The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

June 4, 2015

According to my Steam play clock and its embarrassingly precise time keeping I’ve, at time of writing, sunk 144 hours into The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. You could probably shave off 10 or so hours for idling, but within roughly 144 hours of absorbing Witcherverse I’ve managed to clean up the entire main quest arc, practically all side quests (including monster contracts), and an overwhelming majority of points-of-interest, with only a handful of mini-game like challenges remaining. Such as horse racing and the Gwent tournaments. So, in the grand scheme of things, CD Projekt RED’s claims of a game providing 100 – 200 hours of content isn’t far off the mark.

That’s both incredibly terrifying and impressive. The former for the price I’ve paid with my social life (sorry friends, we’ll catch up soon). And the latter for the alarming, and arguably unprecedented, quality consistency encompassing that 100+ hours of content. The team argued all through the promotional period that Wild Hunt would do away with cliché RPG collect-a-thon check-list questing, and they’ve succeeded. Wild Hunt’s wealth of content is crafted with utmost care towards individualism, even the shortest, trivial quest arcs fully voiced and appropriately scripted often with their own little twists and turns. I’m not sure to what ancient Polish deity senior CDPR staff had to sign their souls away to accomplish this, but there it is.

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Context is key and Wild Hunt triumphantly imbues all facets of the adventure’s design and presentation with this important component. Geralt’s journey across Velen, Novigrad, and Skellige is never without a borderline unrivalled sense of presence; the attention to detail in topographical layout, foliage distribution, enemy encampments, monster dens, mountains and rivers, towns and cities, and everything else conveying a believable, lived-in world that abides by its own wholly convincing rules and reason. Wild Hunt isn’t so much an unhinged sandbox balancing freedom of play with a detailed toybox playground, as it is a grounded, often hostile world that would seemingly exist with or without your presence. You are not the hero, or the centre of the universe, for designer intentions to revolve around. Instead you are a passenger, a journeyman, presented with a world that continuously displays an aggressive apathy to your presence and interpretation of it. The reward is not only a heightened sense of believability for all that is happening around you and the places you go, but a deep sense of immersion as you embark upon your quests and exploration.

Like previous The Witcher games Wild Hunt places narrative driven quest arcs at the forefront, taking a step back from Assassins of Kings amnesiac Geralt and political scheming in favour of a fully defined protagonist. Returning characters from both the games and novels spearhead a true culmination of Andrzej Sapkowski’s novella and CDPR’s adaptations, and a personal journey that emphasises the human condition over who wears the crown. As you can imagine, a personal quest as the mainstay cooperates magnificently with the aforementioned believable world building. And Wild Hunt doesn’t totally do away with politics and deeper crisis either, so much as present them as a developing backdrop to the main quest and, for most part, engage you only to the extent you’re willing to participate. From the tiniest and often humorous bungle involving two nobody citizens, to arcs of racial persecution, spouse abuse, secret loves, murder, and so on, much of this is optional and, for the glory of “role playing”, shaped by the extent of your interaction. You will, most likely, still engage with as many of these optional quests as you can, simply due to their high standard of writing, characterisation, and memorability. They’re worth it, and this becomes obvious from very early on.

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The density of hand crafted questing is never overburdening though, as Wild Hunt maintains a pacing that has a deep appreciation for the importance of negative space and downtime. In conjunction with the earlier point of detailed world believability, much of this believability envelopes you simply by galloping through detailed farmlands under a midday sun and traversing dense forests, torch in hand, amidst a deafening storm. The shifts in topographical and asset detail are subtle yet immeasurably valuable, each “region” of every map able to communicate an individualised atmosphere and purpose, either as a natural set-piece or consequence of war, every vista, scene, and locations further personalised with its own memorable musical theme composed with authentic Eastern European instrumentation and gorgeous Gaelic vocals. Fast travel between discoverable sign posts shorten what would otherwise be 10 – 20 minutes treks, but I often found myself journeying manually simple due to the immersion it provides, along with the excitement of potentially stumbling across an unexpected secret or surprise. I quickly lost count of the amount of times my honest intention to ride from A-to-B to complete a delegated quest arc became welcomingly disjointed by discoveries along the way, each often leading to their own note driven treasure hunts or character based quest arcs. Wild Hunt routinely captures that famous Bilbo Baggins quote: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”, and it’s never not an absolute delight.

Wild Hunt systemically draws upon learned experience from the previous two games to gift players a level of control over Geralt that’s not entirely unfamiliar yet indisputably more refined than it has ever been. Admittedly there is somewhat of a learning curve to fully appreciate the scope of the game systems, the earlier parts of the game without a doubt the most unforgiving, but once understood the combat and exploration come into their own. Wild Hunt is less about truly diverse character builds like most RPGs, and instead more like an ARPG, where Geralt in theory can “do everything” and your delegated upgrades and gearing supplement and buff your existing abilities. Combat is a patient dance-of-death that emphasises learning the ins-and-out of your opponents and tactfully applying available resources to shift the balance towards your advantage. This design is highlighted (and in my opinion, best played) at higher difficulties like Blood & Broken Bones and Death March, where fights are only tedious when rushed and resources neglected. Upgrading oils and bombs and finding new potion manuscripts, and gathering resources to craft these, gives a pleasing sense of character gear development with highly measurable impact on your combat performance. Sure, you could rush in and mash the attack button, then rant on the internet as to how broken the combat is. But there’s a incredible satisfaction in seeing your opponent before it sees you, applying an oil buff to your weapon of choice, gearing up with suitable potions, and tactfully laying down the right signs mid-combat to great success. Again, the learning curve is present and like so many open world games Wild Hunt never reaches the truly refined combat systems of more linear and focused adventures, but it always provides you with tools and options that reward intelligent strategy and application.

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And really, it’s not like Wild Hunt isn’t without “problems”. At launch my build was plagued with a frustrating inventory crash bug, thankfully quickly patched. The odd enemy has questionable hitboxing for some of their attacks. The difficulty curve definitely challenges more in the earlier game, potential over powering by the end. The writing upholds a high standard and while most of the cast is well acted there are, like most games, some weaker performances in the mix. And so on. But “perfection” is such a vague, wishy washy and, in creative mediums, unmeasurable quality that the argument is never about whether or not a game is “perfect”. What it is about is if the culmination of all components and experience this provides overwhelms the nitpicks and weaker elements to the point where they’re made borderline negligible.

With the credits rolling and the promise of still more to do (that I fully intend to do, mind you), this is where Wild Hunt triumphs. So often projects built under lofty ambitions and immense scope, even at their best, succumb to at least one glaring fault that’s impossible to ignore. Here? Not so. CDPR have crafted a masterwork of open world role playing action from top to bottom, a consistency arguably unseen in any similarly ambitious game to date, that effortlessly overcomes all failings through the harmonious sum total of parts. The experience of play imprints an untold number of memories of virtual experiences, and upon reflection I’m simply astounded at the diverse places I’ve visited and seen, characters I’ve mingled with, monsters slain and how, and adventures I began leading to unpredictable climaxes. They say it’s not the the destination that matters most but the journey itself, and with this in mind a very real argument could be made that CDPR’s monolith has no equal.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a monumental achievement in the open world role playing genre, one of the greatest video games I have ever had the pleasure of playing, and a strong contender for my favourite game of all time. Happy monster hunting.


Scope, adventure, depth, and content diversity.


Bugs and balance.

Overall Score: