CD Projekt Red is tying up the Witcher trilogy in a huge way with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The series, based on a collection of fantasy novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, has been a big success for the company. But all things must come to an end, and they are poised to blow it out with this last title, which features an open world that is more than 35 times larger than the one in The Witcher 2; if you played that game, then you’ll know how massive that is. To put it into perspective for those of you who might not have experienced The Witcher before, that’s about 20-percent larger than The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. And not that CD Projekt Red was knocking Bethesda, but they did say that while Skyrim is big, a lot of the space isn’t that exciting.
They promise that The Witcher 3 will be exciting, and they have hand-designed the world to engage you and make you want to explore it. Plus, that world is populated with quests, missions, and monsters, and the entire storyline is wrapped around a chaotic and deadly force known as the Wild Hunt. Let’s get witchy.
Which Witch? Set in the aftermath of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, The Witcher 3 is a much darker game, with a war-torn world around you, and rumors of the Wild Hunt on the lips of everyone you encounter. As always, you play through this game as Geralt of Rivia. He is a man on a mission, and these days that mission involves hunting down monsters for cash. He’s not exactly a noble knight in shining armor, or a mercenary for hire. Instead he’s a bit like Nick Burkhardt from Grimm crossed with Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters. Geralt will investigate disturbances, then consult his lore to determine what type of monster is plaguing the hapless individuals, and hopefully encounter and defeat it. It’s certainly not a glamorous life, and he has a fair share of people who sneer at his livelihood. But hey, it’s a living.
When the game opens, the world is in chaos. The fearsome empire of Nilfgaard has ravaged the Northern Kingdoms. Rumors of the Wild Hunt plaguing the countryside – normally believed to be a dark fairy tale – have begun to concern people across the land, and Geralt has been investigating the claims. According to Adam Badowski at CD Projekt Red, the Wild Hunt is “a band of spectral horsemen who ride through the sky, raining down destruction wherever they appear.” In the CGI trailer we were shown behind closed doors, a massive, Sauron-like figure bristling with blades mows down innocents, and at the end a lone survivor stumbles out of some brush before gazing at a massive airship hanging in the sky. Your basic nightmare scenario, right?
The Witcher is a fairly standard solo RPG, and Geralt is known for the twin blades, potions, magic, and “Witcher” skills, all of which you will use throughout this game. He is definitely the lone wolf (his nickname is the White Wolf), thus he prefers to work alone. There is a main quest that runs throughout all of The Witcher 3, although you can choose to ignore it whenever you want and turn to side quests if that strikes your fancy. The game features a branching storyline, and most quests have long-reaching effects deep into the game. Some of them can carry through to the very end, and there are 36 different possible endings to the game.
While not on the core quest, you will find many different side quests for Geralt to complete. These usually involve exploration and monster hunting, and in our demo we encountered an enormous, antlered Fiend that had a lair amidst some ancient ruins, and after battling him for awhile, he retreated to his lair to recover. We then had the option to use Geralt’s Witcher skills to track him to his lair and continue the battle, or to continue on our way. We wanted to hunt that sucker down and make him pay, but we decided to press on in the interest of seeing more of the game.
Our next quest brought us to a village plagued by attacks from a spirit that is usually peaceful, so long as it was worshipped. But things have turned bad, although when Geralt arrives to help he isn’t exactly met with open arms. The village leaders grudgingly agree to hire him to confront the creature, and after some investigation and consulting his Bestiary, Geralt discovers that he is facing a very old male Leshen. This creature has the ability to “mark” living victims without their knowledge, and as long as they remain alive, it can never truly be killed.
Geralt goes on the hunt for the creature, moving through the woods that are whipping about with a fierce wind. It’s a fairly creepy sequence, with lots of “GOTCHA!” moments and Blair Witch-esque trappings. Eventually Geralt finds the creature by destroying his totems, and listening for his signature sound listed in the Bestiary: a cawing of crows. The thin, lanky, antlered and skull-faced Leshen is extremely spooky, and it takes a fair amount to bring him down. Most of the encounters with the 80 monsters in The Witcher 3 will be like this, and there are no “boss monsters,” just different types of creatures.
You’ll use different Witcher skills and senses to help track down these creatures, and Geralt has alchemy and crafting skills as well. He’ll use those in conjunction with his twin swords, moving in a much more dance-like fashion this time around; the development team has promised full control of Geralt’s blades this time around in the redesigned combat, with no quick-time events or scripted attacks. There are three specialization paths that you can combine skills from – Swordsman, Mage, and Alchemist – allowing you to have hybrid characters and combat styles.
A living, breathing world. The Witcher 3 is expansive, cinematic, and beautiful. The initial island world seen in our demo is larger than all of The Witcher 2, and has denizens based upon Nordic and Celtic mythology. They are a proud people, and as all interactions are dialogue-based, you will get a sense of who they are and what they are about each time you talk to someone. The team has worked to add more muscles to NPC faces, so that when they emote, it looks more realistic. The voice acting is spot on, which is quite a feat in a game that is being localized for North American audiences, and adds much to the game.
The world lives and breathes despite what you do in it as well. Weather will affect travel and the economy, and you may notice that the price of fresh fish from a stall near the ocean will be much cheaper than booths located away from the sea. People will react to temperature changes, predators hunt for food, and “lovers meet by moonlight,” according to the press notes. A lot of work has gone into creating a massive world that Geralt is just a part of, and so far it feels very realistic. Like you’re dropping into a story in the halfway point, rather than having to stop and start depending on your actions.
With all of the added improvements, the massive scope, and the promise that the increased size will also mean increased gameplay, The Witcher 3 is poised to deliver a massive RPG experience that is perfect for solo adventurers. The game won’t be out until next year, but we’re already excited to see more.