If you’re after some good old fashioned fantasy and escapist entertainment, then look no further than The Witcher 3. It’s grand in scale, beautiful to look at and despite appearing to be something that may only interest fantasy fans its actually a very accessible game. That’s The Witcher 3’s greatest strength. There were so many elements of the game that impressed me, from the attention to detail in the world itself, to the story, to the characters, particularly the main protagonist Geralt and to the wide variety of game systems like combat, spells, looting and crafting. But while I was impressed at the start, it did start to wear out its welcome towards the second half, but for the most part, it was a fun game.
In The Witcher 3, you play Geralt the Witcher. The Witcher is someone who is skilled in combat and spells (called signs in this game). Geralt has a fairly neutral stance on most issues and has no affinity with any political factions, though this is all a blank canvas for you to make choices and affect the game. In The Witcher 3, Geralt is looking for his god daughter in The Northern Kingdoms, Ciri (who is also a witcher). She’s on the run from The Wild Hunt, a villainous race from another world out to capture her. Geralt’s task is to follow clues from friends and powerful people of the land and catch Ciri before The Wild Hunt take her into their own world.
For much of the game the plot is structured like a chase movie, but its the world building around this plot thread that’s perhaps The Witcher 3’s greatest strength. When you start a conversation with someone, the answers they give are compelling, so much so that you end up clicking through all of them. This happens with everyone (of reasonable importance in the game) from bartenders to quest givers to major and minor characters. The game through its dialogue tree slowly spoon feeds you the information about the world and the characters while the player pieces it all together. As its an open world game and many of the quests can be done out of order, it does takes a little effort to put the information together, but that’s part of the fun. The beautiful thing is that for the most part it feels like the good old days of cut scenes where pieces of information feel like rewards. Most of the writing is light and witty and Geralt himself is particularly dry wit, a type I definitely can get along with.
Right from the get go, there are dialogue choices on top of choices. Most of them you’ll have no idea whether they effect the story or not. Some decisions have a countdown timer and often do affect the game greatly but there’s never a black and white choice where if you pick this option, you’ll be going down the good guy route and vice versa. In most cases, the choice is not the most important thing, but the act of following along and seeing out the conclusion is.
The game is primarily story heavy and you’ll be on the chase for Ciri almost immediately. From there you follow clues to her whereabouts or somebody that knows. The detective work can be quite lengthy and depending on how invested you are in the story, your mileage may vary on the game. The well told story and character segments are unfortunately masked by what are pretty basic fetch quests most of the time. If the story hasn’t hooked you, the gameplay might leave you a bit high and dry. It’s all fine for the first half of the game or so, but as I got further into the game, I realised that was pretty much the gameplay loop and it kind of turned into a grind. By the end, I had enough of doing most of these uneventful missions.
The game is split into two large areas, Velen which is the main continent and the main city Novigrad and Skellige a bunch of islands a fair way offshore and accessible by fast travel. If you want to be pedantic, its not completely open world as its almost unrealistic to sail between Velen and Skellige. Velen itself is amazing, and its a beautiful feeling to ride about in the country side from objective to objective, laying down the law as you see fit. By the time you get to Novigrad and running around inside Novigrad the game shifts from being solely about Geralt finding Ciri to Geralt trying to understand the current affairs of Novigrad and the wider kingdom in general, and who’s who’s in the political game of cat and mouse. Here in Novigrad, the game stalls for a considerable period while you sort out everybody’s problems in this town. When you hit Skillege around thirty hours into the game, the gameplay still leaves quite a bit to be desired. Even the last quest has you go and do the same thing you were doing thirty hours ago so it gets kind of annoying.
So while the mission structure is a bit of a disappointment, how about the rest of the game like the combat and the crafting? Well again, its pretty good for about 20 hours or so. The combat is kinda broken on Normal difficulty. I’ve heard reports its compelling on the higher difficulties so if you have the patience, start with the harder difficulties. It’s well balanced to begin with, but after level 20 or so, the player becomes way too powerful and there’s a complete lack of challenge. With the combat, its not as refined as something like Dark Souls. Here The Witcher 3 is closer to Dynasty Warriors though it never becomes as arcady as that. It’s just that The Witcher 3 has a limited number of combat moves, a weak attack, a strong attack, a block and a dodge roll. The dodge roll has a fair portion of it being invincible and its easy to spam it and roll behind the opponent and hit him from behind to get a critical hit. Rinse and repeat. The signs are a mixed bag as one is too powerful and the others useless, like for example, Quen which gives you a shield and lets you take one hit without receiving damage. Theoretically you could turn that on, get hit and then turn it on again eliminating any need for health potions. The other signs are generally not so useful in combat.
Then you have the crafting system, which allows you to craft armour by gathering various materials that you find while looting, but on normal difficulty while being so overpowered there’s almost no need for it. Its the same for potions, which also are barely needed. It’s not helped that the system has an overwhelming amounts of ingredients and while I barely picked up anything, I still had hundreds of items that I didn’t know what to do with in the end. The crafting and potion screen tells you if you’re missing an ingredient, and more often than not I was missing something and with no idea where to find it.
It’s probably because I’ve spent 60 hours on the game that its easy to nitpick everything. Had I wrote this piece halfway through, this review might have been a whole lot different. It’s main problem is that it outstays its welcome because the first half of the game is just wonderful and the remaining really needed more work to tighten up the gameplay and give more variety to mission strucutre and also to the various other game systems like the crafting.
Let’s not forget about how good this game looks running on good PC hardware. On a GTX 970 at 1440p resolution, it runs at 60fps with most of the settings on high and a couple on medium. Sunsets never looked so good in a game and the countryside looks and feels as beautiful as a classic Monet impressionist painting. The Witcher 3 also wins best voice acting in any game. The voice actor for Geralt does a phenomenal job, particularly keeping the character as consistent as he does throughout the entire experience. Yennefer, Triss, Vesemir are all stellar and I especially like Zoltan and Dandelion’s voice actors.
So in the end, while this game is slightly flawed, the opening 20-30 hours is top notch stuff, and some more time in development could have truly turned it into a masterpiece. Nevertheless, the rest of the game is a good time, if a little repetitive.
Score: 8.5 Ugly Babies out of 10