E3 2013: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Preview

June 13, 2013

Stirring quite a storm at Microsoft’s E3 2013 Xbox One presser, we had a chance to go behind closed doors and get a fresh look at The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, CD Projekt RED’s final chapter in what we’ve come to know as the Geralt of Rivia story arc. For Northern Kingdoms this could very well indeed be the end, as the fearsome Empire of Nilfgaard in the south is in the process of a mass invasion. And for Geralt, he must finally face the powerful and deadly Wild Hunt, stirring amidst the chaos of war. That’s where our demo took off, Geralt visiting an island castle to meet its Jarl, Crach an Craite, who puts Geralt on the path to confront the Wild Hunt itself.

As most will be well aware, the biggest change CDPR is bringing to The Witcher series is taking the segmented, chapter based environments of the past two games and overhauling them into one gigantic, sprawling open world. And big it is. We’re talking a huge diversity of landscapes with no loading times, travel by foot, horse, and boat, and a focus on creating an an environment that is beautiful, built to draw your eye towards set pieces, and packed full of lively details that add to the role playing experience. For example, the real time weather system will have an impact on the danger of travel. Sailing the seas? Best watch out for massive storms, because if you capsize the sea is far too cold to swim in. In cases like this, you might be better of steering towards shore and waiting for the storm to pass.

Littering the landscape are mobs of creatures and monsters, small and large, as well as bandits, mercenaries, and other humanoid opponents. Like any good open world action game, whether or not you engage your opponent is entirely up to you. If you see bandits attempting to ransack a house you can, if you desire, keep on walking and let them go about their business. Or you can intervene. Doing so might give you access to secrets and lore about the world around you, fleshing out Wild Hunt‘s narrative, or may even open up an entirely new side quest story. Either way, if you do chose to engage opponents you find Wild Hunt has changed up the combat in a few ways from Assassin’s of Kings. Enemies are generally a lot tougher and methodical to take down, Geralt’s sword play faster, and sign powers like Igni easier to chain into battle (like incinerating your enemies). CDPR have also noted the negative reception from fans in regards to Assassin’s of Kings quick time events, removing all such things from Wild Hunt‘s combat.

During our gameplay demo we got to see a bit of one of the game’s many available side quests. A man in a village had been murdered, and Geralt offers to kill the monster responsible, even though the village is split on whether it’s a real monster or a spirit angry with their lifestyle and culture. Geralt tracks the monster, clues appear in red as he explores the nearby woods. He determines its a Leshen, and the game allows you to look up all kinds of info about it in your bestiary (as with every other monster). Having learned about the monster, Geralt is given the option of who in the village he can approach with this new information: a man open to listening to Geralt’s understanding of the beast, or the elder who believes it to be a spirit. In our demo, Geralt approached the younger open minded man, and learns his girlfriend has been marked by the beast, and is symbiotically connected. She will die if Geralt is to kill the Leshen. The young man, Sven, ultimate complies. Ouch. Then it’s off to the forest to kill the Leshen’s totems before it can be taken down. After finding and killing the Leshen, he returns to find Sven has ignored him and killed the elder instead. An epilogue tells us this then leads to to village being razed by raiders, being unprepared without the elder.

This kind of story telling serves as a backbone for Wild Hunt’s narrative, just as it has for past The Witcher games. Most if not all quests, from the main narrative and Geralt’s personal journey, to the most seemingly trivial and hidden side quests, are built as part of a branching storyline with consequences. And like past games, Wild Hunt is chock full of characters to drive the story, many of which Geralt can interact with via an improve dialogue system allowing characters an express a wide range of emotions. Each face is made up of 40 bones, and it’s still a work in progress.

From what we saw, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is shaping up to be an appropriate successor to The Witcher and The Witcher 2: Assassin’s of Kings, taking the series in a bold new direction while retaining the core elements that have kept fans hooked since the original. We were impressed with our demonstration, and with the promise of over 100 hours of gameplay we cant wait to get our hands on a finished copy.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt aims to release sometime in 2014 for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.

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