The Witcher 3 suffers from massive ambition overtaking capability, the open world is lush and beautiful but lifeless, containing little in terms of emergent game-play. As a result, the story and missions end up feeling like linear levels that directly contradict the nature of its world, offering little in terms of player agency. CD Projekt Red have created all the pieces to make for a groundbreaking open world experience but none of them fit together, with little issues threatening to pull down an otherwise wonderful game.
The Wild Hunt is the conclusion to a trilogy of games based on the universe of The Witcher, a series of polish fantasy novels. The games use many of the same main characters and conceits but craft their own narrative, where this worked with the first and second entries in the series, the third eschews this concept. CD Projekt introduces brand new characters from the books with little or no explanation of their purpose or why we should care about them. The most egregious of these is Ciri, whom the whole plot centers around, she is introduced in a confusing set of flashbacks and has very little screen time in the games massive story.
Where the story shines is when it focuses, removing itself from the bewildering scope and instead letting the wonderful writing and characterization shine. Geralt is a joy to watch, with his dry wit, and deep sense of morality, he cares for his friends and those he loves, always helping those in need despite how much he protests. The supporting cast is equally strong, with the only real weak point being Ciri, who spends too little time with Geralt to truly be established as someone we should care about before we are thrown into the final, and frustratingly linear hours of the game. Where these little sub plots weave dark, mature and interesting tales, the overarching plot loses steam, basing itself around a wild goose chase, with Geralt always conveniently one step behind Ciri so the story can artificially extend itself. It feels like many disparate stories with their own conclusions that are strung together arbitrarily so they can all take place within one game. Luckily the story in the side content is free of the shackles of the main plot, and is able to wrap themselves up cleanly and concisely.
Where almost all of the games supposed sense of maturity comes to a screeching halt is in its characterization of women, with nearly every female character I encountered being scantily clad and normally presented as an entirely sexual object. Ciri, the daughter figure of Geralt always has her shirt unbuttoned in the center, just to reveal a little of her bra, even when in the freezing cold. It doesn’t help that almost all of Geralt’s interactions with the other main female characters revolves around sexual advances and lewd jokes, with him seemingly having slept with every sorceress in the world. Unfortunately The Wild Hunt tries to straddle the fine line between being a dark mature fantasy tale and something that is a little more tasteless and trashy, with violence and sex just for the sake of it, and fails to keep to one side.
The Witcher 3 focuses on a few main ways of interacting with the world, horseback riding, combat, Witcher senses and Gwent. Horseback riding is touchy and just blatantly terrible, with a strange sense of momentum and poor handling, it makes traveling on foot seem like the best option. Geralt’s controlling takes a bit of getting used to, with an odd turn radius and a finicky camera, indoor sections are a mess, with clipping and simple actions such as moving up and down stairs becoming a trial. Combat fairs better, with satisfying, gory, albeit limited finishing moves, and wonderful animations. Drawing a little from the Arkham series and Assassin’s creed, the combat is made up of only light and heavy attacks, with counters and signs, Geralt’s limited form of magic. Where combat like this makes sense in a 20 hour open world game, it doesn’t work within the trappings of a massive RPG, with only one real weapon type, and no actual changes in the base moves outside of the signs, it grows stale after the first half of the game. Bombs, crossbows, potions and the like help alleviate these constraints, especially on higher difficulties, where the game shines, but it doesn’t shake the feeling that there could have been so much more. With heavy, light and medium armors feeling identical in play, most every players Geralt will be the same, removing so much of the agency desired in a game of The Wild Hunts ilk.
The side content can be boiled down into only a few categories, Gwent games, horseback races, fist fights and then monster contracts. The story based side content mixes a few of those activities but most of it boils down to walk somewhere, talk, fight, walk, use your Witcher sense, and fight again. Rather than making you feel like you are hunting, Witcher senses boil down to looking for the red glowing object out of all the others, with each hunt becoming an exercise in tedium. What doesn’t help all this is the world’s inability to create meaningful interactions through these systems. All enemies are tied to specific locations, and technically every bandit could be wiped from the map, with only a select few monsters, wolves and bears spawning at random, yet not once did I see any of these interact with other enemies or pedestrians. Along with no way to interact with anyone who isn’t a shopkeeper or a story character, the world feels like set dressing once you’ve completed the main quests.
Visually the Witcher is gorgeous but it can be very spotty, during the day, when the wind is just right, it can be the best looking game ever made, as long as you don’t move. Like any open world game it contains its fair share of glitches, with consistently disappearing shopkeepers and floating guardsmen. Another nick in the presentation is the slow and tedious menu system, which is too small to easily see and is just a series of boxes containing your items, with switching pages taking seconds to load, jumping in and switching gear or reading a note becomes tedious.
The Witcher 3 should have been the next great open world RPG, rivaling the like of Skyrim in scope and Mass Effect in story, unfortunately it fails to do either. The story fumbles along, the side content is repetitive and the base combat banal in the scope of it’s bloated running time. The Wild hunt has moments where it shines, and it is still a fun experience, with plenty of content and story to satiate even the most rabid series fans, The Witcher 3 is happy to carve out it’s own little spot as one of the better games in the current library of next-gen experiences.
+Gorgeous open world
+Fun, brutal combat
- As of writing this, multiple large updates have come to The Witcher 3, with the addition of fixes to the inventory, storage and movement, a new game plus mode and a litany of other fixes, the base game is a much more streamlined and polished product.