herself couldn’t recognize him (he “died” when she was little child), when emperor after finding her lets her go (saying in elvish “farewell my daughter”, which Ciri mistranslates as “farewell my girl”). Well, I guess emperor could tell the world truth in the end – logically speaking it would also give him casus beli to fight for “his birthright”.
    Another thing, that we actually can see in the game but no one commented about is the fact, that Ciri has really bad luck to men – at least two other males that she was willing to go to bed with died immediately before anything could happen, same fate met her rescuer in game… She could at least mention it somehow…

    1. I read the books too and same to you, i try to sincronizate with books, the history is quite different from the game not so far but still far pretty good history and awesome game, i wish they include like in the book the wedding of gerald and yennefer that for me was a crime its the only i complain about this ,ciri at last get someone galahad but only in the book. You dont think left that or i am the only one?

  2. I tried to romance both Yennefer and Triss. Playing Geralt as someone who had fallen in love with Triss during his memory loss and then remebering his feelings for Yennefer.

    The result was hilarious.

    In the end he ended up on the Witchers path with his presumed dead adopted daughter Ciri.

    Pretty pleased with that ending actually, I really felt that this was where he belonged.

  3. My thoughts:

    Superb story telling. It is hard to pick out its greatest accomplishment, but I would say it is Geralt. He reminds me of Walt from Gran Torino: a virile, cynical, and stoic man who is also deeply caring for those he loves and is (at least in my playthrough) a good father. I found that fatherhood and the consequence of choice being two themes served the the story well, the former allowed Geralt, Ciri, the Emperor, and the Baron’s story arcs to really shine. The latter is an interesting theme for any game, and especially RPGs, to explore.

    Gameplay: I think it mostly succeeds in its primary aim: make the character feel like a witcher. I liked actually tracking monsters and I liked how the game incorporates story telling here. Tracking a monster will uncover what it is, how someone died, and what the monster did afterwards. It is some really nice world building.

    I love how they did potions. You make a potion, then it refreshes when you rest, and it cuts down on the micromanagement (to some degree).

    I would say that the individual pieces build something greater than the whole, but there are also games that have done the individual parts better. The auto-target lock on, camera, and movement feel clunky, the sword play (I played on the highest difficulty) lacks real tension, hitboxes are off on the larger enemies, and there is still too much menu use (I think maybe this was amplified by coming after bloodborne which is really smooth comparatively). Traveling by horseback, while considerably better than Skyrim, is still not to the level of shadow of the colossus. There are puzzles in dungeons (which I love) but not as involved as Majora’s Mask.

    However, while this game isn’t as sharp as it’s more focused contemporaries, it gains in how all these pieces come together to form the whole experience, and I would probably put that experience on or above the level achieved by Morrowind.

    Yeah, this is a great game with a great story. This is what dragon age (hrm hrm, any of them) should have been. I think the witcher struck a really nice ground between focused story telling and gameplay and player freedom and expression. I have to say, I think this is probably the most ambitious game I’ve played since Dark Souls. There is just so much they wanted to achieve, and even though it falls short in some areas, they overall achieved their vision.

    1. Dragon Age: Origins is still more focused. I can’t decide between Dragon Age: Origins and The Witcher 3, however, which is really saying something, as Dragon Age: Origins basically = God’s gift to gaming for me. I will say The Witcher 3 feels much more clunky, and it doesn’t reward multiple playthroughs nearly as well, but when one playthrough is this good, maybe it doesn’t need to.

  4. You’re dead on right on how this game excells at characterization.
    Many games try to tell us a grand, epic story but what they leave out is those “in between” moments, like the snowball sequence you mentioned, that really draw out the characters and make the player more invested in them.
    In the end, this game was not impressive as a political drama or some save the world odyssey, but more about all the Geralt’s relationships…friend, lover and a father, to everyone in his life.

  5. Moments after finishing the game, i got the ending where Ciri died, i felt sad and depressed but more importantly a sense of confusion as to why i got this ending, as if anything my Geralt always tried to be supportive of Ciri etc etc…
    Quick googgle search lead me to this:
    (Prima guide official)
    While completing the Blood on the Battlefield main quest, Ciri will ask Geralt how to manage her negative mood. You can choose to have a snowball fight with her (+1), or you can tell her that she doesn’t have to be good at everything (-1).
    During the Father’s Day main quest, the Emperor will attempt to pay Geralt for bringing Ciri to him as they agreed. Geralt can refuse payment (+1), or he can accept it (-1). Refusing payment results in Ciri being proud of Geralt.
    While completing the Final Preparations main quest, Geralt can allow Ciri to speak with the Sorceresses on her own (+1), or he can go with her and speak on her behalf (-1). The latter will cause Ciri to lose confidence in herself.
    The Child of the Elder Blood main quest will see Ciri angry and determined to ransack the laboratory of Avallac’h. You can allow her to do this (+1) or you can tell her to calm down (-1). The former will help strengthen her resolve.
    Also during Child of the Elder Blood, Ciri will tell Geralt she wants to travel to the grave of a boy who saved her. You can agree to go with her (+1), or tell her that there is no time (-1). The second option will cause Ciri’s spirit to weaken.
    Those are the choices which influence the outcome of Ciris survival. After reading them I felt robbed and very angry, and got reminded of Mass Effect 2 loyalty system.
    My problem arises that I fail to see how most of those will affect Ciri returning or not. One could argue that it is about her inner strength whicvh those fuel, but I fail to see that. How would Ciris proudness of Geralt affect whether she sruvives the white frost or not? I have no idea. Thats similar complain as to Legion, a machine, perfoming better if Shepard helped him.
    I felt robbed because I knew I couldnt replay the game, not any time soon because the game is so long and so rich in content that If i Just want to go through mainquest i wont get the full experience without the side stuff. That admittedly i just dont think is a good game design, having incosequential choices matter.
    Other than that the game was amazing and i give it a 10./10. Review is spot on.
    rant over

    1. I have to agree with this, but at the same time (and I suspect I’ll get a few angry responses to this), the nature of games development is brutal. A studio like CDPR, who are ambitious but have a limited budget (before doing so well with The Witcher 3, anyway), would face severe difficulties even getting this game to us. I have a feeling they had something bigger and better planned, but realised they just didn’t have the time or resources to make it happen, and so cut a few corners in the best possible way they could.

      Another example of poor plot development is when Dijkstra just suddenly expects you to walk away and allow him to kill Roche and the others, saying that a witcher shouldn’t interfere with politics. Like, did I not just help him assassinate a king more dangerous than the emperor of Nilfgaard? Why the fuck would Geralt arbitrarily accept this bullshit reasoning? More importantly, why would a clever man like Dijkstra even EXPECT him to?

      Given how excellent the rest of the game is, I’ll just assume these poor decisions were made as the studio was approaching its deadline and their resources were running thin. I don’t think they liked having to do this. That is the reality of games development if you aren’t Rockstar, however. EA and Ubisoft really don’t have an excuse, but that’s a whole other story.

      Oh, I’d encourage everyone to listen to the commentary of Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Director’s Cut if they want a fascinating window into the reality of games development. The team delivering commentary straight up admit they fucked up the ending and that they’re really sorry about it. They also just make us aware of the forces working against them and how much of what they actually had planned had to be cut as they ran into the resource wall, and how many things they had planned just didn’t work as well as they’d hoped, too, and so were ultimately cut.

  6. “I was the one who had “Sparrow” inscribed on Ciri’s new silver sword”

    It’s Zireael, or Swallow.

    But other than that, yeah. I felt the exact same way. One of the best games of all time for me. If DAI hadn’t disappointed me so much, I would have forgotten all about it by now. W3 did everything I hoped DAI would and didn’t. So satisfying and fun, incredible. Can’t wait to play this game again!

    1. Well that’s embarrassing. In my defense though I was so thoroughly addicted to Swallow potions in game that you could find my Geralt sucking dwarf cock in a back alley for a drop of it. 😉 Hence the name mix-up. Thanks for pointing it out though, I’ll edit the mistake.

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