There’s been a lot of hype around the Witcher III: Wild Hunt’s release, so I figured if there was a way for me to get out of the Dragon Age: Inquisition rabbit hole I’ve been in since February, this was probably my best bet. Anyone familiar with the two titles I just mentioned might notice a developing pattern: I enjoy Epic Fantasy games. I’ve played them since I was a kid, and consume the genre in all its forms be it books, video games, movies, or the big daddy of them all, good ol’ D&D. But somehow, I’ve never played any of the Witcher games or read the novels they’re based on. In fairness, up until the Witcher 2 saw release on the Xbox 360 a couple of years back, unless you had a ridiculously powerful PC, you didn’t get to play the Witcher series period. So there’s that.
A few things convinced me that this title deserved a shot, and made me willing to go in blind without reading about the previous games or any reviews. First off, Witcher III was supposed to come out several months ago, but the developers were not happy with how it was preforming, so they delayed the release till May 19th. I deeply appreciate that. After the disasters that were Master Chief Collection and AC: Unity in 2014 (and others besides them), it was a nice assurance that CD Projekt Red wanted to release a complete and functioning game. Secondly, this past November, amidst a sea of gamer complaints about the industry’s inarguable fixation on paid DLC, (and the community’s complete exhaustion and exasperation with the trend), CD Projekt Red decided they would release the Witcher III with sixteen DLC packs, all available for free to anyone who purchased the game on any platform. Between these two, I was confident enough to put down my five bucks for a pre-order, and I’m glad I did or I may have forgotten to pick the game up. What? I’m busy.
The point here is that based on my twelve hours spent with it so far, Witcher III is probably getting my vote for game of the year, and it’s setting the bar pretty high for games looking to take that title away from it. It’s incredible how good this game is, and in the ways it’s pulled me in, regardless of my (lack of) experience in this world. This is part one of my review of Wild Hunt, and I’ll be writing a second review in about a weeks time after I’ve really gotten deep into the game and seen just how much it has to give. But for now, lets look at what the game has given so far.
World of a Witcher
There’s a lot the Witcher III does right in setting up the game, explaining what kind of world it you’ll be experiencing, and your place within it. Geralt is a Witcher, a person mutated and trained to hunt and fight the creatures spawned into the world when it and a realm of magic eclipsed briefly, releasing magic into a world not prepared for such change. The introduction is a short cinematic of art describing this history, proceeded by a beautiful CGI cinematic of a battle and examples of this world’s type of magic, then you’re put right into the boots of the game’s protagonist. You get a quick tutorial not by having someone teach you the basics, since Geralt is already a veteran warrior at the story’s beginning, but by living a memory of Geralt teaching someone else. It’s a brilliant little touch that allows you to learn without making the whole thing seem inconsistent and out of sync, and it let’s you know you’re in good hands for the experience to come. You then snap back to reality, (a much darker place where the battle depicted in the cinematic has happened days prior), revealing you’re in the midst of a struggle to find someone dear to you and that the tutorial was a dream of a better time that never really existed as you saw it.
From just this beginning, you’ve learned a bit about Geralt and his world. It helps to endear the player to him by having such happiness ripped away from him, even if it was only a dream. The world feels like a very gritty and real place from the battle sequence, and signs that this land is torn by war are everywhere. Troops walk through towns, and villagers complain about the occupation. But as you meet the inhabitants, it’s apparent that things aren’t black and white. Not all of the people hate the new rulers, and are just happy the war has moved away from their home. The powers now ruling the area are harsh, but they’re also actively trying to keep the peace and help the inhabitants survive. Small details depict this, but also the quests themselves give you a deeper insight into the nuance and complexity that’s implied everywhere you look. This isn’t going to be a world of easy choices between good and evil. It’s one that feels real, and as I’ve said before, that’s powerful.
Hunt and Kill
I’ve decided my first play-through will be on what is called “Death March”*, which is the most difficult setting they can throw at me. This may not be wise, but damn is it fun, and I’ve been glad I did it the whole way through thus far. Something as simple as a pack of four or five wolves are scary on this setting, as they can gang up on you and hit you when your guard is down. Two or three hits like this can kill you with ease. It forced me to utilize more than just my sword. Witchers can use some minimal magic, including a shield, a force push, a shield again (trust me, you’re going to want to use this one), a trap circle, a fire spell, and a spell that can muddle a person’s mind or stun them during combat. You’ll need to use every single one of them. The combat itself requires you to be aware of your surroundings, and often rewards tactical decisions that you’d use in real life (i.e. finding higher ground). I’ve found a rhythm that works and am surprised by the fluidity of the game during combat.
So I found I needed to be using these abilities right away, and I think it’s because of this that I feel like a Witcher: using magic, steel and silver to track, find, and eliminate targets that would normally kill another man. Pretty sweet. The thrill of hunting something down then having a really great fight with the beast in question is something I’d equate to fighting dragons in Skyrim, if you had to hunt them down first by tracking or trapping them. With a ‘Witcher Sense’, you can find clues that lead not just to monsters and people, but at times the answers to questions. It’s strange to have a “Sherlock Holmes” feel in a medieval fantasy game, but it captures your attention and the game pulls it off well. Finding out who burned a dwarf’s house down was fun, and it felt like I was hunting, which is exactly what the game seemed to be going for.
For What It’s Worth
At this point, I’ve realized I’ve changed one rabbit hole for another. I’m not gonna rate Wild Hunt yet, but I will say if you enjoy fantasy sword-fighting games, this is worth picking up hands down. Even if the sword-fighting isn’t your type of game, what I’ve played leads me to believe that this story is going to be a good one, and worth playing through just on an easy setting to experience this world and what it has to give. It’s such a smooth game, it’d be a shame for any gamer to miss this one. We’re almost half way through the year, and Wild Hunt has taken the lead for me after only a few sessions of playing.
I’ll see you guys next week if I can find my way to the surface or catch that white rabbit, and we’ll talk about just what this game has to offer in the long term, and if it’s beauty goes further than skin deep.
*Editor’s Note: Unless you are a glutton for punishment like our dear Mr. Booker, we don’t recommend this. If you do happen to follow his advice, the Newbiverse will not be held responsible for any broken controllers, televisions, gaming consoles, or PCs, nor will be held responsible for nearby pets, friends or relatives that were incinerated by sheer proximity to your white-hot frustrationhaterage.