The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Critic Reviews add missing review
Average score: 93% (based on 70 ratings)
Average score: 4.3 out of 5 (based on 68 ratings with 3 reviews)
In my review of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, I ranted about how there was no physical interaction in the game and how its world was confined to narrow areas, impeding free exploration. I've always preferred more open design for my games, and I thought that the beloved Polish series would greatly benefit from it.
When Witcher 3 was in development, I read about how they were working on expanding interaction and exploration, but I paid little attention because every developer promises that and rarely delivers. However, Witcher 3 did deliver. It delivered everything I was waiting for.
They just got it right this time. They've kept everything that made the series great - strong moral choices in the gameplay, interesting quests, beautifully dark atmosphere and mature themes - and designed a much more advanced, much more generous game incorporating all that. It's Witcher on steroids, mega-Witcher, Witcher with megalomania that has become reality. It's a superbly ambitious game, and it has lived up to its ambitions.
For someone who likes open world design, but is also interested in meaningful quests and a setting imbued with atmosphere and personality, Witcher 3 is a dream coming true. Aside from its lightweight approach to character customization, it is a rich, involving role-playing game that would make a fan of the genre drool. It has a plethora of quests and memorable encounters, like in Bioware games, as well as a vast world to explore, like in Elder Scrolls. It is one RPG that, after many years of experimenting, comes close to the ideal of Ultima. It is modern thanks to its technology and presentation, but it also harvests much of what has been achieved in RPG design throughout all this time.
Witcher 3 has both quantity and quality. Its world is both large and fascinating - it's wonderfully busy, but it's not cloying the player with incessant repetitive activities; it's breathtakingly wide, yet full of points of interest; it strikes a perfect balance between free exploration and meaningful quests. You can spend hours working on those side missions, and discover more and more interesting information about the world and the characters populating it, even when they are not directly connected to the main plot. But you can also just ride your trusty horse across fields and forests, simply searching for monsters to kill.
The beauty of this game is that pretty much every major aspect of it is satisfying, and they all work together marvelously as a harmonious whole. It's a strong plot- and character-driven game full of cinematic moments and dialogues with ethical choices, and yet it doesn't shrink the playing area like many modern RPGs of the same mold. It's a magnanimous open-ended game with many locations to visit, yet it doesn't lower its standards of writing and narrative to accommodate that.
Of course, Witcher 3 is not as overwhelmingly large and physically interactive as the Elder Scrolls games, but it does come close. For the first time in the series, the protagonist is able to jump, swim, ride a horse, and finally bypass those artificial barriers the previous two games had. You don't feel the world's artificial limits any more. You have the freedom to fool around, visit places out of order (after having completed the initial chapter), just explore without any particular goal in mind, take a break from the main quest. This is something I wish every RPG designer would think of.
Witcher 3 retains all the cool elements characteristic of the series. Its combat flows better than ever, and has been enhanced by features such as archery, fighting on a horseback, etc. Alchemy and magic systems are still all in place, so you can drug your hero as much as you want and have him develop some nifty qualities. Speaking of which, the new Witcher-sense ability has turned out to be quite an interesting gameplay element. It is essential for many quests, and works akin to detective investigation, complete with clue-gathering and observations gradually leading the protagonist to the goal.
Witcher 3 is also a gorgeous game. Its urban areas as well as its countryside and wilderness are masterpieces of visual design. Its world is not just big - it's brimming with detail, it's warm and organic, and it almost feels like a living creature miraculously concocted with bits and bytes.
Witcher 3 is not perfect, but I think that its flaws are easy to ignore when the good outweighs the bad by such a large margin. The game's shortcomings mostly pertain to small things. For example, inventory management is still unpleasant, what with the tiny icons and bizarre sorting options. There are some bugs and weird occurrences, as well as some bizarre bits of dialogue here and there.
Character customization is generally more varied than in the previous games, but not exactly as deep and as far-reaching as, say, in the Elder Scrolls series. Also, despite the vastness of the world and the increased interactivity, there is still some window dressing in world design. For example, Novigrad looks amazing, but you can't really explore it to the core, because most houses are inaccessible. In a way, it can be felt that the developers weren't completely at home with open world design or physical interactivity - though, naturally, their effort is still incredibly impressive and commendable.
The Bottom Line
Saying that Witcher 3 is the best in the series wouldn't be enough to do it justice. The Polish developers have created one of the best role-playing games in recent memory, an exquisite product that gracefully combines the spirit of hardcore classic playing with modern sensibilities. Play it, savor it, love it.
Windows · by Unicorn Lynx (180491) · 2016
Massive, immersive world with stunning graphics and attention to detail
Compelling, mature story with complex characters and choices that impact the outcome
Engaging combat with a variety of weapons and magic
Robust crafting and alchemy systems that add depth and customization to gameplay
Expansive side quests that offer their own unique stories and challenges
Excellent voice acting and sound design that adds to the immersive experience
Some minor bugs and glitches that can occasionally affect gameplay
The game's size and complexity can be overwhelming for some players
The controls can be clunky and take some time to master
The Bottom Line
I can't believe it's almost been 10 years since its release and still shows no sign of aging! The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a masterpiece of an RPG that offers an immersive and expansive world with a compelling story and engaging gameplay. Despite some minor flaws, the game's attention to detail and depth make it a must-play for fans of the genre. If you're looking for a game that will keep you engaged for hours on end, The Witcher 3 is definitely worth checking out.
Windows · by WONDERなパン (10205) · 2023
- Gigantic game world with tons of things to do
- The best writing of any Witcher game
- Superb presentation, music, and voice acting
- Flowing, Intuitive Combat
- Gwent is my new favorite card game
- Rife with bugs
- Inventory Management is still a giant mess
- Controlling your horse is an exercise in frustration
- Some awkward and/or outdated design decisions
- There might be a little TOO much to do...
The Bottom Line
If you aren't well-versed in the lore of the Witcher series of computer games by now (or the Andrzej Sapkowski novels they are based on), here's a quick primer for you: Witchers are humans that have purposely mutated themselves through magic and alchemy that permanently transforms them into ultra-efficient fighting machines. The angry fellow featured on all the box art is Geralt of Rivia, one such Witcher, and apparent centrifuge to a maelstrom of conflicts ranging from localized prejudices to global warfare to prophecy-driven apocalyptic doom. The sheer number of potential hazards Geralt unironically sticks his foot into over the course of the game provokes some serious thought about his motivations. One theory might be the classic death wish - as Geralt, you will hunt monsters, confront Monarchs of varying degrees of sanity, root out nests of bandits and monsters, uncover well-guarded treasure troves, and even throw your hat into a scheme of political intrigue or two. The sheer amount of personal risk Geralt shoulders, even in the opening hours in the small hub town designed to be a tutorial area, would be considered remarkable by the measure of any adventurer.
But maybe that's the whole point. I keep thinking about Dos Equis' advertising gimmick, "The Most Interesting Man in the World", and can't help but feel that our friend Geralt is vying for that particular throne. Apart from the aforementioned monsters and treasure seeking, you can also try your luck at horse racing, card playing, proper gentlemanly fisticuffs, and even get a few hot dates in between adventures.
The point I'm trying to make here is that the Witcher 3 is big. Really, really big. Think of the biggest open-world game you've ever played, and understand that whatever you came up with, this game is bigger. Possibly not in terms of physical area - W3's world is actually cut up into five or six individual maps of varying sizes - but in terms of content, no other game that I've played in my life even comes close.
It's pretty engaging, too. Each map is dotted with a number of towns and settlements. When you walk into a town, you'll find a notice board; reading what's posted on a given board will add some "undiscovered locations" to your world map in the form of white question marks, which could literally be any of the things I mentioned above, or other things besides. It can be awfully tempting to divert from whatever path you happen to be on in pursuit of a nearby question mark. What you find there could easily lead you in an entirely new direction, and on and on until, before you know it, hours have past, you aren't in the same region of the map anymore, and you can't even recall what you originally set out to do in the first place.
It's this branching form of game play that is both really engaging and slightly problematic at the same time. I've never in all the years I've been gaming complained about having too much to do, but I'm almost to that point with Witcher 3. In most other games, the tertiary content feels exactly like that - missions that you can take or leave, maybe get a nice bonus or two, but don't necessarily need for the core gaming experience that title has to offer. In W3's case, the side missions vastly outweigh the main story campaign, so if you're looking to just blow through the main quest without doing anything extra, you are missing out on most of what the game has to offer.
It's a soft complaint though - more an exercise of me looking to criticize something in the interest of writing a balanced review that doesn't portray this game as "perfect". Even with so much unessential content, the writing and staging of each side quest is so well-thought-out that you might fool yourself into believing that it's part of the main quest. Something as seemingly mundane as a monster hunt (the Witcher's day job, effectively) will start with an interview of the petitioner, who more often than not doesn't know what the monster actually is. What details they can provide will lead you down a path of investigation to discover clues from a corpse or an area where an attack occurred. Once you've gathered enough information to determine what exactly you're dealing with, you prepare for the confrontation; coat your sword with a specific oil and equip certain bombs or crossbow ammunition. Each monster in the world of The Witcher has specific vulnerabilities, and exploiting that can mean the difference between a successful hunt and certain death. The whole experience, though a bit slower paced than a typical action-RPG, brings more context to the quests you undertake and is remarkably immersive. You aren't just performing a task for a tangible reward, you are doing Witcher's work, and as a result, you feel like a Witcher.
The area that you travel in is a war-torn land, and great care has been taken to make it feel like an environment devastated by conflict. One of the first places you ride your horse past as the game begins is a giant hanging tree, filled to capacity by the victims of the occupying forces. You'll frequently pass by simple villagers rebuilding shelters, burning their dead, or simply crying in the middle of the road, grief-stricken from the horrors of the world around them. As well as miserable, these people are understandably suspicious of strangers - this comes across in most of the conversations you have through the game. You'll often have to convince them that you're not out to do them harm before you can gather any information or inquire about a quest you're working on. More than a few times, you find yourself in the position to retaliate to a personal affront or let it slide and walk away. These moments really bring out what it means to role-play in a Role Playing Game - it's not just about killing things and gaining experience. It's about making decisions that affect you as well as the world around you. At one point, I was faced with the decision to help a woman bed-ridden in a villager's home - she was sure to die, but my potions (designed for my mutant constitution, usually lethal to normal humans) had a small chance of saving her. I decided to give it a try. The quest finished, and I walked away with the villager's gratitude. Twenty-odd game play hours later, a man tracked me down who identified himself as a loved one of the woman I had "saved" - he informed me that the potion, though keeping the woman alive, had damaged her brain, and left her in a permanently catatonic state. He raged at me for not letting her die with dignity, and even though I thought I had made the right decision, I still felt genuinely bad for the man - despite there being no tangible game play effect once the cut scene had finished.
It's those moments that hammer home exactly what CD Projekt Red is trying to do with this game - they are, down to the smallest detail, building a world. The result is an environment so teeming with life and richness that you can't help but want to explore it. The gorgeous landscapes, the excellent musical score, and the surprisingly large cast of voice actors (most of which give convincing performances) all contribute to ushering you into a world that you most likely aren't going to leave for a while.
The natural downfall of such a dense and expansive world is, of course, bugs, and The Witcher 3 has plenty of them. Aside from the usual menagerie of desktop crashes and clipping issues, you will sometimes run into a merchant that you can't talk to, or an object that you can't interact with, despite the game giving you prompts that you can do so. Usually meditating or reloading a save will resolve this, but it's still annoying enough to kill the immersion temporarily. Rag dolls of dead enemies will mostly behave, but occasionally, they won't settle properly and twitch uncontrollably on the ground. One creature that I killed seizured so terribly that it traveled up a hill and halfway through a closed door, obstructing my path for a good five minutes while I tried to nudge it out of the way.
Your horse is unnecessarily skittish as well. "Roach" is trained to screech to a halt if you try to run him into or off of anything (like any remotely intelligent horse would). That's the good news. Unfortunately, this leads to him stopping way too often for things that seemingly don't exist, even on open trails - edges of bridges seem to particularly vex the poor animal. This led to me abandoning the hope of finishing any of the horse racing quests due to the unpredictable behavior of my mount, and taking trails on foot unless I had a really long distance to travel.
Conversely, combat is virtually bug-free. It's a really good thing too, because you'll be doing a lot of it, and it's not nearly as avoidable as horse-riding is. As in Witcher 2, you have access to light and heavy attacks with your sword, a rolling dodge move, and command of spells and bombs to help you out. New to combat this time around is use of a crossbow (really handy for those pesky flying enemies) and, my personal favorite, the sidestep, that really helps the combat flow naturally. This move will enable you to step out of the way of monsters' lunging attacks, or give you just that extra bit of space you need to cast your next spell. It's great for maneuvering quickly around the battlefield, and after a bit of practice, you'll find it's about the most useful and versatile tool in your combat arsenal.
Your enemies do a great job of making each combat situation feel unique. Human enemies will attack you in ranks, with melee combatants herding you away from their crossbow-wielding allies. Packs of wolves will spend an impressive amount of time surrounding you and not striking until the entire pack is in position - then striking all at once with terrifying efficiency. This led to my very first death in the game, and I couldn't say I had been cheated, either. W3 sends a very clear message that, especially early on, not thinking about your approach in combat and running headlong into the groups of enemies will get you killed very, very quickly.
As advanced as W3 is in terms of writing, quest structure, and combat, it's still behind the curve with its inventory management - an aspect that has plagued the series since the first Witcher game. Part of the problem is the fact that there are just so many things to collect, from alchemy and crafting ingredients to a plethora of books, formulas, and crafting recipes, weapons, armor, clothes, and runes for upgrading equipment. Though the massive variety of items is impressive, they are all represented in your inventory by tiny pictures that are only labeled when you highlight them. This becomes problematic when you are searching for a specific ingredient to finish a recipe for a potion or piece of equipment - you end up looking through merchants' inventories like you're playing a really messed up game of Where's Waldo. Between that and a restrictive maximum weight capacity (at least until you find better saddlebags for your horse), the many, many runs you make to merchants to sell off goods and complete recipes are going to be a slow and painful process - even before you try to figure out which of the eighteen swords you picked up on your last adventure is most beneficial to keep.
It's worth mentioning that CD Projeckt tried to address some of these issues in a recent patch. You can now "pin" a formula or crafting recipe such that it will highlight the relevant components in a merchant's inventory. That's a good start, but the fact that I can only pin one recipe at a time means a lot of switching between menus and scrubbing through lists to choose which recipe I want to pin. They also included a stash - a chest that you can leave important items in (say, sets of Witcher gear that you're working on completing) to help with your limited carrying capacity. This is a much welcome feature - and one that has been included in almost every action RPG since Diablo 2, which makes me wonder why it wasn't included in the game at launch. Finally, the patch claims that the horse controls have been improved, but I honestly didn't notice a difference (except maybe that Roach is a little less scared of bridges now).
So yes, the game is buggy, your faithful steed is an emotional basket case, and organizing your inventory remains a headache, but those qualms fade into the background as The Witcher 3 immerses you in its massive, enthralling, and amazingly detailed world. There are very few games I have ever played that have taken up more than eighty hours of my time, but The Witcher 3 did it, and I'm still not even bored. There's lots of things in this title to keep the fans of the series happy, but even if you've never picked up a Witcher title before, this is an amazing game just on its own merits that you should play. If Action RPGs interest you at all, or you just love a well-written epic tale of adventure, clear your schedule for the next few months, and prepare to walk in the shoes of Geralt of Rivia.
Windows · by The Cliffe (1552) · 2015
Contributors to this Entry
Critic reviews added by Radoslaw Grabowski, Kennyannydenny, POMAH, ryanbus84, mailmanppa, ALEX ST-AMOUR, Cavalary, Havoc Crow (formerly JudgeDeadd), Alsy, Cantillon, Scaryfun, GTramp, Alaka, Patrick Bregger, Omnosto, Jess T, Tim Janssen, Rellni944, Rent Hero, Keith Hathaway.