Based on the book series of the same name, The Witcher 3 follows Geralt of Rivia as he searches for his sort-of adopted daughter Siri. Geralt is a Witcher (as the name of the game implies), a bounty hunter trained from birth and subjected to physical mutations that make him one of a handful of men capable of hunting monsters. At the time of writing, that’s really all I can say. Even after spending almost three weeks with the game, I have barely scratched the surface of this game’s story. However, that’s no fault on the game, it delivers its story beautifully interwoven into choice-based dialogue scenes and monster hunting quests. As far as stories go, it’s pretty epic.
The Witcher 3 follows the basic fantasy-RPG formula however it throws in a few elements that make it a pretty unique experience. To start, the world is enormous and littered with landmarks, people of interest, monster nests, etc. You might find yourself getting lost for hours, exploring everything this game has to offer.
The Witcher also offers much in the way of quests from the main story quest, to side quests to the specific Witcher Contracts that have you hunting down a monster and eliminating it. However, unlike standard fantasy-RPGs that have you go to the monster’s location and kill it, The Witcher 3 takes an Arkham Asylum-esk style of investigation, having you talk to townsfolk, searching specific areas where the monster was last seen, tracking it down and generally coming to understand what you’re up against. This is where Geralt’s “Witcher Senses” come into play. By holding the shoulder button, Geralt can see specific objects for looting, or points of interest in a “crime scene.” Not only does this add a nice layer of depth to the gameplay, but this is extremely convenient and eliminates a lot of the guess work from trying to gather materials from certain plants or crates.
In conjunction with the monster hunting, there is an extensive crafting/alchemy system that can greatly turn the tide of battle when facing monsters and even humans. Part of the monster investigations open up entries in your bestiary that will tell you specific potions or oils (which are applied to your blades) that a monster is weak against. And since most craftable armor is better than anything you’ll find in shops, getting familiar with the alchemy/crafting system can mean the difference between life or death.
Also similar to Arkham Asylum the combat has a nice, “free-flowing” feel, however, similar to Dark Souls, it can also be punishingly difficult and extremely unforgiving. While it can be a little clunky at times, the combat system favors patience and planning for headstrong recklessness, and almost every fight will have you constantly in the block stance, waiting for the right moment to attack, or counter or dodge. Also, healing and buff potions are restricted to a max of three, and each potion raises you “toxicity” level. Too many potions could cause you to overdose and start losing health so even that requires patience and planning.
Not just restricted to his two swords (silver for monsters, steel for everything else), Geralt also has five magic signs he can cycle through to assist him not only in combat, but in story elements as well. Igni for example not only casts a blast for flame to roast enemies, but can also ignites torches or fire pits in dungeons. Aard can knock enemies back like a “Star Wars” Force Push or blow open locked doors and Axii is basically a Jedi Mind Trick, allowing you to stun enemies in combat or pursade them during dialogue.
My only gripe with the gameplay is the level up system which is stupid and restrictive. Upon each level the player is rewarded a skill point, typical RPG fare. However, The Witcher 3 gives players a slot system where they have to equip unlocked skills. Starting with one, 12 open up as the player levels up (generally in a system of 2’s). This means that the player will always have more skills than he/she is able to equip and it makes player progression extremely limited. Not only that, things that should be passive abilities like “increased toxicity for every alchemy spell learned” are also things that need to be equipped, which is stupid. I get that it’s all part of the strategy and how you play, but it’s kind of redundant when you’re just pausing the game to switch abilities for certain scenarios. Combat abilities, sure that makes sense, you’d need to equip those because there are only so many buttons on a controller, but every ability? It’s just dumb.
The Witcher 3 looks amazing. I’ve been playing it on PS4, so I’m sure there are a lot of PC mods that make the game look even better, but I have to say, I was floored. There’s so much detail in every environment, the world is full of color and life (not like that boring grey-brown affair that was Skyrim) in small things like the way the wind might change and all the tress and grass sway in the breeze. The atmospheric lighting creates beautiful landscapes and you might find yourself pausing to look at the red beams of light from a sunset breaking through the trees. Character and monster models are all very nice. Characters display a very wide range of emotion during dialogue and monsters look interesting and terrifying.
The music in the Withcer 3 is fantastic. As you travel, the overworld music is very bleak and depressing, with long melancholic violin strings, adding to the atmosphere of fear and despair of a land ravaged by war and monsters. Combat picks it up with intense drums and sort-of tribal chanting. In cities the atmosphere changes completely and you’ll hear more upbeat music, or minstrels playing on the street. It’s an excellent soundtrack that helps immerse the player.
Overall, The Witcher 3 is an amazing game for both fans of the series or fans of the genre. With tons of content, an amazing story and enough delivered in the way of backstory from the first two games that anyone can dive right into it, it’s definitely worth a look. The Witching hour is upon us.